§ 14. Fiona Mactaggart
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on Government consultation with the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland. 
§ Mr. George Howarth
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland was formally established on 1 October 1999. It has taken over the functions of the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland, the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment Commission and the Disability Council for Northern Ireland.
The existence and membership of the Equality Commission are reserved matters, as is the obligation on equality of opportunity and good relations under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The funding and 181W administrative oversight of the Equality Commission is a devolved matter and responsibility for this falls to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a number of powers and duties in relation to the section 75 obligation including:Making an order for the designation of additional public authorities to be covered by the equality obligation;Approving the statutory guide lines prepared by the Equality Commission on equality schemes.
The Northern Ireland Act clearly defines the vast majority of public bodies to which the section 75 obligation will apply. However, the Secretary of State may designate additional bodies, including UK departments carrying out functions relating to Northern Ireland, to which the obligation should apply. I met the Equality Commission on 20 December to discuss the contents of the proposed designation order. We hope that the order will be approved by Parliament early this year.
The Government have also submitted comments to the Equality Commission on the contents of the proposed statutory guidelines, which we hope will be finalised early this year.