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Keith Vaz: If an organisation is not working or if it can be improved, let us improve it. I have my own story about the CRE. When I first came to Britain, my mother went to the CRE to ask for help in a discrimination case that she had. She was then, I think, the only person of Asian origin teaching in the London borough of Richmond and we could not understand why she could never obtain promotion. We went to the CRE—I think I was about 11—and asked it for help. Although it did not help my mother, it did not put me off the concept of the need for an organisation that provides help.

A lot of other organisations have claims of racial discrimination made against them, and I concede the point that we need a new organisation provided that it makes for better representation. The representation point is of paramount consideration for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat party, which is always banging on about representation. I have just heard a speech from the president of the Liberal Democrats, and I name him even though I have not given him notice that I would. I have just rushed away from the speech to take part in the debate, but his speech was all about representation. With Muslim people sitting in front of him, he called for more Muslim Members of Parliament from the Liberal Democrat party. Such words are cheap if one goes on to a platform to say that we want more and then one takes away the very mechanism by which we get more.

Mr. Boswell: I have a lot of sympathy with the motivation behind the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. I have been reading a biography of the pre-war life of Lord Halifax, alias Lord Irwin, viceroy of India. It was interesting that the British Government's commission on India contained no national of that country—it was an entirely Caucasian show. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whether or not this is a matter of formal representation, if there is no membership from minority communities, it is extremely unlikely that those communities will readily identify with the body and its actions?

5.30 pm

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am not familiar with the life of Lord Halifax, but he makes the good point that representation is crucial. When the Minister responds to this first point, I ask her to be absolutely unequivocal. She should not use the words "I hope", "I wish", or "there should" because we have heard them before. We are looking for the words "there must be" if we are not to press the matter to a Division.

John Bercow: On a point of clarification, does the hon. Gentleman think that the case for guaranteed representation that he is making about the ethnic minorities is as strong as, or stronger than, a similar such case that could be made on behalf of another minority? Is it of equal value, or—I think that this is a perfectly reasonable inquiry and I do not ask it tendentiously—is he arguing his case especially strongly because the CRE
 
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originally had genuine concerns about the danger of powerlessness as a result of the creation of the new body?

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman has an excellent record on these issues. Even though he represents a constituency such as Buckingham, which must have a   small percentage of black and Asian people—it is certainly smaller than the 49 per cent. figure for my constituency—he still speaks passionately about such matters, for which I respect him. I think that it is a bit of both. People need to identify readily with the commissioners who will speak on their behalf. It might well be that all the commissioners decide at the first meeting that they have a common agenda that they need to take forward, but we need specifics. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has tabled an amendment to provide for parity for women, which I fully support. Half the commission should consist of women because they make up just over half the population of this country. If we want to go for crude figures and base representation in some way on numbers, we should look at the population of the black and Asian community—it now makes up about 5 million of the 60 million people in this country—and ensure that it is properly represented.

John Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me such a candid and straightforward answer. Further to that answer, would he on the same basis argue that because the gay population is by general consent thought to be approximately 10 per cent. of the adult population, it would logically follow that if the   body were to consist of 10 people, there should be one guaranteed place for the gay community, irrespective of whether Stonewall is arguing for such a position? I am not aware off the top of my head that it is arguing for that, but it is an interesting point to establish.

Keith Vaz: It is an interesting point and I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There should be at least one such guaranteed place. The whole thing about the commission is that a person could be gay, black and disabled, so several different groups could be covered. If we are serious about the equality agenda, we should consider these issues and ensure that people are guaranteed a place on the commission. Of course the gay community must be guaranteed a place, but that is not what is happening at the moment.

Ms Abbott: On the question of representation, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to nail the allegation that has been made that those of us who argue for black representation are in some way arguing for a hierarchy of discrimination? We are not putting forward such an argument, but simply saying, from our personal experience, that all types of discrimination are distinct, both in their manifestation and because of the solutions to the problems that they pose. Unless there is a proper balance of commissioners who have personal experience
 
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of discrimination, the commission will lack credibility and might not engage with different types of discrimination with the precision required.

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she takes me on to my next topic, policy and decision making, which are central to the purpose of the race committee.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman not selling his case rather short by calling only for pro rata representation on the commission? Given that many incidences of discrimination are suffered by the black and Asian community, should not there be greater than pro rata representation for that community? Would not that be more acceptable to that   community and make the commission work better?

Keith Vaz: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am happy to start with pro rata representation given that at the moment we have nothing. There are no guarantees on the face of the Bill, so the new body could consist of 10 white men, plus the disability commissioner, who could be a woman. For now, pro rata representation is fine by me.

Rob Marris: I am listening with interest because I am torn on this issue. There must be representation across the board of the various groups who suffer different forms of discrimination, and there are overlapping areas of discrimination, but I caution my hon. Friend. He has on several occasions referred to black and Asian residents of the United Kingdom, whereas amendment No. 9, which is the linchpin of the group even though it comes at the end, refers to "black or other ethnic" minorities. There is a difference, and I urge him to recognise that difference. There is a significant Ukrainian community in my constituency, for example, and we have a significant Polish community. The discrimination that they face may take a different form from the discrimination faced by members of visible racial or ethnic minorities, but we have to be cognisant of that nuance.

Keith Vaz: We are cognisant of it. However, my hon. Friend talks about the Polish community, which is white. Although its members may face discrimination, it is not the racial discrimination that I am describing. I agree that everyone should watch their language and he is right to point out that there are different ways to define these matters.

Philip Davies: Is not the flaw in the hon. Gentleman's argument in favour of having certain quotas of people on the commission most evident in relation to disability? In appointing one person with a disability, how on earth is one to define what type of disability that person should have, given that there are so many different types of disability? Should one appoint a person who uses a wheelchair when wheelchair users make up only 5 per cent. of people with a disability? It is nonsensical to suppose that one could ever get a cross-section of people with all sorts of disabilities. I believe that there have even been moves to define left-handedness as a disability
 
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under the Bill. The fact that someone does not have a particular disability does not mean that they cannot empathise with people who do have that disability.


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