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Mr. Stewart Jackson: At the last election, our party's manifesto encouraged older people to play a greater role in caring for their younger relations and, in so doing, improve child care. If necessary, we suggested that a fiscal encouragement could be provided. That would get older people involved and improve child carekilling two birds with one stone.
Mrs. Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for that timely intervention. I am certainly grateful to my family for providing the sort of care he mentions, which enables me to do my job. I endorse the party's policy on that issue and we should do all that we can to keep older people involved in the economy and encourage them, wherever possible, to get involved in caring for their grandchildren and other children in the family.
The first regulations on age discrimination, in employment and training, come into force in October 2006 and the new commission will have an important role in enforcing equality in that area. At the moment, older people have no legal protection against ageism and no statutory body to turn to. However, the new Commission will not take up the role of supporting older people until 12 months after the new regulations are in place, if I read the documents correctly. I hope that the Minister will tell us how we can ensure the right advice and support for businesses and those affected by the legislation in the intervening period.
I have said that I welcome the Bill and the support that it could give to business in a difficult and complex area, but it could do much more to support and protect older people. Now is the time to acknowledge that. As I
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said in my opening remarks, I want to see that not only because it is morally right, but because this country cannot afford to take any other approach. To put that in context, I remind the House that the cost of low employment among those aged 50 and overthere may even be some hon. Members in that category in the Chamber tonighthas been put at 2 per cent. of GDP. We should also note that 62 per cent. of men and 45 per cent. of women in that age group are in workfigures significantly below those for younger people.
I look forward to the Minister's response on those issues. I hope that she agrees that the Bill misses an opportunity to support older members of society. I am sure that in future the single discrimination Act, which has been much talked about today, and further regulations for protecting older people in the workplace will have a great effect, but we can start now by doing more in the Bill to support older people both in my constituency and throughout the country. We need to show that group that we take their problems seriously, too.
Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): May I start by expressing my wholehearted support for the Bill? A single commission for equality and human rights will not only tackle discrimination against a broad range of groups in society but establish a framework for human rights for all our citizens, and should be commended.
Laws combating discrimination are covered by 35 Acts of Parliament, 52 statutory instruments, 13 codes of practice, three codes of guidance and 16 European Union directives and recommendations. The commission will unify those measures. It will provide the leadership of a single body to fight discrimination and to seek to guarantee human rights for all the citizens of our country.
The Bill will extend effective protection to people who daily face discrimination, often pervasive and demeaning, of the kind that most of us hear about frequently during our surgeries. Too often, our constituents, in seeking redress, are bombarded by a bewildering maze of regulations and laws. The Bill will not only simplify people's understanding of the protection offered to them, but will support them in seeking effective remedies in the face of discrimination. Furthermore, individuals, companies large and small, authorities and charities will all benefit from a straightforward approach to equality. The Bill paves the way for such measures.
The Bill is being greeted with particular enthusiasm in my constituency of Hove and Portslade. Members who have ventured a seaside trip recently will know just how much the city of Brighton and Hove has become a byword for the kind of progressive tolerance and welcome to individuality that lie at the heart of the Government's vision for Britain, although sadly not on the Opposition Back Benches.
I pay tribute to the many organisations that celebrate diversity and seek to tackle intolerance in my constituency. One such organisation, Pride in Brighton and Hove, hosts the largest celebration of diversity in Europe and works year-round to combat homophobia wherever it exists. Stonewall has also fought tirelessly to combat intolerance and to promote the benefits of a
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diverse society, contributing greatly to the national debate on equality and fighting effectively for inclusion of anti-discrimination legislation for the gay and lesbian community in the Bill.
John Bercow: I entirely endorse what the hon. Lady has just said about the merits and successes of Stonewall. Would she care to take this opportunity to congratulate its distinguished former chief executive, Angela Mason, who went on to serve in government and continues to do so, and to pay tribute to the current chief executive, Ben Summerskill and his able understudy, Alan Wardle? All three are superb campaigners.
Ms Barlow: I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing those individuals to the attention of the House. They have done a huge amount to promote equality and, indeed, have worked on the Bill with my hon. Friends.
