Clause 10 — Groups

Orders of the Day — Equality Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 16th January 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment proposed: No. 43, in page 6, line 2, leave out 'particular.'.—[Mr. Grieve.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 23, in clause 39, page 26, line 20, at end add—

'(iii) all staff transferring to the Commission from the former Commissions shall be deemed to have continuity of service for the purposes of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme.'.

No. 24, in clause 39, page 26, line 20, at end add—

'(6) The protection afforded by the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment Regulations 1981 (S.I. 1981, No. 1794)) shall apply to all staff of the former Commissions whenever they join the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.'.

No. 16, in schedule 1, page 60, leave out lines 13 to 18 and insert—

'(a) ensure that no fewer than one half of the Commissioners have personal or direct experience of one or more of the causes of discrimination or prejudice referred to in section 10(2), and

(b) have regard to the desirability of their together having experience and knowledge relating to the matters in respect of which the Commission has functions, including, in particular, human rights.'.

No. 17, in schedule 1, page 60, line 19, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

No. 20, in schedule 1, page 60, line 33, at end insert—

'(d) at least two Commissioners with experience and knowledge of trade unions and employee relations.'.

No. 10, in schedule 1, page 60, line 33, at end insert—

'(3A) The Secretary of State shall ensure that not less than one quarter of Commissioners appointed under paragraph 1(1) are from a black or other ethnic minority background.'.

No. 18, in schedule 1, page 60, line 33, at end insert—

'(3A) The Secretary of State shall ensure that—

(a) not less than one half of Commissioners appointed under paragraph 1(1) are women, and

(b) not less than one quarter of Commissioners appointed under paragraph 1(1) are from a black or other ethnic minority background.'.

No. 25, in schedule 1, page 60, line 33, at end insert—

'(d) a Commissioner appointed under paragraph 1(1), with the consent of the London Assembly, who knows about conditions in London.'.

No. 1, in schedule 1, page 64, line 21, after 'Committee', insert

'or to the Race Committee'.

No. 2, in schedule 1, page 64, line 22, after '52', insert 'or paragraph 68'.

No. 3, in schedule 1, page 64, line 41, after 'Committee', insert

'or to the Race Committee'.

No. 4, in schedule 1, page 64, line 41, after '52', insert 'or paragraph 68'.

No. 5, in schedule 1, page 65, line 24, after 'Committee', insert

'or to the Race Committee'.

No. 6, in schedule 1, page 65, line 25, after '52', insert 'or paragraph 68'.

No. 7, in schedule 1, page 65, line 44, after 'Committee', insert

'or to the Race Committee'.

No. 8, in schedule 1, page 65, line 44, after '52', insert- 'or paragraph 68'.

No. 26, in schedule 1, page 66, line 2, at end insert

'London Committee 31A (1) The Commission shall establish a decision-making committee to be known as the London Committee.

(2) The Commission shall ensure that the London Committee is established before any of sections 8 to 12 comes into force (to any extent).

31B The Commission shall appoint as the Chairman of the London Committee a Commissioner appointed for the purpose of satisfying paragraph 2(3)(d).

31C The Commission shall appoint each member of the London Committee for a period of not less than two years or more than 5 years, subject to the possibilities of—

(a) reappointment, and

(b) dismissal in accordance with the terms of appointment.

31D The London Committee shall advise the Commission about the exercise of the Commission's functions in so far as they affect London.

31E Before exercising a function in a manner which in the opinion of the Commission is likely to affect persons in London, the Commission shall consult the London Committee.

31F (1) The power under section 13—

(a) shall be treated by virtue of this paragraph as having been delegated by the Commission to the London Committee in so far as its exercise, in the opinion of the Commission, affects London, and

(b) to that extent shall not be exercisable by the Commission.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) shall not apply to the power under section 13 in so far as it is treated as delegated to the Disability Committee in accordance with paragraph 52.

(3) Sub-paragraph (1) shall not prevent the Commission from making arrangements under section 13(1)(d) or (e) for the provision of advice or guidance to persons anywhere in Great Britain.

31G In allocating its resources the Commission shall ensure that the London Committee receives a share sufficient to enable it to exercise its functions.

31H The London Committee shall have its offices in London.'.

No. 42, in schedule 1, page 68, line 4, at end insert—

'(c) the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons.'.

