Equality Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:09 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:09 pm, 26th October 2005

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3440, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the Equality Bill, which is United Kingdom legislation. I thank those members who have already indicated that they will waive their closing speeches because we are very far behind the clock.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 4:19 pm, 26th October 2005

There has been significant progress in achieving equality between women and men since the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was passed by a Labour Government. However, we still have a long way to go, as women continue to experience discrimination and inequality in the workplace and in many other areas of life. The Westminster Parliament's Equality Bill attempts to address the issue. Subject to the consent of the Scottish Parliament, it offers the chance to introduce a new duty on Scottish public authorities to promote gender equality. The duty will mark a shift in the nature of gender equality legislation from compliance to proactivity. It is a pragmatic and proportionate duty with a focus on outcomes that will help us better to deliver more effective policies and services. It will drive the mainstreaming of gender equality across all activities of the public sector, which is a critical element in challenging discrimination and inaction.

The Executive has been working hard with the Equal Opportunities Commission through our participation in a pilot project to develop gender action planning work in our Health Department. That work, which has been very positively received, will not only assist the EOC in preparing for the implementation of the duty but be of great assistance to us. Lessons are being learned and plans are being made. We welcome the opportunity to take this work forward as members of the Equal Opportunities Commission's United Kingdom and Scotland advisory groups on the gender duty.

Scottish Ministers will make regulations for Scotland in relation to the specific duties. We are jointly consulting with the UK Government on what the specific duties that will assist public authorities to comply with the gender duty should be. There are many issues to consider if we are to deliver the new duty. After the consultation, we will have a clearer picture of those issues and challenges.

At this stage, however, I would like to highlight the three key proposals for the specific duties: that public authorities must produce gender equality goals and schemes; that they must conduct gender impact assessments to ensure that policies and services meet the needs of women and men; and that they must develop and publish a policy on developing equal pay arrangements. The third duty will include measures to ensure fair promotion and development opportunities as well as measures to tackle occupational segregation between women and men.

There is a great deal that we can learn from the implementation of the parallel race equality duty and from the work that has taken place on the forthcoming disability equality duty. Public sector organisations are already engaged with the duty to promote race equality, and the gender duty will build on the progress that has been made.

The Equality Bill will also establish the commission for equality and human rights. The proposed commission will, by March 2009, replace the Disability Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. The remit for the proposed commission will cover England, Wales and Scotland. It will have three key functions, namely equality, human rights and good relations between communities.

The proposed commission will fulfil all the promotion and enforcement of legislation roles for race, gender and disability that are currently undertaken by the three existing commissions. It will also undertake a promotion and enforcement role for the other equality strands of religion and belief, sexual orientation and age. In addition, the new commission will have a promotional role in respect of human rights. There may be occasions when it would make sense for the CEHR to operate in devolved areas. The Equality Bill will provide for that to happen only when the CEHR has the consent of the proposed Scottish human rights commission.

The proposals for the CEHR and other measures in the bill were considered by the Equal Opportunities Committee on 13 September, when the committee took evidence from the equalities co-ordinating group. The group and stakeholders more generally broadly welcome the proposals that are contained in the bill. That said, I note the understandable concerns that the new commission should be established and operate in such a way that it fully takes account of the needs of Scotland.

In conjunction with the equalities co-ordinating group and other stakeholders, ministers and officials in Scotland have been working hard with our Whitehall colleagues to ensure that the new organisation will meet the needs of modern Scotland. We will continue to work to ensure that that is achieved. In particular, I have raised with Meg Munn, the Westminster minister with responsibility for equalities, all the issues that Cathy Peattie, as convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, wrote to me about.

The motion focuses on the key benefits to Scotland that we believe will come from the introduction of a duty on public authorities to promote gender equality.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees the principles contained in the provisions of the Equality Bill, including the power to impose duties on public authorities, so far as those provisions relate to matters within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or confer functions on the Scottish Ministers, and agrees that those provisions should be considered by the UK Parliament.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:24 pm, 26th October 2005

I have absolutely no objection to any equalities duty being introduced for public authorities, particularly any equal pay duty or duties that assist ethnic minorities—no one would have any objection to such duties. However, my problems with the bill are that it creates duplication and that some of the powers that it will create will not be devolved but instead will go to Westminster. Some members might argue the point, but that is what a Sewel motion means.

