Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-66)
MR DANIEL SILVERSTONE, MS LIESL CENTENERA, MR DHARMENDRA KANANI, MR MICK CONBOY, MS KATHLEEN BOLT AND MS LUCY CHAPMAN
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
60. If so, what?
(Mr Kanani) That statement relates to a body of experience rather than just to one particular circumstance. In terms of the budget process, for example, we are now part of an equality proofing budget advisory group that has been established by the Scottish Executive which is now looking at the Scottish budget and how it can be impact assessed for equality issues, so that is being taken on board. We hope to see future budgets taking into account equality considerations more fully. In terms of other areas of work, the statement relates to areas such as legislation where we have had to negotiate and broker change in the Bills that have been presented before Parliament where they have not taken full account of racial equality concerns, for example in education and in housing where we saw much more of a change happening. Housing, for example, if I may, is a really useful example in that we saw a Bill produced that seemed to us to be very effectively race equality proofed and a very radical bit of legislation that took full account of race equality and other equality considerations but through the parliamentary process we saw some of those wins in the early stages withdrawn, but then through lobbying and mounting an effective form of alliance with other equality agencies we saw change take place. We have seen the opportunity for change happening. In terms of the responses from the Executive, we have a document which was launched just last week, Committing to Racial Equality, which is in response to a forum previously hosted by Jackie Baillie, the Minister of Social Justice, which has now been taken over by Iain Gray. That was a forum which addressed issues of race equality across the board in Scotland. In this document we have seen much more of a tangible commitment to how race equality will be woven into aspects of health, education and housing as a variety of departments working in those areas from the Executive's point of view, so we have this document. Also, we have had the launch of the Equality Strategy, which again you have a copy of,<fu9> and in that Equality Strategy what you have is a very clear sense of objectives and time lines for work to be achieved around racial equality and equality in particular. We are looking to these documents in the annual reporting process by the Executive to the Parliament on equalities per se to see that change happen. It is incremental in the short-term. As a nutshell response, things are changing, things are improving.
61. What you are talking about is action by the Executive, what about the Parliament itself? Is that an area which needs to be addressed in your view?
(Mr Kanani) In a number of ways, and perhaps Lucy might want to come in. We gave evidence to the Procedures Committee that was looking at the operation of the founding principles and their impact on the work of the Scottish Parliament. We found that from early days we were able to establish a parliamentary agenda, which is our Race Equality Matters Strategy, which was the first of its kind and it has not been matched by other equality bodies at this stage as yet. We were able to use that to host an initial briefing with the members of the Equal Opportunities Committee to talk about ways of working, finding out issues, and also how race equality issues might be framed into the work of the Scottish Parliament both by themselves and other committees. In the evidence that we gave to the Scottish Parliament, what we said in the Procedures Committee evidence was, we see that change is taking place quite dramatically in terms of being able to win the argument around change of legislation. Most critically we have been able to see major amendments to the legislation, but also one of the key things is that as a statutory equalities body what we have been able to do in relation to Parliament is to make effective use of Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act which enables the Scottish Parliament to encourage and promote the observance of equal opportunities. We have been able to challenge that particular legal concept, I suppose, and make use of it in mainstream legislation very effectively. Where we think change has to take place, and I think this has been listened to, is the access to the parliamentary process by the ethnic minority communities per se and how confident they feel about being able to participate in those processes and how ethnic minority communities and other communities of interest are effectively taken account of in some of the evidence work that happens by the scrutiny committees of the Parliament. I think there is a job of work to be done there but I think what we need to see happening also in the Scottish Parliament is racial equality and equality per se must not simply be the job of the Equal Opportunities Committee, it has to be the champion for it in the parliamentary sense but the main committees need to take account of equal opportunities and race equality as a part of what they do and we do not have evidence of that as yet, that is what needs to happen in the medium to long-term. That is what we hope to see happen. I think one of the key things that we want to see happening alsoI suppose it sounds pretty arrogant of us, one might sayis training of MSPs on what the issues are around racial equality and equal opportunities per se, so you get an understanding of what the issues are and what you need to do to engage the communities of interest and what you might want to think about when you are looking at either a policy document or legislation at a draft stage and what you might want to factor in at that early stage. We want to be able to build in that kind of equality training, or for them to build it in themselves, so that mainstreaming becomes much more of a reality in the practice of daily work. I think the starting point was our mainstreaming checklist which we launched with the late Donald Dewar in November 1999 which was a checklist to enable parliamentarians to fully appreciate their roles and responsibilities with regard to equality per se but racial equality in particular. Is there anything else you would want to add to what I have said?
(Ms Chapman) Just on the Procedures Committee inquiry and also perhaps on the legislative basis for promoting equal opportunities in the Scottish Parliament. First, on the Procedures Committee inquiry, that is still ongoing, that is still taking evidence, and it is an inquiry on the performance of Parliament against its founding principles, one of which is equal opportunities so there is an explicit agenda there for the Scottish Parliament to incorporate equality into all of its functions. The Procedures Committee is reviewing the performance of Parliament against those founding principles. At the end of that process it will report to Parliament with perhaps recommendations for better mainstreaming of equality work. In line with this the Equal Opportunities Committee is also undertaking research into mainstreaming and there should be recommendations coming out and also there will be a consultation on that which we will feed into. In terms of the relationship base, Dharmendra mentioned Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act which reserves equal opportunities legislation and there are limited exceptions to that which we have worked within to promote equal opportunities in the Scottish Parliament. Critically the amendment to the Race Relations Act last year imposing a general duty on public authorities to promote racial equality now becomes a part of a statutory UK framework for equal opportunities and because of the way the exception is phrased within the Scotland Act it means now that the Scottish Parliament will be able to explicitly legislate to promote race relations, so in a sense race equality is in a much more advanced position now in Scotland in the equality areas and that is quite a key point to note and it is something that we will be flagging up with MSPs to make sure that they are aware that is the case. Also, in line with that the Executive is under a general duty to promote race equality in relation to specific duties, so there is an issue there about MSPs holding the Executive to account on that duty.
62. If the Scotland Act was to be opened up, would you like to see any changes done to Schedule 5?
(Mr Kanani) That would be a matter for yourselves obviously. If we take the example of the developments that are happening around the Human Rights Act, for example, and the early proposals for establishing a Human Rights Commission in Scotland, I suppose the issues for Scotland and for parliamentarians here is, is Scotland a useful area in which we can actually advance certain equality issues because we are able to do that because the framework allows us to do that in terms of the Scotland Act and the framing of Schedule 5? As Lucy has pointed out, now with the amendment to the Race Relations Act we would like to believe that race equality work will be much more advanced in Scotland as a result of the changes but in terms of Schedule 5 one of the difficulties that we have constantly come across in amending legislation hitherto, the amendment to the Race Relations Act, has been whether the Scottish Parliament can actually fully incorporate Schedule 5 into legislation, such as housing and education. A lot of the discussion we have had is "this is reserved" and "this is non-reserved" and "we do not have primary legislation to do with religion, age, sexuality, etc". I think that what you might want to consider as parliamentarians is the scope for perhaps strengthening Schedule 5 so that it enables developments, such as the ones that we are speaking about, to operate much more effectively so overcoming some of the difficulties for policy makers, perhaps, and for those involved in the Civil Service in thinking through what is reserved and what is not reserved, so that you are fully in tune with what the circumstances and the situations are in Scotland. Again, as I say, it is a matter for yourselves. Obviously the whole debate around Article 13 and the Government's consultation currently around Article 13 will unpick some of those issues, I imagine.
63. That does bring me to one point that I was going to ask. One of the suggestions which is now being put on the agenda is a possible move towards an Equalities Commission. What does the Commission in Scotland think about that?
(Mr Kanani) In Scotland?
