January 16, 2006

Equality Bill debate

In the Third Reading debate, John Bercow expresses his strong support for this Bill and the establishment of the commission for equality and human rights.

John Bercow: The fifth of April 2005 witnessed the first of the two Second Reading debates on the Bill that this House has had. On that occasion I had the privilege of expressing my strong and vociferous support for the Bill, and in a thinly attended Chamber I took 25 minutes to do so. Tonight, I shall be much briefer because I am conscious that others wish to contribute to the debate.

This is a first-class Bill. It was given an extremely pithy and eloquent recommendation to the House by the Secretary of State about half an hour ago. It will establish the commission for equality and human rights. It will legislate to prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities on grounds of religion, belief or sexual orientation, and it will impose a duty on public authorities to promote gender equality. These provisions are all extremely welcome, and in two specific senses. First, they are welcome in the sense that they are not merely aspirational or the expression of a theory. They will make a concrete difference in terms of improving people’s lives, which has to be the ultimate test of the appropriateness of a particular piece of legislation. Secondly‚Äîthis is not insignificant either‚Äîthey send out a signal as to the type of society in which the House believes, and I believe that the legislation is good.

In all courtesy to the Minister, whose stewardship of the Bill I greatly respect, I think that she would be unwise—and she is not—if she were not fully to heed and reflect on two of the most powerful, impassioned and convincing speeches that I have heard in the House in a long time, namely those from the hon. Members for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). Their speeches gave a real meaning to the idea, old-fashioned though it might be, that one comes into the Chamber and listens open-mindedly to a contribution with no preconceptions and is influenced in one judgment by that speech. That is the best tribute that I can give to those two hon. Members. My thinking was influenced as they spoke.

The Bill was good before and, as a result of amendments in the course of legislative scrutiny, it is better now. I think that it is unlikely that the House will be divided tonight, but if there are people who are genuinely opposed in principle to the Bill, they might wish to test their opinion in the Lobby. However, I strongly support the Bill and, if there is a Division, I shall express that support by going, with pride, through the Aye Lobby.

9.42 pm

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