I heard what the minister said about the Equal Opportunities Committee's concerns. I was going to read them out clause by clause, but because I have only five minutes to speak, I do not have time to do so. The minister said that he raised those concerns with Westminster's Meg Munn, but he did not give us any answers as to whether Westminster will accept any of the points that the committee raised. For that reason, I do not know whether I can support the motion.

A number of areas concern me, and there are two particular problems to which we should have had answers. One involves clause 17 of the bill, on grant-giving powers. Given the geographical spread of Scotland and the various community organisations that will interact with the CEHR, if the Scottish commissioner does not have grant-giving powers, the grant allocations system might not work properly.

I am also concerned about clause 19, which involves the promotion of work with agencies. The CRE already works with various agencies and communities, so that power should be devolved. I hoped that the minister would tell me that the powers outlined in clauses 17 and 19 were to be devolved to the proposed new Scottish commissioner, but he has not so far. I hope that we will have an answer to that today.

A point that the minister has not mentioned but which was mentioned to me and to the Equal Opportunities Committee is that there will be only one Scottish commissioner among 15 in the UK. That is totally inadequate in a UK context—we need more than just one commissioner to represent Scotland's issues. The commissioners will have to be knowledgeable about devolved areas, and one is not enough. I hoped that the minister would mention that matter.

Another question that concerns me is why a commissioner for Scotland should be appointed by UK ministers with the endorsement of Scottish ministers, rather than be appointed by this Parliament.

The minister touched on the establishment of the commission for equality and human rights, which raises another area of concern. I am worried about duplication. The Justice 1 Committee is currently scrutinising the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill. Why are we using a Sewel motion to remove powers from a Scottish commissioner that we do not even have yet by giving them to Westminster? I am greatly troubled that the public might be confused by having two commissioners.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

I know that Sandra White has a genuine commitment to equal opportunities, which she has demonstrated in the committee. However, surely she agrees that having an Equality Bill that touches everyone in the UK is something to celebrate.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Cathy Peattie knows that I and everyone on the Equal Opportunities Committee have worked hard on the matter. I do not seek to make a party-political point, but none of our fears has been addressed today. I thought that we might have got some answers. The concern, which I share, about the proposed Scottish human rights commissioner has been raised before in committee and with me personally. There will be confusion and duplication.

I mention another concern that Christine Grahame will pick up later. Although the children's commissioner, Kathleen Marshall, is doing a marvellous job, I worry that the bill might dilute her powers because it has been reported that there will be an overlap with her post. I hoped that the minister would say something about that in his opening remarks, but perhaps he will alleviate some of my fears in his closing speech. I felt that I had to express those genuine concerns.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

It might help if I indicate at this stage that I intend to give Cathy Peattie, as the convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, four minutes to speak, but the other back benchers will have only three minutes. Please adjust your speeches now.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 4:29 pm, 26th October 2005

As the content of the Equality Bill lies predominantly outwith the Scottish Parliament's legislative competence, my Conservative colleagues at Westminster will have to decide on the matters that it raises. Although they have expressed some concern about the bill's practical application, they have nonetheless indicated that they are content with its general principles. On that basis, the Scottish Conservatives will support the minister's motion this afternoon.

However, I would be grateful if the minister could clarify one aspect of the bill that has already been highlighted. The Scottish Executive memorandum states:

"the CEHR should have a Scottish Commissioner, who would be appointed by UK Ministers with the consent of the Scottish Ministers."

Will the minister confirm that this UK-appointed Scottish commissioner will be in addition to the Scottish commissioner for human rights, who will be appointed under the provisions of the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill? The pros and cons of that bill, which seeks to create a Scottish human rights commission, will be considered and discussed in full by the Justice 1 Committee. I contend that any proposal for two Scottish commissioners will constitute an unnecessary and unwarranted duplication of costs, effort and bureaucracy, especially in light of the Scottish Executive's statement that

"there may be occasions where for practical purposes it would be preferable for the CEHR to operate in the devolved area of human rights in Scotland".

I take this opportunity to put on record the Scottish Conservatives' grave concerns about the creation of two commissioners in Scotland.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 4:31 pm, 26th October 2005

The Liberal Democrats support the minister's motion.

As members have pointed out, the Equality Bill creates a single equality body, extends anti-discrimination law and introduces a duty on public authorities to promote gender equality. The devolved issues highlighted in the Sewel memorandum relate to the gender duty and the CEHR's operation in Scotland. I want to raise several points on the latter issue.

