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Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is easy to trivialise the arguments in favour of representation? Some of us have heard those arguments trivialised for 20 years or more and it is sad to have to rehearse them. However, we are not talking about abstractions but about how to ensure that the commission draws on the many disabled people, women and black people who have a lifetime's knowledge of and expertise in campaigning on those issues. We are talking about how to ensure that the balance of expertise in the community is properly represented on the commission.
Creating a more representative commission would strengthen the expertise available to the commissioners and give confidence to stakeholders, as several Members have pointed out. It is true that those from black and other ethnic minority groups in particularalong, of course, with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Greater London authorityhave made a strong case for such representation, but so have others.
It is because I favour making the commission more representative that I also support the creation of a race committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said, it is self-evident that amendment No. 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, replicates part 5 of schedule 1, which deals with the establishment of the disability committee. But if the Bill is to provide for a disability committee, why should it not provide for a race committee? Notwithstanding the question of consistency, it makes very good sense to create such a committee. Interestingly, at the outset of these discussions, the Disability Rights Commission suggested that, for a period, it might be necessary for each of the equality strands to have a committee, in order to pursue their interests.
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I repeat that the last thing that I want is for the commission to have a silo mentalityheaven forbidbut I do want it to have expertise; after all, that is how government is run. Any organisation that wants to use expertise efficiently might well find it useful to set up the odd committee in which such expertise can be found.
I turn to amendments Nos. 16 and 17 and the point that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) raised. Paragraph 2 of schedule 1 proposes that the Secretary of State shall appoint an individual only if the person concerned
I should have thought that that was stating the blindingly obvious. Those requirements are self-evident and I cannot imagine anyone seriously considering appointing a commissioner who did not have experience or knowledge that was relevant to the job. The provision should be tightened, which is why amendment No. 16 would
I do not say that people who have not suffered discrimination can have no understanding of a society in which discrimination takes place, but those who have been victims of discrimination or prejudice have something very special to bring to the table. That is the reason for the amendment.
"I very much hope that, when the commission is appointed, its make-up will broadly reflect the balance that these amendments seek to secure".[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 October 2005; Vol. 674, c. 753.]
I am sure that the Government do want that, but he talked about "hoping" that the commission would do that. We do not need to rely on hope because we can, in fact, legislate. The Government are not relying on hope on disabilitythey are legislating.
I welcome the fact that the objective behind the amendments tabled by my colleagues and me is widely shared by the Government. It is only through primary legislation, however, that we can ensure that the commission is representative, rather than just hoping it might be. The Government have accepted that principle on the face of the Bill in relation to the appointment of a commissioner who is disabled and of the disability committee.
Having a representative commission from the outset is essential if we are to have the expertise to do the job and if the commission is to win the trust of the communities whose members it will serve. In particular, I mean the communities who are most commonly victims of discrimination and prejudice. The Government clearly agree with that view. Those requirements should therefore be in the Bill. If they will not accept the amendments, they will, in my humble opinion, have to come up with some absolutely cast iron guarantees that the commissioners and the structure of the commission will indeed be along the lines for which most right hon. and hon. Members have argued.
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Mr. Boswell: It is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry), who has considerable expertise in the field of disability and with whom, through my own involvement in that area, I have collaborated constructively in the past. He made some trenchant points about not thinking within a silo mentality. From my own experience, I came at the issue with an interest in disability and found myself driven by the fact of discrimination to take a lively interest, too, in issues of gender equality and race equality. In the end, they become indivisible, which is the compelling case for having a single commission.
I like, as it were, to play mental games when anticipating ministerial arguments, and I have been trying hard to do so on why there should be any justification for the special treatment of disability in the Bill. One could say it is because Bert Massey and the Disability Rights Commission were not very happy about it, and that is certainly true. That may well be reflected in the Bill, but in trying to produce acceptable and defensible arguments for the MinisterI offer them to her for nothingthere seem to me to be two.
First, the Disability Rights Commission is relatively new in comparison with the other equality bodies. Secondly, the nature of the discrimination concerned is, as it were, more by analogue than by digital: whereas one is either a racist or one is not, and one is either a feminist or one is not, the test in relation to disability is whether reasonable adjustments are being made, which is a much more opaque area.
