Equality Bill passes second reading as Tory motion defeated

A disability campaign body welcomed the successful second reading of the Equality Bill in the House of Commons yesterday.

A Conservative motion rejecting the Bill was defeated by 322 votes to 139 and the legislation will now be passed on for scrutiny by a parliamentary committee.

Guy Parckar, public policy manager at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said he hoped the Equality Bill would end the barriers to employment and education that many disabled people face.

The Bill includes measures to allow employers to use positive action to choose to hire staff from groups that are under-represented in their organisation against a majority candidate, providing they are capable of doing the job.

“We welcome the Equality Bill as a chance to challenge these issues and ensure that discrimination towards disabled people is ended,” Parckar said. “However, it must close the gaps that currently exist in the law and make it easier for disabled people themselves to challenge the discrimination they can face.”

Labour MP Roger Berry, secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, urged the government to amend the Bill to extend protection against discrimination to more disabled people.

Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality, admitted she had been criticised for introducing the Bill during the recession. Among the measures included in the Bill is a requirement for firms to conduct equal pay audits to publicise their gender pay gaps by 2013 if they do not do so voluntarily.

In Parliament, Harman said: “When times are hard, it is even more important that everyone feels that they have an equal chance and that we all pull together, because we are in the same boat.”

Many of the Bill’s proposals, including the ban on secrecy clauses to prevent staff from talking about pay, and using public procurement to promote equality, will come into force in March 2010 if the Bill succeeds in its current form.

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