Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Rob Marris: Will my hon. Friend assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and me that the welcome protection to which she has referred will also cover pensions?

Meg Munn: Yes, that is my understanding.

In amendments Nos. 16, 17, 18 and 20, my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and for Hayes and Harlington have sought to strengthen representation on the commission to ensure that it properly reflects the society in which we live and that it includes those with the experience that they consider necessary for the commission to function effectively. The difficulty of the approach reflected in the amendment is that it encourages an ever-growing list of the sorts of people who must be appointed, and there is always someone who gets left off a list and others who spend much time making the case for being on the list.

Following the publication of our White Paper on the new commission, we received more than 400 detailed and considered responses. The overwhelming majority of those supported establishing a board that could operate in the interests of all, rather than as discrete champions of specific strands jockeying for attention.

Ms Abbott: I understand the logic of saying that no single group should specifically be represented among the commissioners, but what is the logic of specifying in the Bill representation for disabled people, but not for any other group?

Meg Munn: I ask my hon. Friend to bear with me. I shall speak to that matter later in my speech and I am confident that I shall cover all the points that have been made. I think that that will enable us to make progress more quickly, but she can intervene again if she feels that I have not addressed her point.

The Government are aware that many communities and interest groups wanted reassurance that the appointments to the board would be based on knowledge and experience. We therefore took specific steps to ensure that knowledge and experience of discrimination would be key criteria for the appointment of commissioners. I assure hon. Members that when the Bill mentions knowledge and experience, it means experience of discrimination.

Keith Vaz: I hope that my hon. Friend will excuse me for not waiting until the end of her speech to intervene, but it is important to probe her on that point.

What happens if the commission does not appoint sufficient numbers of black and Asian people, trade unionists or women to a committee? What will the Minister do about that? She does not appear to have changed her position since Committee stage; she is merely repeating what she said before.

Meg Munn: If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I shall make that clear well before the end of my speech and hon. Members may intervene again to clarify various points.
16 Jan 2006 : Column 638

Such knowledge and experience will include personal or direct experience of discrimination, so the provisions of the Bill are not at odds with the intention behind the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood. Those with knowledge and experience of discrimination and human rights are only one part of the equation; we also need to draw on the knowledge and experience of those who will be responsible for complying with the law, improving good practice and identifying the most effective way of delivering the changes that we want. Many people who have direct experience of discrimination also have that experience, too. Given that the Bill requires the Secretary of State to consider knowledge and experience of the functions of the commission when making the appointments, we have made provision to take account of expertise in the trades union movement and in business as well as employers' concerns in the delivery of public services and in good governance and management.

It would be inconceivable that the board would consist only of white, heterosexual males under 16—I am sorry, under 65. Having taken the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, to task for getting her figures wrong, I am beginning to feel a little less confident. I shall say it again; it is inconceivable that the board would be all white, heterosexual males under 65. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), let me say that not only must there be black and Asian commissioners, but that that there will be black and Asian commissioners, and there will be women commissioners. When the hon. Member for Epping Forest moved amendments in Committee suggesting that there should be at least one such commissioner, I was appalled that we would be thinking of one woman or one black person being considered to be representative.

Roger Berry: Will my hon. Friend explain why reference in the Bill to the composition of the board refers to disability alone?

Meg Munn: My hon. Friends are impatient. I will get there, I promise.

Keith Vaz: Before the Minister gets there, I must say that she has listened to what we have been saying, and she has changed her "hope" to "will" and "must". That is because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making the appointments, presumably seeking the advice of the equality Minister. When the Secretary of State makes those decisions to ensure that the "will" and the "must" is better than the hope, will account be taken of the numbers that have been mentioned in the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry)? In other words, half of the committee should be women and a quarter should be black or Asian, at least.

Meg Munn: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to give due regard to a range of views.
16 Jan 2006 : Column 639

8.15 pm

We are talking about a commission that deals with discrimination. We will not be looking to replicate how our society is. Precisely those people who experience discrimination should be given representation in greater numbers than they would be in a body that reflected society in general. I hope that that reassures hon. Members that we want to ensure that that is the case. If we did not do that, the commission would neither command the confidence of communities nor champion equality with credibility among employers and service providers.

The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, and the complete range of amendments—Nos. 1 to 10—seek to establish a statutory race committee. I thank those who have raised that important issue. The amendments respond to the strong concerns of some black and minority ethnic communities. Like my hon. Friend, I, too, believe that if the new commission cannot effectively tackle racism, it cannot demonstrate real progress in improving race equality in Britain, and it will have failed.

In setting out the Government's view it is important to understand the process that led to the Bill. The responses to the consultation on the White Paper in 2004 overwhelmingly supported an integrated body, not a federal structure of separate interests. Many pointed out that a federal structure would risk the new commission being blighted by inertia and infighting. Equality is not a minority issue, but an issue for us all. I am encouraged by the strong support for a unified and integrated approach to these issues.

We talk about six strands and about human rights, but there are groups of people who genuinely feel that because they are a minority concern—whether it is transgender, transsexual or those with a learning disability—their voices are never heard. The commission will have to hear all those voices. Black and minority ethnic groups have lobbied strongly for a race committee to be set out in the Bill and for there to be a designated race commissioner, as that would guarantee for them that their concerns would be considered by the new body. However, had that been placed in the Bill, other strands would also have sought to have a committee to represent their interests and we would be setting up a federated structure—an approach that we had specifically rejected for good reasons and that would go against the overwhelming consensus for an integrated approach. The CRE, until very recently, accepted that there was no need to have a race committee in the Bill.

I come to why we have made provision in the Bill for a disability committee. I refer to what I said at the outset in taking forward existing powers and duties. In working with the existing commissions, we agreed that there should be no regression from their existing arrangements. There is no requirement that the CRE must support black commissioners or a quota of black or Asian commissioners. The Disability Rights Commission requires that disabled people be appointed to the commission.
16 Jan 2006 : Column 640

We have taken equal care to avoid regression in the race area in terms of our commitment to continue funding for the race equality councils, giving priority to race and faith in the new commission's good relations remit and carrying forward the CRE's powers in full. All the commissions will have a transitional commissioner to ensure that the experience and priorities of the existing commissions are adequately reflected in the new arrangements.

I draw the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to the disabilities committee. It has a sunset clause so that as the transition takes place and it, too, moves into place, consideration can be given to whether that process needs to continue.

Next Section IndexHome Page