As the issue of promoting equal opportunities is relevant to many devolved policy areas, all 15 commissioners on the CEHR will need to have a good understanding of devolution. When the Equal Opportunities Committee asked witnesses about the dialogue that had taken place between Scotland and London to prepare for the bill, we were told that, although it had been adequate and had improved as it had gone along, it had been greatly assisted by a visit of the CEHR steering group to Scotland. I hope that the proposed commission will learn lessons from that approach.

I turn to the Equal Opportunities Committee's concerns about the bill. First, we should make it clear that, although it is proposed that the CEHR will have only one Scottish commissioner, it will also have a Scotland committee. It will be important for expertise from all the equalities strands to be represented on that committee.

We welcome the fact that an annual report will have to come to the Scottish Parliament, as that will give us an opportunity to monitor the commission's operation. After all, this arrangement will depend on good liaison and communication and sensitivity to the implications of devolution.

The committee was concerned about the grant-giving powers in clause 17 and provisions on working with communities in clause 19. I understand that, when the CEHR is established, it will be able to delegate such powers. If those powers do not come to us in the primary legislation, we should press the commission to delegate them when it is finally set up and able to do so. We must work hard to liaise and maintain channels of communication during and after the bill's passage through Parliament.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 4:34 pm, 26th October 2005

The Equal Opportunities Committee took evidence on the bill from the three equality commissions, the Scottish Human Rights Centre, the Equality Network and the Scottish Inter Faith Council. The committee welcomes the bill's general principles, but several concerns remain, of which the committee wishes the Scottish Executive and Westminster to take account during the bill's progress through Parliament and the establishment of the commission for equality and human rights.

As Sandra White said, having only one commissioner with knowledge and experience of Scotland is insufficient. An understanding of devolution should be required of all commissioners to ensure effective coverage of reserved and devolved issues. The Scotland committee must function in Scotland in the same manner as the CEHR will function throughout Great Britain and must have the same range of skills and experience.

It is inconsistent that grant-giving powers under clause 17 will not be delegated to the Scotland committee, given that other promotional powers will be delegated. That provision should be amended. Similarly, given that criminal law in Scotland is devolved and hate crime law in Scotland is different from that in England, it makes sense that the clause 19 power in relation to communities should be delegated to the Scotland committee. That is particularly important because the relevant expertise in criminal law and criminal justice in Scotland rests in Scotland.

Effective liaison between the Scotland committee and the disability committee will be crucial. For that reason, it may help if a Scotland committee member belongs to the disability committee and if a disability committee member belongs to the Scotland committee. The Disability Rights Commission expressed concern that the bill as drafted will restrict the secretary of state's ability to continue the disability committee, should that be recommended after the five-year review.

The Equal Opportunities Committee heard evidence that suggests that the overall annual budget for the CEHR is likely to be insufficient, which could have adverse impacts on the Scotland committee budget.

The committee generally agrees with the requirements to consult the Scottish ministers on codes of practice, but we feel that effective procedures need to be put in place to ensure that adequate liaison takes place to deliver the codes of practice that relate to Scotland. We feel strongly that the Scotland committee must be involved in the development of such codes. The committee welcomes the requirement in the bill for an annual report to be laid before the Parliament and suggests that an annual debate should take place.

When the proposed Scottish human rights commission is established, it is crucial that it should have the same powers in relation to devolved human rights matters as the CEHR will have for reserved human rights issues. It is essential to address that matter during scrutiny of the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill. The two organisations will have to work closely together, particularly on providing information to the public on their respective roles. To facilitate public access to the functions of both organisations, having a single point of contact would be beneficial. The public might feel a lot of confusion about whom to approach. The situation would be made easier if the offices of the two commissions were co-located in Scotland.

On gender duties, the committee agrees with the Equal Opportunities Commission that the elimination of harassment should be included in the duty that is placed on public authorities; that the Equality Bill should deal more clearly with the pay gap, which continues to be an issue and does not seem to be going away; and that the gender equality duty should be extended to cover transgender issues.

As for transitional arrangements, the CEHR shadow body should be up and running as soon as possible. The Scottish elements of that body should be established from the start to ensure Scottish involvement in the early decision-making process. When the organisation is formally established, it will be equally important for the Scotland committee to be appointed as soon as possible. The committee feels strongly that the extension that the bill makes to goods, facilities and services of anti-discrimination provisions on religion and belief should also be applied to sexual orientation legislation and to transgender people.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

The committee urges the Scottish Executive to take on board the committee's comments and to do all that it can to ensure that its Westminster counterparts take forward our recommendations.

