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Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD):
Does the Prime Minister accept that the committee indicated in paragraphs 49, 59 and 210 of its report that there was potential for a limited or modest
increase in the number of prosecutions, although he did not make reference to those recommendations in his statement, and that if that is the case, then taken together with post-charge questioning and the use of the threshold test by the prosecutors, that must decrease the justification for an increase in pre-charge detention?
The Prime Minister: I do not accept that. In some cases, the use of intercept evidence will make it necessary for the police to have a longer period assembling evidence. As for his point about my not mentioning to the House any studies that have been done, I did mention the Metropolitan police study, which said that the chance of successful prosecutions in terrorist cases was increased from 88 per cent. to 92 per cent. That is a limited rise in the number of prosecutions, but we must take it into account. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to confuse the debate about the use of intercept evidence in a court with the problems that the police have in assembling evidence given the complexity and sophistication of terrorist groups in the first place.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I welcome this review, which I seem to recall the Leader of the Opposition railing against a few short minutes ago. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this further work will include consideration of the complexity of the technology, data sharing and safeguarding issues, which are currently extremely confused, not only in terms of security but of the public services? Does not that complexity add to the argument for greater pre-charge detention time to enable the intercept evidence to be more closely and forensically analysed to secure evidence and thus the security of the UK?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in this matter. It is important to recogniseit is sometimes misunderstood in debate in the House of Commonsthat in principle all parties have said that there is a case for going beyond 28 days detention; it is just the vehicle by which we go beyond that which is an issue. The Liberal and Conservative parties thought that they could support the proposals put forward by Liberty, which meant that there were circumstances in which we could go beyond 28 days. The issue then, having accepted in principle that it may be necessary to go beyond that limit, is the nature of the mechanism by which that can be agreed. At the moment, the Conservative and Liberal parties cannot agree with the proposal that we have put forward, but I have to tell them that in principle they have already said that they agree that it may be necessary to go beyond the 28-day period.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I welcome the consensus that has been reached on intercept evidence. I absolutely understand the safeguards that need to be put in place and the comments that the Prime Minister made to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright). The fact remains that in the 1980s I was a practitioner of intercept in Northern Ireland; this issue has been around for a very long time. May I urge the Prime Minister, please, to make as much speed as possible with this, because the interception and prosecution of terrorists and the deterrence of terrorist crime is so important, as he knows?
The Prime Minister: Let us remember that for all these 20 years intercept has been used; it is just that it has mostly not been used in courts of law. The question now is whether we can establish a scheme that will work. We have already agreed that the British system is unique and that the scheme cannot simply be one taken off the shelf from other countries. I believe that all the parties now agree that certain tests have to be met. We are going to proceed speedily and comprehensively to answer those questions. I hope, like the hon. Gentleman, that we will be able to come up with a conclusion that is satisfactory to all parties in the House.
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, I have lived in Shettleston for almost 40 years. That area has improved greatly in recent years and the vast majority of local residents are decent law-abiding citizens. Was it therefore in order for the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) to appear yesterday at Celtic Park, in my constituency, without even having the decency to let me know he would be there? He then launched a damaging and vitriolic attack on the people of Glasgow in general and on Shettleston in particular, when everyone knows that it was 18 years of Tory Government that caused most of the citys problems, especially unemployment. Is there any way in which the right hon. Gentleman can be made to apologise to the people of Glasgow and my constituents?
Mr. Speaker: That is not a point of order. This is a difficulty that I am being drawn into regularly. There is a courtesy that applies to right hon. and hon. Members, by which they should notify the local Member of Parliament when they come into their constituency. That should be done at all times. That courtesy should be adhered to.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to exclude from the operation of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 certain matters relating to the selection of candidates by political parties.
The United Kingdom is a diverse nation. A snapshot of what it means to be British today would surely provide us with a mosaic reflecting the many cultures, ethnicities and religions that make up our population. Post-war and post-colonial migration flows have enriched our country with more than just numbers of people. Every town, city and region has benefited from Leicester to London, from Wembley to Wigan and from Sunderland to Southall. It is not only the composition of our population that has changed, but the composition of our national identityour Britishness.