No. 9, in schedule 1, page 72, line 16, at end add—

'PART RACE COMMITTEE Establishment 65 (1) The Commission shall establish a decision making committee to be known as the Race Committee.

(2) The Commission shall ensure that the Race Committee is established before either section 8 or section 10, insofar as they relate to matters of race, comes into force (to any extent).

Membership 66 The Commission shall ensure that—

(a) there are no fewer than seven or more than nine members of the Race Committee,

(b) at least one half of the members of the Race Committee are persons from a black or other ethnic minority background, and

(c) the Chairperson is a person from a black or other ethnic minority background.

67 The appointment of each member of the Race Committee shall be for a period of not less than two years or more than five years, subject to the possibilities of—

(a) reappointment, and

(b) dismissal in accordance with the terms of appointment.

Functions 68 (1) The Commission shall by virtue of this paragraph be treated as having delegated to the Race Committee—

(a) the Commission's duty under section 8 insofar as it relates to matters of race and may be fulfilled by the exercise of the powers conferred by or referred to in—

(i) section 11,

(ii) section 13(1)(a), (c) or (d) (or paragraph (e) or (f) insofar as it relates to paragraph (a), (c) or (d)),

(iii) section 14,

(iv) section 15,

(v) section 19, insofar as it relates to matters of race,

(vi) section 27,

(vii) section 29, or

(viii) section 31,

(b) the Commission's duty under section 10 insofar as it relates to matters of race and may be fulfilled by the exercise of those powers, and

(c) those powers insofar as they are or may be exercised for the purpose of matters concerning race.

(2) Delegation under this paragraph shall not prevent the exercise by the Commission of a power, or the fulfilment by the Commission of a duty, by action which relates to any one or more than one of the causes of discrimination or prejudice referred to in section 10.

(3) Before exercising a power to which paragraph 21(2) or 22(3) applies the Race Committee shall consult the Scotland Committee.

(4) Before exercising a power to which paragraph 29(2) or 30(3) applies the Race Committee shall consult the Wales Committee.

69 Before exercising a power or fulfilling a duty in relation to matters of race, the Commission shall consult the Race Committee.

70 The Race Committee shall advise the Commission about the exercise of the Commission's functions insofar as they relate to matters of race.

Resources 71 In allocating its resources the Commission shall ensure that the Race Committee receives a share sufficient to enable it to exercise its functions.

Report 72 (1) The Race Committee shall for each financial year of the Commission submit to the Commission a report on the Committee's activities in that year.

(2) The Commission shall incorporate each report of the Race Committee under sub-paragraph (1) into the relevant annual report of the Commission.

Five Year Review 73 The Commission shall arrange for a review of the activities of the Race Committee to be conducted as soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of the period of five years beginning with the date of the commencement for all purposes of sections 8 and 10 insofar as they relate to matters of race.

74 The following may not participate in the review (although those conducting the review may seek views from any of the following)—

(a) a Commissioner or former Commissioner,

(b) staff or former staff of the Commission,

(c) a person who is or has been an Investigating Commissioner, and

(d) a person who is or has been a member of a committee established by the Commission.

75 The Commission shall ensure—

(a) that those conducting the review consult persons whom they think likely to have an interest,

(b) that those conducting the review submit a report to the Commission, and

(c) that the report is published.

76 The Race Committee may not be dissolved under paragraph 14(c).

Definition 77 In this Schedule "race" includes colour, nationality, ethnic origin and national origin.'.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Thank you for calling me so early in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to support amendments Nos. 1 to 8 and 9. I also speak in support of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Roger Berry and I have great sympathy with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend John McDonnell, although I am sure that they will have the opportunity to contribute to the debate themselves.

I have just come from the Members' Dining Room, where I was attending the bi-annual Eid celebrations. It is an achievement of those who were responsible for timetabling that we should have a debate on race and equality at the same time as most of the leading members of the Muslim community have gathered, along with many other right hon. and hon. Members, in another part of the Palace of Westminster. I know that they also wish to take part in this debate, but they are meeting constituents and listening to the speeches—including by the President of the Liberal Democrats and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know that several of my colleagues wish to take part in this debate and I hope that we will see even greater attendance later.

Race and equality are an essential part of the Government's agenda. In the 19 years that I and my hon. