There has been much scaremongering in the press about Harriet Harman’s announcement that the proposed Equalities Bill will encourage positive discrimination (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7474801.stm). In fact the Government’s White Paper, Framework for a Fairer Future (published 26 June 2008), states simply that the Bill will allow employers to take under-representation into account when selecting between two equally qualified candidates.
The main aim of the Bill is to ‘declutter’ and simplify the existing legislation. There are presently nine major pieces of discrimination legislation, around 100 statutory instrument and more than 2,500 pages of guidance and statutory codes of practice. There will be a new single equality duty to replace the existing ones which will also cover gender reassignment, sexual orientation and religion or belief.
The Bill will also impose a new equality duty on the public sector and require transparency from them. It will contain powers to make further regulations outlawing unjustifiable age discrimination and strengthen enforcement (such as allowing tribunals to make general recommendations).
The Government will soon publish a detailed paper and the draft Bill.