The change in our national identity must be reflected in the way we think of ourselves as a country, represent ourselves to others and, most importantly, in the composition of our Parliament. It is that change that must be reflected, and I intend to address it in my Bill. I am delighted to see the Leader of the House of Commons, who is also the Minister for Women and Equality, on the Front Bench because she has championed the cause of equality throughout her long political life.
There are currently 15 ethnic minority Members of this House: 13 Labour Members and two Conservatives. As the House knows, the 2001 census reported a 50 per cent. increase in our ethnic population over the last 10 years. The lack of such representation in Parliament is therefore truly disappointing. If Parliament were to reflect adequately the population of ethnic minority citizens, there would be 58 ethnic minority Members of this House. At the current rate at which ethnic minority Members are taking up seats in Parliament, it would take 75 years to achieve a proportion that would reflect the ethnic minority population of our country.
Since 1987, when I was elected along with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), Mr. Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant, progress has been painfully slow. There were two more ethnic minority Members in 1992, three more in 1997, two more in 2001, four in 2005, and five in by-elections over the last 21 years. It is not that there is a lack of talent, numbers or desire to come to this place, but it is clear that ethnic minorities still face proportionately more hurdles than others in getting elected to this House. This Bill seeks to address the problems of imbalance in representation through the democratic decisions of our political parties, but there is no miracle cure.
The race issue does not have to be divisive; race can be used in a positive way to electrify the political process. Striving for the Democratic nomination in the United States, we have a candidate who embodies the multi-ethnic, multicultural and international character of its society: Barack Obama. Born to a Kenyan father and an American mother, and having spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, Senator Obama is a poster boy for the integration and amalgamation that has taken place globallythe mixing of cultures and consequent reforming of identities.
The American system is, of course, different from ours. An individual in that country can seek and win their partys nomination at a local, state, and national level through their force of personality and their ability to secure funding. The party structure cannot stop them. In Britain, that is not possible; we have a strong party system. However, so far that system has delivered just 23 ethnic minority Members of this House in the history of British politics. Those dismal facts speak for themselves. We need to change our attitudes and the law so that a new vision can be made a reality.
I would invite Members to look at what a change in the law did for the representation of women in Parliament. A few years ago, Parliament legalised all-women shortlists in elections. The result was that for the first time in history, there were more women in the new intake than men65 per cent. were women. All women-shortlists were described at the time as a hammer to break the glass ceiling. That ceiling now needs to be broken for ethnic minorities. The changes in 2002 highlighted how shortlists allow us to take a step ahead on the road to a more equally representative Parliament. Since the election of Nancy Astor as the first female Member of Parliament, 290 women have taken up seats. That is, as I am sure the House will know, not even half of a single parliamentary intake.
The Bill proposes to allow for the creation of shortlists on the grounds of ethnicity in the selection of parliamentary candidates. It will be a voluntary, optional means of addressing the imbalance we see today, and it will not oblige or compel parties in any way. Positive action is achieved by exempting the selection of candidates from the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976. Clause 1 will insert a new clause in the 1976 Act, exempting registered political parties from the main provisions of that Act, provided, of course, that that process is adopted for the purpose of reducing inequalities for the different ethnic groups from which individuals are elected. Clause 2 allows for the exact same provisions to be made in Northern Ireland, aside from one difference, namely that it allows for this process to apply to the Northern Ireland Assembly and to district councils, as well as to elections for the Westminster and European Parliaments. Clause 3 is a sunset clause, which provides that the Act will expire in 15 years time, unless extended by an order of the Secretary of State.
Some may argue that a problem exists regarding which boundaries and terms can be used to define an ethnic minority. I can assure the House that ethnic minorities know exactly who they are, and so do the political parties; they will be well able to identify them. The creation of ethnic minority shortlists will undoubtedly see more ethnic minorities taking up seats in Parliament, which will mean a Parliament that mirrors the society it represents, a Parliament that citizens can identify with and a Parliament that better reflects their needs. It will encourage many more to engage in civic society and afford them a greater sense of belonging.
