Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Second Reading of the Equality Bill

For us, equality matters because it is right as a matter of principle. And it is necessary as a matter of practice.

• It is essential for every individual. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and everyone should enjoy the opportunity to fulfil their potential. No-one should suffer the indignity of discrimination – to be told you’re old so you’re past it, to be overlooked because of a disability, to be excluded because of the colour of your skin to be harassed because you are gay or to be paid unfairly because you are a woman.
But equality is not just the birthright of every individual – it’s also necessary for
• the economy: a competitive economy is one that draws on everyone’s talents and everyone’s abilities – and is not blinkered by prejudice; and
• it is necessary for society: a more equal society is more cohesive and at ease with itself, than one marred by prejudice and discrimination.

So, this Labour Government is, like other Labour Governments before us, a champion of equality.

Looking to the future – not turning the clock back

This Bill is not about turning the clock back. Quite the opposite. It is looking to the future. It is backward societies that are marred by discrimination against lesbians and gay men, where women are expected to “know their place” and which are bound by rigid hierarchies.

It is the modern and open society which can look to the future with confidence.

The point about a meritocracy is that only if we have fairness and equality will people really be considered on their individual merits, free from discrimination and unfairness. So this is not an argument against a meritocracy – quite the reverse. Fairness and equality are necessary to underpin a meritocracy.

Don’t leave it till after the recession

Some have said – why do this now? We know it was in your manifesto but we’re in the middle of a global recession. Now’s not the time.

But we don’t accept that. When times are hard it’s even more important that everyone feels that they have an equal chance. That we all pull together because we are in the same boat. That we really make the most of every individual’s talents and potential whatever their age, sex or race. And just as we give real help to people now, we need to give real hope for the future. And that hope is a strong economy and a fair and more equal society.

So I am proud to be bringing this Equality Bill to the House for its second reading today. There are many great champions of the equality movement in this House – and many many more outside. I pay tribute to their efforts in the cause of equality. This Equality Bill is a government Bill but the cause of equality is a great movement. We are proud to play our part in it.

Past Equality laws

This Bill is in the great tradition of Labour governments. The first equality laws were brought in by a Labour Government more than 40 years ago.

First, in the 1960’s with the pioneering race laws. Then in the 1970’s with new laws on equal pay and sex discrimination.

Then there was nothing initiated by the Tory Government for 18 years. Then Labour returned to office and brought in a range of new laws from recognising gay and lesbian partnerships, to protecting older people from discrimination at work.

Discrimination still a problem

But though progress has been made – the job is not yet done. While the most blatant forms of discrimination are just distant memories - inequality and discrimination persist.
So, we need this Equality Bill and the related action that I will outline to the House today to build on what we have already done. It will, by taking a new approach to tackling discrimination, breathe fresh life into our battle against inequality.

This is a landmark Bill covering a wide range of issues – and I would like to take the House through how it will affect different people.

