Ministers row over costly Equality Bill

An ongoing row between Government ministers Peter Mandelson and Harriet Harman over how far to push equality plans hit the headlines in the financial press today.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson is understood to be concerned that aspects of the controversial Equality Bill will heap burdensome regulations on businesses at a time of financial crisis.

But Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House of Commons and also Minister for Women, passionately supports the Bill and doesn’t want its scope to be narrowed.

  • What is the Equality Bill?
  • Business leaders are concerned that the Bill will give the Government power to force medium and large companies to report on detailed “equality indicators” in their annual accounts.

    The CBI employers’ organisation told the Financial Times last night that ministers should not be contemplating introducing such a “regulatory big stick” in the middle of a recession.

    The row between Lord Mandelson and Harriet Harman has spilled over into the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

    The Commission is the Government’s equality enforcer and some staff are reported to be frustrated that it is not aggressive enough. Others are concerned at how it is spending its £70 million annual budget.

    Three senior figures have recently quit the Commission and others are believed to be considering their positions.

    The Equality Bill

    The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech in December last year. It will apply to England, Wales and Scotland. It aims to streamline existing equality laws and give more powers for enforcement.

    It will place a duty on public bodies – like the police and local councils – to promote homosexual and transsexual equality.

    It will also allow political parties to use all-women shortlists for candidates until 2030. Some homosexual activists are pressing for all-gay shortlists to also be allowed.

    In recent years some equality laws, particularly on the grounds of sexual orientation, have clashed with human rights laws that protect free speech and religious liberty.

    The Bill’s progress through Parliament could give some backbench MPs an opportunity to attempt further limitations on the religious liberty and free speech of Christians and others.

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