– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 2nd December 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:30 pm, 2nd December 1999

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-334, in the name of Jackie Baillie, and on two amendments.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 3:16 pm, 2nd December 1999

I am pleased to open this debate on equality— [Interruption.]

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Order—I apologise to Jackie Baillie. Members must not conduct conversations in the chamber. We are starting a debate.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

This is the first time that the Parliament has debated equality and the first opportunity that we have had to elaborate on how the Executive is approaching its work on equality. Today is the start of a much wider debate across all sections of Scottish society. I hope that that debate will stimulate and challenge all, and that everybody will participate in it.

Scotland has a vibrant multicultural, multi-faith population, and is rich in diversity. However, our society has not been culturally inclusive or willing to ensure that diversity did not become an excuse for inequality of opportunity. If one is a woman, or is disabled, from a black or ethnic minority background, gay, lesbian, or old, or if one's culture is not part of the mainstream, inequality of opportunity is more often one's badge, and discrimination, harassment, exclusion and poor access to services are a likely legacy.

If we needed any reminder of what that means for many people in Scotland, we should consider the evidence. The pay gap between men and women in Scotland stands at 78.5 per cent. It cannot be acceptable that we continue to have that pay disparity at the end of the century that began with clamour and demands for equal pay. It is unjustifiable that those with black and ethnic minority backgrounds experience higher unemployment and lower incomes than the white population. It is also unacceptable that those with disability have diminished access to the labour market and to full participation in it.

Furthermore, it cannot be acceptable that so many groups face discrimination and exclusion. Women face real exclusion, but it is often invisible. Women can be barred from full participation in society because of their low relative incomes, their patterns of working, and their caring and domestic responsibilities, and because of discriminatory assumptions that are still made about their role and place in society. A lack of financial independence and, in some cases, violent and abusive relationships can also lead to exclusion.

We know also that those in the gay, lesbian and transgender communities face exclusion because of their sexual orientation. Many experience rejection and alienation and live their lives never feeling that they are able to participate fully. Young people experience homophobic bullying at school and often suffer in silence, unable to confide in family and friends. Others are forced to leave home because their families have found their sexuality unacceptable.

Those with a disability will tell us that trying to live and work in a society that is not structured to enable their participation is soul destroying and frustrating, and that is unacceptable.

Just last week, I read in the report, "Experiences of Social Exclusion in Scotland", comments by respondents from black and ethnic minority communities. They stated that they

"felt that they had been excluded by a society which was geared towards the attitudes and needs of the white majority".

They recounted instances of being verbally attacked because of their ethnic origin. They said:

"These attacks tended to question their right to exist in Scottish society".

We know that racial harassment, racial attacks and racial discrimination are experienced by people in Scotland every day. That is why the Executive is determined to make advances on the issue of equal opportunities and why we are advocating the development of a robust equality strategy. The Executive has consistently stated that it wants a more just and inclusive Scotland, but we cannot achieve that objective if we do not address the issues of inequality in our society.

This Parliament endorsed the consultative steering group recommendation that equality should be an underpinning principle of the Parliament in all its work. The Executive has set about its work on equality with commitment and determination. It is a major task, and one that will not be completed overnight. The process of changing attitudes and mindsets takes time and is a responsibility for us all—not just the Government, not just politicians and not just the equality agencies and interests, but all of us.

Our approach to delivering on equality must be one of partnership, and that is the basis on which I bring the motion before the chamber today. Last night, the First Minister gave an address at the Equal Opportunities Commission launch of the mainstreaming checklist for MSPs. In his address, he identified three requirements for the successful development of the equality agenda. The first is the need to affirm the Executive's commitment at the highest level, the second is the need to put in place structures to deliver equality, and the third is the need to develop a robust strategy.

Let me say a little about each of those needs. The First Minister and the Executive are firmly and publicly committed to putting equality at the heart of policy making, and are determined that mainstreaming and the promotion of equal opportunities will be key features of our work. The programme for government reaffirmed the Executive's commitment to promoting equality of opportunity. At the end of September, I gave a commitment to the Equal Opportunities Committee that I would go back and outline the progress that we had made, and I fully intend to do that. Several ministers have pledged the Executive's collective commitment to equality and to starting the process to achieve it.

As members know, equality is one of the four key principles of the Parliament, guiding our operations and our organisation. The Equal Opportunities Committee is one of the eight mandatory committees and is already making headway in its work under the convenership of Kate MacLean. Although achieving equality in this Parliament is a valuable outcome in itself, it has the added value of stimulating interest, increasing expectations and raising the profile of equality issues in the new Scotland.

As pledged, the Executive has established an equality unit in the Executive secretariat, at the very centre of our structure. The unit has three main tasks. First, it will act as a single point for advice and liaison in the Executive. Secondly, it will take the lead on mainstreaming equality in the work of the Executive, to put equality at the heart of all policy development and service design and delivery. Thirdly, the unit will actively pursue the promotion of equal opportunities.

We see mainstreaming as the key task because, as the EOC's document, "Questions on Mainstreaming", states,

"it puts people, and their diverse needs and experiences at the heart of policy making. It leads to better government. As a process it tackles the structures in society which contribute to or sustain discrimination and disadvantage and the application of a mainstreaming approach can avoid the adoption of policies and programmes which replicate discrimination and exacerbate existing inequalities."

The pursuit of mainstreaming and the focus on changing culture and attitudes require a particular strategic approach. The development of the equality agenda in Scotland will help to create fundamental cultural change and a deep-rooted commitment to equal opportunities for all. The evolution of an effective programme for the Scottish Executive requires a partnership approach with all interests, both internal and external. I propose that there be a phased approach to the Scottish Executive's strategy on equality.

The initial phase will run from December to April 2000, and is concerned with establishing the framework for work on equality. In that phase, the emphasis is on consultation and dialogue. The ability to achieve our objective of mainstreaming requires all interests to have shared ownership of the project, and that cannot come about without detailed dialogue and consultation.

I see that David McLetchie started the dialogue outside and continued it as he came into the chamber.

Because detailed discussion is required, there will be a programme of widespread consultation, culminating in a report to Parliament in April 2000, and annual reports thereafter. That will provide Parliament with the opportunity to review the development of the equality strategy and to monitor progress.

This speech will form the basis of our consultation. In addition to the mainstreaming work that we will take forward, the Executive expects work to be done on establishing and improving baseline information and statistics, developing performance management frameworks, and developing and building on internal and external equality networks, consultative mechanisms and communication strategies. We also expect to look at ways of disseminating good practice.

Our commitment to equality has been on-going since July, and time does not permit me to elaborate on all the initiatives that have been undertaken, but I will provide members with a flavour of them: the £8 million package that has been announced, to address domestic violence; the £2.4 million given to finance work in ethnic minority communities as part of our social inclusion programme; and the improved provision for child care.

Last month, we announced our firm commitment to repeal section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986. Recently, we have pursued work with young and old through the millennium volunteers project and the giving age initiative. The Executive has just published our groundbreaking report, "Social Justice ...a Scotland where everyone matters". The report is about establishing social justice and equality of opportunity as the hallmark of Scottish society and politics. It is about working together to achieve a Scotland where everyone matters.

The report "Experiences of Social Exclusion in Scotland", to which I referred earlier, set out in graphic detail the many forms of social injustice that affect our society. It cuts across all kinds of people in all kinds of communities and in all kinds of different ways. The report spells it out clearly that we cannot simply treat Scotland's people as a uniform group, and that a multi-sectoral approach is needed. That accords with our cross-cutting approach, which the Executive is using to tackle social inclusion, and will also be the hallmark of the equality unit.

We have given a clear commitment to improve the level of representation of women, black and ethnic minority people, and disabled people in public appointments. Although significant work has already been undertaken to address the current imbalance, my ministerial colleagues and I recognise that further work needs to be done to attract more candidates from under-represented areas of society. That is why currently we are reviewing systems for appointment and have set ourselves challenging targets. My colleague Jack McConnell has responsibility for the overall system of public appointments, and will be addressing that matter in a statement shortly.