First, I’d like to set out what the Bill will do to tackle discrimination and promote equality and opportunity for women.
Gender pay reports
We’ve made it easier for women who work – with, for example, more childcare and longer maternity leave. But there is still entrenched pay discrimination. Despite women being half the workforce, men still earn, on average, 22.% per hour more than women We do not accept that this is because women work 22% less hard , or because they are 22% less intelligent, or 22% less qualified than men. Mostly a legacy of the idea that a woman’s job is less important than a man’s because her main role is in the home. But though the lion’s share of caring for children and older relatives does still fall to women, women’s income is now vital for their household and their work is important for the economy too. There is not a sector of the economy or any area of services which would survive if women did not work. And it is simply unfair that they should not be paid the same as men for the work they do. So they should be paid fairly. Unequal pay is not the fault of the woman; it’s the responsibility of the employer. Yet in the past it’s been entirely down to the individual woman to complain – never down to the employer to explain. And a veil of secrecy over the issue of pay allows discrimination to continue
The Bill will change that by a power in clause 73 to require employers to make a gender pay report each year. Fair employers have nothing to fear. But unfair employers will have nowhere to hide. Knowledge is power – for employees and their unions, for consumers, for shareholders. I hope employers will compete for the reputation of being fair to their women employees.
This is not a burdensome requirement. Employers know who they employ – whether they are men or women. They know what they pay them.
The public sector will lead the way – with the Bill also providing a power – in clause 147 – to require all public sector employers with more than 150 employees to publish annually details of their gender pay gap. But 80% of employees are in the private sector. And gender pay discrimination there is even greater.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission will bring together employers and unions to work out how gender pay reporting will operate in practice. In July, they will begin to consult and will release the first of their annual reports before the end of this year.
In the first instance we will ask private sector employers to report without a legal requirement.
But because all employers must do it for it to be fair, we will impose the legal requirement on all employers of more than 250 people in 2013 if sufficient progress on reporting hasn’t been made. We hope it will not be necessary to do so. But if there has not been sufficient openness we will use this power. Transparency in itself is important and in every workplace where there is a yawning gap between men and women it will spur employers into reflecting on their practice and taking action to change what they do.
And, as a further measure for openness on gender pay discrimination, the Bill will ban secrecy clauses that prevent employees discussing their pay with colleagues. An estimated fifth of employers impose secrecy clauses.

Equality Duty
Equality for women is a public policy priority and that is why, in 2006, we brought in the gender equality duty, which requires public bodies to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.
The duty has proved to be a lever for change for women. For example. Rape Crisis UK used the Gender Equality Duty to persuade one council to close a local lap-dancing club.
The Bill makes clear that the new public sector equality duty that the Bill brings in will apply not only when public bodies are employing people or providing services, but when they are using their £175 billion purchasing power. It will apply to public procurement too. So this will enable us to build on the current duty to promote equality and to take it further into those organisations and companies that provide goods and services funded by the public purse.

This could mean, for example, that a Government department using an outside organisation to help with its recruitment could include a contract condition that all jobs must be advertised as open to part-time.

Over the summer, Ministers will consult on the practical ways in which public procurement will be used to promote equality, before using the powers in the Bill to set this out in secondary legislation.

Positive action in the workplace
We will allow employers to use “positive action” in recruitment and promotion. The purpose of this new power is to tackle the systemic and well documented glass ceiling which still stops women from going up the career ladder. That is why the bill includes the power to take positive action. Sometimes a company has lots of women in its workforce, but no women on its management team. At the moment, if a vacancy arises and the employer is faced with two equally qualified candidates – one man and one woman – they can’t actually say “right, we’ve got two equally qualified people for this job, and I’m going to take you because you’re a woman and I want to diversify my management”. This provision allows employers to address under-representation where they choose.

All women shortlists and political under-representation
We’ve already legislated for positive action to increase women’s representation in parliament and because in the Labour party we have used that power for all women shortlists, we have gone from only 13 labour women MPs when I was first elected to 95 now. But still only 19% of MPs are women, which is why clause 100 of the Bill extends the permission for political parties to use women-only shortlists to 2030.

This side of the House is proud to have three times more women MPs than all the other parties put together, because we have used all-women shortlists – and we will continue to do so. We urge others if they are serious about improving representation to follow suit.

Tribunal Recommendations
The Bill also strengthens the powers of Tribunals when dealing with systemic discrimination.
Clause 118 of the Bill will allow Tribunals to make recommendations, which benefit the whole workforce and not just the individual who won the claim. This means we can stop the waste of many individuals in the same organisation taking similar action against the same employer.

Protection for breastfeeding mothers
Labour has a proud record of backing mothers at work. But we also do everything we can to support new mothers. That’s why clause 16 of the Bill will make it clear that it is unlawful to force breastfeeding mothers and their babies out of places like coffee shops, public galleries and restaurants. That still happens

Private members’ clubs
I am sure that the whole House will agree that in this day and age, it is not acceptable that there exist places where women can be treated as second class citizens. Part 7 of the Bill will outlaw private members’ clubs discriminating against their women members. So down at the Golf Club every day will be ‘Ladies Day’.

