Clause 22

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:15 am ar 18 Mehefin 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Comparison by reference to circumstances

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I rise to question the Minister as to the explanation behind subsection (3), which states:

“If the protected characteristic is sexual orientation, the fact that one person (whether or not the person referred to as B) is a civil partner while another is married is not a material difference between the circumstances relating to each case.”

It would be helpful if that was clarified.

I have had a note from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement also seeking to clarify the background and pointing out that there may be a problem. I am not sure that that is right, but I am not sure it is wrong. The letter explains that the movement favours

“the legal equalisation of civil partnership and marriage, and where there is good reason to apply a restriction across the board (eg if there were no accommodation at an hotel suitable for couples)” considers that would be all right. It goes on:

“Where people are discriminated against purely because they are in a civil partnership, however, when no such restriction is applied to the married, this is not acceptable.”

I am sure that that is the motivation behind existing legislation and the Bill.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement interprets clause 22(3) as dealing with the type of case in question by

“treating the denial of services, work etc. or other discrimination as one relating to sexual orientation.”

The concern is that that might not meet the case. The letter says something that I am not sure is right in spirit, although it may be in law, which is that

“the status of civil partnership implies no intrinsic sexual relationship, that its contribution to the stability of society as a whole was strongly stressed by the Government and accepted by others throughout the discussion and passage of the civil partnership legislation, and that”—

I think the implication is that this was a result of that fact—

“many Christian leaders supported the passage of that Act, including in particular eight out of the ten Bishops voting in the crucial final decision on the then Bill in the Lords, and indeed a former Archbishop.”

That was because we have clerics in our Parliament as of right.

Concern is expressed in the letter and this is the nub of it:

“It would be bizarre if the Bill led to those contracting civil partnerships (or indeed marriage) being themselves treated adversely by comparison with those who had chosen not to contract these relationships. Indeed, this would negate the whole—and welcome—purpose of including them in the protected categories at all.”

I wonder whether the letter is making the point, although I find it difficult to sustain this argument, that sexual orientation may be a distraction from the main reason for discrimination. I hope I have given the Minister a chance at least to understand the concerns that have been put to me, even if I do not necessarily recognise them as justified.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 9:30, 18 Mehefin 2009

I have partially grasped the concerns. Explanatory note 96 puts pretty simply the point of subsection (3), which is that a civil partner who is treated less favourably than a married person in similar circumstances is being discriminated against because of sexual orientation. As to the issue about the  definition of civil partnership and its not necessarily having to be sexual, I suppose that that is just a nod—perhaps an important nod, to some people—in the direction of the fact that, in law, for a marriage not to be void it must have been consummated. There is no such requirement in a civil partnership. That may be where the leeway arose, and it might not be unhelpful leeway to have available, for several reasons.

I suppose that I should say that, for the purpose of discrimination law, marriage and civil partnership are treated the same, so any discrimination between the partner in one of those as opposed to the other will be discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I hope that that is comprehensive enough.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.