We also recognise the importance of improving our consultation mechanisms with appropriate bodies in the field. The Women in Scotland consultative forum, chaired at ministerial level, was set up more than two years ago; the race equality advisory forum has been established and held its first meeting last week. Iain Gray and I co-chaired a half-day seminar to identify issues of concern for disabled people. As we identify the areas of concern, we will identify appropriate ways to consult and actions that can be taken forward.

We find ourselves in a significant climate of change. We are not alone in seeing the need to increase the profile of equal opportunities. The UK Government has underlined its commitment to tackling inequality. The Race Relations (Amendment) Bill has been announced and the report of the disability task force is imminent.

Last week, the European Commission produced its proposals to tackle discrimination, under the new powers of the Amsterdam treaty. The proposals cover a wide range of issues: racial discrimination in employment; social protection; education; and access to goods and services. The Commission also proposed an action plan for spreading best practice. That is the start of a lengthy process, but I am heartened by those positive proposals from the Commission and the breadth of grounds of employment discrimination that it intends to tackle.

We are beginning to witness movement at all levels of government on equality issues. That is to be welcomed.

In Scotland, we have an opportunity to craft something unique and at the cutting edge. We have an opportunity to lead the field. We are a new Parliament and a new Executive. For the first time, we have the chance to develop a cohesive approach to equality work through the strategically placed equality unit. We do not have any precedents; we can make our own blueprint and map our own route.

By adopting the motion today and entering into meaningful dialogue, we shall create the opportunity to scope an effective programme for equality into the next century.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Executive's commitment, as set out in Making it Work Together: A Programme for Government, to promote equality of opportunity for all and to do that through an inclusive, phased and participative approach to the development of an equality strategy so ensuring that in developing policy and in service design and delivery concern for equality is at the heart of the matter.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before I call the next speaker, I should say that the time limit on speeches in the open debate will be five minutes.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 3:32 pm, 2nd December 1999

I sometimes think that I have strayed into a management seminar. All that is missing are the flow charts to go with the buzzwords.

It may come as a shock to the minister that we all support equality of opportunity. Nobody has a monopoly on this area. The statement on equality strategy from Wendy Alexander, who I believe will be talking to us—I hope not at us—at the end of the debate, is a reaffirmation of the document produced by the Executive on 9 September. In her statement, she

"encourages everyone with an interest in equality to send in comments on the statement in writing to the Equality Unit by 18 February."

I was not sure whether that was meant to indicate a formal consultation or not. I hope that there will be a guarantee that there will be a response to the comments received and that they will be acted upon, especially as some of the organisations will be campaigning for legislative changes, which she is unable to initiate.

The motion today is very general and, as such, will be disappointing to the many groups that are looking for real change, especially those groups concerned with issues of race and sexual orientation. The SNP regards equality as, first and foremost, an issue of justice. It has always been the SNP's belief that a Scottish Parliament would present us with an opportunity to take radical steps forward in Scottish society and take us into the 21st century with laws that ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sex, age, religion, race or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, we are not being given that opportunity. That should be a matter of regret for all members in this chamber.

I accept that, even without legislative competence, there is a great deal that can be done. I recall speaking at a number of conferences and meetings in the year previous to the May elections and it was always possible to compile an impressive list of initiatives that could be undertaken and which met many of the demands made by organisations lobbying in this policy area. For example, the commitment to repeal section 2A, better known as section 28, has been SNP policy for many years. It was always clear that, notwithstanding the reservation of equal opportunities, repeal would be perfectly competent within the devolution settlement. Indeed, we welcome the announcement that that will happen. I do not take away from the possibilities that are currently available; other SNP speakers will make more specific references to those possibilities.

Initiatives are always likely to be supported by the SNP, because of our long commitment to equal opportunities. The Executive need have no fear about that. However, there is no point in running away from the reality of the restrictions that are imposed on the Scottish Parliament by the reservation contained within the Scotland Act 1998. That reservation is fairly wide-ranging and includes the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It covers all matters relating to the bodies set up under the existing legislation: the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the National Disability Council.

Many organisations feel that the current situation is inefficient and unfair, so Labour members cannot sweep the issue aside with one of those "They would say that" sneers that seem to be their standard response to anything that they find a bit challenging.

The director of Disability Scotland has said that

"the new Disability Rights Commission should have an autonomous policy making ability at this stage, albeit within the UK framework. If we cannot get these powers then there needs to be a review and consideration to having more devolved powers."

Tim Hopkins of Equality Network, an admirable organisation with which many members will be familiar, has reiterated comments that he made in January 1998:

"Equal opportunities regulations are in need of updating and we feel that the power to do this in Scotland should be available to the Scottish Parliament."

How has Westminster dealt with race relations? Since 1976, the Commission for Racial Equality has submitted three reviews of the Race Relations Act 1976 with proposals for substantial reform. The first submission received no response whatever and the second was rejected outright. The third, which was submitted to the present Home Secretary in April 1998, received a mixed response. Eight of the recommendations received no response, two were clearly accepted and a substantial number were either accepted conditionally or received no clear decision. However, two Queen's speeches later, little progress is promised.

The Deputy Minister for Communities, in opening the debate, referred to the experience of black Scots. Perhaps the Minister for Communities, in closing, will include some indication of her response to the CRE's recent document "Racial Equality Matters—an Agenda for the Scottish Parliament". I ask that now, as I understand that the minister is unlikely to allow any interventions later. The CRE is still waiting to hear her views and, if she is serious about the concerns expressed here, no doubt she will want to do the CRE that courtesy.

Those were a few observations from some of the organisations that are active in the field. I have not referred to all of them, but it is fair to say that most have concerns about the current position. They also have the rather more specific concern that they were totally unaware of today's debate, and are unhappy that they did not know about it far enough in advance to give us the benefit of their views.

Many aspects of the equality debate have a distinctly Scottish perspective. That difference will simply not be taken on board by Westminster, whether or not it gets around to legislating on those matters. For example, it is an undeniable fact that the composition of ethnic minorities in Scotland is very different from that in England and is complicated by the fact that we cannot exclude anti-English discrimination as an area of concern.

A debate on equalities must, of necessity, be wide-ranging, but I want to highlight one area in which the inability to legislate can be felt already. It has been a puzzle to me for many years that, despite all the rhetoric about religious discrimination, the issue has simply been swept under the carpet. That may be understandable—perhaps religious discrimination has not been a factor in English public life and is therefore not at the forefront of people's minds as an equality issue. Who can tell? However, that is absolutely not the case for Scotland, not now and certainly not when the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 were being passed.

I will not talk about the Act of Settlement today; I am talking about addressing a problem that may be getting better, but, as we all know, still exists in Scotland. Addressing that problem will be a matter for Westminster. So, what is happening with regard to religious discrimination? I am happy to report that the Home Office has decided that it had better consider the situation. I am not clear about precisely what motivated that concern. There is, of course, pressure from various religious groups in England to have the issue addressed, since much racial discrimination masquerades as religious discrimination and, presumably, hopes to evade the law by doing so. Quite rightly, the Home Office has commissioned some research into the extent of religious discrimination, but only in England and Wales.

Frankly, this is a ridiculous situation. The power to legislate to deal with religious discrimination is reserved, which means that this Parliament cannot legislate on it. The Home Office, whose responsibility it is, is interested only in the situation in England and Wales and the situation in Scotland disappears into a black hole. More accurately, we are in a Catch-22 situation: we cannot do what is necessary and those who can will not. Even if they chose to legislate, legislation would be on the basis of work that is not applicable to Scotland's particular concerns. That situation cannot be right.

It cannot be right that this Parliament, which has to deal with the fall-out from the discrimination that remains, cannot take the necessary steps to address the problem. Most people accept that although problems of discrimination are the same for people throughout the world, particular circumstances in different countries make the needs of legislation different. The SNP always envisaged a Parliament that would be more ground-breaking on the issue than Westminster has been. I only wish that more people shared that vision.

