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Keith Vaz: It is regrettable, but what my hon. Friend said about that meeting was important. At least, the then Secretary of State was prepared to meet us and listen to our concerns. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, because before the Second Reading of the previous Bill she was prepared to listen to our concerns and to engage fully with the chairman of the CRE, Trevor Phillipsas was the then Lord Chancellor, who is still Lord Chancellor, my noble Friend Lord Falconer. Both those senior members of the Cabinet took on board, to some extent, the concerns we expressed and understood that the proposals would mean a serious change to the way in which black and Asian people could both put their views to Government and be protected.
Over the last year, sadly, there has been a lack of consultation and communication. I regret the fact that more time was not spent trying to enter appropriate dialogue with the chairman of the CRE and that organisation about the needs of the black and Asian community. I do not agree with everything that Trevor Phillips says: I certainly do not agree with his views on multiculturalism, which is very much alive in places such as Leicester, Wolverhampton and other parts of the country. I am not speaking as a great cheerleader for him, but I respect his integrity and when he tells me openly that there needs to be better consultation with the CRE I take that seriously.
It is also important that organisations such as the Greater London authority, and the Mayor of London and his special adviser, Lee Jasper, and the 1990 Trust, with Karen Chouhan, Simon Woolley and others, are all involved in the measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is as old as me and has been a Member for as long as me, so she will remind me if there has ever been a time when so many black and Asian groups and organisations came together to protest at what the Government were proposing
Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that nonot onereputable black or Asian group supports the commission going ahead without a race committee? It will cause disquiet in our black and Asian communities that the Government have not listened to their united voices.
Keith Vaz: I agree with my hon. Friend. She is right. This is a united voice in favour of the establishment of a race committee; it is also a united voice in favour of proper representation of black and Asian people on the new commission.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con):
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most important roles of organisations campaigning against discrimination is to focus the spotlight of the media on abuses where they exist? One of the dangers of the new legislation, which all hon. Members hope that the
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Government will be alive to, is that a single, larger organisation will not have the figureheads that we have in the person of Trevor Phillips at the CRE, or Bert Massey at the Disability Rights Commission, who are effective at getting the media to look at abuses, because of their position and their personal experience of discrimination, which makes them a powerful voice in the media.
Keith Vaz: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we have such focus. I am not saying that I do not agree with a body that involves everybody else and every other strand of equalityit is good that they should be able to share the experience of discriminationbut there is a need for the focus that he describes, which is missing.
We are at a time in the politics and history of our country when all the political parties talk about the need for better representation. When I first came to the House, I was the first person of Asian origin for more than 50 years. I was joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, the late Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng, who is now the high commissioner in South Africa. Since then, other black and Asian Members have been elected. I am sitting next to a very talented onemy hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler).
As far as I can remember, Labour party leaders have always talked about the need for more representation in Parliament. Conservative leaders have done the same thing. I heard a passionate speech by the last leader of the Conservative party, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who talked about the need to get more representation for women and the ethnic minority population of this country.
I am pleased that the Opposition now have the hon. Members for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), both of whom come as elected Members representing the whole of their constituencies, but with the added dimension of being from the ethnic minority community.
The first thing that we notice about the Front-Bench spokespersons is that they are women. That is the most distinguishable thing that we notice about the difference between, for example, the Minister for Women and Equality and her colleague sitting next to her. That is the most important thing that we notice. There are other issues, but gender is a defining issue, which is why race and gender are so important.
I pay tribute to the disability lobbymy hon. Friends sitting around mefor the work that it has done and to the gay and lesbian lobby for what it has done in ensuring that it gets to first base. There is no point just talking about representation. Sadly, the Liberal Democrats had one person of Asian origin in Leicester, South, but he is no longer with us in Parliament, so it is, in a sense, not truly representative. I will not go into the other parties, because they are slightly smaller and may think that I am being unfair.
We all talk about representation. When I first came to the House that was not a fashionable subject, but now, when the new leader of the Conservative party makes a
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speech, he talks about more women and more black and Asian people, as do all political leadersnot just in this country, but in other countries throughout Europe.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent argument about why debate on equality has to address all strands of equality, in every way that we can imagine, but he is arguing against his apparent argument on the Order Paper for pre-eminence for race, religion and belief.
Keith Vaz: My remark was meant as a compliment; I am always happy to pay the hon. Lady compliments. However, I do not pay her another compliment as I do not think that she has read my amendments. They do not make race pre-eminent. In terms of representation, we will have a disability commissioner, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and I, along with other Members, are asking for the Bill to make it clear that a certain number of people of black and Asian origin will be on the commission. At the moment, we do not have any and there is no guarantee that any of the 10 to 15 commissioners will be either women or black or Asian. When the Minister stands up at the Dispatch Box, we will look for a cast-iron guarantee and commitment that those groups will be represented. Only the disability lobby, which has played a very canny game, is guaranteed a commissioner.
The hon. Lady has me on the equality argument. The black and Asian community are not against the creation of a new body provided that there is, as her colleagues have said, sufficient time, attention and focus on these issues. If we are creating an organisationsome would say a tower of Babelwith so many strands sitting round the table that are, of course, united by the common agenda of equality, there must be adequate representation.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if the CEHR is set up without any black or women commissioners, it will have no credibility at all when it comes to being able to represent race or sex issues effectively?
Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The commission will have no credibility at all. Not even warm words will be sufficient for the communities outside. We want hot words from the Minister and a commitment from her that the issue of representation is first and foremost in the Government's agenda. As she is the Minister responsible for equality, I suspect that it will be quite easy for her to do that.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):
The hon. Gentleman makes his case as eloquently as he always does, but the premise of his argument appears to be that he wants to continue the excellent work that has been started by the Commission for Racial Equality. Will he comment on the fact that parliamentary answers that I have received show that, in the past 10 years, something like 20 claims of racial discrimination have been made against the CRE? Taxpayers' money has been used to settle some of
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those cases out of court, so perhaps the CRE does not have such a good record on these matters as he would have us believe.
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