Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 182 - 199)

MONDAY 20 MAY 2002



  182. If we may start. Minister, welcome to this meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. You will know that we are well on our way with the inquiry into whether there should be a human rights commission for the United Kingdom. We have taken evidence from the Lord Chancellor and started to look at evidence in respect of children's rights. It is a pleasure to welcome you here today, particularly in the light of recent statements you have made about rationalisation, if I may call it that, in the field of equality. We, as a Committee, could not help noticing in your consultation paper entitled Towards Equality and Diversity there was no mention made of human rights. Why not?

  (Mrs Roche) Thank you very much, Chairman. Thank you very much for your welcome. I very much hope to enjoy the session that we have today. I wonder if it would be helpful if I made just a few opening remarks to set the scene and in doing so if I can answer your first question as well. In my role as Minister for Women I also chair the Cabinet Sub-Committee DAEQ and that is responsible for looking at equality issues in a cross cutting way across Government. Our specific remit is to co-ordinate the Government's policies on equality issues and to report as necessary to the Committee on Domestic Affairs. It is a wide remit though, of course, it does not include leading on Government's policy on whether or not there should be a human rights commission, which of course is the subject of your inquiry at the moment. That said, and as the Lord Chancellor set out when he gave evidence to you on 22 April, there clearly is a relationship between the issue and the issues of whether or not there should be a single equality commission. You will know, I hope, from Mr Woodward and the clerk to your Committee, who attended the IPPR seminar on Equality and Diversity in the 21st Century last Wednesday, which I think is the statement you were referring to, that I have now announced the start of a project looking at the feasibility of a single equality commission in the longer term. The terms of reference for the project do state that we need to consider the relationship between possible new arrangements for promoting equality and those for promoting and protecting human rights more widely. Indeed, your Committee's work is very timely and I hope that we can learn much from each other's work over the coming months as well as from others outside Government who have a stake in this agenda. You asked me why there was no mention of human rights in this document, which is the document I published in December, Towards Equality and Diversity. Chairman, that document really solely dealt with the implementation of the Employment and Race Directives under Article 13 and, of course, under those new strands that are coming in there is no obligation on Member States to set up a body, so the question is really about that. In fact, the only reference that there is is on page 26 of that document, just three paragraphs, when we talk about we believe that in the longer term there are arguments in favour of a single statutory commission and then we go on. It is actually quite a brief reference because what we wanted to do was to see what the response was to our consultation on the implementation of the Directives before we had to take it forward. I wonder if it would also be helpful if I said a few words about the project that I have announced very generally and how I see the timetable unfolding over the coming months and beyond. As I say, we launched the document in December. The focus in that was on those Directives and their implementation and, as I say, we also said in there that we recognised the arguments for a single equality body. What I said last Wednesday was that it was no longer possible just to have a, if you like, do nothing approach. I also said nor did I believe that we can have six commissions dealing with six separate strands of discrimination legislation. So the project that I am leading within Government will consider in detail possible models for a single equality body. In looking at the feasibility of a single equality body we will involve those who work for and with the existing commissions. The aim is to complete the initial stage of the project within six months and to bring forward proposals in the autumn on the basic principles for a new body and how it might go about its work. This will tie in with the publication of the draft Regulations on implementing Article 13. I said right from the start that we will try to give as much notice as possible to people and that is why I was very keen to publish the Regulations in draft and also our proposals for interim arrangements on advice and support for the new strands. Beyond the autumn we will need to work on and consult on the details of what any new body might do and how it would be set up. Just let me end by saying that this is a complex area and we certainly do not want to rush into anything, and that is what I said in the document in December and what I also said last week, therefore I would expect that any new body would not be operative in the lifetime of this Parliament. It is quite clear, given the response to the consultation document, that there is an appetite to take this project further and that is what I announced last week. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity just to make a few opening remarks.

  183. Thank you very much. It is right obviously that there was no reference made to human rights in your Towards Equality and Diversity and you have given us the reason for that. There was also no reference to it at the seminar to which you referred just now, the one that was held on 15 May. Does this mean that human rights and equality are in separate boxes?

