HC Deb 28 October 1998 vol 318 cc326-7
7. Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)

What measures her Department has taken to promote equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland. [54767]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Paul Murphy)

Parliament is currently considering the Northern Ireland Bill, which provides for a new equality commission and for a new statutory obligation on public authorities to perform their functions with due regard for equal opportunities.

Mr. Pond

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I also welcome the establishment of the equality commission—as, I am sure, will the recently established Northern Ireland Low Pay Unit, which, I am sure, will receive the House's support. Does my hon. Friend accept that, in addition to those developments, the new deal—about which we have heard much today—and the national minimum wage will have a major impact in Northern Ireland by reducing the disproportionate impact of low pay and the gender pay gap between men and women in Northern Ireland? Will he tell the House when the national minimum wage will be introduced in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Murphy

I assure my hon. Friend that the national minimum wage will be the same across the United Kingdom and that the Northern Ireland Assembly will have no power to vary it. I can tell him also that discussions are continuing on other aspects of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 for which the Northern Ireland Departments are currently responsible.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

Will the Minister confirm that, in Northern Ireland, there must be equality of opportunity between democrats and the representatives of gunmen, and that there can be no progress in the peace process by placing the representatives of armed tenor in government while terrorists remain fully armed with explosives and guns?

Mr. Murphy

It is very important that, as my right hon. Friend said, we implement all aspects of the Good Friday agreement, which was a package in favour of which the people of Northern Ireland voted by a very large majority. Events in the next few days in Belfast—with talks between the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all the party political leaders, including the hon. and learned Gentleman—will go a long way towards ensuring that those problems are resolved.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister said that the agreement had to be implemented in full. Will my hon. Friend therefore give an undertaking to the House that all the direct powers given to the equality commission and to the human rights commission and outlined in the agreement will be put in place, specifically with regard to victimless crimes?

Mr. Murphy

My hon. Friend is aware, because we met earlier today to discuss these matters, that I and my right hon. Friend have had many meetings to consult on various aspects of the Bill—probably an unprecedented amount of consultation. I assure him that the agreement will be implemented in the Northern Ireland Bill.

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