Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 717-739)




  717. Can I call the Committee to order again, and welcome our next witnesses, from Operation Black Vote, Simon Woolley, National Co-ordinator, and Ashok Viswanathan, who is the Deputy Co-ordinator. We are very pleased to have you both along. As you know, we are looking at the whole area of public appointments, and seeing how it could be improved; and we are interested in the work that you are doing, trying to bring the black minority communities into public appointments. Could I apologise, first of all, that I think you have been told some bells will ring shortly, then they will ring again, and it is annoying, but we cannot do anything about it. Also, I have got to leave just for a period during your evidence, and I am sorry about that, but Michael Trend will preside, I just have to go into the Chamber. So I am sorry about the disruptions; but thank you for coming. Would you like to kick off?
  (Mr Woolley) Thank you, Chair, thank you for inviting us to this session, which we feel is extremely important to Britain's black and minority ethnic communities. Operation Black Vote, we were launched in 1996, really to encourage and inspire greater political participation from our communities. We began actually after civil disturbances, as a matter of fact, demonstrations that got out of hand after the death of Wayne Douglas in police custody. And after that civil disturbance in Brixton, a group of activists, such as myself and others, came together to say, "Listen, we can't just take to the streets and protest in this way, we've got to have something more fundamental, for the police to be more accountable, for politicians to be more accountable, we've got to have an equitable stake within the democratic process, we've got to force politicians to begin to listen to us." So we began our project of political empowerment, beginning with voter registration, like the civil rights and Dr Martin Luther King, and we did that in the run-up to the 1997 general election, which we thought was extremely successful; but after the Labour landslide we could not say actually whether or not the black vote made the difference. Furthermore, we acutely realised that it was far more than voter registration and voter turnout to effect change; what we needed was a ten- to 15-year programme, that would include political education, political participation and political representation. The education would be going into schools and colleges and telling our communities, actually black and white, because obviously they are mixed schools, how the institutions work; because, as you know, there has been a deficit of political/civic culture within our schools, so we go into these schools and say, "These are our institutions, people like yourselves are servants, public servants, and we're the masters, we need to understand how they work and how we can access them successfully." But also to inspire them, too, to say to our communities, "We've got to take responsibility for change." When Ashok goes to schools, and myself, we often say "Here are politicians, who, at best, do not understand us, and, at worst, do not like us, and we give them free reign to do what they will; so we have got to take responsibility for change and participate positively, so, political education, political participation, voter registration and voter turnout." And, in that scenario, actually, what we found was very interesting, because, far from the belief that we felt we were powerless to effect change, the fact that where black communities lived, up and down the country, particularly in urban areas, meant that in the last two general elections the black and minority ethnic vote could, in effect, decide over 100 seats. Now any group that could, in effect, decide 100 seats can begin to wield the democratic power and say to politicians, "Listen, I'm demanding that you listen to these serious concerns about education, health, the police, etc., etc." And the third dynamic, of course, is representation. We do not want, at every juncture, white people always speaking for us, we feel we can speak for ourselves, thank you very much, and we want you to speak with us but, in certain areas, we want to speak for ourselves, as do women. And so we thought, we need a programme that looks specifically at that, and so we have been lobbying the political parties to change their act, to change their selection process, we have been encouraging people to stand forward, to stand up and be counted and become councillors, to put themselves forward to join parties, and hopefully become MPs. But the final strand of that is the political appointments, the public bodies, because we recognise that this is a massive area, key decisions that affect our daily lives that are made within these thousands, it is about a thousand public bodies, 30,000 people making decisions, and we are hardly anywhere to be seen. So we said, okay, anywhere there is a decision that affects our lives, we need to be at the table, and our contribution will benefit everybody; it says to Britains black minority and ethnic communities not only that "We have a stake," but also it says to the wider community, "This is us, this is our teaming, positive diversity, and let's celebrate it." And so representation is key. If we get it wrong, if we do not take this by the horns, if we do not address this, be it Westminster, be it those thousand bodies, what is the net effect; well, the net effect is that people turn their back on the institutions and say, "They don't want us, they don't listen to us, look at these institutions, they're all white, they're often all male," and so they turn their backs on British society and the democratic process. And it is quite alarming, because, in many ways, they can go in one of two ways. One is extreme politics, extreme, fundamental politics, because there are people out there who are saying to young Asians, "They don't want you, look at their institutions, they never want you, but we do," and they give these young Britons, and they are young Britons, a sense of belonging, a sense of worth, but we know that often it is warped and often very negative. The other side, of course, is criminality. You know, myself and Ashok, we talk to a lot of youngsters, and they say, "Why are we getting involved in British politics, they never want us and nothing's ever going to change?" And so that route is criminality. So what our programme attempts to do, and we need your help, is to bring our communities into mainstream society, so we can play a full and positive role in all areas, at all levels. And I stress it over and over and over again, everybody benefits, everybody benefits from the dynamism within the community, if it is on the inside, and not negatively, on the outside. That is a broad introduction.

