Members began by considering Amendment 71, which sought to guarantee the retention of Section 3 of the Equality Act. Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (Crossbench) who tabled the amendment, argued that Section 3 ‘is of critical importance.’ She continued: ‘It articulates the fundamental principles that we as a society should be aiming for and clarifies the nature of the contribution that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should make towards those aims.’
Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour) added her support saying: ‘...we all want to live in an equal and dignified society, which is what Section 3 envisages. I hope that the government have changed their mind since committee and will now agree to support what the noble Baroness and her supporters so eloquently expressed this afternoon.’
Government spokesperson for Work and Pensions Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Conservative) responded, insisting that ‘the repeal of the general duty will neither stop or hinder the commission’s ability to fulfil its important equality and human rights duties.’
Addressing the issue of the commission’s future role and work, she said: ‘I believe that, with a clarified legislative mandate, the commission will continue to promote equality of opportunity, tackle discrimination and protect and promote human rights. It will be able to do so more effectively than before and so will gain the respect we all want it to have as our equality body and national human rights institution.’
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton thanked the minister for her response but put her amendment to a vote. The House voted 217 for and 166 against.
Discussion then moved on to Amendment 73, which looked to insert the word ‘caste’ into the Equality Act 2010. Lord Harries of Pentregarth (Crossbench) tabled the amendment and explained briefly it was prompted by the discrimination faced by the Dalit communities in the UK and why a legislative change is required.
‘Nothing could be more significant and effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of caste than to have a clear-cut law saying that discrimination in the public sphere will not be tolerated... The law is, on the whole, effective. If other countries see nothing shaming in having a law, why should we?’
Referring to the government’s announcement that they would first seek to tackle discrimination through education rather than legislation, Lord Deben (Conservative) gave his backing to the amendment. He said: ‘I have absolutely no doubt that it would be utterly wrong for us to say to the world that we had the opportunity to protect people from this disgraceful discrimination but decided not to do it because we had to have another investigation.’
In her response, Baroness Stowell of Beeston confirmed that ‘the government are largely in accord with the aims of this amendment.’ She continued: ‘We all want to see an end to caste-based prejudice and discrimination. We are not closing the door to legislation. We have no plans to remove the power from the Act, and we will leave it there in case new evidence emerges which makes it clear that legislation would help to achieve the aim that we all share. As I have already made clear, we will consider the outcome of the commission's study when it reports later this year.’
Lord Harries of Pentregarth thanked the minister for her response but put his amendment to a vote. The House voted 256 for and 153 against.
The next subject under consideration concerned the repeal of a statutory questionnaire used by individuals to determine whether or not they have a good case for a claim of discrimination. Amendment 75 was moved by Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat) who outlined the success of the procedure since its introduction.
‘The procedure has proved to be of real practical benefit for potential claimants and respondents and was extended by successive governments and parliaments to the other forms of unlawful discrimination in the employment, education, goods and services, and public service provision fields.’
Baroness Stowell of Beeston set out the government’s reasoning for removing the legal requirement, and argued that ‘the fact that there is no statutory process does not remove the risk to an employer or service provider of deciding not to respond to a claimant; it only removes the unnecessary and prescriptive process around that.’
Lord Lester of Herne Hill thanked the minister for her response but put his amendment to a vote. The House voted 167 for and 179 against.
Report stage of the bill will continue on Wednesday 6 March.
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill summary
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill includes:
- changes to competition policy and employment law
- measures for reducing regulation
- the Green Investment Bank
- directors’ remuneration
- rules around copyright and planning.
More about the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
What is report stage?
Report stage gives all members of the Lords further opportunity to examine and make changes, known as amendments, to a bill.
Report stage usually starts 14 days after committee stage. It can be spread over several days (but usually fewer days than at committee stage).
Before report stage starts, all member's amendments are recorded and published. The day before a report stage debate the amendments are placed in order - a marshalled list.
During report stage detailed line by line examination of the bill continues. Any member of the Lords can take part and votes can take place.
After report stage the bill is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments. The bill then moves to third reading for the final chance for the Lords to debate and amend the bill.