I am also delighted to be able to salute the hard work of Lord Alli. As we know, last week in the other place, the Government accepted an amendment to the proposals that would guarantee the right to non-discrimination for a significant group of my constituents. Lord Alli was instrumental in framing an amendment that expresses the continuing desire of our Government to free this country from centuries of discrimination.
With the inclusion of the amendment outlawing discrimination when providing goods and services to gays and lesbians, the Bill will mean that, as those citizens go about their lives, they will no longer have to suffer the daily, dull, yet remorseless indignities of casual discrimination. It has been many years since the infamous signs "No Irish, No blacks" have appeared in the windows of rooms for rent, as they did in Notting Hill in the late 1950s, but until the Bill becomes law, such a sign expressing the same prejudice against lesbians and gays is perfectly legal.
We should not be complacent by assuming that such discriminatory acts do not occur in this country today. Recently, two lesbians from Brighton and Hove were refused service in a cafe after a walk along the beautiful south downs. They were turned away with the words "We don't serve your sort here." Stonewall has documented cases where a newspaper editor has refused to print, on so-called ethical grounds, an advert targeting the gay community to encourage participation in a community-wide social group.
When the first couples confirm their commitment to each other in civil partnerships next month, they should be able to set out on their lives together enjoying a honeymoon free from the fear of prejudice. That shows the importance of that amendment and of the Bill's swift arrival on to the statute books. For until these measures become law, there will remain no statutory protection against discrimination for Britain's lesbian, gay and bisexual population in terms of goods and services. I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), who has asked the Minister to ensure that all these measures are introduced at the same time.
I applaud the Bill's far-reaching protection for people of religion. Like the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), I regret that the full force of the legislation has not been extended to older people. I hope
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that the House will agree that to exclude the gay and lesbian community would have sent a wholly unacceptable message to the country. I take issue with the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne): I have full confidence that the Minister will deal with the issue competently.
Despite the evidence of growing tolerance and acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships by mainstream society, we must not become complacent. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that homophobic bigotry is a spent force in our society, for it is not. The murder of a young man, Jody Dobrowski, was motivated by a hatred of gay people. Sadly, that is not a tale from a century ago; it occurred in this city, this year. It was a singularly horrific occurrence that dominated the country's headlines.
For many of our nation's 3.4 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, however, the petty humiliation and perhaps more subtle discrimination that occurs almost daily has greatest effect on their ability fully to enjoy the benefits of life in modern Britain, for example, joining a social or sports club. Many of my colleagues and I would not think twice before inquiring about special family discounts for clubs and societies, but, for gay and lesbian couples, those situations can become a time of embarrassment and even humiliation. Those daily events, which go almost unnoticed to most of us, can often be painful reminders to others that society is unwelcoming and that those involved are perceived as outsiders.
"lesbians and gay men are routinely insulted by being refused double rooms in hotels and guest houses. Such discrimination is already rightly unlawful, should hotel proprietors refuse rooms to black and Asian couples. That such discrimination is still lawful can only reinforce discrimination against the lesbian and gay community in wider society."[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 October 2005; Vol. 674, c. 867.]
The amendment to the Bill that protects lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination for goods and services will give the Government an enabling power to bring such protection to the statute books. I should be grateful if the Minister would give an assurance today that that will be done with swift efficiency to reflect the Government's undoubted desire for greater equality in modern Britain. There is no reason why that could not happen virtually immediately, so I urge the Minister not to allow the measures to get bogged down in undue consultation and bureaucracy.
I note, as did the Equal Opportunities Commission, that transgender people are not covered by the Bill. I echo the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) in saying that I hope that the Minister will try to rectify the omission and assure us that anti-discrimination measures will be offered to the transgender community, too. If such people were not covered, it would send an excluding and discriminatory message. We shall need to support that group in keeping to the intention of the legislation.
Ensuring that there is not discrimination is the key to the Bill's success. The argument for establishing a framework for protection from discrimination has been
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won, and my constituents have shown consistent support for such measures. I congratulate the Government on bringing these reasoned and progressive measures before the House and on accepting the amendment that will offer anti-discrimination measures to the lesbian and gay community.
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