Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Scotland: New commissioner pledges action on gay rights and equal pay for women"

By Adam Forrest
Scotland has lagged behind England on hate crime, says Morag Alexander

SCOTLAND'S GAY and lesbian communities are not being given the same protection from hate crimes as those in England.
In an interview with the Sunday Herald, the new Scottish head of the Commissioner for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) said she would push for parity as one of her main priorities.
Morag Alexander will be responsible for the work of the new body from tomorrow, and says she intends to advance the cause of equality issues unique to Scotland.
As well as championing race and gender equality, the CEHR has new responsibilities for sexual orientation, age and religion. Alexander said: "I don't think there is sufficient protection in legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland."
"My collegues in the LGBT lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender communities are keen that we have better protection against hate crime. They are not as well protected as they are under the law in England, and that's an area we'll look at."
The CEHR will look after reserved equality matters, while the impending Scottish Commission for Human Rights will examine rights issues arising from devolved areas. Alexander, who lobbied Scottish MPs in 1997 to have equality issues completely devolved to Scotland, acknowledged the possibility that extra powers could be transferred in future.
She said: "We know the SNP government want to see equal opportunities devolved, but we will be having our own national conversation about it, listening to the communities that make up Scotland. I want to hear what people have to say. If they think changes need to be made, I'm open-minded about it.
"It's really important we establish the CEHR as a credible, independent organsiation. The commission is fundamentally important to the delivery of equality in Scotland."
The new commissioner wants her committee to conduct more research on discrimination relevant to rapidly changing life in Scotland. "We need better statistics and data on a range of Scottish equality issues; that's where we are behind at the moment," she said.
In order to modernise discrimination lawandtomakeitmoreeffective, theWestminstergovernmenthas committedtointroducingasingle equality bill during this parliament. The discrimination law review has proposed a more streamlined legislation. The new commissioner for Scotland was critical, however,ofagreenpaperalready published on proposed legislation. "I found it very disappointing, and the response of the CEHR will be very robust," she said. "We don't think it goes far enough."
As well as wishing to see more anti-racism initiatives in Scottish schools and legislation, and more support for disabled people to allow independent living, Alexander was also firm that more needed to be done to close the gender pay gap.
She said: "The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, but we still have this significant pay gap. I'd like to see all employers carrying out pay audits so they can demonstrate either that they don't discriminate or if it throws up evidence, then to put it right."

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