  A. No, I do not think they are. There was not an express reference in the speech that I made, which was in some ways, although I was announcing something on behalf of the Government, very much a personal view as to what I saw to be the key drivers in the past and the future as far as equalities were concerned. It was very much a personal view but putting it in terms of some of the mainstreaming that needs to be done, building on some of the excellent past work of the commissions that has been undertaken, but also looking at it in terms of economic engagement and empowerment which was the theme very much in the speech. There was certainly reference, and there is certainly reference, to human rights and the connections with equality in the terms of reference. I also announced in my speech that I was publishing the terms of reference and, indeed, I answered a Parliamentary Question the day before which referred to those and they have an express reference. I did a fairly extensive question and answer session throughout the morning and certainly there were questions about human rights. I do not think I see them in separate boxes but I think this is a complex area as to how they relate. It is also quite clear to me that there are very many different opinions on this, first of all whether one should have a commission at all, if one does should there be one single equality body if that were to be the model for equalities and then a separate commission on human rights. Clearly we will want to be mindful of what has happened elsewhere: Northern Ireland is one example and there are many other experiences of what has happened in other countries and I know that your Committee is going to investigate that.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

  184. I agree with you that they are not in totally separate boxes but is this the right concept, and it is certainly mine, that when you are applying discrimination, equality, whatever it is, as a matter of law, as a matter of administration, the court has regard, or whoever is doing it, to the ECHR but that is it? The principles established may be referred to in the legal process but it is assumed in the legal process, is that what you are saying?

  A. I think that is probably the case, Lord Campbell. I suppose the view the courts will take is that now we have incorporation of the Convention that of course in anything that comes before the courts they would be mindful, indeed they would have to be mindful, of the Convention. I suppose, to be absolutely frank with the Committee, my focus over the last few months since I have taken on this brief since the end of last year has been on the equality agenda and the focus of my speech last week was very much perhaps, I think it is fair to say, on that agenda alone which was very much looking at the experience of the three commissions, starting off with the CRE obviously in its earlier form, then the EOC and then recently the DRC but also looking at some of the new strands that are coming on board. That has really been my focus.


  185. You talked just now about mainstreaming equality and I am sure that is an objective with which we all agree. As a Committee I think we are keen also to see the mainstreaming of human rights because I know some of us do not think that is happening. You referred to your terms of reference and we were grateful to receive that, but in the terms of reference it talks about "considering the relationship between possible new arrangements for promoting equality and those for promoting and protecting human rights more widely". Can you tell us what we are to understand by that?

  A. What I want to do and what I said on Wednesday is I am very, very conscious this is an area where very many people will have a view and very many of the views will be very different. Therefore, in announcing the work I wanted the scope to be reasonably open and wide so that people would feel that the Government had not come to this with an absolutely set view. The work on this is work that we are doing in-house being co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office but obviously looking across Government and in doing that we will be going out and we will be speaking to the commissions, we will be speaking to the new strands, we will be speaking with people who have an interest in the work of the commissions but we will also want to take on board any recommendations you may say to us as a result of the inquiry. In a sense, the form of words are really I suppose to indicate that we are open to discussion on this.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

  186. Minister, in your own way of thinking about human rights do you think that it is just about civil and political rights or do you see the culture of rights and responsibilities, to coin a phrase, which was supposed to follow from the Act as being about economic and social rights as well?

  A. That is interesting. I suppose for me, as I say, my focus has been on equality issues. If I can just draw some sort of parallel. I think it is right that if you enact legislation, the establishment of the Race Relations Act that we have had here, the establishment and the work of the CRE, of the EOC and more recently of the Disability Rights Commission, I suppose I am certainly a firm believer that of course the legislative approach is important and you need a bedrock of legislation. Then on the bedrock of that legislation you also hope as well that you will engender cultural and social and economic change. I suppose what I mean by that is I think what is interesting with some of the new strands, for example if I take age as a good example, is that you have got very many employers way before the legislation comes in, and it will not come in until 2006, who already have very positive policies as regards older workers. I think that is cultural change in advance of that. I suppose that is very similar, a parallel with human rights legislation, that having the incorporation makes people think more widely of what can spring from the legislation itself.

  187. I am thinking as well of the wider and perhaps slightly more non-legal issues. For example, there is huge concern, which I very much share, that when we look at the statistics of children who are excluded from school that they are predominantly children from ethnic minorities, children who have some kind of disability and so on, and we know that last Friday the observations of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights did say that the Committee urges the state to take more effective steps to combat de facto discrimination in particular against ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, particularly in relation to employment, housing and education. We do not at the moment do terribly well in this country on the education issue, do we, and that seems to me to be a very fundamental human right.

