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Mr. Swayne: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Eagle: Well, an objection might be about to be made.

Mr. Swayne: I entirely agree with the provision, as the hon. Lady has just enunciated it. What I do not understand is why it is included in the Bill in respect of religion, but is to be achieved by order-making power in respect of sexual orientation. I regard that as wholly unacceptable.

Angela Eagle: This legislation is a welcome patch job, which will be put right by the single equality Bill, which I hope will be introduced soon and will add goods and services protection across legislation more coherently than at present.

The hon. Gentleman will know if he reads his history that current equality legislation is a patchwork of provisions that has been created piecemeal over the years. That is why we need the process of consolidation and entrenchment that the single equality Bill will give us when it is finally enacted. Protections will then be enshrined in legislation, as they should be. However, I welcome the decision to protect immediately against discrimination access to goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation, as otherwise it could take two years or more for such protection to be offered. This measure is entirely appropriate in the circumstances.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Is not one of the reasons for urgency in this regard the outrageous behaviour of Tory Bromley borough council, which is depriving its citizens of the right to celebrate civil partnerships? Is that not one reason why the Government have done the right thing by bringing this provision forward now, rather than by waiting for the single equality Bill?

Angela Eagle: I agree, and there are many other examples of gay people being blatantly denied access to goods and services that others take for granted. It is right that this House takes a stand, and puts a stop to that.

John Bercow: The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) has made a perfectly fair point about Bromley borough council and I agree that its attitude is to be deplored. However, to ensure that we maximise cross-party agreement, can I make the fair point that, by contrast, Kensington and Chelsea borough council has done the decent thing?

In respect of taking this matter forward, does the hon. Lady agree that, in terms of exemptions, people should not be able to use the possession of religious belief as a cloak behind which to continue their practice of prejudice?

Angela Eagle: I certainly agree, and I am more than happy to have cross-party consensus, at least with the hon. Gentleman, on this issue. However, perhaps he
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should talk to the hon. Member for Epping Forest. In what was otherwise a good speech, she said something that worried me a bit; when she was talking about political correctness, she said that she supported goods and services protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, but with exemptions. She did not specify the circumstances in which she thought that exemptions from that protection would be acceptable. That is clearly an issue for debate in Committee, but I would be interested to know what she thinks they are.

Mrs. Laing: I am sure that we will consider this matter at length in Committee. However, let me explain the exemption I have in mind: a small hotel with two or three rooms should not be treated in the same way in legislation as a large central London hotel with 100 rooms that is part of a hotel group. In forming legislation, we must respect those upon whom a duty lies, as well as those to whom rights are given.

Angela Eagle: I am sorry to hear the hon. Lady say that. I do not see why there should be an exemption in that case. It is hard when people are refused a hotel room simply for being a gay couple, when it is currently illegal for an ethnic minority couple to be refused a hotel room. I am sad to hear the hon. Lady's comments and I do not agree with her.

Today, Labour Members should celebrate our record on equality, not only in this Government but going back many years. On a day such as this, I think of our women pioneers.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Eagle: Quickly.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Following the point made earlier, if one forces somebody to do something that is entirely against his or her principles is not that making another victim? Is not outlawing victimisation what we are really about today?

Angela Eagle: That is an issue for Committee, but it is currently not legal to deny somebody a hotel room because they are black. We have just commemorated with sadness the passing of Rosa Parks who demonstrated that principle powerfully. I do not see why similar provisions should not apply on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is a simple matter of human rights.

I wanted to recall the Labour pioneers who did so much to bring us to this point. In political life, we rise on the shoulders of our pioneers. I think of women such as Ellen Wilkinson, otherwise known as Red Ellen or the Mighty Atom, who led the Jarrow march and was the first woman trade union official to battle for equal pay in the 1920s. When she came into the House she showed many people what a fantastic Member of Parliament she was. She worked in this sphere long before we were born.

I think of Jo Richardson, our first shadow women's Minister when we were ridiculed for even thinking that there should be such a post. She did much work in
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opposition to prepare the way for the agenda of change that we brought naturally to government. I think of Barbara Castle, whose Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equal Pay Act 1970 paved the way and showed the future, bringing us the most enlightened protection against discrimination in Europe in the 1970s.

That legislation has stood the test of time but it needs amending to become more effective so that we can move on. The gender pay gap has been cut from 31 per cent. in the 1970s to 18 per cent. That is still too high, but it is nevertheless an improvement. We need to remould our anti-discrimination and protection laws, and the Bill paves the way for us so to do by introducing preventive measures in the duty to promote gender equality. I should like those provisions extended to the private sector where the problem is much worse than in the public sector. When we look at the pay gap on a sectoral basis we find that it is 60 per cent. in the financial services industry, but less than 10 per cent. in the national health service. We need to consider how to address the problem of both the gender pay gap and the race pay gap, so that we can prevent discrimination rather than compensating people after they have suffered discrimination. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for women and equality is engaged on that work and she follows a long line of doughty, famous women whom Labour hold in great respect.

Many of us attended Mo Mowlam's memorial last night. She put women and equality at the centre of achieving and solving the problems of that difficult place, Northern Ireland. We can learn many lessons from the way that anti-discrimination legislation was developed in Northern Ireland, which have resonance in this country. I think of all those women as I congratulate the Government on making the progress that we see today.

David T.C. Davies: In the hon. Lady's list of female pioneers in Parliament, has not she forgotten the outstanding achievement of Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher? She did a far better job than any of the men could have done at the time.

Angela Eagle: I have a great deal of respect for Lady Thatcher, but I fear I cannot include her in my list as she did little for women's equality, except for leading by example—I give her that. In the 18 years that the Conservatives were in power, our anti-discrimination legislation was weakened and ignored and no progress was made. A Labour Government set up anti-discrimination legislation in the 1970s and we had to wait for the return of a Labour Government to take it forward.

As we see, the hon. Member for Epping Forest, who sits on the Conservative Front Bench, has a difficult job persuading some of her recalcitrant Back Benchers that they should even support the Bill. However, she does have a handbag and I wish her luck. Perhaps she needs to put a couple of bricks in it to persuade them of the way forward.

The Bill includes a public duty to promote gender equality, which will help to tackle the issues today, the 30th anniversary year of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. That duty will help us to deal with the pay gap problem. Women working full-time still earn, on
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average, 18 per cent. less than men, so a woman earns 82p for every £1 that a man earns. That is considerably better than in the 1970s; but, clearly, we need to reform and remould our protective legislation to go the extra mile and close that gap still further.

The position of women who work part-time is particularly difficult because, on average, they earn 41 per cent. less than full-time male workers. As many Labour Members who have been campaigning on pensions know, only 15 per cent. of women currently qualify for the basic state pension in their own right, essentially because of the way that the pension system has been moulded—by Beveridge, originally—on a single male earner model, which simply does not reflect the shape of society or the working lives of many women.

The pay gap for ethnic minorities is extremely similar. It is clear that we are dealing with institutionalised discrimination. I do not mean, however, that loads of people want deliberately to discriminate against different groups in our society, although there are some such people, and they need to be dealt with harshly.

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