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Mr. Campbell: It is clearly wrong to discriminate against someone because of their sexual outlook, their race or their religion, but the legislative process must prevent people from being put out of business because of their sincerely held views.

I wish to move on to the unintended consequences of the Bill. An earlier contribution lauded Northern Ireland legislation on religious and gender discrimination. There is absolutely no question but that we require such legislation in Northern Ireland and that it was intended to address a particular problem. It has addressed that problem for 20 years, but a problem has now emerged that it was never intended to address. The Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission are now responsible for ensuring that all sections of the community can avail themselves of the relevant legislation, but they are finding it very difficult to ensure that the intent of legislation is observed. I hope that the Bill will not lead to such unintended consequences in 12 months or 10 years from now. I welcome the Bill as a whole, but I have very serious reservations about the aspects that I have outlined this evening.

6.12 pm

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I am grateful to be called to speak in this important Second Reading debate. I also took part in the Second Reading debate on 5 April in the dying days of the last Parliament before the general election and I recall that the atmosphere was different then. Then, a much more consensual approach was taken by those on the Conservative Back Benches. I have been surprised by the antagonism shown by them today, but I welcome the support of the Conservative Front Benchers.

I am proud that, after the last Second Reading debate, Labour went into the general election with a commitment to equality and human rights. Changing the law to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential is a slow process and it is obvious that there is still a long way to go. However, I agree with other hon. Members that we have made tremendous progress since Labour came to office in 1997. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) rightly referred to the abolition of the notorious section 28, to which we could add the introduction of civil partnerships, the equalising of the age of consent, new laws on adoption, bans on discrimination in the workplace based on sexuality and the ending of the ban on gay men serving in the armed forces. They all show what progress has been made for lesbians and gay men since 1997. I am very proud that the Labour Government led the way in making those changes.
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In Wales, the Assembly works closely with and funds the Stonewall Forum as part of the duty placed on the National Assembly for Wales in the Government of Wales Act 1998. Under that legislation, the Assembly has to

I recall that when that legislation was passed in this Parliament, we were very proud that that duty was placed on the Assembly—and it has made a tremendous difference. The setting up of Stonewall Cymru was a big step in attempting to reduce discrimination and it has achieved a great deal, including working with employers to tackle workplace discrimination. "Counted Out" was the first ever survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Wales. I am very pleased that Wales has been able to lead the way in tackling some of these equality issues.

Since 1997, the position of women has certainly improved, with greater recognition by all political parties of the need for women to be involved in decision making. All the parties now recognise the need to have more women candidates, although we sometimes disagree on the best way to achieve that. I was pleased to participate in debates on equality and sex discrimination legislation, which was not opposed by any of the Opposition parties. The Welsh Assembly has equal numbers of women and men—the only legislature in the world where that applies, which is something to be very proud of. In some of the professions, women are now overtaking men—there are more women in the medical profession, for example, and more women medical students—but there is still a long way to go.

Some hon. Members have already referred to the pay gap and even with the Government's best efforts, we have not managed to close it. I too welcome the work of the women and work commission, and I am coming to believe that we shall have to move towards compulsory pay audits if we are to ascertain the exact position, not least because we will need that knowledge in order to reduce the pay gap. Women also continue to suffer from pregnancy discrimination—about 43 per cent. of calls to the Equal Opportunities Commission helpline in Wales are pregnancy and maternity-related. The Government have introduced more maternity rights for women, but pregnancy discrimination continues to exist. It is shocking in this day and age to read articles about how pregnant women still suffer in that respect and I hope that the Bill will help to improve their position.

I welcome the Bill, which has improved considerably during its passage through the other place. I welcome the fact that there will now be an end to discrimination in the provision of goods and services for lesbians and gay men. As Ben Summerskill, the director of Stonewall, has said:

The sooner those laws are implemented, the better. One of the most shocking instances of discrimination that I know of was when a woman in Wales was refused a smear test on the basis that she was a lesbian. There was widespread publicity about that—a shocking example of the persistence of discrimination. As hon. Members have already mentioned, councillors in Bromley wanted
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to use the law as it stands to deny gay couples the chance to celebrate their civil partnerships in the same way that heterosexual couples celebrate their weddings. That must be wrong, and I am glad that the Government are moving to outlaw that.