I note that the Liberal Democrats were eloquent on the subject at the time of the debates on the Scotland bill. I recall Donald Gorrie saying that the Liberal Democrats believed that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to legislate on the matter. He and his colleagues supported SNP amendments at the time and were vocal in their view that this matter should have been devolved. I wonder what their position will be today.

The Government did not think that Scotland should have that power, but the truth is that no adequate reason was given for the decision to reserve equal opportunities. The suspicion lingers that, somehow, it was felt that we could not be trusted, which is ironic, given the shared commitment to equal opportunities that members of this Parliament express with such frequency. Further, while this Parliament has an Equal Opportunities Committee, Westminster does not. The assumption must be that Westminster does not need one.

It is a pity that the Scotland Act 1998 does not allow us to co-opt people on to Scottish parliamentary committees as that means that the Equal Opportunities Committee is unable to have representation from the ethnic minority community, which is the one area in which this Parliament has been a signal failure. The sad fact is that although we can do a great deal, our hands are tied until Westminster gets round to legislating, and even then, we cannot be sure that the legislation will take into account the circumstances that exist in Scotland. If we are to judge from the Home Office approach, we can be certain that Scotland's specific problems will not be addressed.

What a ridiculous position to be in and what a ridiculous position the Executive is in having to defend it.

I move amendment S1M-334.2, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"recognises the fundamental importance of equality of opportunity in Scotland both now and for the future and therefore regrets that legislative competence in this area remains reserved to Westminster."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 3:42 pm, 2nd December 1999

As the only Scottish Conservative member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I am delighted to contribute to this debate. The Scottish Conservatives are totally committed to eliminating discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for everyone in the UK, regardless of race, religion, sex or social class.

We are one nation and we are proud of our traditions, our achievements and our reputation for freedom and tolerance. The Scottish Parliament gives us a wonderful opportunity further to enhance equal opportunities. Our aim must be to create a society that is comfortable with heterogeneity and which sees nothing unusual in the differences of its members. That will be achieved only when people of both genders, all races, all faiths and all backgrounds are found in all jobs across the land in positions that they have reached on merit and on merit alone.

The Scottish Conservatives are proud of our multicultural society. Scotland and the UK are enhanced, not diminished, as nations by the contributions of people from different backgrounds and cultures. In recent years, great progress has been made in breaking down the barriers to equality in business, the media, sport, entertainment and the arts, academia and public administration. Opportunities for young people have also been enhanced through greater access to further and higher education, although that has been undermined by the Lib-Lab tuition fees scandal.

In spite of all those advances, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. Undoubtedly, barriers to opportunity remain in our society. We must do more for our disabled citizens to make them feel included in the new Scotland. For example, we should ensure that, wherever possible, disabled children follow mainstream education, rather than being sent to special schools or units. In trains, boats and planes, provision should be made to make life easier and more comfortable for the disabled.

As always, I make my plea that the Parliament works for all of Scotland, not just the central belt. As our observant and splendid First Minister recently said, people live and work in rural areas; however, they cannot do so in a museum-like time warp. I thank him for that, and remind the Executive how difficult it is for people living on the edge, with fuel at 90p a litre and all basic commodities priced well above the Scottish average. People who feel forgotten feel unequal, and cynicism about our new Parliament is tragic.

The Conservative-inspired University of the Highlands and Islands goes a long way—

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I welcome Mr McGrigor's recognition that people have suffered discrimination in terms of race, class and faith. However, if it is not too rude a question, could he clarify what is meant by sex in the Conservatives' amendment? Does it mean gender or sexual orientation? Further, would his party endorse the commitment of the Executive to repealing section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 as a major step towards promoting tolerance, understanding and equality for gays and lesbians?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

On her first question, I think that Ms Jamieson was referring to sexual orientation and on her second, no, we do not think that it is a good idea to repeal section 28. I thank her for that.

The Conservative-inspired University of the Highlands and Islands goes a long way to providing more equality in education but, needless to say, its colleges are at a disadvantage due to the extra costs of being so remote. I ask the minister whether the Executive has plans to take account of that by increasing funds, as it does for primary and secondary education in those areas.

In this country, we are fortunate—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

What is the Conservatives' view, bearing in mind the comments that Mr McGrigor has just made about being in favour of equality—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

What is the Conservatives' view on the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

We are quite clear that we should leave it up to the heads of our armed forces to give us advice on that.

In this country, we are fortunate enough to have some of the toughest legislation in Europe aimed at combating the evil of racial discrimination. The Scottish Conservatives are fully committed to building upon that in the new Scotland. Our message must be loud and clear: discrimination, whether positive or negative, is inexcusable. I look forward to the day when the Scottish Parliament has many more members, of all party affiliations, from black and ethnic minorities.

Last Saturday, I made a speech on behalf of my party at the Scottish Trades Union Congress black workers conference in Glasgow. I greatly enjoyed the conference and the party afterwards. In my contribution, I referred to the most moving speech I have ever heard, by a man who influenced so many of my generation. I am talking about Martin Luther King. He stressed that in the process of gaining minorities their rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. I whole-heartedly endorse that principle.

There is no question but that the ethnic minorities have the aptitude and ability to represent the people of Scotland in this chamber and I hope that they will be doing that soon. However, we must recognise once and for all that so-called positive discrimination is a wrongful deed. It unfairly favours and patronises some and discriminates against others. Indeed, it was part of King's dream that one day his children would live in a nation where they would be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Let us make King's dream a reality in Scotland. Let us have a society that treats people on the basis of merit, not background. Let us have a society where access is universal and there are no special rules or status for any group. Let us have a society that fulfils Martin Luther King's dream that

"All of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics" will

"sit together at the table of brotherhood."

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I wonder whether Mr McGrigor might include women in his delightful picture of togetherness.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Of course I include women in that. [Interruption.] I am referring to women and men at the same time.

We can achieve the dream, not by

"drinking from the cup of bitterness", but by creating a society that treats everyone as equal.

I move amendment S1M-334.1, to leave out from "and to" to end and insert:

"regardless of race, sex, class or faith and further recognises that this will not be achieved by positive discrimination or politically correct strategies which label people as categories, but by a commitment to limited government and enhanced personal freedom."

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 3:51 pm, 2nd December 1999

Equality is about recognising the worth of every individual. Every one of us is different and unique. In an equal society, we must be prepared to embrace the full width and depth of the human race in all its diversity and manifestations, not just the narrow range with which we are familiar or feel comfortable. Equality is a big challenge; it is a challenge for every one of us, as individuals, never mind as a Parliament.

To achieve equality we have to become aware of our own prejudices, ignorance and personal blinkers. Then we must make a conscious effort to overcome them and we must persuade others to do the same. It will take generations to accomplish, if we ever do. Just because it is a long and rocky road is no reason not to set out along it, or to continue along it. Much has been done already: there are tools to help us, advice and information, and where there is a will there is a way.

Information is crucial. We need good information about our population in order to measure whether resources, services, jobs and opportunities are being fairly allocated across all sectors of our community. We need good information about people's needs, whether that relates to their health and welfare or their cultural and religious requirements. To collect the information, we must be meticulous in seeking out every section of society. It is not easy to persist and to penetrate beyond those people who are articulate and easily accessible, to those people who are cut off by geography, language, lack of expectation, and isolation because of age, disability, infirmity or weight of caring responsibilities. We need to ask the right questions, in the right way, to get useful and meaningful answers.

I was struck by a quotation that I came across about the census:

"The census is not just an exercise in gathering dry statistics—it is a crucially important educational and social policy instrument that has a subtle psychological impact on the social climate since it is sent to every household in the nation. The way the religious and ethnic questions are formulated sends a signal to the entire population about the way the Government understands the multicultural nature of modern Britain."

It has been suggested that breaking down the description "white" into the categories: English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, other, would normalise the concept of ethnicity by underlining the existence of indigenous ethnicity as well as foreign ethnicity, and would challenge the two-tone, white-and-other view of the world.

