Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

50.  Memorandum from Norwich & Norfolk Racial Equality Council

  I submit below the evidence I have gathered on behalf of the Norwich & Norfolk Racial Equality Council, (NNREC) consultation with staff, members and partners. I further include a copy of the NNREC Annual Report and a copy of the ERINN Report, resulting from our recent collaborative research into racism in Norfolk NHS. These are the two up to date documents on racism in Norfolk, however there has been continuous documented evidence since 1994 here in Norfolk—particularly "Not In Norfolk" (1994) and "Now In Norfolk" (1998).

  I have taken all these issues into account and the impact based on Norfolk being a predominately white rural area, where ethnic minorities experience isolation, and the needs of our more urban areas, such as the City of Norwich. I would hope that the government will give due consideration to all relevant and important work in the equalities areas that have already been achieved, to ensure the future development of the Human Rights Act/Commission will build upon these. The inclusion of a programme on public awareness/education and community development/capacity building is evidenced through identified gaps in these areas. This must complement work being done in employment and service policy development. This cannot be done without resources my comments below are made within this context, as it is of no use to set up another commission if the present one and the new one are not all effectively resourced and funded.

Question 1

  There is the potential that a Human Rights Commission (HRC) could add a great deal to the current provision as follows:

    (a)  The UK does not have a culture of "fostering" human rights. Humanitarian issues have been more embodied in a charitable approach based on "beggar bowl" mentality rather than people "human rights". For example, there is evidence of this in local and central government, public and media response to the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Fostering of human rights must be on the basis of this is good for all of us, not because we need to be "sold" or given a "guilt" complex. A HRC would need to have the powers to imbed human rights as a way of life and expectancy natural to living in the UK. Then when any one individual or group receive assistance to access human rights it is not seen as "special" treatment but as an eradication of treatment, which potentially adversely affects everyone, every group. The expertise, skills, resources and knowledge in any HRC, therefore must reflect this through diversity and excellence of practice itself and no one area of human rights must suffer in the promotion of another. To achieve this the HRC must be required to work in close partnership with its sister commission ie, the CRE and EOC.

    (b)  Education and public awareness on human rights is a crucial role. Not only towards improvement but to disseminate the message of human rights achievements and good practice. The opportunity to celebrate human diversity and to embrace, enhance and harness all the agencies and other outlets for this work to be improved. Too often it is left to individuals or groups, such as RECs to convince public authorities of their responsibilities. The HRC must be given the ability to direct public authorities to make partnership. This is crucial in the areas of raising awareness of issues and public education programmes in the wider sense.

    (c)  Advice and assistance to people is invaluable—in fact without this we cannot learn and develop the work and responsibilities of the HRC. It keeps the contact of the HRC at the grass root level, the practical and real experience of the violation of human rights. It builds credibility with the people and human rights are about people—all of our people. It should also influence future changes, both in terms of the internal development of the HRC and external role as a monitoring body advising government locally, regionally, nationally and in an European context.

    (d)  Developing the expertise in human rights relates to all the questions you pose. The setting up of a HRC in itself creates the expectancy that expertise will be a necessary developmental programme, ongoing, sustained with evidence that the expertise is put to effective and best use. The issues of monitoring, evaluation & review are perhaps raised here more prominently than any other area. Consultation in Norfolk suggests that there is no point in taking forward human right objectives if expertise is not an essential criterion towards an effective delivery.

    (e)  The same comments I made above stand for this part of question one. Consultation leads me to believe that to develop a human rights legislative process, which does not have a designated body responsible and empowered to act in the public interest to ensure there is evidence of delivery of these rights, the public confidence in the legislation and the legislative process will not happen. Public confidence in government and the courts will therefore be adversely affected—particularly as equalities/human rights are the ultimate responsibility of these two bodies.

Question 2

  There needs to be a strategic approach to the role and functions. The Government must retain full responsibility for human rights; indeed this is the case for all the equalities commissions. The HRC would have to advise, inform and act in best interest of the people it has been set up to serve. At the same time its functions must also be to advise and inform government, whether or not the main means of doing so should be through the Joint Committee may need a more specific debate. It would require a more in depth review of the current practices and modes operative within the current commissions. An approach of consultation and debate along these lines would hopefully improve all roles and functions, leading to a more effective relationship between individual commissions and in their joint relations with the HRC.

