Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not something on which the Chair can adjudicate, but his words are on the record and will no doubt be noticed.

Order for Third Reading read.

9.1 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan   Johnson): I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Third time.

All parts of this House and the other place have adopted a positive and constructive approach to the Bill; for that, I express my gratitude. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality, who made her debut at the Dispatch Box, to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), and to my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for disability for their expert steering of the Bill through its parliamentary passage.

Nye Bevan said that his political motivation was to achieve serenity in people's lives. Many in this House will have direct experience of how homophobia, racism and discrimination can destroy lives, poison communities and weaken not just our society, but our economy. The Bill has at its heart the removal of fear. It
16 Jan 2006 : Column 655
will promote equality, tackle discrimination and widen opportunity. It is underpinned by our shared values of fairness, freedom and solidarity.

The Bill is not the end of the journey; it is a vital step on that journey. As we move forward, we will engage properly with all who have an interest in it—inside and outside of this House. The first part of the Bill creates the new commission for equality and human rights, which will play a crucial role in joining up the attack on discrimination. For the first time, it will tackle issues such as ageism and homophobia, and extend support to minority groups such as transsexual people.

Once the Bill is enacted, we will move swiftly to recruiting and appointing the new commissioners and their staff. We will ensure that the commissioners are the right people for the work, and that they have personal experience of the issues that they are dealing with. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality said, it would be inconceivable—for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I should point out that the Oxford English dictionary definition of "inconceivable" is "cannot be imagined; unbelievable"—to have a commission with, for instance, no black or minority ethnic representatives on it.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Alan Johnson: No.

The commission will assume its powers and functions in October 2007, with race folding in two years later. The debate on Report highlighted the need for the new commission to make a strong contribution to racial equality—a point that Trevor Phillips made when I met him in November. We have listened carefully to the points raised and will put in place the work needed to ensure that they are addressed.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alan Johnson: No, I will not.

Clause 10 emphasises in law the priority of ensuring good community relations and highlights race and faith in particular. The CRE will remain in existence until 2009. This will enable it to play a full role in discussions about how the commission works. The passing of the Bill does not determine how the commission will run, but it is the start of a new conversation and process in which black and minority ethnic communities will be fully involved. We are committed to an orderly transfer of the race agenda and, in co-operation with the Home Office, we will immediately initiate a work stream that will directly involve members of the black and minority ethnic community and others, in exploring how, for example, the race equality and good relations functions of the new commission could be framed, including its important focus on race and faith communities. In this way, we will strive to make sure that race and faith communities have full confidence in the new commission and that the commission's governance structures and strategic plan are designed in a way that reflects their concerns.
16 Jan 2006 : Column 656

Part 2 of the Bill introduces a new protection against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services and in other areas on the grounds of religion or belief. After concerns were expressed during the Bill's passage, we brought in additional powers to extend that to sexual orientation. We will issue a consultation document on that shortly and plan to exercise the power by October, at the same time as on religion and belief.

Going forward, we are committed to tackling similar discrimination in other areas, including on the grounds of age and transgender. Those issues will be tackled as part of the discrimination law review, which will lead to a single equality Bill in the life of this Parliament and will simplify 30 years of equality legislation, ironing out many of the anomalies that we know exist. We will issue a Green Paper on the review's findings before the summer, which will ensure that we can also give full consideration to emerging findings from Trevor Phillips's review into the fundamental causes of inequality.

The fourth part of the Bill places a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women. We are currently completing consultation on that and hope to bring forward regulations in April next year.

The Bill is about replacing privilege with opportunity, discrimination with equality, and fear with serenity. Those are noble ambitions, which I know Members on both sides of the House support. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.7 pm

Mrs. Laing: For once, I can say yes to the Secretary of State. He hopes that we will all support the Bill. He commends it to the House, and so do I. We have supported it from the beginning, and indeed since before the general election. I support it because its main cause is freedom—the freedom of every individual in our society to live their life as they choose or, indeed, as they have to, for it is not always a matter of choice, regardless of their circumstances, whatever they may be.

Throughout the Bill's passage, we have spoken about the six strands of equality. It is not, in fact, about just six strands. The principle of the Bill is an integrated approach against discrimination for any reason, and not just for the six strands we refer to technically. It is therefore essential that the new commission should command confidence. I hope that the cross-party support that the Bill has received this evening and throughout its passage will give the project a good start. I look forward to the outcome of the equality review, to which the Secretary of State referred, and to our taking the whole matter of achieving further equality another step forward at some time in future.

I pay tribute to all the bodies that have been involved for a long time in the preparation of the Bill and in discussion of its content. Those bodies include statutory bodies, pressure groups and charities, which have contributed over a long period to our debates. Their knowledge and experience have been brought to bear on the Bill through Members of this House and of the other place and that is why we have had such constructive and informed debates. I hope that everyone who has urged the introduction of this legislation will feel that an enormous step forward has been taken when we give this Bill its Third Reading this evening.
16 Jan 2006 : Column 657

At the end of a long process, I also wish to pay tribute to several people, including the many Ministers involved in the Bill. In particular, I pay tribute to the Minister for Women and Equality, who has been reasonable and polite and displayed considerable forbearance during the consideration of the Bill. I also pay tribute to the passionate Back Benchers on both sides of the House who have contributed to the debate and to the Liberal Democrat and other party spokesmen, who have been amazingly constructive. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who has contributed considerably to the Bill, but has not been able to give us the benefit of his wise arguments this evening, except for some 50 seconds a short time ago. The debate this evening has been the poorer—

John Bercow: We have been short-changed.

Mrs. Laing: My hon. Friend is right and I hope that we will hear more from my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield at some other time.

I also wish to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who has been committed to this issue for many years, and my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) and for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), who served on the Committee. I also pay tribute to all the officials who have worked so hard on the Bill. They are often forgotten.

I must place on the record the fact that I remain concerned about four areas. I hope that my fears will be proved wrong, but I am still worried about, first, unnecessary bureaucracy. I hope that that will be avoided. Secondly, I am concerned about extra burdens on small businesses, which must not be allowed, because that would undermine employment and the economy. Thirdly, I am also concerned about the risk of excessive and dogmatic adherence to political correctness. It has not happened during the passage of the Bill and I hope that it does not happen when the Bill becomes law. Fourthly, I remain, of course, concerned about costs. However, I have said enough about taxpayers this evening and I do not need to repeat my arguments.

I hope that my fears are not realised. We all want these measures to succeed. I do not believe that it is possible to achieve equality, because every individual is unique. I was brought up to believe that "You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is what this Bill is about and I give it our unqualified support.

9.13 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page