Skip to main content

Equality Bodies

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

18. What the Government’s policy is on encouraging the development of productive working relationships between statutory equality bodies and the voluntary sector. (95022)

In October 2007, all the existing equality bodies will be replaced by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. As was set out in the “Fairness for All” White Paper, one of the guiding principles of the new body will be partnership working, including with the voluntary sector.

In thanking my hon. Friend for that response, may I remind her that the voluntary sector is often at the cutting edge of innovative new ideas, especially in the areas of sexual orientation and disability? The sector’s work has not always come to fruition, but it has often come up with ideas that have later become the norms of behaviour and attitude. The Minister for Women referred earlier to changing cultures. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to change cultures in such areas, it is important that we have a flourishing voluntary sector with which the statutory bodies work properly? For example, the Fawcett Society addresses gender equality, and I could go through a list of different aspects of equality in which the sector’s contribution has been enormous. It is important that we get the balance right.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In preparation for the new commission, 15 stakeholder events were held throughout the country, and many voluntary sector organisations attended them. We hope to announce in the near future the commissioners of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I am sure that there will be representatives with a great deal of experience of the voluntary sector.

I welcome what the Minister says about the progress so far, but as the next step towards establishing the new statutory equality body—the Commission for Equality and Human Rights—will the Minister publish as soon as possible the results of the Government’s consultation on the Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations? I ask this in the true spirit of co-operation: will she then publish the regulations in draft form so that Parliament can have a meaningful debate on this sensitive and important matter, instead of the wide-ranging and unfruitful debate that is taking place at present?

I can give the Government’s absolute commitment to bringing forward the regulations as soon as possible. I will certainly take back the suggestion of draft regulations, but our priority must be to lay the regulations in Parliament, alongside the religion and belief regulations, and get them implemented next April.