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Single Equality Bill

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality has made it clear on several occasions in this House that we would seek to publish some of the clauses of the equality Bill in draft when they are ready. If we are to publish those draft clauses, we want to make sure that they are as near final as possible before we do so.

I thank the Minister for that interesting answer, although if the draft clauses are “as near final as possible”, it does not sound as if minds are open to having them changed based on contributions from elsewhere. I have a very simple question: given that it is now May and the draft clauses still have not been published, is it still the Government’s intention to introduce the Bill in the Queen’s Speech in November 2008?

The short answer to that question is yes, and the slightly longer answer is that one of the reasons for the delay is that we are considering the many hundreds of replies that we had to the consultation. Policy changes have been made that we need to consider carefully.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Scottish Government on the single equality Act and on how its provisions will affect devolved matters?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality has been to speak to the Scottish Government and to MSPs, and I will be going there later this year to discuss the matter.

With regard to the consultations that have taken place on the draft Bill, will the Minister tell us what consultations have taken place on primogeniture and the line of succession? What representations have the Government received from those who may be affected by it?

Here is a representation for the Minister. Next weekend, Peter Phillips is due to marry Autumn Kelly; she has had to convert to the Church of England to preserve his place in succession to the throne. I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the happy couple well on their big day, but would it not be better to send them a wedding present by using the equality Bill to abolish that institutional discrimination against Catholics?

I think that I will confine myself to congratulating the happy couple, and wishing them well in their marriage, which, as hon. Members know, requires a lot of adjustments on both sides at the beginning, middle and end.

The Minister may be aware that I referred the case of Lady Louise being bumped out of line to the throne to the European Court of Human Rights, and it has responded positively, supporting the principle of getting rid of male primogeniture. The Solicitor-General made positive comments about that change being in the Act, and I congratulate the Government on that and welcome it. Does the Minister agree that it is very disappointing when those on the Tory Benches slide backwards and say that because it is difficult in the Commonwealth—[Interruption.]

Order. It is not for the Minister to concern herself with Conservative party policy. The hon. Lady has been called because she is a Liberal spokesman, so she should put her question to the Minister.

You are right, Mr. Speaker, as always. Will the Minister assure me that the difficulties of working this through the Commonwealth should not stand in the way of its being done? It is right that it should be done, and we have heard from all parties that it should be done, so will the Minister confirm that view?

This kind of change in our country, which has a long tradition, is always difficult. Before any change is brought in, we will try to build a cross-party consensus, and a cross-Commonwealth consensus. Primogeniture is a problem, and it is offensive, but we have to approach the matter cautiously.