Last week, the Equality Bill reached its Report stage in the House of Commons – and provoked splits in no fewer than four parties.
The Bill had previously seen very little dissent: John Bercow was the only MP from to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading. Bercow, now Speaker, is now studiously neutral on the matter, and cannot vote. But that didn’t stop other MPs from doing so. Some wanted the Bill to go further; others thought it should do less. The largest rebellion saw 14 Labour MPs support a Liberal Democrat clause that would have introduced mandatory pay audits for the purpose of identifying differences in pay between male and female employees. (James Plaskitt also voted in both lobbies) The same evening saw another Labour rebellion, this time in a more conservative direction. Eight Labour MPs, including the former Cabinet Minister, Ruth Kelly, supported David Drew’s amendment that would have deleted the part of the Bill that appeared to weaken the exemption provided for religious organisations, especially in relation to an employee’s sexual orientation. The issue also saw splits in the Liberal Democrats. Six Lib Dems voted for the amendment (including five frontbenchers), while 38 voted against. The SNP also split: 3/2 in favour of the amendment.
When it came to the Third Reading of the Bill, it was the turn of the Conservatives to split, albeit only a handful of them: with the Conservative frontbench abstaining, six Tory backbenchers – four of them from the 2005 intake plus Ann Widdecombe and Sir Nicholas Winterton – voted against the Bill in its entirety.