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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. I welcome the opportunity to give the Bill a Second Reading, especially as it takes place on the day on which a general election has been called. I shall be proud to campaign on the Bill, which focuses on the fundamental issue of equality and sends the clear message that it is at the top of our agenda, and I am proud that the Government have introduced it.
We know of the discrimination that still exists widely in nearly all spheres. The Secretary of State described it vividly, and I shall deal with some aspects of it later. First, however, let me congratulate the Secretary of State and her team on the hard work that they have done with various organisations to generate all this support for the Bill. I also congratulate the organisations involved, particularly the Equal Opportunities Commission. It helped the all-party sex equality group, which I chair and which has engaged in discussions on the Bill. I pay tribute to its relentless pursuit of the equality agenda.
I am very pleased about the review of all equality law. There has been a good deal of pressure for that from Members who are present today and from a number of organisations, and I am glad that the Government have responded. The current law is complex and inaccessible, and the mismatch of legislation is unacceptable. We have heard references to 35 Acts and to numerous
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statutory instruments, codes of practice and EC directives. It is impossible to continue with that legislative framework.
I especially welcome the creation of the commission for equality and human rights. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), I felt very proud when I read the list of fundamental duties that it will have,
"there is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights . . . respect for the dignity and worth of each individual . . . each individual has an equal opportunity . . . there is mutual respect between communities".
The commission will carry out the work of the existing commissions on gender, race and disability and will work to prevent discrimination and promote equality in the areas of age, sexual orientation and religion or belief. I welcome the extension of protection to groups discriminated against on those grounds. I also welcome the extension of protection against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of religion or belief, but I would like such protection to be extended to cover discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or age, and to be extended to transgendered people. That issue has been referred to and the Secretary of State responded to it, but it is important that we bring those different strands together as soon as possible.
From a Welsh perspectivethere is a distinct oneI welcome the fact that the commission in Wales will have greater autonomy than the commissions currently enjoy and will have an explicit power to advise the Welsh Assembly. However, I want an assurance that it will have a strong, devolved structure so that it can engage effectively in the context of devolution. I would be grateful if the Minister assured me about that when she responds.
I welcome the fact that there will be a separate Wales committee, which will be part of the new commission. It will set the agenda of the commission for equality and human rights in Wales, and it will take into account the fact that Wales is different from England. I hope that the Minister will respond to my earlier question about how that committee will be appointed.
The commission needs to acknowledge that there are specific circumstances in Wales that need to be addressed, such as the high number of small and medium-sized enterprises there. I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that those businesses should not be exempt from the legislation, but we need to address the equality issue with them in a sensitive way. The Equal Opportunities Commission has received a tremendous amount of lobbying from small businesses in Wales. We must not exempt them, but we must approach the equality issue carefully.
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Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend makes an important point about how the different situation that may pertain in parts of Wales should be taken into account when considering equality issues. However, I hope that she would not encourage too much divergence from the fundamental principles embraced in the Bill. Part of the advantage of having a separate Wales committee is that some of the work done in this area by the Welsh Assembly Government has been groundbreaking. Indeed, we might want such suggestions to be brought into play throughout the UK.
I want the commission to be properly resourced, so that there is adequate funding to address equality issues in Wales. The current budget£70 million has been allocated to itis, in the opinion of many equality organisations, insufficient to meet all the demands placed on it. I was concerned to hear from Conservative Front Benchers that the budget could be streamlined. In fact, the budget is probably not enough, and I hope that the Minister will address that issue when she responds.
A report by the EOC, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Legal Services Commission found that Wales was an "advice desert". There is only one law centre in the whole of Wales. Even if an individual can get advice, they may not have access to experts trained in discrimination law. Funding for training advisers in Wales is clearly needed, and we need to make sure that the Bill provides it. So there is much work to do in training people in Wales, and we must have a budget that is able to provide for that. There is also, of course, the issue of the Welsh language.
I therefore agree with the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). We do not wish to diverge from the main thrust, which is the commission's covering the whole UK, but we must take into account the particular issues relating to Wales.
