The equality bill has been passed before the dissolution of Parliament and will come into effect from October.
The bill, originally put forward by deputy Labour leader and equalities minister Harriet Harman, combines existing anti-discrimination legislation into a single equality act.
MPs yesterday approved the equality bill and its amendments without a vote in the “wash-up” period – when new laws are rushed through Parliament before it breaks for the general election.
The bill includes changes to the use of pre-employment questionnaires and the requirement for large organisations to reveal gender pay disparities. Provisions within the legislation could potentially force political parties to publish anonymous information on the diversity of their candidates.
The House of Lords’ amendments included protection against discrimination for pregnant schoolgirls and young mothers. Peers also removed a ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises, but retained the rights of churches to refuse to employ gay and transsexual people.
[Rachel Dineley, employment partner and head of the diversity and discrimination unit at law firm Beachcroft LLP, commented:] “Under the act, the government proposes to extend the positive action regime. Employers would be able to consider, when selecting between two equally qualified candidates, under-representation of disadvantaged groups and appoint the person from the under-represented. The merits of these new provisions are highly controversial and some view them as social engineering by the back door.”
The Bill has now been sent for Royal Assent, after which it will become an Act of Parliament.