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Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend argues that the arrangements that she proposes for the commission do not represent a regression from the current situation relating to the CRE. It is true that there is nothing in legislation that insists that the CRE must have a majority of black and minority ethnic commissioners or even black and minority ethnic staff. It would have been absurd, when the CRE was set up, to assume anything other than that black and Asian people would play a prominent leadership role. If my hon. Friend sets up the new commission and it goes forward without any guarantees, whatever she says about the legislative position in relation to stability it will, in practice, represent a serious regression from the current status quo with the CRE.
Meg Munn: My hon. Friend makes my argument, just as it would be if she had said that there would have been absurdity in relation to the CRE. I have said that it would be inconceivable in relation to the commission.
Keith Vaz: The Minister keeps saying "inconceivable". That means that it may happen. Even if there is a 1 per cent. chance of it happening, it may happen. I do not have an Oxford dictionary in the Chamber, but it may happen. If it happens, will my hon. Friend bring forward legislation to ensure that the race committee can and will be established? If she gives me that assurancenot only in terms of race but for the other strands if they ask for itand the commission does not set things up, which she has given it the powers to do, will she reflect and bring forward legislation under the Act to ensure that that happens? That is the only assurance that I seek.
Meg Munn: My hon. Friend is getting into great difficulties about what "inconceivable" is. I will give further guarantees and I have further expectations. The fundamental reassurance and guarantee for the commission is that it must command the confidence of the communities that look to it for guarantees around discrimination and equality. There is a range of measures in place for that to happen. I will go through the rest of my speech, during which I shall respond to these issues. I shall be happy to give way subsequently if hon. Members feel that they need further clarification.
I was talking about the transitional commissioners. They will be a guarantee of taking forward the work that is being done. We have also provided the commission with the powers to do all the things that the amendment seeks. The commission can set up committees with
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delegated powers, it can ring-fence resources and it can determine the criteria for appointments to the committees. I expect some committees to cut across strands. We wanted to establish a unified commission so that issues that cut across existing strands can be properly addressed. However, I have no doubt that the commission will establish a committee that will take forward those priorities on race relations, and I strongly encourage it to do so at an early stage. It is simply not possible for it to ignore the priorities and concerns of black and minority ethnic communities, because they, along with others, will be the authors and architects of the commission's strategic plan. That is why we have placed the commission under a new duty to consult on its strategic plan in clause 5, and to consult on its "state of the nation" report in clause 12.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) raised economic issues, and rightly mentioned the review of equality issues chaired by Trevor Phillips that will look at some of those issues. It is part of the Government's programme to develop the equality debate and to look at what we need to do in the 21st century. The review chaired by Trevor Phillips will therefore have a significant influence on the commission's work programme.
John McDonnell : As powers will be given to the new body to establish the committees, the Minister may wish to express the view that if the Government are not satisfied with the new committee structure it may warrant further Government intervention.
Meg Munn: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We want to set up a body that is independent of Government. Indeed, there was a great deal of debate in the other place about the extent of its independence. Part of the commission's role is to comment on what the Government are doing, so we need to limit Government interference. A number of amendments were tabled to make the commission more independent.
Keith Vaz: Following the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), the Minister has moved forward and has used the word "impossible". She believes that it is impossible, once the new body has been set up, to fail to establish committees. In response to my hon. Friend's question, she talked about Government intervention, so if the commission does not set up committees will she introduce legislation to make sure that its structure reflects the united views of the House? The hon. Members for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) and for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) both support the principle of the amendments, but they will leave the practicalities to the new body. If the commission does not deal with such matters itself, will she take action to make sure that it does?
Meg Munn: Powers are available to the commission to do so, and I have made my expectations clear. It is therefore not wise to move straight on to talk about new legislation or intervention. I have made strong commitments and there are strong expectations on the issue. I have more commitments to make which, I hope, will provide further guarantees.
: The Minister talked about a review headed by Trevor Phillips. Can she give the House an assurance
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that prominent black and Asian minority ethnic communities and groups that work on race equality issues such as the Greater London authority, the 1990 Trust and Operation Black Vote, to name but a few, will be consulted?
The Government are committed to ensuring that race equality concerns will be central to the commission's work. We have considered the issue carefully and provided a number of measures in the Bill to ensure that that is the case. We have given the commission new powers to address hate crimes and prejudice against groups in society. We have given it new powers to assess and enforce compliance with the public sector race duty. We have made a commitment to the continued funding of race equality councils and of others involved in local race equality work to ensure that those important initiatives continue to flourish. I will follow up recent discussions with the British Federation of Race Equality Councils to ensure that that is the case. Representatives told me they were reassured by our plans. They are doing important work and have made a commitment to work with us as we move towards the establishment of the commission for equality and human rights.
We should not forget that the commission, because of its cross-cutting remit, is better able to address the concerns of all black and minority ethnic groups in our societyyoung people, children, women, lesbians, gay men, disabled people and older people. Children have not been raised specifically today, but they are one of hon. Members' concerns. Children are people and they have human rights, just like everyone else. The commission will play a key role in promoting understanding and respect for children's human rights. I have every confidence that the new commission will be able to do as much, if not more than our existing arrangements. The commission will not be tackling equality in an ethereal wayit will respond to the different and specific needs of various groups of people. We believe in equality but, as has been said, equality is not about treating everyone the same, but about responding to their specific concerns. I hope that what I have said will give assurance and confidence to hon. Members who are concerned about these issues, although I accept that words are not always enough.
Meg Munn: I am not coming to the end of my speech, despite what hon. Members think, although I am getting closer. If my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East would bear with me for a few minutes
I think that it is the beginning of the end, but it is not the end. Indeed, I was about to say that
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today is not the end of the processfar from it. We have three years to prepare the ground for the transfer of race functions from the CRE to the new commission. Let me assure hon. Members that I do not intend to speak for that long. We now need further and stronger engagement with black and minority ethnic communities, including the CRE, to undertake the work necessary to prepare the ground. I have met and spoken to many people, some of whom believe strongly that the measures that my hon. Friends have proposed should be included the Bill. I am nevertheless grateful that they have committed themselves to continue this work and that they have reiterated their support for the overall vision of the new commission. I am personally committed, together with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), immediately to initiate a work stream that will directly involve members of the black and minority ethnic communities and others. That will explore how, for example, the race equality and good relations functions of the new commission could be framed, including its important focus on race and faith communities. The work, which we have asked our officials to begin scoping, will consider how the new commission can engage communities in identifying the strategic priorities for its work on race equality, and how its governance and committee structures can be configured to deliver that. The recent discussions with the British Federation of Race Equality Councils, to which I have referred, are a good starting point.
There have been calls for a separate commission to respond to concerns about integration and citizenship. The Government believe that those issues are for the commission for equality and human rights, but we strongly agree that they cannot be left solely to the commission. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published a combined equality and cohesion strategy last January, "Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society", on which we shall make a progress report. He will also make an announcement after consultation in the autumn about integration and the possible role of a time-limited commission.
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