Having said which, I have absolutely convinced myself that those arguments are implausible. To return to the beginning of the Report stage, it seems that the Government have already conceded the primary point, as they did on the first group of amendments about the difference between sexual orientation and transgendered people. Having provided to legislate for one group, it seemed difficult to many of us not to legislate for the second. Having provided to legislate for disability, it equally seems difficult not to argue the case for legislating on race. I was particularly attracted by amendment No. 16, at least in that it provides an instruction to Ministers on good practice, which they should adopt.
As the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) developed his case with his characteristic charm and eloquence, I found myself increasingly warming towards it. As I went through the nature of the argument in the same way that I did on the amendment spoken to by the hon. Member for Kingswood, I anticipated all the ministerial problems. I am sure that the Minister has a great big brief in front of herI speak from experiencethat bears the six-letter word "resist". It will say that first, we need flexibility, and, secondly, it would be insulting to type people by their particular cases. How can we know that people are not multifunctional in two or three areas of disability? Why should we seem to single out one group when we cannot, for example, appoint a transgendered person because we would run out of places on any reasonably sized commission? Would that not send the wrong signals? And Ministers have the right intentions anyway. I think that the Minister has to show the House tonight that the Government do have the right intention, which is to produce a multifunctional and effective commission that is seen to represent the interests engaged in this important area.
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The one point on which I perhaps did not quite agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, EastI think I did not; it may have been misinterpretablewas his remark that there are good race relations in this country. I think that that is the case, but we have an obligation to maintain perpetual vigilance, at which I see him nodding. One does not have to agree with every last word that Trevor Phillips said in his rather controversial speech at least to be aware that things can go wrong. Indeed, in other countries with rather less of a multiculturalist tradition than oursFrance, in particularthey have gone wrong. We should be conscious that at the very moment when we think things are all right, they may be formally so but that does not necessarily mean that there is deep engagement. That will take more than one generation to achieve and will vary very much with levels of education and experience in particular areas. I am conscious of what one of my colleagues once described as the kind of polite apartheid that can apply in some cities: different ethnic groups may stand off without actually falling out with one another but find little affinity or involvement. That is not a happy position, although those are perhaps wider issues that we cannot develop in full tonight.
Implicit in what the hon. Member for Leicester, East said was the idea that the Bill is all about something reala significant economic imbalance. If one considers the proportion of people from ethnic minorities who are unemployed, the rates of pay that those in work receive and the general economic position, the figures are still depressingly unpositive. There is a problem and we cannot fail to start by acknowledging that.
If that is the economic side, the other side is representation or stakeholder involvement, which is what the amendment and the debate are about. If people do not feel that they have a stake in this country and that their interests are being taken seriously and represented, we should be ashamed of ourselves in this place, but whether we are or are not, we are building up problems for the future. We have to involve all our people, and I did not need the recent change in the leadership of my party to reinforce my views in support of that. If one is a one-nation politician of any party, one is about bringing people together and recognising that they have views, aspirations, fears and experiences that need to be taken extremely seriously.
In relating all that to the substance of the debate, it seemed to me that I should like three sets of assurances from the Minister. The first is on the wider work of the Commission for Racial Equality. It would be useful if she could put on the record how some of the other functionswhat I might call the positive functionsof the CRE are to be discharged, particularly its work on local racial integration. Many of us feel strongly that that should continue and be safeguarded, and isin a sense, although I do not wish to give a hierarchymore important than the mere legal enforcement of equality. Both are extremely important, but the positive approach, which says, "Let's encourage good practice and good race relations", is an important part. Some of that activity may transfer to the new commission, but it would be useful if the Minister could confirm that.
The second issue is economic imbalance and I hope that Trevor Phillips's commission will carry out some studies on that. My party will not prescribe a magic
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solution that would somehow produce economic equality overnight, but no one should be comfortable unless we are working towards that.
The third issue is the institutional and operational matters that are under debate in the Bill. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) was right to mention staff issues because, in my sad experience, they are not always well handled by Governments, of whichever party, in legislation. The issue of participation is central and whether we have a separate race committee or another structurethe Minister may come up with a good argument on thatthe institution will not work unless people feel comfortable with it and that it has some relevance to them.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned India, and I should point out that Lord Irwin, as he then was, was rather a rather liberalif it is not derogatory to use the word these daysViceroy, but he was wrestling with a commission that was a non-starter because it was all Brits and no Indians. That does not work, because any structure needs to be acceptable to the various communities involved.
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