I also welcome the two reviews—the equality review and the discrimination law review—that will lead to a new single equality Act. In debates before the election, many of us called for that Act to be introduced before the new commission for equality and human rights was set up. I am glad, however, that the current process has started, and we should now have a good look into the fundamental causes of inequality. I accept the need to set up the commission quickly because of the new anti-discrimination strands—age, sexual orientation and religion—that are being introduced, but it is essential that we move towards a single equality Act as quickly as we can and get rid of all the existing legal anomalies. I understand why the commission is to be set up, but it would have been preferable if the single equality Act had been introduced first. In the circumstances, I hope that we will move towards that as soon as we can.

I want to make some particular comments about how the Bill will affect Wales. I am glad that there will be a Welsh commissioner and a Welsh committee, and that that committee will be a decision-making committee. I hope that it will have grant-giving, as well as decision-making powers. It is also important that those decisions about grant-giving powers are made at a local level—on the basis of real knowledge about local circumstances. As my noble Friend Baroness Gale said in the other place:

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on the possibility of having regional offices in Wales.

I also hope that the Welsh Assembly will be involved in the appointment of the commission and the commissioner, and I urge early appointment of the Welsh commissioner. It is important to recognise the low capacity for advice-giving in Wales; there is only one law centre in Wales, so the commissioner must get into post soon to address such issues.

It is also important that the use of the Welsh language is recognised, and that it is understood to be a cause of discrimination. Welsh-speaking elderly people can go into hospital and be unable to receive services in Welsh. That happened to a relative of mine in Carmarthen. He was suffering from mental health problems, and he was unable to receive a service in his first language.

The particular geography of Wales needs to be recognised. As Baroness Gale said, it is important that there is a presence in north Wales. The Commission for Racial Equality has an office in north Wales, and it is important that the new commission's representation there is as strong as it is in south Wales.
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The Minister mentioned the relationship between the new commission and the Children's Commissioner for Wales, and there has been some debate about whether children should be specifically mentioned as a separate group. The Children's Commissioner for Wales has now been in post for five years. One of his most important findings is that children do not think that anyone listens to them, and that they do not expect to be heard. I hope that the legislation will address discrimination against children—discrimination on the grounds of age should cover children—and that the new commission will work closely with the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

I know that the Children's Commissioner is also very concerned about the language we use when we talk about children and young people, and particularly when we talk about antisocial behaviour. He has expressed concern about how the debate on that is conducted, especially here in Westminster. I hope that a code will be worked out for how the commission relates to the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

The House of Lords is considering a Bill that will establish a commissioner for older people in Wales. That is a new post, and we are told that it is one of the first of its kind in the world. I do not know if that is true, but it is essential that a way is worked out for the commission to relate to the older person's commissioner for Wales, who is likely to be appointed next year.

The older person's commissioner will have a key role to play in addressing the issue of access to services for older people. We all know that older people are often denied the access to health services that they should have. The commissioner will be important, as that person will speak up for older people, but it is also essential that that person's activities are linked to those of the commission.

Some staff of existing bodies have expressed concern about what will happen to pay rates when the various bodies are brought together. The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) pointed out that the Equal Opportunities Commission rates of pay are lower than those of the other two commissions. I hope that that issue will be addressed.

I also support the call for a commissioner to represent the trade unions, because there is a tradition in the existing commission bodies of having a trade union commissioner. The trade unions probably deal with many more cases of inequality than any of the existing commissions.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. We have a long way to go to achieve what we would all call an equal society, but this is a step in the right direction. The Bill has been improved enormously in the House of Lords, and I am sure that it will continue to be improved in the House of Commons and that, in the end, we will set up a commission that we are very proud of, and which will work for those people who suffer most from discrimination in this country.

6.25 pm

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