  A. I would absolutely agree with you that these things are extremely important, Lady Perry. In fact, the issue that you mention there, which is truancy and school exclusions, is something that I am quite involved with as a Minister because working to the Deputy Prime Minister I have some responsibility for the Social Exclusion Unit. Of course, you will be aware, and this Committee will be aware, of the work that we did on truancy and exclusion and this is a very topical issue at the moment, and it is also quite right to talk about disproportionate numbers of young black pupils who have been excluded. I think when we look at the reasons for the exclusions there are sometimes a very complicated mix of measures as to why that comes about. You are absolutely right to say it needs our attention, just as has the educational achievement of young black and ethnic minority pupils in school. It might be of interest to the Committee to refer to a Performance and Innovation Unit report, for which I am the sponsor Minister, and that interim report very much deals with some of the educational achievements in this area. Yes, I agree with you. I suppose the question is in what sort of formal framework do you put it. I think what I would say to you is that it is not just legislation that we need here but it is also practice, role models in schools, mentoring, a whole series of other things that we also need to put in place but these are very important issues.


  188. Are you expecting then that the model, and is it objective, that you will end up with will be better able to deal with these multi-faceted forms of discrimination?

  A. I suppose what I would say is there is never actually one model. There is the previous report that we have done on truancy and exclusion where there have been some successes but I would not say that there are still not some issues that are not there to deal with. If I look, for example, at the interim report that we did on ethnic minorities in the labour market, which is where we looked at education skills, what is demonstrated to me is there are often different solutions to this problem. If I may give you an example. When we looked at the interim stages of this we found that what was important to recognise was something that people have recognised for years but perhaps had not been put together in the same place for some time, that different ethnic minority groups have different outcomes in the labour market. So for some ethnic minority groups it will be access to the labour market. For other ethnic minority groups who have high achievements in school or at university it will be progression in the labour market in the professions or in managerial roles. The reason I mention this is to point out the complexity of it and you will need different solutions, some of which might be the legislative route, others may well be changing practice or having a different focus or looking at existing schemes and thinking of different answers.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

  189. If I can press you on this, Minister. The problem with exclusion from school is a very complex one, as you very rightly say, and we do not know who starts the cycle, whether it is the behaviour of children themselves or an unconscious discrimination perhaps on the part of teachers who assume that exclusion is the only answer for certain categories of children. It is not the kind of thing that can be easily solved by the courts, is it? You have obviously thought a great deal about this and I wonder whether in your mind you think this is the kind of thing that a discrimination commission can deal with or is it the kind of thing for which a human rights commission would be needed?

  A. The answer I give to you is you may always have a case where by its very nature there may be direct discrimination involved which would mean there would need to be individual redress for that individual, or there may be a practice in a particular school, but on the whole when you are thinking of this there may be a wider social issue that you would need to take into consideration. I am not in this instance talking about, say, black and ethnic and minority children but there is always a balancing of rights, is there not? If you look at exclusions across the board what some schools will say to you is "if I do not exclude X that is going to have a detrimental effect on the vast numbers of other children in the class". One of the things that I think my colleagues in education would probably say, and I must be careful not to go into their remit, is when we started all this work on exclusions and truancy, certainly as far as exclusions were concerned, there were not the numbers in pupil referral units, there were not the pupil referral units, so sometimes people were being excluded to nothing, and as a local constituency Member of Parliament I know that to be the case. I suppose what I am saying is that it will depend inevitably on the individual case. I am not sure you can say in these things "this is for legislation, this is for practice, this comes into equalities or this is human rights", this can be quite a complex area.

Mr Woodward

  190. Minister, I would just like to press you a bit more on this issue of depending on the individual case because as you were talking the issue of bullying occurred to me, for example, and in the conference we had last week you talked about the TUC's report on bullying in the workplace and the very high incidence of bullying in the workplace. I am also mindful, touching on the issue of schools, of bullying in schools. If you were to proceed with one equality commission and either with no human rights commission alongside it or a separate human rights commission, where would you see the responsibility sitting for dealing with an issue like bullying? Whilst you rightly say it does depend on the individual case, there is so much bullying no human rights commission or commission is going to have time to look at every single case. As you speak what it poses in my mind is the beginnings of an argument that says if you do not include a human rights commission in your idea of one equality commission this dilemma is going to be there and it is going to apply to many more than just the odd individual case. Secondly, it leads to some quite big confusion because whether it is bullying in the workplace or bullying in schools, where does that sit? Does it sit in the context of the right not to be bullied or is it about discrimination or is it about equality?