  718. That is very good. If we can ask some questions, that would be a way of carrying it forward, if I could. What I really would like to kick off by asking you is, I just want to try to get into the `what are we going to do' bit, about all this, because, you see, it could be, if you look at a range of public organisations, civil service, public bodies generally, they all want to tick the box that says they are getting more women, they are getting more ethnic minority people, and yet we are finding it very difficult to do it. So, unless I am wrong, my reading is we have got organisations that want to do better, and some of them are under targets to do better, and yet they are not doing well enough. Now what is the problem, and how do we sort it?
  (Mr Woolley) I do not agree that all of them want to tick the box and want to do better. I feel that, in some areas, there is some resistance to this, because people feel that we should not be engaging in positive action, of any description, and people say, "Well, if they can't come through by merit, by meritocracy, then they shouldn't be allowed in," and they do not recognise the other dynamics going on. So that is one point. And, two, even when they do, they say, "Yes, we want people to come in," it is exactly the same with the political parties, I do not know any politician, or, at least, leader, that does not want more black and minority ethnic communities to join the party. So why does it not happen; well, it is very simple, it is very simple with the parties as they are, with these public appointments, that none of them has a plan, a programme, that will deliver. And we have been saying, to anyone that will listen, it is not rocket science, but in the absence of a plan then you are just crossing your fingers; and, occasionally, when you see, I heard somebody say that somebody tapped Julia on the shoulder to join a public body, well, unless people know people, then nothing ever changes. Now what should this programme look like; well, the same programme that we have offered to the political parties, a programme that would recruit, retain and promote a talent within the party, or within the public bodies. So how do you go out and recruit; well, we have engaged in a magistrates shadowing scheme, and we are a proactive organisation, and a couple of years ago I was at a Labour Party Conference and I bumped into Lord Derry Irvine, and literally bumped into him, and he was with his entourage. And I said to him, "Mr Irvine, my name is Simon Woolley, I'm from Operation Black Vote, we had a fantastic MP shadowing scheme, where we took young people and they were shadowing front-bench MPs for a period of six months, it is a fantastic project, I'd like to do it with the magistrates courts." And I am sure that his entourage were afraid that I was going to attack him, or something; but, to be fair to him, he said, "It's a good idea, let's talk." I had been trying to get to Derry Irvine for six months beforehand, to talk about this, I could not get to him, the gatekeepers there would put my letters in the bin, or put me on the long meet, it did not happen. I spoke to the man direct, and he said, "I like the idea, speak to my man," is it Garry Hart, "it's going to happen." And it did happen, and the scheme is just about to close, but the essence of the scheme was very simple, that we had 70 people, up and down the country, in areas like Bradford, Oldham, this is before the civil disturbances up there, London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol, and in each of these areas about seven people shadow two magistrates each. And they do one of two things; they learn about the magistrates courts and what it is like to be a magistrate, but they also go back, and we hope that they will go on to become a magistrate, but, even more than that, they become community ambassadors. What they do is, they go back to the community and organise community meetings, and tell ordinary men and women, "You can be a magistrate, you can be a magistrate, you do not have to be a retired schoolmaster or schoolmistress, you need a sense of community and a sense of justice." So they open up the labyrinth to what it is like, to how one can become a magistrate, and it has had a fantastic impact. I remember going to, I was interviewing, I will not mention the city, but I was interviewing in a big city, and I was there with the chair, the chair of the committee that selects magistrates, and we were interviewing about 20 people, there were eight places available; and this chair said to me, "Simon, we have great difficulty in attracting black and minority people to become magistrates." So, anyway, we interviewed these 20 people, and she said to me, "I can't believe it, where did you find these people?" And I said, "It's not difficult, they're out there." She said to me that, of the 20 that were interviewed, 14 of them would have been instantly given a role on the benches, had they come to her directly, and this was a woman who said to me that she finds difficulty. The difference, of course, is that an independent black organisation, that resonates within the community, said to our community, "It's time for us to stand up and be counted; we've got to take responsibility for change." And she asked those that were interviewed, "Why hadn't you thought about this before?" and people said, "Well, I had thought about it but done nothing about it." But when we asked, as an independent organisation, it meant more, it meant that, "Okay, it's time for me to do something about it."

