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Equality Commission

Volume 495: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2009

8. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on its review of the effectiveness of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. (283761)

The Northern Ireland Office contributed to the Equality Commission’s consultation process during its review of the effectiveness of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Copies of the report were placed in the Libraries of the House on 9 June.

Having recently had discussions with elected politicians in Northern Ireland who find section 75 to be a bureaucratic, institutionalised piece of political correctness, I ask the Minister to consider repealing the provision instead of encouraging such politically correct box-ticking, which does nothing to improve community relations in Northern Ireland.

Why did I think that the hon. Gentleman might use the phrase “political correctness”? I ask him to reflect for a second on the importance of the commitment to equality and fairness in Northern Ireland in the context of the past 10 years. Putting equality and fairness at the heart of the political and public policy-making agenda is absolutely essential to ensure that peace takes the place of violence and sectarian hatred.

While the Secretary of State emphasises the importance of fairness and equality being at the heart of affairs in Northern Ireland, does he accept that the legislation as currently drafted has led to an extensive and unnecessary piece of equality legislation that has led in turn to the build-up of an equality industry that serves few of the purposes that he outlined in his answer, and that therefore any future legislation should be designed to dismantle that industry while ensuring that the principles of fairness and equality remain?

I do not accept or recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman has given. There is a commitment to equality; indeed, there is an absolute responsibility on public authorities to consider all their policies in relation to equality. Where it is felt that there might be an adverse impact, an equalities impact assessment should be provided. The important thing, as the Equality Commission has recognised, is not the process but the practical outcome in terms of the lives that people lead. I hope that in future we will focus on those practical outcomes more than on anything else.