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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Thank you for calling me so early in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to support amendments Nos. 1 to 8 and 9. I also speak in support of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and I have great sympathy with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), although I am sure that they will have the opportunity to contribute to the debate themselves.
I have just come from the Members' Dining Room, where I was attending the bi-annual Eid celebrations. It is an achievement of those who were responsible for timetabling that we should have a debate on race and equality at the same time as most of the leading members of the Muslim community have gathered, along with many other right hon. and hon. Members, in another part of the Palace of Westminster. I know that they also wish to take part in this debate, but they are meeting constituents and listening to the speechesincluding by the President of the Liberal Democrats and the
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Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know that several of my colleagues wish to take part in this debate and I hope that we will see even greater attendance later.
Race and equality are an essential part of the Government's agenda. In the 19 years that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) have been Members of Parliament, we have seen several debates on race, immigration and the general good relations that exist in our country. When Governments seek to foster those good relations and, indeed, enhance them, they are under a duty to ensure that the institutions and organisations that they create have that purpose. The Commission for Racial Equality has been in existence for all the years that I have been living in the United Kingdom, and I came here when I was nine years of age. The then Government had just abolished, or were just about to abolish, the old Race Relations Board, and its successor was the CRE. So for all the time that I can remember, the black and Asian community has had an institution that was supposed to support and protect it and to speak up for its needs and concerns. In later legislation, even more powers were given to the CRE than the old Race Relations Board had had. Therefore, it is sad that the Government propose to abolish the CRE through this Bill and replace it with an organisation that brings together several other strands of the equality agenda. I want to make it absolutely clear that I support those strandsfor want of a better wordhaving appropriate representation, with a body and organisation that speaks on their behalf, working in like-minded fashion with other organisations to ensure that equality is kept firmly at the top of the Government's political agenda.
I am disappointed that between the First Reading of the Bill in the last Parliament and the Second Reading and Report of the Bill in this Parliament more time has not been spent consulting the black and Asian community. That is a lost opportunity. The Minister will know that at the weekend, under the banner of the former chair of the CRE, Lord Ouseley, several individuals and organisations signed an open letter to her protesting against proposals to abolish the CRE; they accept that a new body may be necessary but the powers that it will be given do not reflect the aspirations and needs of the black and Asian community. They say that in any new body there should be a proper opportunity for the black and Asian community to be represented, hence the importance of the establishment of a race committee.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab):
Two years ago, my hon. Friend and I, and a group of black and Asian Members of this and the other place, went to see the then Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry and raised with her, in private, the serious concerns of the black community that the new commission would not deal adequately with matters of race. Does he agree that it is regrettable that the issues raised then by Members of both Houses were not taken seriously?
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