EU PROPOSALS TO COMBAT DISCRIMINATION
PART 4: THE UNITED KINGDOM GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE
21. The Government's response to the Commission's
package of proposals must be seen in the context of their own
evolving policies on equality and discrimination, which were set
out in the equality policy statement of November 1999.
The statement makes a firm commitment to "eliminating unjustified
discrimination", describing equality of opportunity as "not
only inherently right, [but]
essential for Britain's future
economic and social success." The methods of achieving this
objective should "avoid unnecessary and burdensome regulation
and will promote, encourage and support progress through non-legislative
means". Legislation is, however, promised in some areas:
the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill currently before Parliament
will extend the Race Relations Act to a range of public functions;
similar extension is promised for the SDA and DDA. There will
be legislation to improve "the rights of disabled people".
Non-legislative action aimed at "changing negative attitudes
towards disability" is also promised. Other non-legislative
measures mentioned include the existing code of practice on age
discrimination; the Government propose, in conjunction with the
Equal Opportunities Commission, "preparing a code of practice
on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation".
On religious discrimination, the statement refers to research
commissioned by the Government "to try to assess the current
scale and nature of religious discrimination, and the extent to
which it overlaps with racial discrimination, in mainland Britain".
22. The Government's Explanatory Memoranda on the
Commission proposals reflect these commitments. The Government
broadly welcome the proposed Action Programme, but their response
to the legislative proposals is more reserved. Explanatory Memoranda
were submitted by the Department for Education and Employment
(the framework Directive) and the Home Office (the race Directive).
Both EMs state that the Government "supports the principles
enshrined in Article 13 and welcomes the Commission's proposals
as a step forward in combating discrimination across the EU".
But they also suggest that the Government's "negotiating
strategy" will have to "take account of an evolving
domestic agenda". On race, the RRA and the Race Relations
(Amendment) Bill between them cover most of the ground included
in the Directive. However, the EM notes that some of the detail
(notably the application of the principle of indirect discrimination
and the extent to which Article 3 covers education) requires careful
consideration. More serious reservations are expressed on the
framework Directive. The Government point out the differences
between the United Kingdom's approach to disability discrimination
and the Commission; they argue that "in following a sex discrimination
model, the directive creates overlaps and loopholes which would
not be helpful to disabled people seeking to establish their rights".
In particular, the application of the "occupational qualification"
test to disability might undermine the principle of reasonable
accommodation. On sexual orientation and age the Government note
the existence or preparation of Codes of Practice, while on religion
or belief they note that Jews and Sikhs are already covered by
the RRA, and that further research is being undertaken (see above).
A further reservation concerns the requirements that Member States
ensure adequate dissemination of information within the workplace
and that they promote social dialogue. These are described as
"over prescriptive" and inconsistent with subsidiarity.
26 Given to the House of Lords in a Written Answer
by the Baroness Jay of Paddington on 2 December 1999 (WA 49-51). Back
The research is being undertaken by the University of Derby: an
interim report was published in January 2000. The qualification
"mainland Britain" is added because religious discrimination
is already prohibited in Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland
Act 1998. Back