I also welcome the creation in the Bill of a public sector duty to promote equality between women and men. That duty will come alongside the existing race duty and the new disability duty, and I congratulate the EOC on its effective lobbying on this issue. In addition to what is covered in the Bill, I would like the elimination of harassment to be included in the gender duty, and I would like an assurance from the Minister that the gender duty will require public sector bodies to address unlawful pay discrimination, and to carry out the pay reviews that the EOC is promoting in its briefing for the Bill.
The pay gap in Wales is of particular concern, though on the basis of the figures provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), it may be less than in England. For full-time women workers in Wales, it is 14 per cent. and for part-time workers, a completely unacceptable 32 per cent. A mandatory pay review would go some way towards addressing the problem, and I would like to hear whether the Government are prepared to go down that route.
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I would like to raise the issue of the relationship of the new commission with the Children's Commissioner for Walesit is a rights-based organisationand with the new commissioner for older people, which we discussed in connection with a draft Bill in the Welsh Affairs Committee this morning. There is bound to be an overlap of functions and it is important to develop relationships between the bodies that cover the same issues. The draft Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill will, we were led to understand by the officials who gave evidence this morning, enact the first such commissioner in the world. The Bill's general aim is, among other things, to promote awareness of the interests of older people in Wales and to promote the provision of opportunities for, and the elimination of discrimination against, older people in Wales. We need to ensure that the two elements work well together and to avoid competing legislation. That will be part of the detailed work in Committee, which I hope will take place soon after we return to government. Tackling these issues should be one of our first priorities.
I would like to deal with some particular aspects of discrimination. We legislate for a purposeto ensure that equality is promoted and honouredand I believe that the Bill will help to eliminate sexism and gender discrimination, as well as racism and racial discrimination.
I also hope that the Bill will help us to deal with one of the most discriminated against groups in our society. I refer to the position of Gypsies and Travellers in this country. I am pleased that the Commission for Racial Equality is now working hard to promote the rights and needs of Gypsy Travellers. I hope that the legislation will help to ensure that adequate Traveller sites are provided in this country. Since the duty on local authorities was scrapped by the Leader of the Opposition when he was in governmenthe got rid of the Caravan Sites Act 1968we have faced a difficult situation as to where Gypsies and Travellers are to stop. It has caused many problems for Gypsies and Travellers and for the local settled communities.
We all know that the policies of the marketTravellers were told that the market would provide and that they should buy their own land and get planning permission to set up their own siteshave failed miserably. It is very difficult for them to secure planning permission; indeed, the planning system rejects 90 per cent. of applications from Gypsies and Travellers. That has resulted in many illegal encampments, which then cause problems for local residents and are unacceptable for the Gypsy Travellers themselves. Currently, we face a no-win situation.
I believe that the Gypsy and Traveller community has cause to welcome the Bill. We know that these are among the most discriminated against groups in society. If the Bill means anything, we will have to tackle this issue and try to change people's attitudes towards Gypsies and Travellers. It is not easy to tackle it; we politicians find it difficult to do so. Sometimes I feel that we are discussing the Bill in theory, but at some point we have to face up to the existence of real discrimination and then do something about tackling it.
We know that Gypsies and Travellers have the highest rates of infant mortality, the worst health and the lowest levels of educational achievement in the country. A fairly recent MORI poll was commissioned
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by Stonewall. The attitudes survey showed that 18 per cent. of respondents felt "less positive" about members of other ethnic groups, while 35 per cent. said that they felt "less positive" about Gypsies and Travellers. I hope that the Bill will tackle that problem and will go some way towards providing equal opportunities in housing, health and education for Gypsy Travellers. It should help to stop the current highly unsatisfactory position, which is very hard on both Gypsy Travellers and on local settled communities. If we get back into government, that is one of the first issues that we must tackle. We must improve the situation for people who suffer such great discrimination, and for the residents who suffer the problems of illegal encampments.
For many reasons, I welcome this Bill. I hope that it will render George Orwell's dictum that some people are more equal than others a thing of the past. I look forward to a time when people of whatever gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious belief can enjoy real equality and complete freedom from discrimination. I believe that this Bill is an excellent step in that direction.
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