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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Northwest Equality and Diversity

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Meg recently visited the Northwest to speak at the launch of the region’s strategy to promote equality and diversity. The Equality and Diversity Strategy has been developed through a partnership between the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), North West Regional Assembly (NWRA) and Government Office North West (GONW). For further details visit: http://www.nwda.co.uk/SimpleContent.aspx?news=1&area=72&subarea=73&item=20066134103133



Good morning ladies and gentlemen. 

I am delighted to be here in Salford, in this splendid centre named in memory of one of your most famous figures. His paintings show us a society undergoing rapid change, today I want to talk about current change in Britain. 

In this region, like the rest of the country, you will have witnessed changes that are affecting us all. Changing demographics, globalisation and migration make us more aware of different identities, cultures, religions and beliefs. No one can ignore the changing relationships between men and women, new family patterns or the needs of the labour market and public services. 

This dynamic new landscape of increasing diversity in Britain creates challenges and opportunities. While some might be tempted to resist these challenges - by holding on to outdated views from the past - others, including this Government, welcome the challenge of helping to shape the future society. A society which can embed a set of values which help ensure a more equitable and prosperous future. 

We can take pride in our traditions of tolerance, fairness and the rule of law. These include the values that came to the fore after the London bombings in July 2005.  Such values find expression in many of our public services and in the legacy of our anti-discrimination legislation over the last forty years.

A Comprehensive Programme

This Government is committed to a comprehensive programme of reform that goes beyond tackling individual instances of discrimination. We need to create a new framework to challenge persistent patterns of discrimination and inequality, and promote and protect diversity, good relations and human rights. This reform programme includes the setting up of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

Also part of our programme are two reviews - the Equalities Review, which is examining the root causes of persistent patters of inequality and how they can be tackled, and this  is expected to report later this year. Secondly we have the Discrimination Law Review, which is evaluating the effectiveness of current legislation, with a view to having one piece of legislation - a Single Equality Bill introduced in this Parliament. 

This commitment was expressed recently with the creation of the new Department of Communities and Local Government. As well as responsibility for housing, urban regeneration, planning and local government, the department has been given a powerful remit to promote community cohesion and equality. It brings together responsibility for equality policy, including policies on race, faith, gender and sexual orientation. These functions were previously split between several Government departments. 

DCLG (or DeCLOG!) will be the department sponsoring the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which will have responsibility for tackling discrimination across a number of equality strands. The department looks forward to working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions which retains responsibility for age and disability. The establishment of this new Commission is part of our approach on equality, recognising and respecting the rights of all members of society.

Good Work at the Local Level  

I know that in this region you also are responding to the challenges of diversity and discrimination with a number of major initiatives. Your recent Celebrate not Discriminate Festival sounded like a lot of fun and a good way to demonstrate that diversity is part of our lives. I’m also aware of the good work you have started, in partnership with the Disability Rights Commission, on tackling the issue of inclusion for people with disabilities in the North West. 

As I’m sure many of you know, when the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights becomes operational in October 2007, the majority of the staff will be based in Manchester. Your region will be at the heart of the new equality and diversity agenda that the Government is committed to deliver for Britain.

I also had first hand experience of your local work when earlier this morning I visited the Manchester Council for Community Relations.  Talking today with people who work to address inequality and promote good relations between communities was a reminder that a fairer society can only be achieved through good work at a local level. 

If we are to ensure a fair and prosperous country we have not only to acknowledge changes going on in society, but celebrate the positive aspects they bring. They create a new landscape, a landscape we can help shape in ways that produce a better life for the good of all. The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights will be at the forefront of this new equality and diversity agenda.

The Commissions Mandate

The Commission will begin its life with a very clear mandate. This is summarised in the Equality Act (2006), as follows: “the underlying objective of the new body is to support the development of a society where:

  • there is respect for the dignity and worth of every individual,
  • there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights,
  • people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,
  • every individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and
  • there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.”

Of course words and aspirations are all fine and good, but what can the new Commission do to bring about real change, ensuring we tackle discrimination and embrace diversity in a genuine way? The answer is that it will be a mix; enforcement of the law alongside a duty to promote and encourage new thinking and best practice in relation to diversity, good relations and human rights. 

The new Commission will inherit all the powers of the previous Commissions, Equal Opportunity, Disability Rights and Commission for Race Equality. It will also acquire strong new powers. It will use inquiries to examine and analyse ‘problem areas’, giving recommendations for organisations, sectors or government, about how to address problems where there are inequalities of outcomes.  

It will also conduct investigations. These will be where the Commission has formed a reasonable belief that unlawful discrimination or harassment may have occurred. This may be a court or tribunal ruling of discrimination, or complaints combined with research evidence. There will also be enforcement powers for the new regulations outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief and age. It will incorporate the Equal Opportunity Commission’s responsibility for enforcing the new public sector gender duty, which comes into force in April 2007.

A Champion for Human Rights

However, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights is not just about enforcement, it will have a huge role as a champion for equality, diversity and human rights. Some of its functions include:

  • providing information, advice and assistance on equality and diversity, human rights and good relations issues,
  • issuing  guidance and good practice to help employers and service providers embrace equality and human rights,
  • publish a ‘State of the Nation’ report every three years: showing how Britain is doing on equality and human rights; setting out outcomes to work towards and benchmarks for progress,
  • challenge prejudice against and stereotyping of particular groups, and
  • establish a strong evidence base and understanding of discrimination, to inform future policy development and best practice.

The work of the new Commission is very broad and challenging. Government recognise this and we have allocated a much larger budget than the combined total of the three existing Commissions. It will have the power to provide grants to bodies working towards the objectives of the Commission. I believe that this area of its work will deliver some of the most exciting and productive outcomes. 

So in this region I think we can expect to see real benefits by a close collaboration between the national Commission and your regional and local networks. The Commission will be the national body to champion equality and human rights, and ensure enforcement where necessary. However, organisations represented here, working hard for equality and diversity, will remain essential if we are to achieve a fairer society. 

What is certain is that the challenge facing the new Commission, the challenges facing us all, must be met. If we are to achieve a country where young people can grow up feeling safe, thinking they have a shot at a good career, that they are valued for who they are, we have to tackle long-standing problems that continue to divide us. By overcoming these problems we can not only make life fairer for all our citizens, we also make our country a better one in which to live. 

 

The photo shows Meg with Sue Henry, Diversity Manager for the Northwest Regional Development Agency. 


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