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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the sad death of Charles Smith a week ago? He was a CRE commissioner and a Gypsy who fought endlessly for equality and human rights. Will my hon. Friend ensure that Gypsies have a voice on the new commission?
Meg Munn: The appointment of commissioners needs to reflect the whole range of equality issues. Regardless of what some Opposition Members seem to believe, I repeat that equality is an issue for everyone. We need a balance of commissioners who take into account a range of issues, such as trade unions and employers. Specifying individual commissioners in the Bill might prevent the commission from covering the full range of equality issues that we want it to cover.
David T.C. Davies: I thank the hon. Lady. Whatever else we may say, she has certainly been generous with her time. Does she acknowledge that one of the failings of the Commission for Racial Equality has been its presumption that the only people in our society who are racist are white? Will the successor body to the CRE take action to eradicate the racism and prejudice that are clearly present among the black, Asian and Muslim communities, and also acknowledge that white people are occasionally the victims of that racism?
Clause 10 places the commission under a duty to promote good relations, work to eliminate hate crime and encourage participation in society. We recognise the significance of the commission's good relations role with race and faith communities and have ensured that the commission for equality and human rights will be required to consider the particular importance of that. This reflects the need to build on the pioneering work of the Commission for Racial Equality in this area. It also
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enables us to underpin our commitment to support the important local race equality work carried out by the network of racial equality councils and others.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister, who is indeed being generous. I hope she is now being treated equally in the Government and being paid for what she is doing. In the other place, an amendment was moved and carried by some 90 votes to remove religious harassment from the Billa very wise move. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the Government will not seek to re-insert that?
Clauses 13 to 19 set out the commission's general powers to publish information and give advice and guidance, arrange for research and promote compliance with the law. The commission will be able to issue statutory codes of practice and conduct general inquiries into equality and human rights issues. Clauses 20 to 32 set out the commission's enforcement powers. These are based on those of the existing commissions, with some modernisation and increased flexibility. The remainder of part 1 sets out the provisions for transition from the existing three commissions to the new one.
In part 2, clauses 43 and 44 define religion and belief, and discrimination. Clauses 45 to 54 generally set out the prohibitions on discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, premises, education and public functions. General exceptions are at clauses 55 to 63, and the rest of the part deals with enforcement and other matters.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been astonishingly understanding. Are we really to understand that public organisations such as our own are to be excluded from the Bill? It is always better to lead by example, rather than by exception.
At present, case law under the Race Relations Act has seen protection against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, and in education and the provision of public functions, extended to Jews and Sikhs, but to no other faith or belief groups. This inequality of treatment is not right, and the Bill corrects it.
Part 2 was thoroughly debated in the other place, and a number of significant and helpful amendments were made. For example, in clause 44, the grounds on which discrimination can occur were clarified, and in clause 52 provisions were made against discriminatory practices. The exception for the immigration service in clause 51(f) was narrowed in response to comments from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and others. There was considerable debate, in particular, around issues connected with education. I am sure these important provisions will enjoy both the robust scrutiny and the support of the House.
The Minister has been extremely generous in giving way. A few moments ago, she
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referred to the importance of tackling hate crime. Given that there have been several instances, including a number of relatively well publicised cases, of musical lyrics urging the assassination of gay people, and that in each and every one of those cases no action has been taken, does she think that the existing law is adequate, and if not, what does she propose to do about it?
Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. It is important to deal with hate crime, wherever it occurs. Hate crimes from which people with disabilities suffer were debated in the other place, and we must tackle them, too. The Bill does not seek to do everything in relation to equalityit is a further step along the road. The discrimination law review, on which a Green Paper will be introduced early next year, will enable us to consult much more widely and begin to consider all the issues in detail with a view to introducing a single equality Bill to tackle a range of issues and bring all our discrimination law into one place, which will make it much simpler to access for individuals, organisations, companies and public authorities.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) raised the issue of harassment. Hon. Members know that the one point on which the Government were defeated in the other place involved an amendment that removed harassment on grounds of religion or belief from part 2, the effect of which is that the Bill no longer prohibits harassment on the grounds of religion or belief in the exercise of public functions, housing or education.
We have considered very carefully how to respond to the debates in the other place and that vote. We remain convinced that it is important to act against harassment on the grounds of a person's religion or belief, particularly in the provision of public functions and the other areas that I have mentioned. We are committed to the development of sensible proposals to combat harassment in its different manifestations across the range of equality strands. However, the strength of feeling in the other place, the current work of the discrimination law review in fundamentally examining issues of inequality and discrimination, and the subsequent opportunity to reintroduce the provision before Parliament in a single equality Bill have persuaded us not to seek to reintroduce those provisions in this House at this time. We will continue to consider the detail as part of the discrimination law review before making further proposals. I hope that the House will join me in recognising the principle that it is important to act against harassment on grounds of religion and belief, as many people do not feel that the current arrangements adequately protect them.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) on the wisdom of the course that the Government have taken, which has clearly caused genuine disagreement. In the spirit of the discrimination law review, which is being conducted in-house at this stage, will the Minister confirm that she welcomes representations from, for example, hon. Members on both sides of the House and others, which will allow those representations to be fed into the review at an early stage, because I agree that it is important that the review come up with a series of balanced and defensible findings?
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