  719. I wonder then if you could maybe think about, or maybe have thought about, broadening all that? I think it is partly stimulated by hearing what Julia Middleton was saying about Common Purpose, beforehand, and they are running their own website now on public appointments; have you thought about trying to produce your own register of people in the black community, who are there, that you have identified, available for public appointments, of all kinds?
  (Mr Woolley) I am a bit sceptical about registers, and one of the reasons why is that the Public Appointments Unit have a register, and my experience is, it is a waste of time, it is a complete and utter waste of time; worse still, it raises expectations of people taking that step forward and saying that they want to positively participate, and they hear nothing; they hear nothing. I do not know who looks into this register, but my experience is that nobody does.

  720. Yes, but what I am putting to you though is that this would be one that you would own?
  (Mr Woolley) Sure; but what would be the point of raising people's expectations, saying to people, "Stand up and be counted," and we have this register and nobody looks at it.

  721. Well, instead of lamenting public organisations for not having enough black faces around the table, you would be able to wave in front of them your ready-made list of people, who were there, available, so they would not have the excuse, would they?
  (Mr Woolley) I would be happy to do that, but I would need the willingness of the bodies to say that "We're going to use it, it's going to be a valuable source, as long as it's high calibre." And I kid you not, out there, there is teeming talent, from the black and minority ethnic communities; there is no excuse. Beforehand, people would say, "Well, the communities need training," and this, that and the other; well, some may need training, but there are sufficient numbers out there that are ready now. And we have heard some horror stories about the way that the selection process works. For example, with the magistrates court, some people apply, and, believe you me, it is a big step for people, getting the form, filling it in and saying, "Okay, I'm going to get involved in this," and it lands on the desk of the selection committee, and they say, "Oh, well, it's not the right time of year now for us to be recruiting." And so where does that application go; in the bin, that is it, never to be seen again. And so people call us and say, "I applied," and they have even got a letter back; what is the point of applying again. So there is a real problem with the way that they deal with the applications, once they are in.

  Chairman: Michael, I think I am going to ask you to take over the chair, if that is alright. I am sorry about this. It is just that I have to put a question, down in the Chamber, and once it is done I will come back, and I am sorry to disrupt the proceedings; but Michael will preside.

  In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Michael Trend was called to the Chair.

Mr Trend

  722. Can I ask just one or two questions first, before passing to other people to ask them. Going back to the points you were making earlier, about the best way to encourage the system, and it is Ashok who has written about this, what the Americans call `affirmative action', what is your position on that, and this is a long and complex history, I know, but where are you now?
  (Mr Woolley) Again, it is not rocket science. If there is a deficit then, at the very least, you need positive action to redress that deficit; and to cross your fingers and hope things are going to change is wishful thinking. I would argue, there are two ways of doing this. The first way would be to cut to the chase and to engage in positive action; the position action, to us, would be to say, we recognise there is talent out there, but, whether by design or fault, it has not been able to fulfil its potential, so affirmative action will target that talent and bring it to the fore, for a short-term period, to cut to the chase. Simultaneously, the positive action would be the training programmes that would set the framework for the selection processes to be more accountable, to be more open, to reflect the diversity more, so, within time, you have no need to positively discriminate, because the systems are in place to ensure that the talent that is out there is allowed to come through. So it is a twin-track approach; wanting, in the short term, to cut to the chase, to tell Britain's black communities, to tell society in general, that we mean what we say, and our institutions should be more representative and reflect the people that they serve, but also recognising that we need to change some of the systems, in a more medium and long-term process, so, after a period of time, we will disengage from that and the talent can automatically come through.

