Previous SectionIndexHome Page

      Computer Misuse Act 1990 (Amendment)

Mr. Derek Wyatt accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to create offences in connection with denial of service and to make further provision about proceedings and penalties for an offence under section 1 of that Act; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 15 April, and to be printed [Bill 102].

5 Apr 2005 : Column 1295

5 Apr 2005 : Column 1297

Orders of the Day

Equality Bill

[Relevant document: The Sixteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2004–05, Equality Bill, HC 497.]

Order for Second Reading read.

2.27 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill will help to transform the way in which we promote equality and tackle discrimination in 21st-century Britain. It is underpinned by the Government's belief in the equal value and worth of every human being. It reflects our commitment to creating a Britain in which every individual can fulfil his or her potential—men and women alike, whatever their background, class, religion or race, regardless of age, disability or sexual orientation.

For us, equality is a basic moral principle. We believe in a fairer society. Increasingly, however, in the present competitive and global economy, equality and economic success go hand in hand. Britain's businesses—indeed, all Britain's employers, in whatever sector of the economy they operate—need to draw on the talents of the whole work force if they are to remain successful. So promoting equality and diversity, as the Bill does, is vital not only to securing individual opportunity and potential, but to the prosperity of our society as a whole.

Many of us in the House have campaigned for equality and human rights for decades. Having worked with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 myself, I supported what became the first test case involving indirect sex discrimination. That case led to the abolition of age requirements for admission to senior jobs in the civil service. I am proud now to serve in a Government who I believe have done more to promote equality and tackle discrimination than any other Government in our country.

In 2000, we established the Disability Rights Commission to promote the rights of disabled people. Last year, we introduced the Disability Discrimination Bill, currently proceeding through the House, which will bring into force a new duty for the public sector to promote equality for people with disabilities. We have outlawed discrimination in the workplace on grounds of religion and belief and of sexual orientation, and in October 2006 that legislation will be extended to cover age discrimination. We have delivered the biggest ever package of support for working parents, including an extension of maternity leave, an increase in maternity pay, new rights to flexible working and guaranteed free nursery places for all three and four-year-olds. As part of that approach, we have given more support to fathers, including two weeks' paid paternity leave for the first time ever. We have outlawed race discrimination in all public functions, and imposed a new duty on public bodies to promote race equality.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I place on the record at the start my thanks for the work that my right
5 Apr 2005 : Column 1298
hon. Friend has done with the black and Asian community on this Bill? She has listened very carefully to what they have said in meeting the concerns of the Commission for Racial Equality, allowing them to be part of this process while letting them, in effect, join in at a later date. In my view, that would not have happened but for her own personal commitment. She is a true champion of equality.

Ms Hewitt: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for those very generous remarks. May I, in turn, thank him for the work that he—along with many other of my right hon. and hon. Friends—did to ensure that the concerns that were widely held within the black and Asian British communities when we first published the White Paper were indeed addressed by the Government in our response to that consultation? As a result, the CRE has welcomed the Bill, as does my hon. Friend, and I thank him for that work.

I also want to pay tribute to the work that the Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, my right hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), has done on this Bill, and in introducing and piloting through the House the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which will ensure that in future, same-sex couples will have the same inheritance, pension and next-of-kin rights as married couples. I also want to thank the many hon. Friends—honourable sisters, if I may say so—who joined me in campaigning for, and helping to secure the passage of, the equal representation legislation that has enabled all political parties that choose to do so to take positive action to ensure a proper balance in the selection of candidates, whether for this House or for other elected office.

As I reflect on our Government's many achievements, I must mention in particular the Human Rights Act 1998, which in my view is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in recent years. It has incorporated into British law the European convention on human rights, which our country helped to draft in the aftermath of the second world war. By doing so, we have ensured that British people no longer need to go to Strasbourg and to the European Court of Human Rights in order to uphold their rights under that convention; rather, they can do so within the courts of our own country.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box to introduce Second Reading of this extremely important Bill, which will clearly be overtaken by outside events. Will she give an undertaking that a re-elected Labour Government would reintroduce it very quickly? On a slightly different subject, is she as shocked as I am that the Conservatives appear to wish to abolish the Human Rights Act in certain circumstances? Indeed, they are openly saying so in their campaign literature and out in the constituencies.

Ms Hewitt: I cannot pre-empt a future Queen's Speech, and rather more importantly I cannot pre-empt the verdict of the British people. But should we secure a third term in government—as I hope we will—I have no doubt that this Bill will be reintroduced extremely early in the first Session. Frankly, I share my hon. Friend's dismay at what leading figures in the Conservative
5 Apr 2005 : Column 1299
party, at least, are saying about the Human Rights Act; indeed, it was in part because of those comments that I made a particular point of referring to it.

So there have been some significant achievements, but despite that, unacceptable inequalities in opportunity remain and too many people still face discrimination and prejudice. Let me give just a few examples. British African-Caribbean men are still four times as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts—a statistic that applies to every group, from the least skilled to the most, regardless of their qualifications. Women in full-time employment still earn almost 20 per cent. less than men—a figure that is almost double for those in part-time work. People with disabilities are nine times as likely as non-disabled people to be out of work and claiming benefits, even though so many of them want a job. The autonomy and dignity of many people with disabilities is still routinely impeded by the difficulties that they face in accessing shops, services and transport.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for what she has just said about disability, and I welcome the measures in the Bill. In particular, I want to express the gratitude of the many people in Scotland with disabilities who realise that the Bill reflects the new situation there under devolution. I am glad to say that the Executive seem very much aware of the problems and challenges that disabled people face.

Ms Hewitt: My right hon. Friend is a great champion of the cause of people with disabilities, and I pay tribute to him for that. I agree with him, in that the Bill creates the right relationship between the new commission, which will have a UK-wide remit, and the work of the Executive and of the commissions in Scotland.

Returning to the broader issue of discrimination and continuing prejudice in our society, we know that gay men, lesbians and bisexual people still far too often face discrimination and prejudice at work and in the wider community. We also know that many older people—I declare an interest as a 56-year-old—who want to work and who enjoy full opportunities are prevented from doing so. I am glad to say that that does not apply to those of us in this House, but as I constantly observe in my own constituency, far too many people find it impossible even to get a job interview, never mind a job, because of their age. A distressingly high proportion of people from the Muslim communities report unfair treatment from private and, I regret to say, public services alike.

Next Section IndexHome Page