I now turn to how the Equality Bill will tackle the discrimination against older people.

Ban on discrimination in services and public functions
In 2007, pensioners outnumbered children for the first time, and in just 20 years, half of the adult population will be over 50. Today, we can expect to live a quarter of our lives in retirement. This is seismic demographic change and it demands action to tackle the prejudice that still constrains older people.

Our ban on age discrimination in the workplace in 2006 was important, but we need to go further. Older people are being discriminated against by those providing goods and services.

Mr Speaker, we all know examples of this from complaints from our constituents. Like my constituent who came to see me after he’d booked a holiday to go and see his daughter in the States. He’d arranged insurance for £175 and then had to postpone the holiday for a fortnight. During that time he had his 70th birthday and the insurance went up from £175 to £831. He simply could not afford to go.

The Equality Bill will prohibit unjustifiable age discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

This will mean that an insurance company won’t be able to discriminate arbitrarily against older people.

We will outlaw the discrimination and unfairness which is still persistent against older people in social care and the health service.

My Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Health has initiated a National Review led by the Southwest Strategic Health Authority to look at how to implement the ban on age discrimination in health and social care. So we can be sure that whether its treatment for mental illness or back pain, older people get care every bit as good as younger people.

We will be consulting, as the Bill goes through the House, on how this will be put into practice including exceptions to the prohibition against age discrimination where it is justifiable, and giving people the chance to express views on when it will come into force.

This new provision will not prevent the justifiable preferential treatment of older people like free bus passes or cheaper ticket prices for pensioners.

Public sector Equality duty
And the public sector equality duties that already apply in relation to race, gender and disability will be extended to ensure that public bodies will also have to take action to tackle discrimination and promote equality for people of different ages. Like a council putting in extra park benches in local parks, so older people can enjoy public spaces as well as younger people. Or, offering free IT lessons to older people. Like the Great Croft Resource Centre in Camden that Joan Bakewell and I visited this morning.

Protection for carers
It’s important to look not just at those who are older but at the position of the growing number of people who are caring for an older relative.

For most people, the care they get from their family is every bit – if not more - important than the care they get from health or social services.

This Bill will outlaw discrimination against carers. Most people who are caring for a relative also go out to work. So the woman who applies for a promotion at work will not be able to be told – sorry we’ve given the job to someone else because you live with and look after your elderly mother.

We will back up people who are doing the important work of caring for children and older and disabled relatives

Labour brought in the first race relations laws in the sixties. We built on that when we brought in the first public sector equality duty – the race equality duty in 2000 –following the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Transparency in ethnic minority employment
The new public sector equality duty in the Bill will require public bodies with over 150 employees to publish their ethnic minority employment rate.

This will allow people to see how inclusive their public bodies are of the communities they serve and enable both employers and the public to monitor progress.

Extending the use of positive action.
By extending the use of positive action in the workplace the Bill will allow employers to take action to make their workforce more diverse and representative of the communities they serve when selecting between two equally suitable candidates. And that will help to make organisations like the police more effective.

The Bill will also allow political parties to use positive action to address the lack of Black and Asian representation. For example, by reserving a specific number of places on every electoral shortlist for black and Asian candidates. We on these benches have four times more Black and Asian MPs than all other parties put together but we still do not have enough Black and Asian MPs to properly reflect our community. So we want to do more. The Labour party will be using that new power and we challenge the other parties to do the same.

We have already taken action to outlaw discrimination against disabled people but prejudice still blights the lives of disabled people looking for work, or a home or using services. So there are a number of new measures in this bill.

The new public sector equality duty in the Bill will build on the disability equality duty we introduced in 2005. And we will use the new public sector equality duty powers to require public bodies with over 150 employees to publish annually the percentage of disabled people they employ so we will be able to build on good practice and see improvement year by year. It is a public policy imperative to include disabled people so the public sector must lead the way.

