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Equality Bill

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

5. What he expects the effect of the proposed Equality Bill for Northern Ireland to be; and if he will make a statement. (92589)

The single equality Bill will bring together all existing Northern Ireland equality and anti-discrimination law in one legal instrument and, as far as is practicable, harmonise protection and extend protection to new grounds where appropriate. The resulting legislation will be more consistent and coherent, will clarify rights and responsibilities and will simplify the law to make it more effective.

The former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the late right hon. Member for Redcar, was instrumental in setting up the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which is responsible for dealing with sexual discrimination, disability discrimination, fair employment and race relations. The single equality Bill has been consulted upon for several years, but when will this legislation finally become law?

I pay tribute to my former right hon. colleague, Mo Mowlam, who put a lot of work into ensuring that the single equality Bill came before the House. As Ministers, we are determined that Northern Ireland will not fall behind the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of the introduction of legislation. There is potentially about one year for work to be undertaken and we are committed to undertaking the legislation either by a Bill in the House or via the devolved Assembly if that is the appropriate way forward. As the direct rule ministerial team, we certainly wish to see the legislation before the House.

Will the Minister accept that any proposed equality Bill needs to ensure that, for example, the public sector recruitment ratios that have shown in recent years a significant under-representation of the Protestant community are addressed and reviewed so that genuine equality of opportunity is offered to each section of our community?

I certainly understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I wish to see more people from the Protestant community employed in the sectors that he mentioned. I ultimately want to see people treated as equals and not on the basis—[Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber and that is unfair. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] I am glad so many hon. Members agree with me.

I wish to see a situation in Northern Ireland in which all individuals are treated as equals and on their merits. That is what the legislation is about and that is why I hope that we will bring it before the House in due course.