We live in a society where discrimination, conscious and unconscious, is all around us. I listened to the debate this morning about the plight of Scotland's pensioners. Without in any way making light of the real needs of a large proportion of our elderly population, and the problems of fuel poverty, inadequate incomes and isolation—all of which were highlighted in the eloquent contributions that were made on behalf of older people by speakers in the debate—I was conscious throughout of a faint undercurrent of agism, and a tendency to talk about the elderly almost as if they were a race apart. There were some positive contributions, but I would have liked to hear some celebration of what old age can mean and of what elderly people can contribute.

Older people are our community. They keep most of it running. They have leisure time and experience of life, and they know how to enjoy them. By and large, they are looking after each other and us. Let us not forget to acknowledge their place in the community and to be glad of it; and let us not forget to ensure that they have equal access to the fun things as well as to the necessities.

Have members ever realised how commercial radio discriminates against older people? Commercial radio was established 25 years ago and, in those 25 years, the radio authorities have awarded almost 170 licences. Nearly all of them have gone to operators that were targeting young age groups, even though 81 per cent of people over the age of 55 listen to the radio, or, as my generation called it, the wireless.

Out of 166 commercial radio stations, only seven have their greatest market penetration among the over-55 age group. Only 28 per cent of over-55s listen to local commercial radio, a medium that could be an ideal way of reaching elderly or housebound people, if the type of programme that was broadcast encouraged them to listen to their local station. However, that is for our colleagues at Westminster to think about.

Do we think carefully enough about the effects of well-meant policies on different groups? Inclusive education is a good thing. Children should all have the same opportunity to mix with their peer group on terms as equal as we can make them. However, I have recently had it pointed out to me that a profoundly deaf child is totally isolated in a hearing peer group. Because total deafness afflicts such a small percentage of the population, real inclusion can be achieved only by collecting deaf children together in a special school where communication is non-verbal.

Children should all be allowed to enjoy childhood equally. The youngsters out there who are caring for dependent parents or relatives desperately need recognition and support to give them equal opportunities for education and leisure and freedom from adult responsibilities.

There has been an awareness of, and a willingness to tackle, discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, disability and gender for many years. I am glad that we are now adding discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. If one regards homosexuality as a matter of choice, discrimination against it equates with religious discrimination. If one believes that it is genetic, discrimination against it is on a par with racial discrimination. The number of people whose lives have been made miserable by having to hide or deny their sexuality is not known, but it is estimated that between 3 and 10 per cent of the population is gay or lesbian. A figure of 3 per cent would represent about 150,000 people in Scotland.

I hope that I am a tolerant and caring person; I want to live in a tolerant and caring Scotland. If I belittle or demean another human being, I belittle and demean myself. Equality for all is a tremendous goal. To achieve it, we must first admit how far short of it we fall and set about tackling that shortfall. I think and I hope that we will do both.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 4:00 pm, 2nd December 1999

Jamie McGrigor was right to highlight Martin Luther King's famous speech in which he asked for people to be judged by the content of their character, not by the colour of their skin. That speech, so radical in its time, should echo in this Parliament and stand as a reminder to all of us of the necessity to ensure equality of opportunity for all Scotland's people.

Although I would not claim to be as eloquent or as prestigious a speaker as the Reverend King, I want to express my deep support for the framework for an equality strategy that was announced today. As a member of the Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee, I welcome the Executive's commitment to create a fair and just society in which all individuals, whatever their background, have equal rights and opportunities. Those values, which I know are shared throughout the chamber, are primarily Labour values and will take us and our country into the new century.

I want to draw members' attention to inclusion in education. Many young people with difficulties have a restricted choice of educational establishment. They are often deemed not suitable for mainstream education and are placed in more specialist settings instead. The culture of diverting so many young people to specialist educational establishments is not consistent with the Executive's strategy of inclusion. In many areas of Scotland, there is the presumption that special schools are better—but better for whom? Surely not for the children.

Segregated education brands children with disabilities as second class and is not an equal, but a different, education. Although children can be offered specialist support, they are denied the opportunity to grow with their able-bodied peers. That proves a missed opportunity to educate children in mainstream schools, who must also be given the opportunity to learn with those with disabilities and, by doing so, learn to see the ability in those people.

Mainstream inclusive education must be the way forward for children with disabilities. Such children must not be branded as different; they are different only in that they have a disability. If a child needs an auxiliary, a speech therapist or specialist equipment, that should be provided for the child in a mainstream setting. I know from experience the difference that such help can make to young people. Instead of excluding them and tearing them from their friends and communities, the Executive should ensure that resources are available to provide our children with choice.

Let me make myself clear. I am talking not about dumping special needs children in mainstream schools without support, but about supporting their needs in schools within communities by transferring resources from specialist units to those schools.

I urge the Executive to take positive steps to transfer resources from the costly two-tier system to equip professional teachers with the skills to support our future generations. Rather than perpetuate prejudice—as the Equity Group says—we must move to a system such as Sweden's which is the opposite of the current system in Scotland. In Sweden, special needs children are automatically supported in mainstream schools and placing children in specialist learning centres is the exception rather than the rule. That should be the way forward for our country.

I do not advocate the abolition of specialist centres—they do valuable work—but we must give parents a clear choice, which they do not often have at present. We must provide Scottish parents and children with information to make such choices, which is why I welcome the work of Enquire, the information service run by Children in Scotland. We must transfer the resources allocated to specialist centres to enable integration to occur.

I believe passionately in equality of opportunity; I have supported it all my life. I recognise the commitment of ministers—Jackie Baillie and Wendy Alexander—in the Scottish Executive and the commitment that exists throughout the chamber, regardless of party, to equality of opportunity. I hope, therefore, that the Parliament will support the Executive today.

The framework for an equality strategy is rooted in the traditions of tolerance and understanding, which is welcome. I urge the Executive to move forward in partnership with all interested parties, including the Equity Group, which campaign for real inclusion and equality in our education system. Once equality is achieved, we will truly be able to say, in the words of Martin Luther King:

"Free at last! Free at last!"

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 4:06 pm, 2nd December 1999

Parliament must be getting used to its regular fix of motherhood and apple pie from the Executive, particularly from this combination of ministers. Yes, the issues being introduced by the Minister for Communities and her team are important, but their motions are so bland and self-congratulatory that it is questionable whether debating them is a good use of the Parliament's time. We could, for example, be discussing real issues about racism and inequality in society. The packed benches are evidence of that.

The fact that the Executive treats issues of race or gender as social issues gives us a flavour of its approach; it sees them as issues to be managed and social services to be delivered. SNP members are clear: race and gender are issues of rights—basic human rights—and justice.

Basic human rights are central to this country of ours and to our newborn democracy and are a prerequisite for what we do—or should do. What do we get from the Executive? General, meaningless words about phased and participative approaches and about service design and delivery. What is all that about? It sounds like a description of the Edinburgh Ikea showroom and catalogue launch—phased, participative, service design and delivery.

On human rights, how can the Executive prove its commitment to equality of opportunity when we have yet to hear a statement from it about how it will stand up for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland now that the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 has been passed at Westminster? The act most certainly has an impact on equal opportunities yet, again, in key areas, the Executive is powerless without the ability to legislate on equal opportunities.

How can we confirm that the Executive is committed to equal opportunity when we have yet to have a chance to debate a Scottish response to an act that will have a significant impact on how this country deals with immigration and asylum issues, that will arouse sensitivities and that has the potential to cause racial tension?

I remind members that in the 1970s and 1980s, Vietnamese and Chilean refugees were housed in difficult-to-let areas of Glasgow. They suffered from a lack of support and racial harassment. During the Gulf war, stranded Iraqi students were housed in high-rise flats, which they were forced to leave because of continuous harassment. The council reported that the experience had been a disaster.

How can the Executive say that it believes in human rights, social justice and equality when it is complicit in helping through the odious Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 at Westminster? The act removes the human rights of asylum seekers and reduces them to the status of bonded servants, using tokens at the company store to meet their most basic needs.

