MPs to challenge new employment law for gays

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The Independent Online

New legislation allowing religious employers to sack gay and lesbian staff will face its first test today when a powerful committee of MPs and peers challenges the proposals.

The 2003 Employment Equality Regulations, which were drafted by the Government to comply with European Union directives on workplace discrimination, were expected to be passed through Parliament as a formality.

But in an extremely rare move, the joint Committee on Statutory Instruments will ask Whitehall officials responsible for the regulations to explain the rationale behind parts of the legislation.

Gay rights groups, the Liberal Democrats and trade unions have condemned the regulations because they exempted religious groups from anti-discrimination measures.

A clause, inserted after pressure from the Church of England, states that the law will not apply where it conflicts with the strongly held convictions of a "significant number" of a religion's followers.

Because the regulations are secondary legislation, they do not have to be debated on the floor of the Commons and may be subject to only three hours' debate in committee before passing into law.