I welcome the bill. I am sad that we do not have the opportunity to discuss it in more detail. It is important that the Equal Opportunities Committee took evidence on the bill.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am sorry, but I will have to take one back bencher off the rota. Carolyn Leckie has a strict three minutes.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP 4:39 pm, 26th October 2005

I will try my best and will cut straight to the chase. Generally, I am not very supportive of Sewel motions because I do not think that this Parliament should give away any of the limited powers that it has. When we have the opportunity to do better, we should do better—we have an obligation to do better.

The record of public bodies in Scotland on equal pay is abominable. The record of local authorities in failing to achieve equal pay since the inception of this Parliament in 1999 is a discredit to them and is an indication of this Parliament's lack of teeth.

I have some questions about the Equality Bill, what it will achieve and how this Executive will use the powers that the bill confers on it. How will the duty be measured? Will there be targets and timescales? For example, what difference will the bill make to the situation faced by women in local government now? An unseemly situation exists in local authorities such as Aberdeen City Council, which thinks that equal pay is about cutting the pay of men and levelling down rather than up. Local authorities are currently attempting to negotiate cuts in services with the trade unions in an attempt to achieve a bit of equal pay—not full equal pay. Councils are preparing to sell women down the river and sell them short by denying them thousands and thousands of pounds of their legal entitlement to equal pay. Let us remember that equal pay is not a claim or a negotiation point but a right. It is supposed to have been a right for 30 years, so why are local authorities in this country offering, and asking trade unions to accept, deals that, in some cases, mean that individual women will lose up to £15,000 or £20,000 a year in back money?

I ask the minister what difference the bill will make to the situation faced by those women. What will the Executive do to achieve equal pay for those women with the powers that the bill confers on it? I suggest that the powers are not sufficient. I am opposed to the Sewel motion because I think that this Parliament can do better, should do better and has a duty to do better.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour 4:42 pm, 26th October 2005

As a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I take the opportunity to thank all those who gave evidence to the committee. I reiterate the convener's comments in welcoming the general principles of the bill, the purpose of which is to ensure that people are treated fairly and equally.

I welcome the proposal for the establishment of the commission for equality and human rights and the Scotland committee, but I ask that the bill also includes provision to deal more clearly with the pay gap, which—as has been said—continues to be an issue.

As the disability reporter to the Equal Opportunities Committee, I welcome the clarification in the bill that there will be a duty on the disability committee to consult the Scotland committee on all matters that relate to disability in Scotland. The relationship between those two committees will be important.

Adam Gaines from the Disability Rights Commission raised the issue of membership. As Cathy Peattie indicated, he stated:

"It would be helpful if a member of the disability committee was on the Scotland committee and vice versa".

He also stated:

"The disability committee should be properly informed of issues in Scotland and the Scotland committee should be properly informed of disability issues ... It would also be helpful if there was an impact assessment process when key policies were being discussed by the relevant committees to ensure that the disability committee considers Scottish issues and the Scotland committee considers disability issues."

The practical relationship between those two committees will be crucial to their success.

The DRC also expressed concerns about the mandatory review that will be held after five years. Although it accepts the need for the review, it has concerns about the current wording of the bill, which it believes

"would restrict the secretary of state's ability to continue the committee, if that was recommended by the independent review."—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 13 September 2005; c 1087 and 1099.]

The DRC has asked that the relevant part of the bill be considered.

In conclusion, I welcome the general principles of the bill but ask the Scottish Executive and Westminster to take on board the issues raised by me and other members of the Equal Opportunities Committee. I welcome the introduction of the bill, which will take forward our equality agenda.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:45 pm, 26th October 2005

I add my support for the Equality Bill and what it will do, which represents a step forward. However, it always seemed sensible to me to create a single equalities body for the UK and to have this Parliament give it one set of powers and Westminster give it another. That will not happen, but it should not be beyond the wit of the people involved to ensure that the two proposed organisations work reasonably well together.

The Equal Opportunities Committee raised a number of concerns about the bill and I will emphasise a few of them. One is that the bill provided an opportunity to take a more surefooted step forward. The bill is a step forward, but it could have been better. It could have been a useful vehicle for levelling up work on the various equality strands and the legislation that affects different groups. UK ministers have indicated that they are open to doing that at some point in the next few years, but we do not know when.

The hierarchy of equalities that exists can be seen in other areas, such as the proposed incitement to hatred legislation. I have an instinctive concern about censorship and free speech, but a strong case can be made for having a general incitement to hatred offence. However, I do not think that a realistic case can be made for having an incitement to hatred offence for some groups that are subject to regular hate crimes but not for others.

