Clause 147

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 30 June 2009.

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Power to impose specific duties

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I beg to move amendment 22, in clause 147, page 108, line 27, at end insert—

‘(5) Before regulations are made under this section, there must be laid before both Houses of Parliament

(a) draft regulations, and

(b) evidence that the regulations will enable the better performance by public authorities of the duty imposed by subsection (1).’.

Amendment 22 is rather similar to amendment 21 on clause 143, which we discussed earlier, as Committee members can tell from the sequential numbering. The amendment would ensure that the Government are producing plenty of proof and evidence about the effectiveness of the public sector equality duty, both for current consumption and to ensure that we have an evidence base to see how well the duty is working and whether it can be made to work more effectively and efficiently in future.

Clause 147 allows a Minister of the Crown to impose additional duties on a public authority specified in part 1 of schedule 19 for the purposes of enabling a better performance by the authority of that duty. The amendment is duplicating the questions that we were asking with amendment 21 to clause 143. Since the Minister has already given a fairly full answer to that previous amendment I will not ask her to repeat it, but I should like her to clarify what she believes is the scope of the powers that could be required under the clause, where the edges of those powers would be and what she feels would be the maximum scope that could be applied and, therefore, the extent of the evidence that might be required, which I hope that the Government will produce  in any case, bearing in mind the response that the Minister has already given to the Committee on amendment 21. I hope that she can clarify the matter and help us.

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

The amendment would have an interesting effect. Regulations can be made under the clause by the Welsh and Scottish Ministers, too. I am sure that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare did not mean it, but the amendment would require Scottish Ministers as well as Welsh Ministers to lay before the Westminster Parliament any regulations that they intend to make before imposing specific duties on public bodies. My note drafter has described that as not showing sufficient respect for the devolution settlement.

To get to the point, the power under the clause to impose specific duties is subject to affirmative procedure in Parliament under clause 195(4) and (5). Draft regulations will have to be laid before the imposition of specific duties, and they will be debated. The amendment would add nothing to that. Evidence will be tested in debate and we are consulting, as the hon. Gentleman knows, on our proposals for specific duties, some of which I recited this morning. We have published the independent research that we commissioned to inform those proposals and, when we have finished consulting on the plans, backed up by that research, we will consult again on the draft regulations and also consult the EHRC since it will have to implement and police everything that is introduced. The combination of all that consultation, which the hon. Gentleman is welcome to join, with the affirmative procedure in Parliament is probably sufficient, and I invite him to withdraw the amendment, especially as it would have a funny effect on Wales and Scotland.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 6:30, 30 June 2009

Perish the thought that the amendment would unintentionally have a funny effect on Wales and Scotland. I thank the Solicitor-General for her helpful drafting hints and, given what she said and the remarks she made about the earlier amendment to clause 143, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 147 ordered to stand part of the Bill.