House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
Equality Bill

Equality Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, †John Bercow, †David Taylor, Ann Winterton
Baird, Vera (Solicitor-General)
Baron, Mr. John (Billericay) (Con)
Boswell, Mr. Tim (Daventry) (Con)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Eagle, Maria (Minister of State, Government Equalities Office)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Harper, Mr. Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Howell, John (Henley) (Con)
Keeley, Barbara (Worsley) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Mason, John (Glasgow, East) (SNP)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee


Andrew Copson, Director of Education and Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
William Fittall, Secretary-General, General Synod of the Church of England
Richard Kornicki, Parliamentary Co-ordinator, Catholic Bishops Conference
Maleiha Malik, Muslim Women’s Network
Jon Benjamin, Chief Executive, Board of Deputies of British Jews
Katja Hall, Director of Employment Policy, Confederation of British Industry
Nick Starling, Director of General Insurance and Health, Association of British Insurers
Stephen Alambritis, Chief Spokesman, Federation of Small Businesses
Dianah Worman, Diversity Adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
Sarah Veale, Head of Equality and Employment Rights, Trades Union Congress

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 9 June 2009


[David Taylor in the Chair]

Equality Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
E 02 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
E 13 British Humanist Association
E 14 Catholic Bishops’ Conference
E 22 Trades Union Congress
E 25 Equality Network
E 26 Association of British Insurers
E 27 National Union of Teachers
E 28 British Chambers of Commerce
E 30 Gender Identity Research and Education Society
E 31 Race on the Agenda
E 32 Kate Phizackerley
E 33 Law Society
10.30 am
The Committee deliberated in private.
10.39 am
On resuming—
The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): I beg to move,
That the Order of the Committee of 2 June be amended by making the following amendments to the Table in paragraph (2)—
(a) in the first entry for Tuesday 9 June, in the third column, at the end insert—
‘Muslim Women's Network
Board of Deputies of British Jews’;
(b) in the second entry for Tuesday 9 June, in the second column, leave out ‘12.30 pm’ and insert ‘1.00 pm’;
(c) in the third entry for Tuesday 9 June, in the second column, leave out ‘6.00 pm’ and insert ‘5.00 pm’.
To put it straightforwardly, the motion amounts to adding two witnesses to this morning’s sitting—the Muslim Women’s Network and the Board of Deputies of British Jews—and extending the sitting beyond 12.30 pm, when it was to end, to 1 o’clock. That will give a little extra time for the second panel of witnesses. The third provision shortens the afternoon sitting—the Committee’s opportunity to question Ministers—by an hour, reducing the time from 4 o’clock to 5 o’clock, instead of 4 o’clock to 6 o’clock. I hope that that will be agreed by the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: I remind members and witnesses that we are bound by the internal knives—the timetable agreed to last week—which means that this morning’s first evidence session must end no later than 11.30 am, and the second no later than 1 pm. I hope that I do not have to interrupt members or witnesses in the middle of their sentences, but I will do so if need be.
I welcome the various representatives—you are most welcome. We will first hear evidence from the British Humanist Association, the General Synod of the Church of England, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, the Muslim Women’s Network and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Would you please introduce yourselves to the Committee and then we will get moving?
Maleiha Malik: I am Maleiha Malik, representing the Muslim Women’s Network. I am a reader in law at the school of law, King’s college, London, specialising in equalities and discrimination law.
Jon Benjamin: I am Jon Benjamin. I am the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is the representative organisation for the Jewish community in this country.
Richard Kornicki: I am Richard Kornicki. I am a member of staff of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. I have also been appointed as parliamentary co-ordinator for the conference.
Andrew Copson: I am Andrew Copson, director of education and public affairs at the British Humanist Association.
William Fittall: I am William Fittall, the secretary-general for the Church of England Synod and its Archbishops Council.
The Chairman: Thank you. I am going to open up the questioning by passing the floor to Mark Harper.
Q 126126Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Taylor. It is a pleasure to see you here this morning.
I want to raise two issues, one of which has been raised specifically by the Catholic Bishops Conference. I will question its representative first and then other panel members can comment. The issue is the employment exceptions for the purposes of religion, and the changes between the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Bill. The Catholic bishops say that the Bill narrows the exception, while the Government’s position is that it simply clarifies existing law. However, you can read it both ways. This specifically looks at the extent to which a particular religion or belief is a genuine occupational requirement of a job. Can I ask you, Mr. Kornicki, to set out your position and the extent to which you feel the language in the Bill does or does not significantly tighten or limit the exceptions in existing law?