There are issues about the differences between the proposed CEHR, which I will call the UK commission, and the proposed SHRC, which I will call the Scottish commission. It appears that the UK commission will be able to conduct inquiries beyond the public sector into, for example, private sector care homes that provide a public service. However, it seems that the Scottish commission will not have that power and that it will have to give consent to the UK commission to conduct such inquiries on its behalf. I hope that Lord Sewel is not asked to come up with a mechanism for that process. It would be far better for both commissions to be able to conduct inquiries beyond the public sector.

Another issue is that the UK commission will be able to take up individual cases, but the Scottish commission will not be able to take up cases on behalf of individuals who want to complain about their human rights being violated. I ask the ministers to respond to those points about the difference in powers between the UK and Scottish commissions.

I recognise that the bill is a huge step forward, but I hope that ministers will answer my points and will be open minded both about asking Westminster to change the Equality Bill, if necessary, and about changing the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill to ensure that it provides a strong and comprehensive level of protection here.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We come now to closing speeches. I thank the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats for waiving the opportunity to make theirs. Christine Grahame waived her opportunity to make a seven-minute closing speech in the previous debate, so I honour the commitment to give her a closing speech in this one.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:48 pm, 26th October 2005

That is charming. I was unaware that we had had that communication.

I have concerns about the proposed commission's role, which I want to focus on, and ask those in the Parliament who are sympathetic to the Sewel motion whether it is offensive in some respects—for me, the jury is out on that.

Both principles and practice are involved here. All members must support and adhere to principles regarding gender equality, human rights, anti-discrimination laws and so on. The problem is how the eventual act will be implemented in practice. My and my party's view is that that process will interfere with the devolution settlement. For example, the bill will impose a duty on public authorities to promote gender equality, but my understanding is that such a duty already exists in Scotland under the terms of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. Therefore, the proposal interferes with the devolution settlement.

The CEHR's work will be relevant to policy areas that are devolved to this Parliament, such as tackling racism, sectarianism and hate crime and social inclusion and social justice. Again, the proposed commission's powers give cause for concern. For example, there will be powers to hold inquiries and to issue codes of practice for areas that are devolved to this Parliament. In addition, powers to monitor the law are proposed. Already, alarm bells are ringing for me.

Let us consider the commission's role in monitoring crime and crime prevention, particularly in the areas of assault aggravated by racial prejudice, sectarianism and crime that affects older people.

A proud heritage of Scotland, even before the Parliament was established, was the independence of its criminal law. It appears to me that the bill interferes with the processes and practices of independent Scots criminal law.

When promoting equalities in communities, the commission will be able to undertake work that relates to social, recreational, sporting and educational activities. The last time that I looked, all those areas were fully devolved. More alarm bells sound. There are points of similarity between the commission's remit in relation to age and the roles of the children's commissioner and probable older people's commissioner. Many members from all parties applaud the firm, robust stance of Kathleen Marshall on the human rights of children of asylum seekers. Would her wings be clipped by the bill? Many would like that to happen. More alarm bells sound.

Under clause 7 of the bill, the commission for equality and human rights could be prevented from taking action in relation to human rights only by a similar body that has been established by the Scottish Parliament. Presumably, the reference is to the Scottish human rights commission. It is not clear whether the clause relates to the roles of the children's commissioner or the proposed older people's commissioner. In those circumstances, something might well be imposed from Westminster on areas that are fully devolved and very independent in Scotland, including the children's panels.

Let us consider the structure of the commission's board membership. The member with special knowledge of Scotland will be chosen with the agreement of Scottish ministers, rather than of the Parliament. When we choose our commissioners, they are voted in democratically by the Parliament, after selection and debate. That will not happen in this case. Although the commission will have the ability to lay the reports of its activities before the Scottish Parliament, there is no provision for the Parliament or the Equal Opportunities Committee to do anything about those reports. It is not clear that we will be able to criticise the commission or to call for evidence from it. Cathy Peattie is nodding, but I am not sure whether she is in agreement with me.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

The Equal Opportunities Committee can ask the current equalities commissions to tell us about the work that they are doing and can question that work. We will be able to do the same with the Scotland committee of the CEHR. It is important that we do not confuse the role of the commissions with the role of the Parliament, as is happening here.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am not confusing anything. I am quite clear that we support the principles, but the processes and practicalities of the bill will take power away from the Parliament in areas that are already devolved and in which we are putting clear blue water between us and Westminster.

