Tories “broadly welcome” Equality Bill but want more detail

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The opposition parties have welcomed new government plans to unify the various strands of discrimination law and include gay people in public bodies’ duty to promote equality.

The Equality Bill “will significantly strengthen and streamline discrimination legislation to make Britain a fairer and more equal place, including banning age discrimination, increasing transparency on gender pay gaps, and rooting out inequality.”

It will for the first time place a duty on public bodies to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

Theresa May, the Conservative party’s spokesperson on equality, said:

“Whilst we broadly welcome the Equality Bill, particularly the aim to streamline the reams of existing equalities legislation, we have concerns about the scant level of detail that the government has so far been able to provide, more than a year after first announcing this bill.

“On issues like equal pay and flexible working I am disappointed that they are not prepared to go as far as Conservative proposals but I look forward to seeing the Bill in full and, where possible, working with the government to produce a sensible, workable piece of legislation.”

The Liberal Democrat Youth and Equalities spokesperson Lynne Featherstone said:

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to add some real vigour to the stalled equalities agenda.

“This Bill must end the tick box culture when fighting prejudice and give tribunals real powers to stop repeat offenders.”

Public bodies already have a duty to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices, and service delivery can affect people according to their race, disability, or gender.

The Equality Bill will replace this with a new streamlined and strengthened Equality Duty, which will be extended to cover sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief.

“This means that public bodies will need to consider how services affect a wide range of different people,” the government said in a statement issued today.

“For example, it may prompt a town planner to think about the impact that drop-down kerbs and accessible public toilets can have on the day-to-day life of a wheelchair user, or extra park benches could be provided in local parks by the council, so that older people can benefit from public spaces as well as younger people.”

There is concern that faith groups that provide public services may try to circumvent the duty to promote LGBT equality. However, government minister have said there will be no exceptions to the bill.

A Christian public servant has already successfully sued her employer for religious discrimination after she was disciplined for refusing to deal with gay couples.

In July an employment tribunal ruled that Ms Ladele had been discriminated against by employer. Islington Council, because of her refusal to carry out civil partnerships for LGBT couples on the grounds of her orthodox Christian beliefs.

Ms Ledele originally swapped with colleagues to avoid performing gay and lesbian ceremonies after civil partnerships became legal in 2005.

After formal complaints were made against her, an internal disciplinary investigation began.

Islington council is appealing the tribunal ruling.

Christian fundamentalist groups have claimed that this employment tribunal ruling will sets a precedent about where they can and cannot claim their religious beliefs should be taken into account at work.

It raises the possibility of innumerable Christians and others claiming they should be allowed to opt out of performing their duties because of their religious beliefs.

The tribunal said that Islington council was able to fulfil its responsibility to perform civil partnerships without insisting that all registrars carry them out.

Therefore by compelling Ms Ladele to conduct gay and lesbian ceremonies the council was guilty of indirect religious discrimination.