Focus: Policy and Politics - Stonewall secures Equality Bill edits

Amendments will prevent discrimination in service provision, writes Nathalie Thomas.

Stonewall has successfully secured amendments to the Equality Bill in the House of Lords, protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

The amendments, tabled by the Labour peer Lord Waheed Alli and accepted by the Government, will introduce protection for gay people in various areas, from the provision of NHS services to procuring insurance.

"In the 21st century, it cannot be right for people to be discriminated against in going about their lives, in buying or making use of goods and services, simply on the grounds of their sexual orientation," Lord Smith of Finsbury, another supporter of the amendments, told the Lords.

He added: "It is incumbent on us all to ensure that the law and practice do not discriminate."

The amendments were included in the Bill's third reading in the Lords last week. It will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 21 November.

According to Stonewall, gay people continue to be discriminated against in everyday situations such as booking hotel rooms, eating out in restaurants and accessing NHS services.

Ben Summerskill, the charity's chief executive, said the amendments "will have a significant impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of gay people".

He said: "Signs saying 'no blacks' or 'no Irish' have thankfully become a thing of the past.

In 2005, it's shocking that hotels can still put up signs saying 'no gays'.

We look forward to early implementation of the new law."

Last week's victory followed several months of lobbying by Stonewall and its supporters. As part of its Give us the Goods campaign, it urged supporters to contact their local MPs as well as Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the minister in charge of the Equality Bill.

Stonewall also conducted research based on case studies received from supporters, which it later presented to parliamentary representatives.

"We surveyed 300 women in Brighton and we found that the proportion of lesbians who had smear tests was 20 per cent lower than the national average," Summerskill said.

The organisation feels the victory is particularly important when it comes to protecting gay people from discrimination in the delivery of statutory services.

"If you went to a B&B where the owner didn't like gays or lesbians, then there's another B&B down the road," said Summerskill. "With things such as healthcare, education and policing, you don't have that choice."

KEY POINTS

- Amendments to the Equality Bill proposed by Stonewall were passed in the Bill's third reading in the Lords last week

- The amendments will allow lesbian, gay and bisexual people protection from discrimination in the provision of services

- The Equality Bill will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 21 November.

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