In the 21st century politics of our country no one must be left out. The Bill will allow parties to be more creative in the way that they choose parliamentary candidates, while remaining an optional, not compulsory, measure. The Conservative party already has a fast-track system, called the A-list, which, only two weeks ago, produced a black woman as a successor to the right
hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Organisations such as the 1990 Trust and individuals such as Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote have long campaigned for more equal representation, and on the need to address this deficit in our democracy. The Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) has also informed me that he supports the Bill.
This Bill is merely the beginning. I do not pretend that it is a long-term solution but it is the one thing we can do today that will bring about a speedy change. We must target both ends of this problem. The ball is now firmly in the court of the Prime Minister, the right hon. Members for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), the hon. Members for Moray (Angus Robertson) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), and their respective political parties. With the selection of parliamentary candidates for the next election well under way, the Bill is a wake-up call for the political parties. We have waited long enough. It is time for more action and less talk. Let us begin the process of change, and let us start now.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I must oppose the Bill. I am a member of a fine organisation called the Campaign against Political Correctness. In my maiden speech, I made it clear that, in my time in Parliament, one of my aims was to try to speak out as often as possible against the scourge of political correctness, which is taking over too much of our country.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) knows that I like and respect him in equal measure[Hon. Members: But?] There are no buts. I hope that he will reflect on the irony of the fact that he, as a campaigner for many years on racial equality, has stood up in Parliament today and asked the House to exclude matters from the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. He goes against something for which he has campaigned for many years.
We must imagine our reaction if a Member of Parliament tried to introduce a Bill to provide for exempting the selection of candidates from the Race Relations Act so that we could have white-only short lists. The right hon. Gentleman would rightly be up in arms about any such proposal. I do not see any legal or moral difference between a white-only short list and an ethnic minority-only short list. The Bill constitutes good, old-fashioned positive discrimination, which is just that: discrimination.
The right hon. Gentleman may argue that people from an ethnic minority have, in the past, faced discrimination in the selection processes of all political parties. I do not know much about selecting candidates for the Labour party.
I am sorry if the right hon. Member for Leicester, East claims that people from ethnic minorities face discrimination from Labour party selection committees. That is a sad reflection on todays Labour party.
If people from ethnic minorities have faced discrimination in the past, that is unacceptable, but my solution would be to remove the discrimination. Surely the answer cannot be to discriminate against other people in favour of those from ethnic minorities.
I believe in equality. Surely true equality should mean selecting people on merit, irrespective of their racial background. Selection meetings should be colour blind and people should not think, Shall I pick this person simply because of their colour? I believe in equality of opportunity, but I do not share the right hon. Gentlemans desire for equality of outcome.
The right hon. Gentleman talked of a Parliament that mirrors the society it represents. I hope that he understands what that means. Part of our society is made up of dangerous criminals. Is he arguing that a proportion of Members of Parliament should be dangerous criminals? The Bill constitutes a slippery slope.
The measure would make race relations in this country worse. It would build up needless resentment that otherwise would not exist. All hon. Members should get here under the same process. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to speak to the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies), who is, as usual, in his place. That once safe Labour stronghold was obliterated in one election simply because the Labour party insisted on picking a female candidate rather than drawing up a short list that would mean selecting the best person for the job. Consequently, the Labour party lost the seat. The Bill may be counter-productive rather than helping to achieve the right hon. Gentlemans objective.
I hope that the Government will not follow the route of political correctness and try to gerrymander selection processes to provide a specific outcome. I strongly believe in the principle of selection on merit, on a colour-blind basis. Once we start picking people on the colour of their skin, we have a big problem in our society.
Keith Vaz accordingly presented a Bill to exclude from the operation of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 certain matters relating to the selection of candidates by political parties: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read the Second time on Friday 13 June, and to be printed [Bill 66].
That the Order of 28th January be further amended as follows: in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 4, in the third column:
(a) for 4Â1/2 hours substitute 3 hours, and
(b) for 1Â1/2 hours substitute 3 hours. [Alison Seabeck.]
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