Confusion will arise between the Scottish human rights commission and the Scottish member of the board of the CEHR. Duplication has already hit the Justice 1 Committee in the face. I understand that the committee is appointing an adviser to take it through the quagmire of conflicts and confusion that there will be where one commission is doing the work of the other. Devolution muddies the waters, thank goodness. There are no clear borders between reserved and devolved issues, especially in the areas with which the bill deals. The problem for ministers is that the muddied waters are going in the wrong direction. If I may mix my metaphors, the tide is moving towards Westminster taking back from the Parliament powers that were hard fought for.

For all the reasons that I have outlined, for the Scottish National Party the jury remains out. That will remain the case until the minister or deputy minister can answer the questions that I have put. They will not be able to do so today, so we will abstain at decision time.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 4:54 pm, 26th October 2005

I welcome the opportunity to sum up in this debate. I start by reflecting on the significance of the debate. It did not start today, last week or last year. I am proud that this is a further stage in an important journey of more than 30 years of challenging inequality and injustice in our society. I am proud that a Labour Government is acting now and building on the groundbreaking work of previous Labour Governments, which was shaped by the work of Labour women, the Labour Party, the trade union movement and women far beyond the party. They understood that, in order to get real justice, we had to understand what inequality looked like, and they were determined to challenge discrimination against women.

We must recognise how far we have come. The debate could be a technical one about targets, structures and duties, but underpinning it is an understanding that has been developed over a long period not just that our society is unequal—for example, that women are more likely to be low paid, to be carers or to suffer pensioner poverty—but of why that happens and what needs to be done to deal with it.

In that context of change and movement, we should reflect on the Opposition's position on the Sewel motion. It is not surprising that the SNP is taking another opportunity not to support a Sewel motion. The SNP spends its parliamentary life sprachling about looking for a hook on which to hang its constitutional obsessions. Of course there are practicalities, which I will try to address, but it is worth reflecting on the priorities of an Opposition that uses those practicalities as an alibi to talk down a policy. It will oppose the policy on a point of principle: because it comes from Westminster.

On Carolyn Leckie's point about low pay, we must accept that the Equality Bill, which will inform and shape the issues around women's inequality, is only part of a broader purpose and will not sort out everything on its own. We must consider how to harness more effectively the powers at every level—locally and at the Scottish and Westminster levels—to deliver change. The equal pay issue is why the gender duty will be so important to the new body.

A number of members made practical points about clauses 17 and 19. It will be possible for the CEHR to consider how those powers are implemented and to delegate the responsibility for them. Malcolm Chisholm has already made the case on that issue and we will continue to be in dialogue with the UK Government on it. There is a role for the Equal Opportunities Committee in monitoring the work. Nobody in the Scottish Executive or on the partnership side wants the equality legislation to fail, so we take the responsibility seriously.

The Scottish commissioner will be chosen at a UK level because the commission will be a UK body. However, the Scottish ministers will have to agree on the choice. On Margaret Mitchell's point, there will be a separate commissioner. I am aware that the Justice 1 Committee will explore the issues of duplication further as the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill progresses.

I also note the points that Nora Radcliffe and other members of the Equal Opportunities Committee made, specifically Cathy Peattie. The disability committee could continue after the five-year review if that was felt to be necessary.

I am happy to advocate at least an annual debate on the issues in the equality legislation.

However, the challenge for the Parliament is not to think about equalities issues once a year, but to mainstream the thinking into every aspect of our work. I confirm that the elimination of harassment is to be part of the gender duty. Of course, Malcolm Chisholm will make a further detailed response to the points that the Equal Opportunities Committee made on that issue. That will not just be a response; we are determined to act on the important issues that have been flagged up.

It is crucial that there will be on-going dialogue with Westminster. We want to talk to people at every level of government to make the bill work rather than to identify the barriers that Christine Grahame so tellingly pointed out. The reality is that what Christine Grahame said is not what the equality bodies have said about the proposals. She does not seem to be able to distinguish between promoting equal opportunities and laying down a duty. I am sure that when we lay down a duty, it will result in significant change in the lives of ordinary women.

So often, people come to bury rather than praise our Labour Government and all things to do with Westminster. Let us take the opportunity to support the Sewel motion and to recognise how far we have travelled in challenging inequality. We should welcome the opportunity for members, the Scottish Executive and the Equal Opportunities Committee to work alongside Westminster, local government and all public bodies to make real in practice an aspiration that I am sure we all share: greater equality for women.