Sexual Orientation

There is no place in 21st Century Britain for homophobic prejudice and discrimination. We have already taken steps – recognizing gay and lesbian partnerships and outlawing homophobic discrimination and this bill builds on that with a number of further steps.

Putting a new Equality Duty on public bodies.
Because tackling homophobic discrimination is a public policy objective,the bill includes this new obligation on public bodies as part of the new equality duty


The Equality Bill will change the definition of ‘gender reassignment’ to make it clear that a person does not have to be under medical supervision to be protected from discrimination.

Religion or belief

In a diverse multicultural society it is important to tackle discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, and we have already outlawed that. Because this is a public policy imperative the bill includes addressing disadvantage and responding to the needs of people of different religions and beliefs, in the new Public Sector Equality Duty.

Multiple discrimination

Sometimes a person suffers discrimination because of what is described as multiple discrimination. For example an Asian woman may face discrimination that a white woman or an Asian man would not. But she may not be able to take action on the grounds of either race or sex discrimination. It is the combination of the two factors which is the basis of the discrimination against her. So we are exploring how we can protect people from multiple discrimination. We published a discussion document on the same day as we published the Bill. In light of the feedback we receive we will decide whether protection from multiple discrimination should be introduced and if so, how, taking account of progress on the Equality Bill.

Tackling socio-economic inequality

But we all recognise that discrimination can happen, not just because of your age, gender or race. It can also be rooted in your family background, your socio-economic status or class.

• Less academically able, but better off children, overtake more able, poorer children at school by the age of six;
• And while women generally have longer life expectancy than men, poorer women live less long than rich men

We know this to be the case. It is an important aim of public policy, to reduce the gaps that still are there between rich and poor, to narrow the gap between the top and bottom of our society. And because we believe this is a public policy imperative, this Bill places a legal duty on public sector organisations with strategic responsibilities – like Ministers and government departments, but also health authorities, local councils and regional development agencies, it places a public policy duty on them to play their part in narrowing the gap between rich and poor in the strategic decisions they make.

We will be assisted in putting this into practice by the excellent work of the National Equality Panel, chaired by Prof John Hills. They began their work in September last year and will be reporting at the beginning of 2010. Their work on the socio-economic inequality will be an invaluable basis for the progress that all public bodies need to make in this respect.

Over the decades our anti-discrimination laws have become wider and stronger. But because of that development over a period of 40 years, the whole picture is now complex.
There are currently
*nine major pieces of discrimination legislation,
* around 100 statutory instruments and
*more than 2,500 pages of guidance and statutory codes of practice

It is important for those who have rights to be able to know them and it is important that those who have responsibilities should be able to understand them without having to pay a lawyer to interpret them. So well as extending and strengthening equality legislation, this Bill replaces the thicket of legislation with a single Act.

And this is the first statute which - to make sure it is all completely understandable - has running alongside each clause in that Act, the plain English explanations of what the provisions mean. I’d like to pay tribute to GEO officials who have done a brilliant job on this.

We have also produced an Easyread version of the Bill which is specially for people with learning difficulties. But I find it really useful myself and I recommend it to everyone including hon members.
All of this is aimed at making the law easier to understand and as a result easier to comply with.

Making the law a reality – the role of the EHRC

To make the law a reality, there is a big task. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is consulting widely, including voluntary groups, businesses and trade unions, to work out how it will all be brought into force and to publish the guidance that will be useful to them. The Commission will start to publish guidance later this year, with a view to all new guidance being available by summer next year.


This is a good Bill, a timely Bill and a strong Bill which will make our country a fairer and more prosperous place for all its people.

We cannot afford to be hidebound by prejudice and blinkered by discrimination. This is a modern forward looking argument which will underpin our future success.

I commend this Bill to the House

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.