Richard Kornicki: Our understanding is that it is a distinct tightening of the law. For example, the explanatory notes make clear that a youth worker would not be entitled to the benefit of the exemption. As this is now formulated, it represents a misunderstanding of how religion works. It is not simply an activity that takes place once a week in a particular place; it is about the whole of life. Important functions will be carried out that will be relevant to religious activity that might be more than, or different from, simply leading liturgical worship.
Q 127Mr. Harper: Does anyone else have a comment on that, in either agreement or disagreement?
William Fittall: Perhaps I can endorse what has been said from the perspective of the Church of England. There is no doubt that this is a substantial narrowing of the present exemption, which talks of
“for the purposes of an organised religion”.
The narrowing is considerable, particularly under paragraph 8. The Government have a difficulty because they are bringing together various strands of discrimination and, in relation to some strands, the present exemptions are narrower than others. For example, exemption can be necessary in relation to gender, because the priesthood, bishops, rabbis and imams are confined to only one gender—that is quite a narrow restriction. However, there are other areas where we need a bit more scope than the provision provides.
The fundamental difficulty is that, if a religious organisation is imposing a faith requirement on a particular post—we have a lot of posts where we do not—and saying, “You’ve got to be an Anglican, a Roman Catholic, or whatever it might be”, we will, particularly for representational or pastoral roles, want people to lead lives that are consistent with the teaching of that particular Church or faith. Our conviction is that the provision does not allow for that. You might believe that some of our rules and disciplines are wrong, but our view is that that is a matter of religious liberty—a matter for the Church of England, Roman Catholics, the Jews or whoever.
We are not seeking carte blanche, but if a religious organisation is employing someone in a role for which you have to be a member of that faith, it is reasonable that restrictions—whether they be on marital history or whatever—can be part of the requirements. I think that the provision would prevent that.
Q 128Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Others might want to come in on this subject, so I will not go on to a new topic. When you say “or whatever”, do you mean gay people as well? You gave the example of marital status, which means that gay people would fall into that category, would they not?
William Fittall: Gay people would not fall into that category because the Church of England does not discriminate on what we would describe as sexual orientation. The difficulty is that we have requirements in terms of conduct.
Q 129Dr. Harris: If they behaved as gay people do, that would mean to have gay sex with someone, which would be outside marriage.
William Fittall: The discipline of many—in fact most—Christian Churches and many other faiths is out of line with what many people in society think. However, our view would be that that is the discipline of that organisation. If people are employed in a representational, pastoral or teaching role, the Government accept that there will be exceptions, but we are arguing about how broad those exceptions should be.
Q 130Dr. Harris: Let us say that an Anglican who is a youth worker does a good job, gets rave reviews, and is doing well. He then comes out as being gay, his work does not suffer, and he is still doing well. Would your organisation, or an organisation of a Church nature, have the right to sack that person when they come out? Alternately, say someone’s marriage breaks down and they are having a terrible time personally. Do you think that you should have the right—whether you choose to or not—to sack someone on the basis of that private trauma, even though they are still doing a good job by objective standards?
William Fittall: There are two answers to that. First, I do not think that the example of youth workers given in the explanatory notes is correct. I do not believe that the provision, as drafted, would prevent Churches or other religious organisations from applying requirements to youth workers, because youth workers have a very important teaching role. There is a misunderstanding there. One of our difficulties is that this has appeared without any discussion with any of us on the panel.
On the second point, it is always difficult when people come into positions for which there is a requirement. Sometimes people are required to be of a particular faith but lose their faith when they are in the job. You face difficult pastoral situations there, but if there is a requirement that you have to be an Anglican or a Catholic, or one that refers to a person’s personal life, we would contend that you have to have the ability to impose those—both at recruitment and when someone is in post.
Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 10 June 2009