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The purpose of the draft order is to make the bodies listed in the schedule "public authorities" for the purposes of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. These public authorities will be subject to the statutory duties set out in Section 75(1) and (2) of the Act requiring them to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between specific groups.
Equality of opportunity and treatment are crucial for civilised society and they are values that the United Kingdom holds dear. The House is aware that these are issues that are of particular importance in the context of Northern Ireland and that the promotion of
The Good Friday agreement laid the foundations for a new dispensation based on respect for rights and the principle of equality. This Government are committed to ensuring the full implementation of the agreement. This order is another step in that important process.
Public authorities are required to produce a plan--or equality scheme--that sets out how they will fulfil those duties. The schemes will cover the full range of the organisation's function in Northern Ireland, including arrangements for policy appraisal; public consultation; public access to information and services; monitoring; and timetables. Those schemes will be submitted to the Equality Commission for approval.
The Equality Commission will advise on, validate and monitor the Section 75 statutory obligation and will investigate complaints of default. Under Section 75(3)(b) and (c), a range of bodies are automatically brought within the definition of public authority--all bodies that are subject to investigation by either the Northern Ireland Ombudsman or the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints. However, the Act also provides the power for the Secretary of State to designate other organisations as public authorities for the purposes of Section 75.
This order is the first designation order made under this power. It covers mainly Whitehall departments (including the Northern Ireland Office) and other UK-wide bodies--like certain of the lottery distributors--that carry out functions in Northern Ireland. The list is not exhaustive but represents the first tranche of additional public authorities. We intend that the statutory duty should, in time, embrace as many bodies as possible.
In the weeks and months ahead we will continue our consultation with the commission to consider what other bodies might need to be designated. Further orders will be made as required. We want to build a society free from unfair discrimination, where the
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, in welcoming this order I have to say to the Minister that the initial list is rather parsimonious. I welcome the fact that there will be additions made in the course of time. I should like to ask when the second tranche will appear. As he said in his contextual remarks, in Northern Ireland it is particularly important for equality and rights to be maintained.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, on this occasion I support the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and declare a small interest in that the chairman of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission is well known to me. I have been lobbied, as I believe have the Government, to broaden the list. I am not saying that I have any great desire for that myself and I am not pressing the
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful for the support provided from all sides of the House. I was asked when the second tranche will be designated. The answer is as soon as possible, probably some time in the autumn. I commend the order to the House.
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