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Equality Duty

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2009

1. Whether the proposed new equality duty will apply to equality of opportunity in respect of religion and belief. (261694)

Yes, the new single public sector equality duty will require public authorities to advance equality of opportunity for people of different religions or beliefs and for those of none. As part of being committed to creating a fair society with fair chances for everyone, we will tackle the discrimination and disadvantage that people can face because of their religion or belief or because they hold no belief, as well as the barriers that they can face when accessing public services such as health care. Extending the duty to cover religion or belief will also end the discrepancy whereby Sikhs and Jews are covered by the duties, but atheists, Muslims and Christians, for instance, are not.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. The issue has been raised with me by constituents who are a little concerned, so can she emphatically tell the House that it is not about promoting any particular religion, but about protecting those who suffer adverse discrimination because they practise their religion?

Yes, I can. That is an important distinction to make. We are interested in getting public authorities to think about those individuals who, as a result of their religious belief, or the manifestation of that belief, face discrimination or disadvantage, so the duty should act as a spur to public authorities to take action to address the under-representation of Muslim women, for instance, or to tackle the health barriers that disadvantage some people because of a religious limitation on from whom they are prepared to take health advice. That is an important distinction to draw. It is about making sure that no one suffers when there is evidence of need.

Will this new duty cause the Government to address the inequalities that women suffer in the state pension?

Forgive me; I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to ask me a question about religion or belief, and I am having a problem linking that to the state pension and women. However, some pretty clear steps are being taken in legislation to try to equalise that position, and I am perfectly happy to get someone else to write to him about those.