Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Special Report

Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland Office



This paper provides information on developments on designation under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, structures for advising Secretary of State on his statutory responsibility under section 75 and progress on developing the NIO equality scheme. The Memorandum of Understanding between the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission has been agreed. Public procurement, the Northern Ireland Senior Civil Service and Fair Employment are transferred matters and are therefore the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Designation under section 75

Section 75(1) of the Northern Ireland Act requires all public authorities to

    "have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity -
  • between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
  • between men and women generally;
  • between persons with a disability and persons without; and
  • between persons with dependants and persons without."

In addition, and without prejudice to those obligations, public authorities are required under Section 75(2) to

    "have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group."

The vast majority of public bodies in Northern Ireland were automatically brought within the scope of section 75 by virtue of s75 (3)(b)&(c). These c.120 bodies were required to submit their equality schemes to the Commission by 30 June 2000. The Commission is currently assessing the submitted schemes.

The Act also makes provision for the Secretary of State to designate further bodies as public authorities for the purposes of section 75. The Government believes that non-designation should be the exception rather than the rule and wants to see as wide as possible a range of public bodies brought within the scope of section 75.

To this end, the first designation order was made in June 2000, when the following bodies were designated:

British Council
British Library Board
Customs & Excise
Data Protection Commissioner
Department for Culture Medial and Sport
Department of Trade and Industry
Export Credits Guarantee Department
Inland Revenue
National Lotteries Charities Board
New Opportunities Fund
Northern Ireland Court Service
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Northern Ireland Office
Office of the Director General of Telecommunications
Probation Board for Northern Ireland
Trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

These bodies are required to submit equality schemes to the Equality Commission by 25 January 2001.

The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 extended section 75 to cover the Police Service, Policing Board, Police Ombudsman and the new District Policing Partnerships that are to be created.

A further tranche of bodies will be designated early in the New Year with others to follow as necessary.

NIO Equality Structures

Since the restoration of devolution on 27th May, the NIO's Human Rights and Equality Unit has assumed responsibility for advising the Secretary of State of his duties under section 75. This is in addition to the co-ordinating machinery set up to develop and implement the NIO's own equality scheme, outlined below. The unit has developed strong working relationships with the Equality Commission and with the non-devolved public authorities.

NIO Equality Scheme

A comprehensive draft Equality Scheme has been prepared, with consultation with representatives of the various section 75 categories. Currently, this is being revised to take account of those consultations and of further work done within the Northern Ireland Office, with a view to a final draft being available to send to the Equality Commission before the end of January.

The Equality Scheme has the explicit endorsement of the Secretary of State, and of the Permanent Under Secretary of State. The NIO's Director of Resources, Mrs Doreen Brown, is the member of the Departmental Board with particular responsibility for the Scheme, and Christine Collins has been appointed as the NIO's Equality Scheme Co-ordinator. Each NIO Director has appointed Equality Scheme Drivers, in their commands, to co-ordinate work on equality issues within their areas. In addition, the NIO have appointed an independent consultant to provide facilitation and advice, and a measure of assurance to the Departmental Board on the robustness of the Scheme.

22 December 2000

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Prepared 6 February 2001