Clause 2

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 11th June 2009.

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Power to amend section 1

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I will be brief. I just want to pick up from our previous discussion one or two of the Minister’s remarks about the nature of the public authorities. This clause, which is the one that I said we were not very happy with, gives Ministers the power by regulations not just to add public authorities that are subject to the duty, but to remove authorities and to vary the functions to which it will apply. The Minister said she felt that the Government had covered most of the authorities that they wanted, but they had left the power to add them in case they had missed any, and her response to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green suggested that there were one or two authorities that the Minister needed to consider again.

However, given that the Bill has these authorities in it and the Committee has now accepted them, it seems to me that Ministers being able to take them out pretty  much whenever they felt like it would not be acceptable. I would therefore like the Minister to say a few words about where Ministers thought they might use the powers. Is it an administrative thing? In other words, is it about taking authorities out when they cease to exist or there is a reorganisation and they are called something different or the machinery of government changes? Are we pretty much stuck with the list barring that happening, or will it be the intention of Ministers to take out authorities for other reasons? I would like some understanding of Ministers’ thought processes.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

We have already exhibited an interest in being flexible about the list. If we change it, of course, it will be changed before the Bill becomes law, so then, we hope, the list will be as comprehensive as all parties here have been able to make it by considering the purpose of it and being able to add and take off what they wanted to. I am therefore hoping that we are getting even nearer to the right list, but yes, the point of this clause is to future-proof the list. First, we need to specify the right bodies and we think that we have picked the correct ones. However, the machinery of government can be subject to change; functions of particular bodies can change, as can the bodies themselves. New ones come and old ones go.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry 1:45 pm, 11th June 2009

On the strength of having recently attended the Council of Europe social, health and family affairs committee, perhaps I can ask the Minister to at least consider a situation where a public authority is working with an international organisation. Therefore, the authority would not be wholly in command of the situation, but there would be a strategic implication. Will she consider whether there is a possible loophole that needs covering?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I will certainly reflect on that. The hon. Gentleman spends his spare time in an interesting way. When old bodies are wound up and new ones are established, we need the flexibility to vary the provision, if necessary. It is for that kind of thing, or where change means that we no longer have the list, because the list’s contents have changed.

In addition, we need the power to add the Welsh bodies to the list. We are hopeful that Welsh Ministers will decide to extend the duty to their relevant bodies in due course, sooner rather than later. It will take a bit of time, so we need this clause to make provision for that to happen. I hope that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean is satisfied that, as he put it, we will not be putting bodies on and taking them off when we feel like it. The intention is that it will not be used often.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.