  A. That is an interesting one. I suppose what I would say is I would sound a note of caution. I would say that in going forward with this work we would have to be careful, and I would have to be careful, if there were to be a new body, and we are looking at scoping the feasibility at the moment, that it is not going to take on everything, all the world, or that would be the way of ruin. Also what I would say to you is I would be very keen that one does not lose what for me would be the central focus of the new equality body which is about equalities and fairly hard fought for and fairly hard won equalities as well. Therefore, you need to get its role straight because historically what the commissions have been dealing with is disadvantage. What I said in the speech was if you look at what the commissions have done in the past it was very much about protecting minority rights. It is difficult to argue that about the EOC, of course, because it is more about women but very much historically it has been that role and I think that is a very important role of the commissions. The interesting thing about if there was a new equality body where that could go, and again I signalled it in what I said last week, is it is much wider than that because we are all going to get older so we will all come under the new age strand of the legislation and, indeed, although our responses so far have concentrated on older workers they are also about young workers as well. What I would say to you, Mr Woodward, is for me obviously my focus is to make sure that I want to hear what this Committee has to say and very much to listen to the conclusions that you come to. Also, what was interesting from last week was there were very many people there who had different opinions. There were some people who thought perhaps one body but there were other people in the equalities world, if I can put it this way, who felt that you would lose its focus if you put human rights in with equalities. I have an open mind about this because I want to listen to what you say. From my own point of view there are two things I would say. One, I do not minimise the difficulties of what I have to do already in scoping this feasibility study and, if we do so, in bringing everything together, let alone the new strands, but I am also being very mindful not to lose its focus. To come back to your example, I suppose I have given you a long, rounded politician's way of saying I really do not know where that bullying would fall. Clearly, of course, if you had evidence, and there is bullying at work and there is harassment at work, and one of the good things about the new Directives is that we will have a definition of harassment that hopefully goes across the strands if we decide to move that way, that certainly will be an issue for the new Employment Directive.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  191. Minister, before I ask my question can I just say as one of the architects of the Race Relations and Sex Discrimination Acts, and godfather to the Equality Commissions, that I personally applaud your and your colleagues' decision that there should be a single equality commission, leaving aside the broader question, provided you are given enough resources and do not blunt its cutting edge of its focus and all that. Leaving that to one side and building on the question that Shaun Woodward put to you, if you decide, as you seem to have decided as a Government, to legislate in stages so far as the Equality Directives are concerned, there are going to be gaps even within the narrow compass of the non-discrimination guarantees in the European Human Rights Convention. But there will be a much wider gap with our obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the equality field. What you and Parliament will have done is legislate only for age discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination and religious discrimination in addition to the existing law in the employment field, so there will continue to be this wider gap for those kinds of discrimination, for example, in the provision of facilities for education and so on, and there will be other kinds of discrimination covered by the Covenant but not covered by our equality legislation. Taking the questions that have been put to you already, would you envisage that those kinds of discriminations that under your narrow focus will not be made unlawful in the short run will be within the mandate of the Equality Commission or a Human Rights Commission or a Human Rights and Equality Commission or nowhere at all in terms of a statutory body? You will appreciate our Committee looks at those wider questions because we are a parliamentary body. How are you going to fill the gap which will inevitably occur however you legislate in the equality field? If you can deal with that question about the gap I will then ask my second question.

  A. Thank you, Lord Lester, for those remarks, they are appreciated. I suppose the way I would answer you is by saying I think it is going to be a fairly tough job already in what I have got to do if we do go down this route of a single equality body and certainly we indicated in December that we thought there were very good arguments for it. I do not think one should under-estimate just what needs to be done if we were to have this new body that would not only be dealing with the work of the three existing commissions but also for the new strands that are coming through. The timetable is already very, very tight. My apologies for being rather boringly administrative about it.

  The Committee suspended from 4.58 pm to 5.05 pm for a division in the House.