The act removes the right of Scottish local authorities to come to the aid of asylum seekers through the use of emergency grants; it denies Scottish local authorities the right to aid asylum seekers suffering from mental health difficulties; it removes Scottish local authorities' ability to help to house asylum seekers; it removes Scottish local authorities' ability to provide services to aid the children of asylum seekers. The act is rooted in inequality and amends four separate Scottish acts. It is an act on which, with the complicity of the Executive, this chamber was denied any discussion.

If the Executive thinks that the effect of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 on equal opportunities in Scotland will be negligible, it should stand up and say so. All we have from the Executive are bland assurances, in response to written questions, that consultation is taking place. There is no explanation of what that consultation is. We know what consultation means: it is a one-way street, with Westminster doing all the telling and Holyrood reduced to a listening post.

Does the Executive think that its support for the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 would pass the equality checklist for MSPs launched by the First Minister last night? Does the Scottish Executive believe that changes to Scottish legislation will mainstream equality? Does it believe that full information has been given and analysis made of the impact on equality groups? Have the full range of options and those options' differential impacts on equality groups been presented? Have the direct and indirect effects of proposals been taken into account? I think the answer to that checklist for MSPs on equality is no.

I think that the Executive knows that the Immigration and Asylum Act—as it affects four pieces of Scottish legislation—would fail its own equality test. I want a Scotland of equal opportunity, in which we combat racism, whether it is personal or institutional. We will be judged not on our fine words, however, but on what we do. On this key test, the Executive has failed in the past few months.

It is clear that, on this issue, the Executive is quite happy to be an administrative assembly for Westminster rather than a powerhouse Parliament leading the people of Scotland.

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour 4:11 pm, 2nd December 1999

While I can agree with a lot of what has been said, it would probably have been more appropriate to debate it at another time. I would like to return to the issues that we are meant to be debating today.

I do not have a tremendous problem with the SNP amendment, although I do not think that it does anything. An amendment that suggested something a bit more positive would have been more useful.

I find the Conservative amendment absolutely ludicrous. It mentions:

"regardless of race, sex, class or faith".

Jamie McGrigor said that sex meant sexual orientation. Gender and disability are therefore excluded from Bill Aitken's amendment. The Conservatives seem to think that being called politically correct is some kind of insult; I regard it as more of a compliment.

I welcome today's opportunity to debate equality. Although there is not enough time to do the subject justice, I hope that over many occasions in this chamber, there will be chances to discuss equality of opportunity on an issue-by-issue basis.

The Deputy Minister for Communities said that this is just the start. It is. We can link other important equal opportunities principles of the consultative steering group report: accessibility and accountability. We can link the establishment of a statutory Equal Opportunities Committee and an equality unit and the Executive's commitment to mainstreaming equal opportunities which was given today and which Donald Dewar gave yesterday evening. That can be proven only in the course of time—it is, at this stage, a commitment. I think, however, that the First Minister's launching of the equal opportunities mainstreaming checklist last night gave a positive message.

I have been involved as an elected representative for almost 12 years. I am only too aware of how little can be achieved in any organisation unless there is commitment at a senior level. I look forward to the commitment being turned into action by the Executive.

I want to be positive this afternoon, although it is understandable that there is a great deal of cynicism and an epidemic of promise fatigue in areas in which people have been working and trying to achieve an end to discrimination for years. We have made a start this afternoon, but we have to be honest and say that we have a long way to go.

The minister mentioned public appointments. A real effort has to be made to address current inequalities. The process for making public appointments has to be far more transparent. We will have to consider how to ensure that as wide a range of Scottish society as possible is aware that appointments have been made.

We have to ensure that no anomalies exist that skew the figures on gender balance, for example. Appointments to children's panels are included among public appointments. Because far more women are members of children's panels, that makes the figures look good.

While it is possible to achieve 50 per cent representation of women by next year, it is important that the figures for children's panels should be removed first when considering public appointments. We must also consider areas that are not within our remit. For example, do benefits regulations prevent people from taking part in public appointments to citizens juries? We must also ensure that lack of child care is not a barrier.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

On gender equality, I would not want it to be construed that I meant that I wanted an entirely male-dominated world. Apart from that, I took the word sex to include sexual orientation as well as gender—

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour

Presiding Officer, I have only a short period of time and, unless Mr McGrigor has a question, I would prefer to finish my speech.

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour

Disabled people should be able to participate fully in Scottish civic life. Accessible formats such as Braille and audio cassettes should be made available as a matter of course to ensure equal access to the democratic process. Access to the Parliament's buildings, including MSPs' offices, must be considered. I can meet constituents in an area that is wheelchair accessible and has an induction loop, but the office where my staff work is not fully accessible. The Parliament must ensure that MSPs are able to resource suitable premises and we must try to improve access to our temporary parliamentary premises.

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour

Racial discrimination is probably one of the worst types of discrimination. To deal with it, we must accept that racism is entrenched in every aspect of Scottish life. I do not agree with Jamie McGrigor that there should be no special rules or status, as gender-neutral or colour-blind approaches have not worked.

I do not want to omit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who are often overlooked. Currently, they have no protection in law, although I suppose that we could deal with that were we in the situation described in the SNP amendment—but we are not.

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour

I conclude by saying that, today, we have made a start. I am fairly confident that we can make a real difference and I hope that that confidence is shared by others in the chamber and, more important, in the wider community.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 4:18 pm, 2nd December 1999

Scottish women are looking to the Scottish Parliament to make real and practical improvements to their lives—I emphasise that these must be real and practical improvements.

Despite the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970, women and girls still experience considerable inequality and disadvantage in social, economic and political life, compared with men and boys. It is therefore more than regrettable that this Parliament has no legislative competence to redress that situation. As well as legislation we need political will, which will involve real commitment. I wish to make one or two suggestions for measures that we could take, as I have not heard much in practical terms from the minister.

What about taking some action to avoid gender stereotyping, which starts at a very early age? The Scottish Executive could, if it chose, ensure that more girls take subjects such as computer science and physics, encouraged by specialist science and computer teaching in primary schools. Not only would that prepare girls for enhanced employment opportunities; the economy would benefit from having a larger pool of people with the right skills for the future.

By the same token, men should be encouraged into employment in nursery and primary education. As we heard earlier this afternoon in response to a question from Maureen Macmillan, men make up only 1 per cent of that sector. With most single-parent families headed by women, we know that boys in particular benefit from having a caring male role model in their lives. Lawful, positive action under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 could be used to get more men to train and apply for jobs in the nursery and primary sector. Neither the former Scottish Office nor the Scottish Executive has used lawful, positive action in that way.

One of the factors that impacts most on women and their opportunities for equality is having children. Figures that outline economic activity by marital status and economic type by age of youngest dependent child illustrate the point graphically—and provide few examples of flexible working arrangements. Why does not the Scottish Parliament adopt the principles and objectives of the European Commission's 1992 recommendation on child care, which calls on government at all levels, social partners and private organisations to take measures to enable women and men to reconcile the occupational, family and upbringing responsibilities which arise from the care of children?

Those are three examples of real and practical initiatives that I commend to the Scottish Executive for its consideration. Here is another. One organisation that is undertaking groundbreaking work on equality and small and medium enterprises is Fair Play. Its aim is to increase opportunities for women to participate in the labour market in a competitive and socially inclusive economy by promoting best practice in equal opportunities. Membership of the Fair Play consortium includes Business Enterprise Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Scottish Chambers of Commerce and many other organisations. However, its funding will run out in March 2000 and there is a risk that the expertise that has been built up over the past four years will be lost. An urgent response on the future viability of that organisation is required from the Scottish Executive.

Progress in equality of opportunity for women, if it can be traced at all, is very slow. In particular, the lack of information about the lives and needs of certain groups of women in Scotland—such as black and ethnic minority women, older women, women with disabilities and learning difficulties, rural women and lesbians—is striking. It has long been argued by groups such as the Equal Opportunities Commission and Engender that it should be a priority of Government to collect and publish more comprehensive data on all Scottish women and to support research that fills the gaps in our knowledge of women's diverse lives, gives voice to different perspectives and counterbalances short-term priorities and agendas with a long-term strategy for positive change. As far as I can tell, that feature does not exist in the Executive's proposals.