  723. Does this require thorough legislation, as there has been in the States?
  (Mr Woolley) There is legislation for women, in terms of addressing this at Westminster. If the Government feel that it is the only way to address the gender deficit then surely it is the only way to address the black and minority ethnic deficit.
  (Mr Viswanathan) And it was a lost opportunity, in terms of the whole issue of gender representation; there was no reason why, when that legislation was going through, when the whole Bill was being debated, you could not have piggy-backed on that gender debate the whole racial debate. And the momentum was there; now it is lost, so basically we are back at square one, talking to the political parties about recruitment and talking to them about positive action. And the debate was there, it was already being had, and race was not a dynamic within that.
  (Mr Woolley) Definitely. What we have to bear in mind, too, is that when we look at the gender debate, which I think is a very, very important debate, in effect, it meant a fast-track for white women, because the last time there were all-white women short-lists, 35 women came through, and they were all white. Worse still, all those selections, the selection lists, of the 35, were also all white, so it never recognised the race dynamic; that is a double whammy for black women, because not only did they miss out, in terms of race, but also, because it was not part of the gender debate, it never meant that black women could come through.

  724. Ashok, a lot of this you saw in the States; can you tell us how you thought it—
  (Mr Viswanathan) Simon was actually the one who visited the States.
  (Mr Woolley) I was in the States, and it has made a massive impact, that the fact of the matter is, now, when you see a black High Court judge, nobody bats an eyelid, it is the norm. I have been to Atlanta, Georgia, where there is a black Mayor, a black Chief of Police, black faces in high places, and it is the norm; and so nobody now says, "Okay, well, they've got to prove themselves," because they have been there, they have done that, and they have delivered. What does it say to society; it says that "Anything is possible; you can be the Chief of Police, too." Here, our youngsters say, "We can't even get through the door, let alone be at the top table." It has been a very positive process. Now, of course, there is a bit of a backlash, but people are facing that bigotry down and saying "It has had a positive impact on our society."

  725. A number of things you said in your introduction sounded very like a number of things that Julia Middleton had said, about younger people, in particular, not feeling part of civic society, irrespective of their particular circumstances, and that quite a lot of the remedy for this might be found in schools, or in positive programmes. How much, now, where we have got to in our national history, how much of this is `the turn of my colour, rather than just my general apathy', or whatever?
  (Mr Woolley) I think that we have to look at the data, and the data suggests, for example, 24 per cent of Britain's black communities are not registered to vote, now that compares with 6 per cent in the white community; and, yes, there is a general thing about youth, but the data, when it comes to youth, is disproportionately higher when it comes to black youth. I will give you an example. And the difference is, you mentioned apathy, Michael, and what we argue is that our disengagement has very little to do with apathy or laziness, it is more to do with a conscious opt-out, people saying that, "It doesn't reflect my concerns, it's all white, it's often all male, why should I be interested?" And what proved that point to us, when we did a survey, asking black people about the disengagement, hear this, 96 per cent said they would vote, they would participate, if they thought there was something, or someone, to vote for. So far be it that it is this apathy that people bandy around, there is a conscious opt-out that is saying, "There's no place for us there."

Mr Heyes

  726. I see, in the document you put in front of us, there are a couple of references to retention, as an issue, and it is moving beyond the question of just getting black and minority ethnic people into these positions. There is a clear inference in your document that retention is a major issue; do you want to tell us a little about that, and what we might do about it?
  (Mr Woolley) One of the things that worries me is that when a black person joins one of these committees, more often than not, they are the only black face in the room. And I heard one anecdotal story, of somebody that was on a committee, when they joined they all, I will not say clapped, but they celebrated the fact that they had a black representation on their board, and that, now, finally, they will begin the process of being more representative, until, that is, this person opened their mouth and said, "Hold on a second," and this person said to me that "They quickly slapped me down, and I was quickly put in my place," that those comments were not welcome. And after a couple of years, they said, "Well, there's no point in me being there, I was just clearly the token, so I thought to myself, I'm not going to be frustrated by this," and they left, and they left there. So, to me, the retention is crucial. I would say that, these bodies, I do not like to see black people there on their own, not because they want company, but because of the danger that, one, they become the token, and, two, when they do speak out and they do raise difficult issues, that they are very easily marginalised. Furthermore, I have not got the data, I am sure you may have, I would like to know, of all these public bodies, how many black people are chairs. One, how many black people are chairs of the thousand public bodies; two, how many black people are paid public appointees; and, three, how many black people are recruiting public appointees. And, I think, if you looked at that data, you would find a massive deficit, and part of the reason why this recruitment and the retention is difficult.