   192. I think you were in the middle of your answer, Minister.

  A. I am sorry to be so boringly administrative about it but I was just going to say that the timetable is quite a tight one. In the autumn, as I was saying earlier, I will have to publish in draft—not have to but we want to so we can give people as much notice to comment and get back to us—the draft Regulations that will bring in the new strands on belief and sexual orientation. I believe I will also have to give some indication of how we intend to move on the interim arrangements and also, of course, I will want to take this project forward then. The timetable is really quite tight because by the end of 2003 we will have to implement quite rightly the new strands on sexual orientation and on belief and then we have got until 2006 to bring in the strands on age. The strand on age is particularly complicated, there are a number of difficult things that we will have to deal with to bring that in on time, which is why more time was given for it. I suppose my answer, Lord Lester, is I have probably at the moment got enough on my hands with the current timetable and that really is my focus at the moment.

  193. I wonder if you would mind if I just come back to it in a slightly different way then. What I was trying to ask was this. The United Kingdom has not given direct effect to the wide equality guarantee in the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has only given effect to the much narrower ones in the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union law. There is inevitably a gap, with no statutory body having the mandate to fill the gap even by way of mere recommendations. There are two ways in which the gap could be filled. One way would be at least to give a Human Rights and Equality Commission, or Human Rights commission or an Equality Commission, just say a Commission, the wider mandate to tackle soft law, that is to say the international legal obligations that are not being given direct effect. Another way of doing it would be for the UK to sign up to the 12th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, the one on hard law in the international plane. The third possibility is to do nothing at all but simply to leave it to, for example, for this Parliamentary Committee to rabbit on about these issues but with no statutory mandate and no further international commitment. This is a long-winded way of asking you whether you will take account of this problem of the inevitable gap in looking at the architecture of these commissions? However you legislate, there will be some kinds of unfair discrimination that are not unlawful and yet are in breach of the international codes by which we are bound, or should be bound.

  A. I would be very interested to hear what the Committee concludes on this. As you rightly say, Lord Lester, those matters in Article 26, which we are signed up to but which are not incorporated, are very wide ranging. I think it includes birth, property rights, it is very wide ranging. I suppose it is difficult to see on the face of it how you perhaps get a body that could legislate on all of that. I suppose what I would say is in a sense it is probably up to individual political policies to deal with some of those things that we as a country are signed up with. As far as Protocol 12 is concerned, I think there have been some issues with that that other Member States have had, partly because of the way it has been drafted at the moment. I suppose my gut reaction to much of that is of course it would be theoretically possible to design a body which could make recommendations at the very least on all of those things, on all of the international conventions or protocols that the United Kingdom has signed up to but not yet incorporated. The real issue is what could such a body achieve. For the work that I am undertaking now what I would be slightly apprehensive of, and I put it no more than that because I would want to look reasonably at any suggestion that came forward, I would not want it to dilute any of the equality measures or issues that we have now or are about very shortly to take on.

  194. I agree with the non-dilution but are you aware of the fact that all the rest of the European countries, all of them, have general equality guarantees written into their constitutions? We are the only Member State either of the European Union or the Council of Europe with no general guarantee of equality that goes beyond specific statutes.

  A. Yes.

  195. Therefore, if we do not support Protocol 12, or a wide mandate for a commission, we are giving less protection to vulnerable victims of discrimination, in theory at any rate, than other countries.

  A. Yes, although, as I say, I think only one other Member State has actually gone along that course so far. From what I understand one of the problems that we have, and a number of other countries, also liberal democracies, have had is some problems with the drafting at the moment. The Committee will be aware, Lord Lester, that the preamble to the Protocol lets us have measures like positive action but not the actual text. I think there are some other countries that have had difficulties and that clearly does need to be resolved. On the other question, and I hesitate to take issue or to say this, my view would be that if you look at some of the very general, if you like, anti-discrimination clauses that other countries have it sometimes comes about because they have a written constitution or a written bill of rights, secondly because they do not have our system. I would also argue that it is very, very general and I certainly would not compare their, if you like, very general words to our quite well developed law on racial discrimination which now goes back decades. What lies behind that difference is a different political and legal tradition. I am not sure that our tradition is any worse for that and certainly in the area of race relations legislation is considerably better.

Mr Woodward

  196. In the context of equality one broad gap that some might define could be called representations of equality by which I mean the way the press report certain groups. Some groups might say, particularly on the ground of sexual orientation, which is an area that has minded you to look at the idea of a single commission, a very big gap is the way that certain sexual orientations are discriminated against in the press. What is your view on the importance of a single equality commission and what steps are you taking in your consultations to ensure that what might be determined as a gap at the moment in the representations of equality would be covered by this single commission?