The need for accurate statistical information and analysis was underlined time and again by organisations that gave evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee. Only the development of a truly comprehensive picture and disaggregated data will enable gender-sensitive policy to be made, targets to be set and progress to be monitored. In that respect, I look forward to the Scottish Executive reporting to the Parliament annually on progress towards real and practical gender equality, despite legislative competence on that subject being reserved to Westminster.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 4:23 pm, 2nd December 1999

Like other members, I welcome this debate and I am glad to be participating in it. It is fitting that this subject is at the centre of this Parliament's agenda. The equal representation of women is a cause that has been dear to my heart for many years.

We should not underestimate the achievement of this Parliament; given the number of women that it contains, it is one of the most advanced Parliaments in the world. That was achieved not through wishful thinking, but through hard work. It was achieved by winning the argument that the exclusion of women cannot be treated with anything other than urgency and that we cannot wait for equality to happen naturally.

We must take responsibility for the fact that women are not present in any great number in the political system—certainly not in the Conservative party. A means for involving them must be found. I am proud of the balance that has been achieved in the Scottish Labour group—the ratio of women to men is exactly 50:50—and in the Parliament as a whole. We are at the forefront of the progressive movement in the world. Indeed, in South Africa, the freedom movement argued for positive action for women; it regarded it as a critical issue. However, with all due respect, I would say that the true successor to Martin Luther King is Nelson Mandela, not the Scottish Tories.

In India, the women's reservation bill is going through the Parliament as we speak—I hope, successfully. That is critical in advancing the economic and social issues that women—particularly poor women—face. Throughout the world, the need is appreciated to bring women into key levels of decision making.

The equal representation of women was never meant to be an end in itself; it was always meant to be a means to an end. We must create real change. There has been some evidence of such change, but we know that we must go further.

I was most depressed by the SNP's contribution today. I know some people in that party; several of them have significant contributions to make to the equality debate. It is sad that they have not made those contributions today.

One of the positive things that has happened today is Susan Deacon's announcement that bullying, harassment and intimidation have no place in Scotland's family planning centres. That, too, is at the heart of the equality debate. I respect the views of people who do not share my opinions on the right to choose, but let us be absolutely clear that women must be allowed to exercise their rights freely. Workers have the right to deliver their services in safety. That is a real issue, which the Executive is tackling.

The problem is more profound than that, however. Susan Deacon also mentioned teenage pregnancy. Given the health report that was published today—which I take very seriously and am deeply anxious about—we must do something. Teenage pregnancy is an issue in my constituency, and the work that Susan Deacon has outlined is about an holistic, measured and appropriate manner of dealing with teenage pregnancy. We must not underestimate the problems that face the most vulnerable young women in our communities. There is chronic drug misuse, pregnancy and increased smoking—those are real and serious problems.

It is appropriate that we begin to examine how to widen the horizons of young women. There are no easy answers, but solutions cannot be beyond our reach. We must look at institutional processes in education and at social and cultural processes so that we can encourage women to be more assertive and to have greater expectations. In that way, we will be able to broaden their horizons. The women's agenda crosses the whole Executive; it is important that we make the debate on equality prominent within that agenda. It is also important that mainstreaming—for which we argue strongly—does not mean that the women's arguments get lost.

The anti-racist movement has much to teach us about an approach to institutional processes. That movement has shown us much in terms of understanding institutional discrimination. For years, when complaints about discrimination were made, people were told that organisations were sorry, that they did not mean it and that what was going on was not discrimination, but procedure or administration. That attitude has been seen most clearly in the police and criminal justice services. In those services, racism was consistently denied, only to be proven later. Recent cases in Scotland have shown how significant those issues are. The criminal justice system in Scotland has—to put it mildly—been insensitive to people who have faced considerable tragedy and pain. I hope that the criminal justice system can ease the burden on the Chhokar family, so that the trial can, at least, be held in Glasgow rather than in Edinburgh.

In conclusion, I believe that equality is critical to the Parliament. It was such a prominent feature in the Parliament's creation that we must please not leave it now. The Executive is moving in the right direction and, believe me, there are people here who will keep it on its toes if we think that it is falling behind. From domestic violence to the repeal of section 28, the Government has signalled that it is determined about what it will do. Let us see what the SNP has to say. Will all SNP members support the abolition of section 28? I am proud of what this Government is doing; I hope that the SNP can be proud of what it does.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party 4:28 pm, 2nd December 1999

It is interesting that we are once again debating an issue over which, on the majority of the relevant legislation, we have no power. We should congratulate the new Northern Ireland Assembly on the powers that were transferred to it at midnight last night. I wonder whether the Executive has considered contacting the Northern Ireland Assembly, because—courtesy of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998—we have no control over the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Act 1970 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In Northern Ireland—as a result of anti-discrimination legislation—the Fair Employment Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Disability Council are, as of midnight last night, all part of a unified Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

It strikes me that, on this issue—as on many others—if the Executive was serious about what it wants to do, it would make strenuous representations in Westminster for this Parliament to get parity with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Schedule 5 means that we cannot address some equal opportunity issues for 16 to 18-year-olds, the discrimination in the two levels of the minimum wage, the denial of benefits to 16 and 17-year-olds and—

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

No, thank you.

I have here a letter from the insurance and related financial services national training organisation, which says:

"In England there is a National Traineeship programme which provides funding for 16-18 year olds who, for social or educational reasons, wish to start work at that age. We can often obtain from English Training & Enterprise Companies up to £3,000 funding towards a programme which includes Level 2 VQs and professional examinations."

Those national traineeships are not available in Scotland through local enterprise companies.

Similarly in relation to discrimination against women, in England part funding is often available for those over 25, primarily mothers of school-age children, who want to return to work but need to retrain because of information technology and regulatory changes. Funding for that type of programme is not available in Scotland through LECs

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

No, thank you.

The large insurance companies are always interested in employing staff with previous experience. As that letter went on to say, it would appear

"that these two age groups are being discriminated against for no reason other than that they are Scottish, despite the fact that they could be doing identical work to their English colleagues. I feel that the current situation is iniquitous and puts the people in these categories at a distinct disadvantage compared to their English counterparts."

I hope that the Minister for Communities and the Deputy Minister for Communities will consider addressing those inequalities.

Again, I realise that this may not be entirely within the Executive's competence, but if we are genuinely committed to equal opportunities, we will ensure that there is a desperately needed review of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, which has denied legal aid to a couple from Alexandria, Jim and Anne Bollan—Mrs Baillie knows them well. The Minister for Justice has no competence to review or alter decisions made by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, but it has been suggested many times that the board operates in a way that discriminates against people from poor backgrounds.

I hope that the ministers will address some of the issues raised by the SNP. It would be the first time that they have listened and then acted, but I hope that they will. I support the amendment.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Lloyd Quinan had five minutes—that is not fair.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I was disappointed that the Conservative party failed to understand the importance of positive action in trying to create a level playing field where none exists. I was staggered to see the SNP failing to understand the many areas where the Parliament can take decisive action on inequality. I say to Fiona Hyslop that the debate is about race and inequality. The Executive motion says that

"in developing policy and in service design and delivery concern for equality is at the heart of the matter."

Many services could be mentioned. Best value, which is about service delivery, should have equality at its heart. Perhaps the key words in the motion are "in developing policy", as they show that, from the very start, the intention is to build in equal opportunities. That is called mainstreaming; talking about it is not the same as doing it, but an important start has been made. In many cases, it means transforming the main stream—in developing family-friendly employment, for example. That change in society will have revolutionary implications when it is properly implemented.

