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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Making Equality Real

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Meg, in her capacity as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equality, spoke at the post-election inaugural meeting of the ‘Associate Parliamentary Group on Equalities’ in Westminster.



Many thanks for inviting me here today to speak to you. It is very apt that we are holding this meeting in the Wilson Room. It was, of course, Harold Wilson’s Government that took through ground-breaking equality legislation with the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976.  It is in the shadow of these great achievements we seek to make further progress now.


I would like to start out by thanking the Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) who support this Parliamentary Group. The EDF, through its network of organisations on all equality and human rights issues, has established itself as a leading voice in promoting dialogue and understanding across so-called ‘separate’ strands.


They have recognised that there is a cross-cutting nature to equality issues and an intimate relationship between equality and human rights. And they have recognised there are great benefits in working together on equality issues to strengthen the message, highlight the issues and challenge us all to go further.


More than that the EDF has consistently been a critical friend to Government. They have done this by taking the debate in to the heart of Government, speaking with one, strong voice, lobbying MPs, Peers, Ministers and officials, and out, to stakeholders and people more widely, building a deeper understanding of equality amongst those who these changes effect.


Next Steps on Equality


Today is an opportunity for me to set out for you our next steps on equality and human rights. These vital steps will help us to create a Britain where every individual can fulfil their potential and equality is a widely understood basic moral principle.


The Government has made much progress in all areas of equality. We have just taken through a new Disability Discrimination Act, we have outlawed race discrimination in all public functions, imposed a new duty on public bodies to promote race equality, introduced the Gender Recognition Act in 2004, outlawed discrimination in the workplace on grounds of religion and belief, and in October 2006, will be extending this legislation to cover age discrimination. Added to this, we are delivering the biggest ever package of support for working parents.


But, we believe we need to make further progress on all these issues and our work on transforming equality and tackling discrimination continues. That is why today I want to highlight the two areas of work where we will now be focussing our efforts and energies. These are, firstly, the Equalities and Discrimination Law Reviews and secondly, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, and the Equality Bill.


Make no mistake; all these areas of work are intimately linked. They show that this Government is committed to making progress on three fronts -

  1. on root causes - understanding the underlying causes of inequality,
  2. on the legal framework - making sure, the law addresses discrimination fully, and
  3. on the institutions - that will make these changes happen.



Equalities and Discrimination Law Reviews


Today we have announced the membership of the Reference Group that will support both the Equalities and the Discrimination Law Reviews. I welcome the support, experience and skills its members will bring. This Group will provide support to two big tasks we face.


Firstly, the Equalities Review, led by Trevor Phillips, will examine and report on the underlying causes of inequality. This is about more than legislation - it is about making recommendations on how to improve significantly the life chances of those that are most disadvantaged.

Secondly, the Discrimination Law Review, which will be informed by this Equalities Review, will consider the fundamental principles of discrimination legislation. We anticipate this will lead to an outcome-focussed single equality bill.


These two work-streams, one on the root causes and the other on the legal framework, will inform each other. The package of changes they bring about will be based on sound evidence that balances the relative impact that legislation and other action can have in bringing about meaningful change.  Moreover, the outcomes of these Reviews will provide a strong foundation to enhance the work and agenda of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).


These reviews will take time, a lot of consultation with all stakeholders and much work by officials leading, we expect, to a Single Equality Bill later on in this Parliament.


The CEHR and the Equality Bill


Our immediate and urgent priority on equality in this session is the Equality Bill that will create the Commission for Equality and Human Rights prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief and provide a new gender duty on public authorities. There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming months to really get down to the technical detail of what this Bill is about - and I’ve no doubt many of you here today will be giving it forensic attention.


Today, I just want to single out a few points about our vision for the CEHR, why we are doing this, the benefits it will bring and address some of the key issues for stakeholders.


The CEHR will draw together the work of the three current equality Commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission and support the new areas of law protecting against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religion and belief, and from 2006, age.  It will also provide institutional support for the Human Rights Act, in particular to embed human rights effectively into public service delivery.


We should not lose sight that if you believe you are being discriminated against on the grounds of your sexual orientation, or your religion or belief or your age or for multiple reasons there is currently:

  • no institution to go to for advice,
  • no institution to provide authoritative guidance to those people and organisations who want to do the right thing,
  • no institution to promote and champion the benefits understanding equality can bring


This is unacceptable in modern Britain.


Vision for the CEHR


But our ambitions and vision for the CEHR are about much more than supporting these new “strands” of equality, important as they are. The CEHR is being established to bring a new, inclusive approach to promoting equality and human rights and provide more effective support for our discrimination legislation. It reflects our commitment to creating a Britain in which every individual can fulfil their potential. We believe promoting equality and diversity is vital to securing both individual opportunity and potential, and to the prosperity of our society as a whole.


This is fundamentally about a new approach to equality and achieving a fairer society. It recognises the importance of both human rights and the need to ensure good relations between communities. Bringing human rights and equality together will help build a culture of respect for individual rights and the worth of each person, raising awareness of human rights in society at large. Focussing on good relations between communities will build trust and dialogue across all sections of society.



What’s Different? What’s New


The CEHR will build on the work of the predecessor bodies, but it will also be a new body with a new ethos. We want it to be transparent, agile and expert, open to its stakeholders and committed to partnership working. That is why our Bill includes innovative new duties, such as a ‘fundamental duty’ to use its powers work towards a fairer society, and duties to map society’s progress towards equality through a “state of the nation” report and a duty to consult stakeholders on its plans.


I’d like to highlight just four of the many ways in which this will mean the CEHR will be different: These are through:


  1. Greater legitimacy: being the guardian of equality and human rights for the whole of society and not any sectional group
  2. Maximising expertise: putting the expertise in one place - providing a single point of access on equality and human rights legislation
  3. A stronger voice: being a strong advocate and influencer for equality and human rights, both with key decision makers and the public at large.
  4. Evidence based action: building up a powerful evidence base on the causes of inequality to help identify goals and priorities.


Our stakeholders have made it clear to us the benefits they believe this approach will bring about. These include:

  • being a strong, authoritative voice for equality and human rights, pushing them up the public and policy agenda
  • working more effectively for individuals through providing advice and support on all discrimination issues, avoiding pigeon holing and compartmentalisation
  • meeting the strong demand from business for a single, consistent source of advice on all discrimination and equality matters
  • raising awareness in public authorities of human rights standards and values, leading to better public services.


I know many of you here today will have questions to ask about Equality Bill and will continue to ask searching questions as we progress through Parliament.


Let me reassure you, we will continue to develop and improve our proposals as we go along - just as we have done throughout this process. Let us not under-estimate our achievements in getting to this point. It has been a challenging journey so far with extensive and careful consultation with a whole range of stakeholders. On many occasions we have listened to the strength of arguments put forwarded and been persuaded to change our views on how the CEHR should work. This is a living, breathing process that will continue towards establishment of the CEHR.


Steering Group


And that is why we now have a steering group of senior external stakeholders, that includes the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and Disability Rights Commission. They are working hand-in-glove with us on all the practical issues to make sure the CEHR is fit-for-purpose in practice when it opens its doors in late 2007 and when the CRE is folded in, by 2009 and I’d like to thank them for their continued work and input.




In conclusion, I would like to finish off where the Equality Bill begins, with its fundamental duty, clause 3 of the Bill. This clause summarises our vision for a society, towards which the CEHR should contribute.


It states:


“The Commission shall exercise its functions with a view to the creation of a society in which?

(a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,

(b) there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights,

(c) there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,

(d) each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and

(e) there is mutual respect between communities based on understanding

and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.”


Thank You



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