  727. I come from Oldham, I am actually still a councillor in Oldham, and I am interested that you do some work there with the magistrates. Currently sitting on Oldham Council, as a public body, I think there are nine ethnic minority councillors—they are all Asian out of a complement of 60. I think that is probably just slightly more than representative of the town's population as a whole, and that is not a recent phenomenon, that has been the case for a number of years. It is interesting, is it not, that, in that particular town, where black and minority ethnic people have been heavily involved in civic life and civic leadership for many years, it is one of the flashpoints, and it has often come back as a kind of white, racist sense that there is an unfairness, that the power that Asian people have got in that community causes some disproportion in the way resources are distributed? Now that is wrong, that is not my view, but that is a fairly common view on the streets in my town. I worry that, if you get involved in positive discrimination, go way beyond positive action programmes, which, again, personally, I support—I do think that is the way forward, that you actually stimulate that backlash?
  (Mr Woolley) Yes, there is the potential for that backlash, but you have to face it down. The problems that you highlighted, in Oldham and in Burnley, is disinformation, people thinking, because they had more representative councils, and so some of the budget went to poor Asian areas, that some of the white areas said "They're getting all the money and we're not." It was not true, but, the fact of the matter was, it was not explained to them. So, to me, it is not an excuse to say, "Oh, well, because you've had representation and it causes problems with some people then let's not have it," I would say, let us have it, let us have more of it, but you need to make the case, you need to explain it to people. The reason why we are doing this is there is a deficit, there is a democratic deficit and we are redressing that; because this is the type of society, David, that we want, this is the type of society that we are proud of, and facing that bigotry down, I think, is very, very important.

  728. Just one further issue on that and then I will stop. The nine Asian councillors in Oldham are all male. The Asian population of Oldham are represented in very many areas of public life. I have great difficulty thinking of any Asian women that are involved. Now that is often said to me, when I challenge that and question it, that that is a cultural issue, this is to do with Muslim practice, Muslim tradition, that women do not take part in public life. Now that seems to me to be wrong, and I just wonder if you have got a view on that?
  (Mr Woolley) Again, if you look at many of the democratic institutions, for a long time they have been all male, and we look around this table here, with all due respect, it is all white and all male. But what we are saying is that we want to change that, we want to challenge that; and Operation Black Vote, for example, has been very proactive, with our MP shadowing schemes, we had 23 people being shadowed, 65 per cent that participated were women, because we recognised we needed to be proactive. And we have got to work with the Asian communities, positively, and encourage the women to come forward.

  729. Can you tell me some of the things you do, to make that happen?
  (Mr Woolley) Sure; well, it is holding meetings and getting some of the women's groups to come, being proactive, going to the women's groups, invite some of the men there too, and saying "We can't speak for you, as Asian women; we want you to speak for yourselves, under this umbrella," be it a political party or be it a public body, "because we feel that you have a lot to contribute." It may be such, David, that you need to bypass some of the Asian gatekeepers, because they all say, "Who is going to speak for us?" and that is it, end of story; you may have to bypass them, go to some of the women's groups, and I promise you they are there, and I promise you they will come forward, but you have to be proactive. But it is not an excuse to say that "We're not going to be generally proactive towards black and minority communities, because if we do some people will be upset," and that it is only the Asian men that come forward.

Sir Sydney Chapman

  730. The great problem is, how do we get from here to there, and `to there' means having much greater representation in Parliament and the courts, public bodies, of black people and women, and so on, and I am with you all the way. But let me ask you just one little question first. You mentioned how OBV came into existence, and you are getting people onto the register; how successful were you in that, just the Brixton constituency, or did you do it nationally?
  (Mr Woolley) No, it was national; and the thing is, as well, for example, Southwark, desperately low levels of voter registration, when we first went in there, and we had these fantastic posters, one poster, for example, was with young children, African, Asian, Caribbean and Turkish, and Chinese, as a matter of fact, young children, from about three to eleven, with the strapline, "We're too young to vote; what's your excuse?"