Question 3

  There needs to be the scope to prioritise on needs, identified gap areas etc. It is very difficult to make decisions in regard to this question as all equalities have priority areas. Informed decisions need to be taken, based on evidence that justify the priority allocation given to the work of the HRC. If the CRE, EOC & DRC are dealing with the priority work under their own specified equality areas the HRC may be able to have a priority area based on the identified gap. For example this could relate to religious discrimination, as an area so far not addressed in any strategic way. This example I have chosen also overlaps with question 4 below, as there may be good practice in partnerships between bodies with territorial responsibilities, where their actions based on responsibilities have delivered effective actions. The difficulties envisioned, based on the previous experience and current challenges faced in setting priorities within the NNREC, are that the HRC may fail to recognise, or respond to areas of need if their priority areas are only related to specific equality areas. One way to avoid this again would have to relate to question 6 below, that is the HRC partnership links with other commissions whose functions are to ensure the delivery of particular rights.

Question 4

  There may be arguments to support separate bodies because of the UK government devolution programme, especially in Scotland due to the Scottish legal system differing from England and Wales. However, I do not believe these arguments are justified, the bridging of various needs of all parts of the UK are not insurmountable. The approach used by the CRE of having regional offices and Regional Directors and Chairs etc, provides evidence to support a single body with jurisdiction extending to all parts of the UK. A single UK national perspective is essential to equality for all the people of these united kingdoms. It is still the terms of reference and modes operative which needs to clearly and strategically set. I am not convinced that enough time has been given to this and would expect further consultation and debate to be necessary requirement. In particular the outcome of the Joint Committee consultation the viewpoints of the CRE, EOC and DRC would be essential to the final outcome on agreeing the terms etc.

Question 5

  I touched on this question in my responses above. There is the necessity to have a coherent and cohesive approach. Relationships therefore, between "sister" Commissions need to be effective and complimentary to each of the equality areas. Black people suffer racism multiple discrimination and abuse. In order to give an effective response to victims or complainants who suffer multiple disadvantage or discrimination there needs to be inter-commission partnership working and support. It would not be possible to say that the HRC was accessing or enforcing an individual or group rights if it failed to take into account the entire aspects related to that individual or group. Therefore, the need to be able to give a comprehensive response and to deal with issues that may involve multiple areas is essential. There is no point in giving assistance to an individual on the grounds of race and failing to address an issue related to gender or disability, or indeed any other human rights issue. To do this would result in the HRC still failing to implement the full extent of a response to human rights.

Question 6

  In part I have addressed this question in the answers provided above. Overall I feel that there has not been enough time given to this consultation for evidence to enable a more effective response. This is reflected in the degree of evidence NNREC has given. I am particularly concerned that the time frame failed to give NNREC enough time to extend consultation in providing this evidence, taking into account the diverse and dispersed population profile and extensive geographical area and barriers in Norfolk. An inclusive agenda does not come within limited time-scales especially where ethnic minority individuals and communities are isolated and dispersed within an area covering over 2,000 square miles. These restrictions have placed limitations on the extent to which the responses to the various points in this question could be given. The Joint Committee needs to take this on board in any future development of an HRC.

    (a)  The evidence in Norfolk would suggest that the HRC should co-exist with specialist Commissions. Sharing case law expertise, policy development to compliment various responsibilities and functions should be a requirement within a multi-commission approach, in the same way as multi-agency working is being promoted in the area of tackling racism. It has been an important outcome from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry that no individual public body can necessarily address racist crime. The same principal can be given as evidence of the need to develop co-existing Commissions working together as appropriate in joint areas.

    (b)  The obvious answer based on the points I have already made is that the HRC should not be excluded from dealing with issues relating to equal opportunities. However, the HRC may not be the "lead" Commission, partnership agreements with the existing equality Commissions should include direction on where responsibility lies depending on the area or specific expertise needed within the partnership approach and the issue/s being addressed. This will be particularly important in the first few years following the set up of the HRC as there would be no history of case law, experience, expertise, skills or knowledge base in the HRC, but they need to access these in the existing equality Commissions.

Question 7

  The answers provided to each section within this question are based within the evidence NNREC has gained from being an organisation delivering equality and accountable to funding bodies.

