The island’s Equality Bill is continuing its passage through parliament - despite an attempt by a LibVan MHK to refer it back to a committee.
Ramsey MHK Lawrie Hooper said he was ‘fully supportive’ of the principles behind the Bill but felt it was being rushed through.
He claimed referring it to a committee, which would report back no later than March, would allow the clauses to be debated in detail. He insisted this was not an attempt to delay the legislation.
But Douglas North MHK David Ashford maintained it would do just that. ‘I think it will kill the Bill or certainly bog it down. I don’t think it’s being rushed. The legislation has been in the mixing pot for a while.’
Policy and Reform Minister Chris Thomas, who is leading the Bill through the Keys, urged MHKs not to refer it to a committee. ‘It may be seen as a delaying tactic by people outside this House,’ he said.
He said having a committee report back by March was an unrealistic expectation and questioned what it would achieve.
The Equality Bill has been a long time in the making, he said, with drafting approval first given in 2011. There was an extended period of public consultation in 2014, and the Bill successfully passed through the Legislative Council earlier this year.
Changes suggested by LegCo are incorporated in the Bill now going through the Keys.
Mr Thomas said: ‘I believe that there are few, if any, members of this House who would argue against the principle that people should, as far as possible, be treated equally and protected from discrimination.
‘I hope most members are delighted that our new government is bringing this Equality Bill as its first Government Bill.’
The basic concept of the Equality Bill is that unjustified discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, he explained.
It applies to the public, private and third sectors, and it covers all areas of life including employment, the provision of goods and services, education, and the carrying out of public functions.
The main forms of conduct that people are protected from under the Bill are direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and discrimination arising from a disability.
But he pointed out that there are circumstances under which treatment that could be discriminatory is permitted or may be permitted depending on the facts of the particular case.
Mr Thomas said the Disability Discrimination Act, which he described as an interim measure and whose final provisions are due to come into force in January 2020, would be repealed when the Equality Act came into operation - ‘no quicker, no slower, balancing expectations of all concerned’.
Daphne Caine (Garff) suggested that the Bill did not go far enough to protect people in the area of gender identity. She said other amendments might be needed to ‘ensure protection for all members of society.’ Bill Shimmins (Middle) warned about avoiding a deluge of speculative or spurious claims. ‘We need to deter claims which are without merit,’ he said.
The Keys unanimously voted to the give the Equality Bill its second reading. Mr Hooper’s motion for it to be referred to a committee was defeated.