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Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I, too, welcome the Bill. The Minister touched on the discrimination that older people can often face in terms not only of their rights to employment, but of their access to goods and services. The Bill will not extend protection on goods and services to older people. Will she give us some sense of the urgency that the Government attach to extending such protection to older people and a timetable for achieving that?
Meg Munn: Issues of age are pervasive. Provisions on age in many aspects of our legislation affect not only older people, but younger people. We are examining the matter as part of the discrimination law review and intend to bring forward a Green Paper early next year. That will enable us to have proper consultation on such matters, which will lead to a single equality Act. I will say a little more about that later.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I basically welcome the Bill, but I hope that the Minister can solve a mystery. She referred to the substantial review that the Government are undertaking on equality and discrimination legislation. I do not understand why they are not waiting for the outcome of the review before bringing forward substantive legislation. They seem to be putting the cart before the horse.
Meg Munn: I thought that I was being asked to solve a mystery, but it is a bit simpler than that. The work that is going on to establish the commission will indeed take some time, as will work to examine the range of issues with which we expect the commission to deal. By bringing forward the Bill now, we can begin to move towards having the commission in place near the end of 2007.
Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Minister ignore the sirenif majorityvoices that are coming, interestingly, from Conservative Back Benchers, although they did not appear when we had this debate just before the general election?
Angela Eagle: We were sound all round, so I am sorry that we seem to have regressed, at least in some parts of the House. Will the Minister give us an indication of how quickly the single equality Act, which will put the last pieces of the jigsaw into place, will come before the House? Some of us are anxious for it to appear as quickly as humanly possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I am very happy to ignore certain sounds
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from certain Benches. Obviously, we want to make as much progress as we can in moving towards the very important single equality Act, which is a manifesto commitment for this Parliament. I am not in a position to give a great deal more detail at the moment, but I will say more about the processes as I continue; and on that note, Mr. Speaker, I intend to make some progress.
Parents want their children to have a fair chance in life. Looking to the future, young minority ethnic workers will account for more than half the increase in the working-age population over the next decade. More than two thirds of additional jobs expected to be created over the same period are likely to be filled by women.
The Government are addressing those profound changes in society in many ways, including through the three elements of our equality and human rights programme. First, the new commission for equality and human rights will be a champion for equality and human rights, using its influence and expertise to deliver real and lasting change. Secondly, there is the equalities review led by Trevor Phillips, who is currently chair of the Commission for Racial Equality. We need better to understand the long term and underlying barriers to opportunity so that we can identify the most effective ways to improve outcomes for individuals. Thirdly, the discrimination law review will develop proposals for a simpler, fairer legal framework while taking full account of the need of employers and service providers.
The two reviews are part of the essential work that is needed to deliver on our manifesto commitment to bring forward a single equality act in this Parliament. It is essential to get the new commission in place quickly.
The commission for equality and human rights will make a difference. It will act as a champion and influencer, putting equality and human rights on the agenda across society, and helping to ensure that fair treatment becomes the norm everywhere.
The commission will reach out to all sections of society, through a duty to consult on its strategic plan. It will be relevant to allno more pigeon-holing people by one characteristicunderlining the fact that equality is important for us all, not just for particular groups.
In a moment. The commission will work for individuals, providing advice and support on all
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discrimination issues. It will map Britain's progress towards equality and human rights through a duty to produce a "state of the nation" report. It will look at the hard evidence of what has been achieved and what more needs to be done. It will help make communities better places to live in through its good-relations work, to build trust and reduce tension between different groups.
Joan Ruddock: I very much welcome the Bill, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that under clause 10, on good relations, there is no hierarchy of inequality and that, indeed, there is equality of resources going to the different strands? Will she therefore look again at clause 10 (4), where there is a clear indication that particular regard should be given to "race, religion or belief"? That is of great concern to many of the other strandswe understand why there is such a provision, but it looks like a hierarchy and there is concern about the allocation of resources.
We want to ensure that that work is carried forward, and we believe that it is enormously important that that be given some priority. Nevertheless, the purpose of a new commission that will work across a range of issues is not to identify particular budgets for particular areas. As I said, people do not have just one identity or one characteristic. For example, we know that white working-class boys currently do not do well in education, and that might well be an issue that the commission will want to consider. So in that respect, there is not a hierarchy, although there is provision for the duty to which my hon. Friend referred.
Mr. Robathan: I confess that I have not followed the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords as closely as I should have done, so will the Minister help me? She says that the Bill will make things simpler, but will she also explain how much money will be saved for taxpayers and from the lessening of bureaucracy as a result of one body taking in three commissions?
The hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of the commissions coming together. Even though there are three existing commissions, some areas
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currently have no institutional support; for example, there is no such support for human rights, sexual orientation, religion and belief, or age. Moreover, and as I just pointed out, white working-class boys do not necessarily figure so far as the existing commissions are concerned. This is a question of equality, which is why we are bringing the commissions together. The overall budget will increase[Interruption.] It will increase because we are taking on additional responsibilities, which we believe is the right thing to do. Our consultations show that this is the correct way to proceed.
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