    (a)  The members and Chair should be appointed on merit and an equal opportunities appointment process. Specifying skills and experience required to carry out HRC functions will provide the answers to the person specifications related to the role of the Commissioners. The recruitment and appointment process must clearly match these specifications and evidence of any individual's ability to meet the job description and person specification needs to be met through the recruitment/appointment process. This must be accessible to all and the process should have the ability to demonstrate diversity in the final outcome on representation on the HRC.

    (b)  Effective funding and resources demonstrates evidence of the government's commitment to human rights provision becoming a reality and not merely an aspiration. Time spent chasing various funding sources, trying to meet various funding conditions diverts the HRC from delivering core functions. Ad-hoc superficial arrangements would also lead to an ad-hoc superficial service and would fail to attract the best people in terms of appointments of HR Commissions. "Core" funding needs to be from government and these funds could be devolved and used to attract "matched" funding, enhancing and improving delivery/outputs. Eg, the CRE partnership approach with RECs and LAs leads to accessing other resources. Evidence of the potential for this is demonstrated in NNREC. CRE funds led to LA funds that subsequently have led to successful grant applications to Sure Start and the Lottery Community Fund etc, in addition joint funding projects with Norfolk NHS Trusts delivers the modernisation programme of a joined up approach to solving multi-facetted areas of need. This would not have been possible if the core grant aid arrangements between CRE and RECs had not been in place. This is a good model for development, of course I recognise that evidence also suggests the need to up date the method, but the principal in Norfolk has provided evidence of successful outcomes.

    (c)  The HRC needs to be accountable to parliament and that is where the accountability is placed for human rights under the convention.

    (d)  These matters need to be imbedded in the devolution process as the entire government process of the UK on areas of joint national interest is. Equalities must have the same priority as these national interest areas have, this will re-emphasise the commitment of the government to deliver an effective human rights agenda and change the entire UK for the benefit of everyone and to play an important lead on a European level.

Question 8

  It is not possible to give a precise answer to this question in any sufficient and logical manner, as so much still needs to be mapped and examined. To some extent questions one to seven only identify more questions needing to be addressed at future stages in the developmental process towards an effective HRC. Based on evidence in the other equalities Commissions there is the need for a budget in the region of several tens of millions. I could estimate it at £50 million, based on the evidence that the CRE, EOC and DRC are currently under resourced, which I do believe is the case and there is evidence to support this based on the slow progress on equalities since the EOC and CRE were set up. Yet this estimate could still be grossly underestimated. An independent mapping of the resources needed for and connected to all the equalities, is an essential requirement to any future development and HRC set up.

Question 9

  The lessons learned which have led to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 need to be applied, as relevant to all the equalities areas, including the HRC. The powers need to ensure that the HRC can enforce change in public authorities, where evidence is provided that those authorities are failing to meet their statutory responsibilities. Compliance notices, formal investigations and Codes of Practice are essential, however so is their ability to develop guidance and support and advice to those public bodies, carrying out public functions, which do wish to deliver the change necessary but require assistance to do so. The key again is partnership, multi-agency and delivering evidence that action on delivering human rights benefits all our people and all public bodies are stakeholders, with their part to play and also will benefit and become more efficient bodies.

Question 10

  The main areas, which I feel, I have not addressed, or not had an opportunity to address are training, public awareness and education. A comprehensive training programme for those bodies with responsibility to deliver the HRC agenda needs to be developed and this needs to be parallel to a public education and awareness-raising programme. The entire nation must take ownership and an inclusive approach requires these ingredients to avoid the "them and us" scenarios which may cause divisions in society and often lead to extremist organisations exploiting the division and feeding prejudice and hatred. This time we need to cover this in an effective inclusive approach demonstrating the benefits of all in the process and in the outcomes.

  Finally, the NNREC submits this evidence in partnership with our affiliated bodies. I have also spoken to members of the Norwich & District Legal Services Board, which NNREC is represented on by our REO. I enclose the NNREC Annual Report and the ERINN report. These documents back up the evidence provided in this response.

  I would appreciate being kept informed on developments and offer the support of NNREC and our partners towards the effective implementation of a UK Human Rights Commission.

Anne Martin


28 June 2001

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