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John Bercow: The hon. Lady has made a powerful point, but does she accept that probably tens of thousands of asylum seekers are scientists, engineers, doctors and dentists, but are prevented from using their skills to earn a living and benefit the country?
Meg Hillier: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman followed my career when I was a member of the London Assembly, but there was a great deal of consensus among the four parties about the need to harness the valuable skills of migrants, including asylum seekers, for our community. However, that is a debate for another time.
I believe passionately in the need for protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in the provision of goods and services. As many Members have highlighted, gays and lesbians can still be turned away from hotels and suffer discrimination in medical care. Those are antiquated practices in the 21st century. People should be treated equally, and they should not suffer discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The issue matters a great deal to a number of my constituents. My local Labour party has expressed support for the relevant provisions in the Bill, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has
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worked with Members in the other place to accept an amendment to deal with the issue. However, I urge her to ensure that the measure is progressed quickly, so that gay and lesbian people are not left behind in the Bill and are given equality as promptly as other people. I was talking to a lesbian couple in my constituency, both of them churchgoers who are keen to live their life as they choose. They talked about the measure, and one of them said:
That is a basic human right. The fact that someone can walk down the street and suffer discrimination because of their religion or sexual orientation, and the fact that they can be refused services are things that we should not tolerate in the 21st century. I am delighted that there is support on both sides of the House for the measure, but I am dismayed that some hon. Members do not fully support that view.
There is also an economic argument for tolerance. Richard Florida, the American academic, has written about tolerance and diversity as two key elements of creative business growth. Creative businesses in my constituency and in a large area to the west of London and outside London are one of the fastest growing employment sectors. The Bill contributes to tolerance. Compared with the position eight or 10 years ago, people's rights in this country have moved so far forward that it is sometimes difficult to remember what it was like and to appreciate the rate of progress. I commend my hon. Friend the Minister for her work on that, and I am delighted that the House supports the Bill.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party welcome the Bill with some reservations, but we have been great supporters of the provisions on race. As some hon. Members know, my predecessor was a great supporter of disability legislation. We are equally enthusiastic about the provisions on religion, sexual orientation and particularly age. In that regard I have in mind the Bill going through another place to establish a commissioner for older people in Wales. I hope that we in Wales have a progressive record on such matters.
We welcome the intention to address equality issues in an integrated way, bringing in uniformity and equality and, as the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) said, evening up standards and seeking equality of provision. Equality law is contained in many Acts. The Stonewall brief for this debate notes that there are equality issues in 35 Acts, 52 statutory instruments, 13 codes of practice and 16 EU directives. Sooner, I hope, rather than later, we will move to a single equality Act in respect of the matters addressed in the Bill. For that reason we welcome the advent of the equality review and hope it will quickly lead to legislation.
As I said, we have at least four particular concernsfirst, the nature of the Welsh and Scottish bodies to be set up by the commission; secondly, the reporting and
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accountability of those Welsh and Scottish committees to the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament; thirdly, the arrangements in respect of the commissioners working in Wales for children and for older people, and the relationship between them and the commission; and, fourthly, particularly in the case of Wales and perhaps also Scotland, matters relating to indigenous languagesin my case, the Welsh language.
The commission will set up a Welsh committee. We welcome the fact that it will be a decision-making committee. As schedule 1 notes, it will have real power, and I hope it will also have the money to make that power work for it. It will advise the National Assembly for Wales and report to the Assembly, and similarly in Scotland. The commission member for Wales will be appointed with the consent of the National Assembly for Wales, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will have to consult the National Assembly for Wales on some of the codes of practice. All these provisions are to be welcomed.
I refer the Minister to paragraphs 30(1)(a) and 30(2)(a) of schedule 1, relating to advice to the devolved Governments as regards enactments and changes in law that affect Wales only. There are similar provisions affecting Scotland only. I point out that the legislative position in Wales is not the same as it is in Scotlandat present at least. Will the Minister tell me in what circumstances the advisory functions would be carried out in Wales for matters that affect Wales only?
How will the children's commissioners in England, Scotland and, in particular, Wales compliment the work of the new commission and the new commissioner in Wales? I understand that the Government want to agree memorandums of understanding to ensure joined-up working. When will those memorandums of understanding be agreed and what priority will be given to them? In Wales, will the memoranda of understanding be drawn up with the Wales committee of the new commission or with the commission itself? Such detailed matters will be discussed in Committee or on Report, I presume.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I welcome the introduction of memorandums of understanding between the commissioners, because they will be important in making the system work in Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation against ageism is important in Wales, where the employment rate among 55 to 59-year-old males is 41 per cent., compared with a figure of at least 71 per cent. in the east of England?
Hywel Williams: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has anticipated my next remarks. Another unique point about Wales is that we will have a commissioner for older people, and similar considerations to those that I have discussed will apply to how the commission works with them.
The last report that I received indicates that the Children's Commissioner for Wales has taken 600 cases, which represents a great amount of work and a great amount of experience. I seek an assurance that the commission will be able to take account of the experience that the Children's Commissioner for Wales has built up.
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Finally, I shall turn to Welsh language issues, which the Bill does not addressprobably rightly. Welsh language equality issues have not generally been seen as equality issues, although they have been seen in lots of other ways, but there is some profit to be had in considering those points from a rights-based standpoint. It is useful for us to examine how the commission will work in Wales in respect of the Welsh language, because there is currently such confusion about the role of the Welsh Language Board, the nature and timing of any change to its functions, which will be brought into the Welsh Assembly Government, and the regulatory function of the new office of the dyfarnwrthe adjudicatorwhich will retain the residual statutory powers of the Welsh Language Board to review Welsh language schemes.
I have drawn those matters to the Minister's attention because the Welsh Language Act 1993 states that Welsh and English are to be treated on the basis of equality, which is the magic word. That provision is subject to the qualification that equality is to be applied only where it is reasonable, appropriate and practical, so it is not total equality. The Bill discusses equality, but it does not address language equality in Wales, although it might have done so. Perhaps future legislation will address the matter, because if the Wales Bill, which will come before this House, is enacted, it will allow the Welsh Assembly to pass legislation or Orders in Council.
As I have said, it is unsurprising that Welsh language issues have not been addressed on a rights basis in the past. In some ways, Welsh is not a minority languageit has legal status and such languages are referred to elsewhere as proper languages. It is not an equal language or the majority language, but it is the proper language for Wales, and thus similar to some of the languages used on the Iberian peninsula.
In closing, I shall raise the practical question of providing goods, facilities and services. Provision through the medium of Welsh has not been addressed properly in the past, which has led to some people who want goods, facilities and services through the medium of Welsh not being able to access them. That matter must be addressed, perhaps not in this Bill, but certainly in any further legislation that the Welsh Assembly Government or the Welsh Assembly might wish to pass in the future.
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