Letter from Lord Lester of Herne Hill
to the Chairman
My Equality Bill had its First Reading on Tuesday.
The Second Reading debate has been arranged for Friday, 28th February.
The Bill results from several years of study,
review and consultation under the auspices of the Centre
for the Public Law at Cambridge University, led by Professor Bob
Hepple QC and his team. It seeks to create a coherent and enduring
framework for tackling unjustifiable discrimination, and promoting
equality of opportunity in a way that is user friendly.
I enclose a copy of the Bill and of the Explanatory
If the Bill is given a Second Reading I hope that
it may be possible for it to be the subject of an enquiry
by a Select Committee of the House to enable evidence to
be taken from the various specialist bodies and interest groups.
Thirty years ago, a House Select Committee considered
a private Member's Bill on sex discrimination. They heard a considerable
amount of evidence on the extent and type of discrimination
and produced special reports on proposed amendments and an analysis
of the evidence they had taken (H.L. 81 and 104 of 1972-73).
The work done by that Committee and by a Commons Committee was
valuable in enabling the Government to develop policy on what
became the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Subsequently, many Private
Members' bills on various types of discrimination have
been introduced in both Houses, but no bill has sought to tackle
all the main grounds of discrimination in a single measure,
and neither House has considered the issues in the round.
A Lords Committee would be able to address some of
the matters addressed in the Bill that are of general
interest and importance. For example, and these are only suggestions,
they might take evidence and report upon the following issues:
(a) whether British law should reach further than the EU equality
directives which are to be implemented by subordinate legislation
under the European Communities Act 1972, that is, beyond the field
of employment; (b) the contexts in which it is legitimate to impose
positive duties to promote equality of opportunity and treatment,
(c) whether the grounds of discrimination should be closed
or open-ended; (d) what the potential costs and benefits of
equality legislation are to business and other; and, (e) what
the potential advantages and disadvantages of employment and pay
equity plans would be. On the other hand, it is doubtful whether
it would be sensible for a Committee to consider whether there
should be a single Equality Commission since this is already the
subject of public consultation.
The great advantage of this approach would be that
it would enable the subject-matter of the Bill to be investigated
in the light of evidence and consultation. That would advance
public understanding of the issues and assist future development
of legislation in this area.
I should be grateful if my suggestion were considered
by the Liaison Committee at the appropriate stage. If any further
information is need I would of course be delighted to provide