I’m a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. I’ve just received this email (which I’ve edited a bit) about the Localism Bill, which is due to have its Report Stage in the Commons soon and will then go to the Lords. Report Stage is when the Bill comes out of committee, i.e. it’s a report on what happened at Committee stage, and further amendments can be tabled.
” The Localism Bill contains a new provision called the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, which opens up public services to bids from ‘community groups’, including religious groups and organisations. Community groups bid to run public services on behalf of the public authority.
Our concern is that religious groups have exemptions under the Equality Act 2010 which means that if they win contracts under the ‘Community Right to Bid’, or any other public commissioning process, to provide public services, they are permitted to discriminate on religious grounds against employees and against service users. There is also nothing to prevent such groups from proselytising when they are providing public services on behalf of the state.
The DCLG Bill team is currently consulting on the ‘Community Right to Challenge’ [consultation closes May 3rd]. However, there are no proposals in that consultation, or measures in the Localism Bill itself, to prevent against discrimination by religious groups working under contract to provide public services.
Some members of the APPHG were very active during the passage of the Equality Act regarding equalities and religious organisations and public services – these are the same issues. The Localism Bill, and especially the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, is an ideal vehicle through which to promote real equality, and a real level playing-field in our public services. This issue is not one of discriminating against religious groups, rather it is one of ensuring that all providers are required to work to the same high equality standards, to ensure that all public service employees are treated equally regardless of their personal beliefs, and to ensure that public services continue to be provided to all, without illegitimate and unnecessary discrimination.”