This is not about giving preference to minority groups but ensuring fair and equal treatment for all.
That was the message from Chief Minister Allan Bell as he announced that consultation would begin this week on the long-awaited Equality Bill – which he described as ‘one of the most important pieces of social legislation to be progress in the Isle of Man in recent times.’
Mr Bell said the Bill would send out a strong message that the government was totally committed to equality, fairness and inclusivity and would help dispel negative perceptions about prejudice and intolerance that he said had caused ‘untold damage’ to the island’s reputation in the past. ‘Prejudice, bigotry and discrimination will not be acceptable for the future,’ he insisted.
He said the controversy last year over a lesbian couple refused the tenancy of a private flat in Ramsey had been a ‘personal wake-up call’ that existing legislation did not provide adequate protection for all.
‘Equality is not about giving preference to certain sections of society or minority groups. It seeks to ensure fair and equal treatment for all,’ the Chief Minister said.
Public consultation started yesterday (Monday) and will last three months – longer than usual due to the length and detailed nature of the Bill. Mr Bell said he would hope to introduce it into the branches of parliament by early February and to underline his personal commitment he would be taking it through himself.
But he added: ‘This is not me being set on driving this Bill through at every cost. We do want to listen to what people have to say. It will have an impact on many people, many minorities in particular.
‘Given the scope and significance of the Bill, I would encourage the fullest possible engagement with the consultation, to help us make sure that the final form of this legislation is fair, effective and right for the Isle of Man.’
The Equality Bill prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services as well as in employment, on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. There are a range of exceptions. It will also require organisations to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled people.
The Bill repeals and replaces a raft of different laws including the Disability Discrimination Act which was passed in 2006 but never fully implemented.
Mr Bell said that although that Bill was never officially given an appointed day order, many elements were implemented such as modern buildings automatically including facilities for the disabled.
The Bill is largely based on the UK’s Equality Act 2010 but with some Isle of Man adaptations, mainly in relation to the enforcement structure.
Mr Bell said the costs of implementation – including adapting buildings for disabled access – had been considered but were difficult to quantify.
He pointed out we were not starting from scratch and the UK legislation provided a comprehensive framework that had been tested and adjusted and comes with a large body of guidance and case-law, which should be familiar to anyone with experience of operating in both jurisdictions.
‘Reasonableness’ was the key, he said.
You can read the draft Bill at http://www.gov.im/about-the-government/government/government-consultations/