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Equality Bill

Equality Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, David Taylor, † Ann Winterton
Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
Baird, Vera (Solicitor-General)
Baron, Mr. John (Billericay) (Con)
Boswell, Mr. Tim (Daventry) (Con)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Harper, Mr. Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Howell, John (Henley) (Con)
Mason, John (Glasgow, East) (SNP)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 7 July 2009


[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

Equality Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
E62 - National Assembly for Wales Equality of Opportunity Committee
E63 - Royal College of Physicians
E64 - Lovells
E65 - David Mason
E66 - Tribunals Service
E67 - CasteWatch UK
10.30 am
The Chairman: I welcome hon. Members to the Committee. I am sure that they are feeling demob happy—as I am, but for different reasons. I call the Minister to move new clause 5 formally.

New Clause 5

Non-discrimination alterations
‘(1) This section applies if the trustees or managers of an occupational pension scheme do not have power to make non-discrimination alterations to the scheme.
(2) This section also applies if the trustees or managers of an occupational pension scheme have power to make non-discrimination alterations to the scheme but the procedure for doing so—
(a) is liable to be unduly complex or protracted, or
(b) involves obtaining consents which cannot be obtained or which can be obtained only with undue delay or difficulty.
(3) The trustees or managers may by resolution make non-discrimination alterations to the scheme.
(4) Non-discrimination alterations may have effect in relation to a period before the date on which they are made.
(5) Non-discrimination alterations to an occupational pension scheme are such alterations to the scheme as may be required for the provisions of the scheme to have the effect that they have in consequence of section 57(3).’.—(The Solicitor-General.)
This amendment would ensure that trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes have power to amend scheme documentation so that it conforms to the provisions of the scheme as they have effect after the operation of the non-discrimination rule.
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 26