64. Or the UK.
(Mr Kanani) We will both answer that question, if we may. If I can refer to the Scottish circumstances and the situation. In Scotland we have a very effective relationship and structure for the equality agencies to work together. This is not just the statutory equality agencies but also those with no statutory backing, as it were. We have a group called the Equalities Co-ordinating Group which comes together on a regular basis where we look at, talk about, and plan work around a joint equalities agenda for Scotland, so we already have an infrastructure and a way of working and a common understanding of what our respective roles are. I think central to any development would be the ability to have that in place before there is a move in the future. Obviously it is a matter for yourselves but I think that it is critical to be absolutely clear about what each agency would do or might do in relation to a single equalities agenda. In the Scottish context we have got a structure for that. I think a key characteristic or feature that would have to be unpicked is access to legal representation: what would you do about litigation issues and meeting people's information and representation needs through a single structure. I think it is the devil in the detail of that that needs to be sorted out before you can move towards a structure which can make sense. At the end of the day, the measure of success of an Equalities Commission has to be for the punter experiencing discrimination but also the person who wants to devise the policy to bridge the gap between policy and practice. You need to look at the policy formulation aspect but also access to legal services on the other hand, the two absolutes as it were.
(Mr Silverstone) The Commission is broadly in favour and can see the arguments in the medium term. We believe this is probably five years hence for a single Equalities Commission. We have formally stated also, and have communicated this to Government, that we would prefer any changes to be legislated for rather than administered because we are somewhat fearful about a twin-track approach that might follow through if an administrative path was chosen rather than a legislative one. Thirdly, we want to safeguard our current powers and there is nothing in the Government's consultation document to suggest that that will not be the case but that is clearly our position. The issue that the Government might have to consider is the very differential powers that the current GBY Equalities Commissions have. Specifically these are the views that the DRC and the EOC are putting forward very strongly now, that they want parity with us, which is obviously an issue that we are very sympathetic to but by the same token we do not want to lose the powers we have just been given and the new body needs to be able to accommodate in all likelihood differential powers across the different ranges of the equalities area.
Chairman: Ladies and gentlemen, we have exhausted all our questions to you but if there is anything that you wish to add for the record, please feel free to do so.
65. A question that I posed earlier that was not really answered was the question to Mr Silverstone about whether you are seeing the same trends across the UK as are being seen in Scotland, the rising number of racist incidents. If so, is this because of the fall-out from the Lawrence Inquiry? Is there any reason that you can see for the differences between the rest of the UK and Scotland?
(Mr Silverstone) Again, I will happily respond in writing with the specific figures but certainly from memory in terms of the data that I have seen I do not think Scotland is out of step with particular events in England that have come to our attention. I will very happily provide a considered response to that question if you would welcome that. 10
66. Thank you very much, Mr Silverstone. Is there anything else that anyone wishes to add?
(Mr Kanani) If I may, just to say thank you very much for this opportunity. I hope that we have been able to share effectively with you some of the learning that we have engaged in and some of the outcomes we have achieved and what it is that is quite distinctive about the ways of working in Scotland that has advanced issues around racial equality, which is not simply about CRE but is much to do with the context of devolution and the infrastructure for delivering work. I would want to state certain markers. We do have a great deal of commitment across the sectors in Scotland to delivering change and I think one of the opportunities and challenges over the next period will be about delivering and making sure that at ground level we do not witness the sense of a backlash to some of the commitments around equalities, that will have to be managed quite effectively. I think the whole issue of new and diverse communities emerging across Scotland will again be an issue of concern to yourselves and ourselves. We look forward to keeping you abreast of these changes and perhaps having a dialogue with you in a year's time or so around some of the discussion we have had today, especially some of the concerns you have had around the modernising of local race equality work which I think has been a healthy dialogue. I hope that we have been able to clarify some of the objectives and also perhaps distil or dismantle some of the myths that have been emerging around some of our approaches. Thank you very much.
Chairman: May I thank you all very much indeed for attending this morning, your evidence has been very, very helpful to us in familiarising ourselves with your work. We hope to see you again at some time in the future. Can I just remind you to send the names of the non-contributing local authorities to us when you get the opportunity. Thank you very much.
See Ev 35.