  731. Just let me take you up on that, because, as I understand it, the problem with getting someone onto the electoral register is getting the head of a household to activate, to do that; so it is not necessarily the person, the voter, or the potential voter, himself, or herself, is it?
  (Mr Woolley) I think it is more than that, Sir Sydney, I think that it is making the case, you have to make the case for people to register to vote. Some people are registering to vote because they want a mobile `phone; well, these people that want a mobile `phone, I am sorry, they will not go out and vote, they are not doing it for that. We have to say that there are a lot of things that we are not happy with, Eurocentric education might be some people's issue, the disproportionate levels of unemployment, a police force that some perceive working against us and not for us; and we say that we must take responsibility for these institutions, for these bodies, to change. Step one of that change is standing up to be counted politically. Now we say to our communities, "You may have Ghandi on your wall and Dr Martin Luther King on your wall, but what were they about? They were about political empowerment; he may have had a dream, but he had more than a dream, he had a plan, and step one of that plan was registering to vote. Now here are the forms, fill in the forms, and sign up to a political empowerment project that will force politicians to begin to address our concerns." Yes, there are difficulties, yes, there are difficulties around there may be a head of the house who signs for everybody else; so we have to be proactive, we have to go to the community centre, we have to go to some of the religious centres, we have to go where they are playing football, we have to go to the market centre, with a voter registration form, and say, "Here's the form, let's help you fill it in, so you can be on the register." And we say, too, when they fill in the form, "This is not just about filling in this form; incidentally, you can be on a jury, once you fill in this form. That it is about telling politicians that you will use the vote, and you will vote for any politician that begins to address your concerns."

  732. Thank you, that is very helpful. Now you mentioned the shadowing the magistracy, at Oldham, and, I think, I will get it correct, you have supplied 20 names of people who would be suitable to be JPs?
  (Mr Woolley) No, we do not. This is not a direct scheme for—

  733. But you talked about 20 people, did you not?
  (Mr Woolley) I did. There are 70 people on the scheme, in these six cities, and they are learning about the magistrates courts, they are shadowing two magistrates, two magistrates each, and after they have finished the course there will be a number of training sessions; after three months, they can apply to become a magistrate, but there is no guarantee they will become a magistrate, because that would not be fair. But, simultaneously to that, they become community ambassadors, where they impart the information of what it is like, and who can become a magistrate. Now we have done the magistrates shadowing scheme, and we are hoping that will be renewed again; we have also done the MPs shadowing scheme, and I am pleased to say that, bearing in mind now we are 23 people, there are two things I would like to mention on this. That people say that, you mentioned apathy, Michael, they say, "Our community is not interested in politics;" we had 23 positions to shadow MPs, 800 people applied, on a voluntary basis, we had to choose 23 from 800, which was extremely difficult. What it says to us is that, if you create the right environment, give people a support network and a sense of belonging, they will come forward in a deluge. And we brought people in and we were the new gatekeepers, and so, what did we say, only the high-flyers can come in? No; we wanted people that were energetic, that were enthusiastic, that had a sense of resonance within the community, so, for example, one guy was working in a local factory but was passionate about community involvement. I am pleased to say, of the 23, that began in 1999, six are on public bodies, be it school governors, or magistrates, five went into the media, having seen, after being interviewed, having a career in the media, and two are directly elected; from a standing start of zero, they have come all the way to take office. All of them continue to be interested in local politics and raising the water level for their communities. So it can be achieved, with positive action. Our problem is that we are four staff, we are four paid staff; now a few months ago the Board of Visitors called me up, they said, "Simon, we desperately need more black people to come forward as Board of Visitors, can you help?" I have had to say "No," I have had to say "No," because we are stretched as it is. The Public Appointments Unit called me up and asked for help, and I have said to them "No; unless we are fully resourced and I can bring in more paid staff." And they said to me "Well, give us a proposal and we'll keenly look at it."

  734. Thank you. That is, again, very helpful, and you have made your case very eloquently for more financial resources, and I accept that. I want just to go back to one thing. `Into the Millennium' was a report you undertook a few years ago, and, if I am correct, you said you wanted to see 6 per cent of public appointments black; do you know if that has been achieved, by 2002?
  (Mr Woolley) No, it has not.

  735. I do not actually know what the figure is?
  (Mr Woolley) I will tell you, it is 4.8, and, bearing in mind now that we were going on the data, Sir Sydney, on the 1991 census; the census that comes out some time this year will be nearer 9 or 10 per cent, so the 4.8 per cent is still woefully lacking. Furthermore, there are some of these bodies where really it is quite disgraceful, that they have no representation at all; for example, the Central Office of Information has zero. I tell you, Kevin, it is an extremely important body, because all the advertising that the Government Departments undertake goes via the Central Office of Information; and so the images that we see, which tell us, how does the Government portray itself, what type of society do they see us as, and if there is no representation on these bodies you have got white people thinking, "Well, how should we portray black people?" And one of the effects that I saw there, we work with them, from time to time, and they have a black officer there, that they wanted to look at how black communities are portrayed, and this person's title was Ethnic Officer; how incorrect could that be. So, even when they appoint someone, because of their lack of understanding, they even appoint a black and minority ethnic officer with the wrong title.