Members of the Equal Opportunities Committee have already heard representations on the policies and bills that are before this Parliament. We were told by the Equal Opportunities Commission, for example, that there should be an explicit duty in the improvement in Scottish education bill to increase equality of opportunity, and that annual school development plans should contain equality measures. I am sure that the Executive will take those suggestions on board. There has also been some criticism of the housing green paper's being colour blind—although I accept that that paper was produced before this Parliament was established. I am sure that the Executive will listen to the concerns of organisations such as Positive Action in Housing and give them a place on the Scottish housing advisory panel. I hope also that the Executive will use its influence with Scottish Homes to persuade it to set up the first black and ethnic minority-led housing association in Scotland.

I agree with what Kate MacLean said about public appointments. The Equal Opportunities Committee will be paying special attention to the issue of data, to ensure that all data are disaggregated in terms of gender, race and disability.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I am grateful to the member, as we are running a little behind schedule. I call Robert Brown.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 4:36 pm, 2nd December 1999

Liberal Democrats welcome today's debate, as it is in tune with the fundamental principles of liberal democracy. In particular, it is in tune with the principle that every individual in our society should be valued for themselves and for their potential contribution to society, regardless of the personal attributes that have been detailed today.

As Jackie Baillie rightly reminded us, the issue of equality is right at the centre of the Parliament's operations. However, the key theme in this agenda is not legislation or controls by Government, but attitude. The Conservative amendment echoes that theme when it castigates the labelling of people by categories and calls for the enhancement of individual personal freedom. That is a valid point, as far as it goes. Equality of opportunity means the opportunity for all our citizens to have access to the educational and other life chances that society offers. It also means the opportunity to go about our daily lives without suffering petty abuse or discrimination, without being excluded and without being affected by the prejudicial attitudes of other people or institutions, which detract from our equality before the law. Attitude is critical, but it is affected by what our children learn in their formative years and by laws that define what is unacceptable. We must end discriminatory practices in law such as section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986, which was introduced by the Conservatives.

Being socially inclusive today, I share the regret that is expressed in the SNP amendment that equal opportunities have been left substantially as reserved matters. Roseanna Cunningham was right to highlight the difficulties that that created. Liberal Democrat MPs recognised those difficulties and pointed them out to the Government and to the Westminster Parliament during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. However, Roseanna rather over-egged the cake with her strident criticisms of the current situation, and I urge the SNP to recognise that much can be done within the present set-up.

We could, for example, establish a Scottish human rights commission. Such a commission, which Liberal Democrats have advocated for many years, could work in harmony with the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality to ensure a united focus on equality issues and to provide a mechanism for enhancing the Scottish contribution on matters that are specifically reserved. An independent Scottish human rights commission could be seen as a natural part of the home rule settlement—certainly, that is how Liberal Democrats have always seen it. It could also be of considerable relevance to the asylum seekers—on whom Fiona Hyslop earlier opined so elegantly—particularly when the Human Rights Act 1998 comes into force across the United Kingdom next year.

I want to touch on the importance of language in equality issues. Language is about communication and understanding. For profoundly deaf people, that means recognition of British sign language as an official language and support for it throughout the country's institutions. For ethnic minority groups—particularly for women in ethnic minority groups—the ability to use the English language is empowerment. I can offer the example of one of my clients, whose divorce case I dealt with. Because she had been a housewife who stayed at home and looked after the children, she was totally cut off from contact with the outside world following the break-up of her family situation. Having English as a means of communication with the wider community would have been crucial to her.

The reverse is true as well. If we are to have a multicultural society, there must be adequate provision for minority-language teaching—I mean not just Gaelic, but Urdu and other languages that are used by minority populations—to help people to keep in touch with their cultural roots and to help people born and bred in this country to understand and deal with the ethnic diversity that now exists.

I support the Executive motion.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:40 pm, 2nd December 1999

The minister said that this debate was about equality; Roseanna Cunningham spoke about justice. I want to speak about common sense, as equality is justice and justice is common sense.

We have had a very interesting and constructive debate. In his excellent speech, Jamie McGrigor stressed certain aspects of the wider debate; he highlighted disability, as did Jackie Baillie. We rejoice in the fact that nowadays we adopt a much more constructive and positive attitude towards disability. We want to be an inclusive society.

The one point on which I might take issue with Jamie McGrigor was his description of the First Minister as observant and splendid. Most of us might think that he is rather myopic in certain directions.

In this debate, we are plotting a course for the years ahead. There were some very sound speeches. Nora Radcliffe spoke about agism, which not many members have done. Perhaps this morning's debate highlighted the fact that agism is a problem in our society to which we have not faced up.

Michael McMahon made some excellent points about special schools and the needs of children who are disadvantaged. I welcome the fact that he may advance his ideas either at the Education, Culture and Sport Committee or at a meeting of the whole Parliament.

Fiona Hyslop made—not for the first time—a valid point when she said that motions were being framed in a highly self-congratulatory way. She let herself down slightly by using management speak—with which we have become so familiar—despite the fact that Roseanna Cunningham had condemned that form of speaking. Fiona made some other valid points, although, as someone who in a previous existence was involved in the matter of the Iraqi students in Glasgow, I must say that the monopoly of blame did not lie entirely with the Glasgow population.

I agreed with much of what Kate MacLean said, such as her point that public appointments should be transparent. Lest there be any doubt on the matter, we use the word "sex" as a generic term to embrace gender and sexual orientation, thus demonstrating the inclusiveness that we have in the current Conservative party.

The most valid of Irene McGugan's points related to the funding of the Fair Play organisation. It will be interesting to know what the Executive decides about that.

Margaret Curran referred to the hard work that women had put into achieving the degree of equality that they have achieved. She might also have mentioned intellect, as that had something to do with it.

The debate has been very consensual. We would not have lodged our amendment unless we felt the need to sound a note of caution. If this debate is to be meaningful, it must be about real equality. Nobody should be disadvantaged because of their race, colour, gender or sexual orientation. Minorities must be protected, but we must recognise that the majority has rights, collectively and as individuals. Just as there are dangers in discrimination, there are also dangers in the so-called politically correct thinking that advocates positive discrimination. That creates an atmosphere of animosity and resentment that can generate the very prejudices that we want to remove from our society.

Parliament and every public body must make it quite clear that all our appointments and decisions are made purely on merit. We do not adhere to the old prejudices, nor do we adhere to the new prejudices of political correctness. That would be hypocrisy in the extreme and would demonstrate that some people in our society are more equal than others. That vital point must be borne in mind in our future deliberations.

Jamie McGrigor stressed that merit must be the sole criterion for public appointments. The Conservatives would have no difficulty were there to be a monopoly of public appointments of people from one particular race, gender or sexual orientation, provided that those appointments were made purely on merit. There is much to be commended in what the Executive has said today. However, we feel that we must underline our point about merit, and that is the purpose of the Conservative amendment.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 4:46 pm, 2nd December 1999

It is rather disappointing that the Conservatives should propose an amendment on which the only Tories to speak are the person who moved it and the person who is closing the debate for the party. I thought that a larger number of the parliamentary group would have been able to contribute.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Three of our members spoke this morning.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I am sure that it is not a point of order, Mr Aitken.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

It is a point worth making none the less. [Laughter.]

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

This debate illustrates the need to continue to address the issues of inequality in Scottish society. Given the amount of equality legislation that remains reserved to Westminster, however, the question remains as to whether inequality issues will be tackled to the extent that they would be if this Parliament had full powers in that legislative area.

A number of issues have been highlighted during the course of the debate that clearly illustrate our limitations. As a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I am well aware of the pressing demand from organisations to deal with inequality. It is also important to recognise the limitations of the committee as a result of the major pieces of legislation that govern this area being reserved matters.

One of the strongest arguments for having a mandatory Equal Opportunities Committee in our Parliament was that Westminster had failed to deal adequately with inequality. However, having established the committee in Scotland, Westminster keeps the legislation. Important pieces of legislation, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, are all reserved to Westminster, although they are key in tackling inequality in Scotland.

Roseanna Cunningham has highlighted the fact that the issue of religious discrimination is being investigated in England and Wales by the Home Office, although nothing is being done in Scotland. Fiona Hyslop highlighted the inequalities created by the new Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which amends four Scottish acts on devolved matters, and yet there was no consultation with this Parliament about it.