Combined discrimination: dual characteristics
‘(1) A person (A) also discriminates against another (B) if, because of a combination of two relevant protected characteristics, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat a person who does not share either of those characteristics.
This new clause would provide for the discrimination prohibited by the Bill to include discrimination that is because of a combination of two protected characteristics. It would also confer power to specify circumstances in which claims for such discrimination may not be brought.
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Free miners
‘(1) The Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838 is amended as follows.
(2) In section XIV (Who shall be deemed Free Miners), line 1, leave out “male”.
(3) In section XV (Quarrymen to be deemed Free Miners for certain purposes), line 1, leave out “male”.’.—(Mr. Harper.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I ask for the Committee’s indulgence. The new clause concerns a local matter that affects the Forest of Dean, my constituency. I want to take some time to lay out what is involved. I say to those members of the Committee who find it interesting that I am pleased to have interested them; the rest will have to indulge me in my constituency interests, which I am sure they will understand.
The purpose of the new clause is straightforward. It falls squarely within the scope of the Bill. It would amend the Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838. In section XIV, under the heading, “Who shall be deemed Free Miners”, the Act states that
“All male persons born or hereafter to be born and abiding within the said Hundred of Saint Briavels”
could be free miners. My new clause would leave out the word “male”. It would also amend section XV of the Act, headed “Quarrymen to be deemed Free Miners for certain purposes”, by leaving out the word “male”.
It is important to note that the new clause would not change the requirement under the Act that, to be become a free miner, the person must work for a year and a day in a coal or iron mine within the hundred of St. Briavels. It is important that a free miner should remain skilled in mining work and mining craft, and the aim of my new clause is to give women the same opportunity that is available to men.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): It strikes me that the legislation is slightly obscure and that the hon. Gentleman knows about it because he is from the area. Is it his opinion that there are hundreds of other similar pieces of legislation, which also need to be amended?
Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman is right: the legislation might seem obscure to him, but it is certainly not obscure in the Forest of Dean. I will explain later why I came to the conclusion that, to solve a real problem, it was necessary to amend the Act and to say why the framework within the Bill does not solve the problem. Will he just bear with me? When I reach the relevant point, he is free to intervene if he thinks that I have not dealt with it adequately.
This place should legislate, whether to create new laws or change old ones, only when there is a real problem to solve rather than a theoretical principle to deliver. The older the law—hon. Members can see the date of the Act—the more hesitant I am about changing it, and when it relates to the valued traditions of my constituency, I am even more cautious. The Free Miners Association would probably not be particularly enthusiastic about the change. I have discussed the matter with its president, Eric Morris, who represents a conservative association, with a small “c” rather than a large “C”. I am trying to make the change because the problem is not theoretical, but real, affecting a real constituent today. That is why it is worth attempting to reform the law.
At the moment a free miner can only be a man, says the Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838. I have a constituent, Elaine Morman, who wishes to become a free miner, following in the tradition of her family. She works at Clearwell Caves, which is an iron ore mine, and she has attempted to register as a free miner. She has been refused by the deputy gaveller, an office under the Crown—I shall explain how that all works in a moment. He made it clear in his letter of 8 January 2009, titled “Application for Freeminer Registration”, that
“the principle obstacle to your application is that of gender. As you are aware, only male persons are permitted to be registered and extensive research indicates that there are no grounds for allowing variations to this registration requirement. Regrettably therefore, your application to be registered is refused.”
That was signed by John Harvey, the deputy gaveller of Dean forest, and an officer of the Forestry Commission. That is the nub of the problem that I am trying to solve with my new clause: to give Elaine Morman the opportunity, which would be available to a man who was in exactly the same circumstances as her, to be registered as a free miner.
Given that most, if not all, Committee members will be unfamiliar with free miners, it might be helpful to share a little background information so that hon. Members, including the Minister, can make a proper assessment of the case for my new clause. I shall keep my eye on you, Lady Winterton, to make sure that I am not straying outside the scope of my new clause.
The Chairman: Mr. Harper, you can be assured that I shall be keeping my eye on you too.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful for that assurance, Lady Winterton.
There is an interesting and comprehensive description of free miners, available on the website of Clearwell Caves, the organisation that Mrs. Morman works for and on account of which she hopes to be registered as a free miner. That website makes it clear that, as the Act says:
“All male persons born or hereafter to be born and abiding within the said Hundred of St Briavels, of the age of twenty one years and upwards, who shall have worked a year and a day in a coal or iron mine within the said Hundred of St Briavels, shall be deemed and taken to be Free Miners.”
There is an official register of free miners, which is kept by the deputy gaveller, who is a Crown officer responsible for the administration of the free mining customs and for the collection of mineral royalties. Specific gales are granted to free miners, at their request, and the deputy gaveller keeps a record of the minerals and the particular areas in which they can work. In my constituency, ironworking was extensive by Roman times and has played an important part in the history of our country. In fact, the Forest of Dean was the most prominent iron-producing district in the British isles.
The free mining customs go back many years. The earliest known copy of the “Dean Miners’ Lawes and Privileges” is from 1610, but contains references to much earlier origins. There are 41 laws and privileges for the mining of iron and coal, and the rights for access and the method of staking a claim are outlined. The duties of the King’s representative, the gaveller, included the collection of royalties, as well as registering free miners. The exact date when those privileges began operating is not known, but in 1244 it was recorded that free miners already had the exclusive right to mine ore in the Forest of Dean—so they go back a considerable distance.
For those Scottish Members on the Committee, whose interest may be waning at this point, it is worth mentioning that there are many references to mediaeval free miners being instrumental in recapturing Berwick-upon-Tweed several times—in 1296, 1305 and 1315—as it passed between Scottish and English hands. Legend tells us that it was for their indispensable services during Edward I’s Scottish campaigns that he granted the Dean miners a royal charter, as he had with other mining districts such as Derbyshire. I hope that Scottish Committee members do not hold that against my new clause.
John Howell (Henley) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an interesting and widely historical point. Does he recall, although I know that he was not around at the time, that Edward I’s campaigns against the Scots—I do not want to dwell on that point—also involved the miners of Derbyshire? Is he aware of whether the free mining tradition is alive and well in other parts of the country? I know that the 1838 Act was specific to his constituency, but does he envisage the same problem occurring in other parts of the UK?
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