  A. If we take sexual orientation, what the new strand brings in is it outlaws discrimination on the grounds of employment and vocational training alone. Although it is just in that area I would regard it as being symbolically of huge importance in progressing the agenda. For example, if you look at Stonewall, which campaigns around rights for gay men and lesbians and bisexuals, the way in which that organisation campaigns, I am very struck that by various models it has used it has driven forward the agenda. Their employment champions in employment of business have, if you like, upped the agenda. I think it is another demonstration that you can have something which just relates to employment and vocational training but the very nature of having that law means you get added value. I think some of those gaps, some of the ways in which people are represented, will mean you get different ways in which people are represented hopefully in the press because, of course, it will change the very climate of the way people are treated at work and that is where we spend the majority of our waking time.

  197. So you would want to engage a single equality commission to look at that area?

  A. I am sure that there will be all sorts of things that people will urge and want a single equality commission to do and I will want to listen on that. There are some people who will say, for example, that a single equality commission should do what the other commissions have always done, we always ought to be looking at the work they have done on land mark cases, taking test cases, for example, and I certainly do not dismiss that, I think that has been an important part of their work. This is a personal view at the moment and one that I expressed in the speech. I think an increasingly important part of what commissions can do, and the DRC has been an important example of this, is the way in which they can encourage changed management in companies. Do not wait for something to get to a tribunal case, see how you can actually change the whole way in which a business operates with the co-operation of the business so that you can get diversity. What I think I would say to you is by changing that culture at work I think you can also change the way in which all sorts of groups are perceived more widely in society.

Baroness Whitaker

  198. Still staying with gaps, Minister. You referred to different solutions for various very disproportionate outcomes and I would like to press you on some current gaps. I would like to look at the kind of institutional framework that we could have to house these issues. For instance, there is a gap currently which is quite close to your responsibilities. The EOC told us that it does not deal with domestic violence issues. How is your thinking developing on how we should address the system problems that are associated with domestic violence, such as access to housing? Do you see that as a human rights issue? Do you think an equality commission might be best able to deal with it? Should it stretch to cover that kind of issue? How should we deal with it? It is a big problem.

  A. It is a big problem. It is an issue dear to my heart. When I was first elected in 1992 I was on the Home Affairs Select Committee and that was our very first report. I know when I first qualified as a barrister in those days I did lots of injunction and ouster cases. I know that there is a lot of experience around this table from Ms Baird and other people on this important subject. We are doing a lot of work on this. I suppose I would not quite put it in that category of is this human rights or is this an equality issue, I would say it is a cross Government issue that needs tackling by a range of Government departments. If I can just give you a very practical example. What it needs on housing is for the programme that we have in Supporting People it responds to domestic violence cases. My colleague, Harriet Harman, the Solicitor-General and Attorney-General have just published new guidelines for the Crown Prosecution Service and I am undertaking some work which looks at the economic effect of domestic violence as a way of highlighting attention. My reason for giving you those examples is what I would say to you is I do not suppose I have thought where does domestic violence sit or where would it sit in an institutional framework of human rights or equalities. I am absolutely certain as the Minister for Women that I have an added role to play but I am absolutely certain that it is not just for me alone, it is for my colleagues in the Home Office, it is for my colleagues who are law officers and it is for colleagues such as Rosie Winterton in the Lord Chancellor's Department. I do not suppose I have thought very much as to where it sits in that sort of institutional framework but what I am absolutely certain is no longer would we perhaps put it in one particular department.

  199. I can see that a lot of work is going on, and of course it is extremely good finding there is joined up Government in all this. But would you not see it as possibly something which could more easily be dealt with if it were the responsibility of an institution slightly removed from Government?

  A. I suppose you could argue that there is that framework already. We have got the Women's National Commission which has done excellent work which is arms' length from Government and has looked at some of these issues. To give you another example, before coming to this Committee I came from a seminar that we held in Greenwich which was on trying to get more women and black and ethnic minority women into public appointments. That has not just been a focus of work for us, it has also been work for the Women's National Commission. One could argue what sort of issue is that, is that an equalities issue or is it a representational issue in terms of participation, what is the human rights element of that? Again, that is something that is being handled in partnership with WNC. In a sense I would say that is already there.

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