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Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman talks about sexual orientation. Does he think that if a gay couple wish to get married in a church, the Church should be allowed to refuse to marry them?

Mr. Khan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because it is a good example of the scaremongering in which official Opposition Back Benchers are engaged. He refers to the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which is not about marriage. I suggest that he read that Act. I should be happy to pass to him correspondence and the Library research paper that explains what that Act is about and what the Bill is about.

For the first time, the Bill will give our citizens who face discrimination on the grounds of age, sexuality or religion a single body to champion their rights—a single body better placed to tackle double discrimination than its predecessors and better placed to provide businesses and public bodies with a single point of reference for advice and support.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who led for the Opposition, gave four conditions that must be met before she could support the Bill. The first point was the body's cost-effectiveness, but she gave evidence that the body was a good idea. According to
 
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her figures, GDP would increase by 3 per cent. if women were allowed to work to the full extent of their abilities. She also made the point that GDP would increase if other minorities contributed to the full. Clearly, this is a classic example of the cost-benefit analysis being satisfied, thus showing that the body makes good sense.

Meg Hillier: My hon. Friend rightly highlights a very important point. Does he agree that the 250,000 people over 50 in London who are willing, able and qualified to work, but who are not in the workplace would contribute in that respect?

Mr. Khan: Absolutely. We should consider not just people of that age, but the 1.4 million disabled people in London who will benefit from the new commission.

As is evident, I hope, from my contribution so far, I believe that the Bill is a key building block in constructing a society where all our citizens have an equal chance to achieve their potential. It is noteworthy that those Opposition Members who have intervened in the debate have been one dimensional and of one type—some would say that they are middle-aged, white Members of Parliament—while those Labour Members who have contributed represent the diverse and fantastic society in which we live.

Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend will be aware that everyone in the House—on both sides, really—supports the aims of the Bill. However, is he also aware that although there is obviously support within the black community for dealing with the hierarchy of discrimination, there is great concern about the need to ensure that the Bill and the establishment of a single commission do not mean that there will be a reduction in the ability to fight racial discrimination, which is as bitter and savage now as it was in the 1960s, when the very first race relations Act came about?

Mr. Khan: Anyone who has read press reports on the criminal case surrounding the murder of Anthony Walker will need no further evidence that there are problems in the UK regarding race. My hon. Friend makes an important point, but the Minister has given reassurances in public and private discussions that there will be no levelling down of the gains made by the Commission for Racial Equality and others over the past 30 years. We must emphasise the importance of those assurances and the fact that a concession was made to allow the CRE to carry on until 2009. The commission for equality and human rights will run in parallel with the CRE from 2007, so best practice will hopefully be taken across to the CEHR.

I hope that during her winding-up speech, or in Committee if that is more appropriate, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will address several of the small points that I wish to make. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for women and equality mentioned the removal of the harassment protection from the Bill in the House of Lords, although civil servants, stakeholders and other experts thought the provision was necessary. Although I do not want to go into detail about technicalities now, I thank her for confirming that the discrimination law review will examine the matter
 
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again to try to determine whether there are sensible ways of reinserting the provision into legislation. She will be aware of the anomalies that exist. For example, it is possible for victims of harassment on the grounds of race to receive the protection of the law, but people who are harassed because of their religion, belief or sexual orientation will not receive protection, even after the Bill is passed.

I know that the Minister is aware of the concern that has been articulated to me by stakeholders about the narrow definition of "public authority". They are worried that that could lead to a protection gap for vulnerable people, such as elderly citizens in private care homes. In Committee, if not today, I hope that we can consider how we can close that loophole so that such discrimination does not continue even after the Bill is passed.

My third point relates to the period between 2007 and 2009, when the CRE will still be in existence and the CEHR will begin its life. I want to ensure that the CRE's expertise will not be lost while those commissions are running in parallel. Clearly, all the jobs in the CEHR might be taken up by the time that the CRE is abolished, so all the people in the CRE who have gained experience might have no job to go to. We must ensure that best practice is carried over.

I know that the Minister is aware of my fourth point from the discussions that we have had. It relates to the argument about the commission having a race committee, as there is a disability committee, and a London committee, as there is a Scotland committee and a Wales committee. I hope that she will confirm that the commission will be able to set up a London committee and a race committee at an early stage if it and the experts deem it fit. Other points that I wished to raise have been made by other hon. Members, so I will be interested to hear the response to them.

Finally, I come to arguably the most controversial part of my speech. Hon. Members might be aware that a decision on the location of the headquarters of the commission for equality and human rights is imminent—[Interruption.] The London mafia has arrived to give me the moral support that I need. I will not suggest at this stage that the commission should be in Tooting, although I could make a good case for that and hope that the location study will take evidence from me about where the commission should be. There are strong grounds for arguing that the commission's headquarters should be in London because of the city's unique composition, size, demographics, diversity and experience in developing and delivering equality policies.

Barbara Keeley: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Khan: I will, even though my hon. Friend does not have a London accent.

Barbara Keeley: Surely all the experience in equality has been gained in Manchester and the commission should thus be based in Manchester, or even Salford.

Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend makes a good argument for why one of the regional offices should be in Manchester—I will certainly support her if she lobbies for that.
 
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If the commission is to be powerful and influential, I believe, as do my London colleagues and the Mayor of London—he would, would he not?—that it should be located where the majority of our decision makers are. Our diversity means that more than 300 different languages are spoken in our capital and more than 14 faiths are practised. More than 50 per cent. of Londoners are women and more than 1.4 million Londoners are disabled.

Meg Hillier: My hon. Friend makes important points. Does he agree that as 80 per cent. of black Africans in the UK live in London, the city is a centre that understands those people's needs and the discrimination from which many of those highly-qualified individuals suffer in the workplace?

Mr. Khan: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's point about the high percentage of people with African heritage in London. People from ethnic minorities make up one third of the population of the city, and 39 per cent. of all Muslims in the UK are based in London. Some 48 per cent. of all people throughout the country from ethnic minorities are in London. I could go on and on about why London should be chosen.

Emily Thornberry: Is my hon. Friend aware that the highest percentage of gay couples live in Islington, which is another reason why the commission should be in London?

Mr. Khan: I know that the Minister is being persuaded by the strength of the argument made by London Members. As I am sure that the case has been made, and because I fear a lynching from my friends in the north, I shall stop. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to speak in the debate.

6.57 pm


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