Jackie Baillie mentioned discrimination in the workplace, particularly in relation to wages, but the matters covered by the Equal Pay Act 1970 are reserved. Lloyd Quinan pointed out that the Northern Ireland Assembly is able to deal with all forms of discrimination under its own powers. For some reason, however, it has been decided that this Parliament should not be given that responsibility.

It is not just the SNP that is disappointed by the lack of control over equal opportunities; our disappointment is shared by the trade unions and other interested organisations. The Equality Network has said that

"it seems that the Scottish Parliament, despite its wide legislative powers, will be more limited in what it can do for equal opportunities than the Welsh Assembly will be."

Many other organisations have joined in criticising the reserved status of equality legislation.

Kate MacLean made an interesting point, saying that, although she did not object to our amendment, she thought that it was rather negative. I am not sure whether that amounts to conditional support for further devolved powers over equal opportunities, but perhaps she can enlighten us about her opinions later.

I will return to an issue that was highlighted earlier, and which I have raised with Jackie Baillie in written questions, and that is the Race Relations Act 1976 and the impact that it has on the work of the Commission for Racial Equality in particular. After 14 years—years of shame during which the Tories ignored the need to amend the act—finally, the Labour Home Secretary decided that he would amend the act and accept a number of major recommendations in doing so. However, his official response in the past couple of weeks was, "Yes, we accept the recommendations on the need for a new definition of indirect discrimination, for the CRE to embark on informal investigations on its own, for the CRE to secure changes in discriminatory practices promptly, and to give the CRE the power to issue new codes of practice without further amendment of the act. Yes, we accept the recommendations unconditionally, but there is no time in Parliament to deal with them." The Government has also accepted conditionally another 10 recommendations, but there is no time to deal with them in committee or to amend the act. What sort of message does that send out about tackling inequalities in the UK as a whole? Let us be honest: Westminster does not have the time, but if we can afford a whole morning debating the millennium bug, we do have the time. If we had the power to amend the Race Relations Act 1976, we would do it in the manner in which it should be amended.

We need to end the war of words. On Saturday, Wendy Alexander shared a platform with me at a Trades Union Congress rally. The people there said clearly that they want to see action. The time for warm words has gone. The message from this debate should be that if we are serious about tackling inequalities in Scotland, we need the powers to create the just and fair society that we all desire.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 4:52 pm, 2nd December 1999

This has been a depressing debate for those who have sat through all of it, so let me try to avoid the management speak and get to the heart of the matter— [Interruption.] I hope that it will not be for the first time, but let me try.

There are many individuals in all parties who share the commitment of the coalition parties to advance equalities. Jamie McGrigor and Michael McMahon spoke eloquently about the inspiration of Martin Luther King and, in her opening comments, Jackie Baillie began by highlighting the nature of our opportunity—not about what we cannot do, but about what we can do. We are a new Parliament and a new Executive, and we have the opportunity to enable Scotland to be at the cutting edge—to lead the field—and for the first time to map out our own route.

Let me pause and be clear before the barracking begins. The greatest risk today is that beyond this chamber, people will view this debate as another exercise in political correctness. When they make that charge, they do not make it against any one political party in this chamber; but against Parliament as a whole. The challenge for all of us is to convince our fellow Scots of the need for urgent action.

Margaret Curran mentioned the debate surrounding teenage pregnancies, thereby rooting this debate in the real world. It is time to look to the real world.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

People suggested, as did Lloyd Quinan, that we had not dealt with the issue of sectarianism. Is there anyone in this chamber who thinks that dealing with the issue of sectarianism in Scotland is principally about changing the law, rather than about changing attitudes? On the day when a few hundred miles from here people have had the courage to change attitudes and minds, we should be clear that the issue is one of changing attitudes.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

The minister just said that I made reference to sectarianism. I find it somewhat bizarre that someone as intelligent as the minister should assume that if someone refers to Northern Ireland they are referring to sectarianism. At no point during my speech did I make any reference to sectarianism. Will the minister withdraw the remark?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

At least three members of the Opposition made mention of sectarianism in the context of legislation. If Mr Quinan wishes me to withdraw the remark, so be it.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I would be delighted to, Lloyd. Three of your colleagues referred to sectarianism. I am sorry to have cited you. Certainly Roseanna Cunningham referred to religious discrimination in her opening remarks. I think— [Interruption.]

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I will finish the substance of the point. On all those issues, the challenge to us is to change attitudes as well as to change the law.

If members consider our history, it shows that society changes only when people act together to bring about change. There has been an awful lot of talk today about what Westminster should do and what has happened in England. We should look to ourselves and our own history. The divine right of kings was superseded by the rights of men. That gave way to agitation against slavery and was the parent in the fight against apartheid, campaigns for the right to vote for women and debates today on children's rights, gay rights and the disabled. In every age, it has been about progressive forces combining to change attitudes first and then the law. What we are talking about today is changing attitudes.

If members look back at those who in previous generations were condemned for political correctness, they were in fact one step ahead of the public opinion of the day. That is the opportunity and the invitation that awaits this Parliament. The right to vote, family allowances, the right to equal pay, the right to civil rights: those were all seen as at the cutting edge in their time and are now regarded as fundamental tenets of a civilised society. Unless we take the opportunity today for ourselves, rather than blame somebody else, we are saying that the new Scotland will be no better than the old Scotland.

Inequality persists in Scotland. We have heard about the pay gap. Racial incidents in Scotland are up from 662 five years ago, to more than 1,000 last year. That is a mark of shame on us all. Homophobic bullying continues and the disabled still look for recognition.

What lies at the core of the strategy before us today is basic human rights. Too often, the legislation is there. Consultation and mainstreaming matter, not because that is bland or self-congratulatory, but because it is a challenge to ourselves to change the way in which we do things.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Members are standing talking during this debate. Please sit down.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Fiona Hyslop talked about the failings of the past treatment of Chilean and Ugandan refugees in this country. I invite her to come with me to Renfrewshire and see the outstanding practice in the treatment of Kosovan refugees. There is nothing bland about local authorities and this Executive working together to make specialist facilities available to disabled refugees from Kosovo.

This gets to the heart of the matter because, when it comes to asylum and refugees, we will fail if we say that the people of Kent should be uniquely responsible for floods of asylum seekers or refugees when there is a crisis in another part of the world and that we in Scotland are prepared to stand aside and take no responsibility in dealing with those issues. I, for one, do not want to stand aside.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Let me continue. I will take more interventions in a moment. This is the essence of my point. I will happily take interventions after I have made it.

Equality is not something that stops at national boundaries. Consider the experience of women, which is common across the UK. Violence against women is common across the globe. Roseanna Cunningham suggested that the decision to reserve legislation in this area was small-minded cowardice. It was a principled decision to say that we did not want to go down the route of differential pay levels north and south of the border or separate laws on sex discrimination or disability.

The problem with the SNP's amendment is that it is an invitation for us to condemn the constitutional arrangements that the people of Scotland have chosen. For the SNP to claim that Scotland is unable to promote equal opportunities is not true. There is a battle to be won against institutional racism, discrimination against women and the treatment of the disabled in our schools.

The consequence of the SNP's amendment—should we pass it today—would be that we, as the first Scottish Parliament for 300 years, would have no strategy or programme for moving forward on equality. The amendment offers no concrete suggestion; it merely laments the fact that the SNP lost the argument. It offers nothing to take us forward. So, today—the first time that we have debated the subject—I invite the SNP to join us in what we can do, rather than lamenting what we cannot do.

I urge the Tories not to succumb to the charge of political correctness. If the Tories are prepared to join us in a dialogue, they are on the right side in saying that the new Scotland can be better than the old.

The truth is that we are building a multinational Britain. Look at the developments of the past week. We are building a multi-ethnic, multiracial Britain. We look forward to new legislation in the coming days. The invitation, to all of us, is to be genuinely involved in leading the debate by the practice that we show here. The new Scotland can be a better place than the old Scotland. Our responsibility starts here, in the chamber. We commend—and we urge members to support—the motion today.