  736. My final question is this; and it just so happens that I can recall, in recent years, two people writing to me, to ask if I would give them a reference, I think it was, to become a magistrate, putting in to become a magistrate; and it just so happened that one was a white woman and the other was a black male, I knew them both well, I was extremely happy to give them a reference, I was even happier, if not relieved, when they were appointed JPs. Now the point I am going to put to you is that, you with your immense number of contacts and influence, if, for example, there was a black person in my constituency who wanted to be a magistrate, have you ever thought of using the local MP? I could not give him a reference, if I did not know him, or her, I hasten to add, but I would make quite sure I would go and see them and find out what were their background and talents. Now have you ever tried using MPs, and others, councillors?
  (Mr Woolley) I take the point; absolutely, you are right. But the difference is, with our involvement, that we are asking people to apply, but there is a caveat with it, that we say "Send a copy to us and we'll monitor your progress," so we serve notice on the body, we serve notice with the courts, that we are monitoring their progress, so it does not go in the bin. Now, to go further on, we should say to them "Have you made sure that you've got the relevant references; and you may want to go to your local MP, or councillor, who may or may not know you, to give you support?" So we want people to apply, but we also want to give them the support mechanism that ensures that they are not doing it on their own; because, in the past, what tends to happen is that people apply, do not hear anything, and their expectations have been raised and then completely and utterly deflated, and so they go the other way then, they become more negative.

Mr Trend

  737. That is a problem with the system though, it does that to everyone; because, again, I am not sure you were here when we were discussing that we had Fi Glover here a few weeks ago, she had applied to go on the list, and she described what it was actually like, and she is a radio presenter and one would have thought they would have spotted this, but they did not, and she was just waiting for them to get in touch, and found the form very intimidating, and did not know what to put. It seemed the system was doing their best to tell them not to bother, and must be everyone's experience?
  (Mr Woolley) There is good practice within some of the bodies, and I brought the negative bodies and forgot to bring the positive ones, for which I do apologise; but there are some bodies that are extremely proactive, but there is a whole range of negative ones. For example, the Ministry of Defence have no appointees, no black and minority appointees. Now I would have thought that would be an ideal public body, I know that they want to be proactive, I know they want to recruit more, but unless they can get their act together what confidence will people have.

  Mr Trend: We would be interested then, if you do have some sort of list of the good and the bad, if you have a moment later on to send it, we would be interested to see which ones were which.

Mr Lyons

  738. I was fascinated by your Lord Irvine story about convincing him about the shadowing of magistrates. I just wish we had got you to speak to him about the House of Lords reform, it may have come a bit earlier. Simon, I just want to clarify one thing. You made a point, earlier on, about the appointments list, there was a potential always for being let down and nothing happened at all; are you saying to people that it is a waste of time going onto the list?
  (Mr Woolley) I am; yes, I am. My experience is that I do not know what happens to this list, that I do not know anybody that has been on it who has been contacted from it; and so I would say "Have a more direct route; this is the head of this body, speak to them, cc it to us, get as many people as you can to support you, and you're more likely to get a response." I think that if there was a directive from the Public Appointments Unit, or from the bodies, actually to use this list, I would be the first. We have 8,000 groups on our database, 8,000 groups, representing tens of thousands of people, and I would be happy to compile a hall of fame, a high quality list, but I would not engage in raising people's expectations after getting them to come forward, and then they come back to me and say, "What's happening; nothing's happened?" because it would be more damaging.

  739. But do you not think there is a danger, and this is my worry, to some extent; the way it is done just now, you may disagree with it, but that is the way it is done, they are appointed from the list, and if we ignore it things will just get worse and there will be no improvement at all?
  (Mr Woolley) I do not think they are appointed from the list, Julia was not appointed from any list, she was appointed because somebody knew her; and my experience is, that is the way it is done, my conversations with people in high office tell me that is the way it is done. And if anybody can show me any different then that is fine, I am happy to do that, but all the information leads to, people appoint somebody if they know someone, or someone says "Have you seen that Ashok Viswanathan, he's a good guy, we should ask him to join one of our boards." Not that that has happened to him, yet.

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