I shall speak to amendment 56. Far be it for me to correct my hon. Friend Mr Umunna, but I think the amendment is in my name. I say that only to give notice formally that I intend to move the amendment and divide the House on it. The amendment is in my name only because of my speed of pace in getting to the Vote Office—that is all.
This is not one of those parliamentary knockabout debates, but a fundamentally important one. I have been a Member since 1997 and I have noted that in every debate on equalities during that period, what emerged was a near consensus about the approach towards, and the commitment to, the legislative framework. When we debated the Equality Act 2006, near consensus was achieved in this House about the legislative framework that was being put in place. I thought that that was one of those occasions on which the House rose to its full height, and it was held in esteem for reaching that consensus.
To be frank, there is an element of tragedy to what is happening. We are going dramatically backwards here. The Minister listed a range of reforms that the Government had introduced, most of which I believe the Opposition supported. I welcome them, but the difference between those reforms and the one we are considering is that there was consensus about most of them, both in this House and outside it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham has said, a vast range of organisations have expressed concern. I received a briefing from the Equality and Diversity Forum—I hope that other Members have received it, too—which basically urged the Government to think again and provided a detailed brief, setting out point by point its arguments for opposing the Government’s proposals. Some of these organisations deserve listening to. They include Age UK, the British Institute of Human Rights, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, Citizens Advice, Disability Rights UK, the Discrimination Law Association, End Violence Against Women—the list just goes on and on—the Fawcett Society, Friends, Families and Travellers, Justice, the Law Centres Federation, Mind, the National AIDS Trust, Race on the Agenda, the Refugee Council, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Runnymede Trust, Scope, the TUC and the Women’s Resource Centre—and there are many more. As my hon. Friend said, tomorrow there will be a further letter from organisations that supported this House for almost a generation as we devised the legislation and the legislative foundation of our equalities law. This Government are now breaking that consensus.
To be frank, there were concerns that there would be a Conservative party attack on equalities after the election. We were hoping that that would not be the case. I argued that many of the legislative debates we had had over the last generation would be put to bed and would not be reopened. Many feared such an attack, but most of us hoped when the coalition was born that the Lib Dems would head it off. I know that there are those who have tried to do so. We have heard today of letters coming in from different Lib Dem groups, urging the Government to think again. Unfortunately, they have failed. As a result of that failure to convince the Government to think again, we are faced with the most significant step backwards on equalities that we have seen in the last 20 years.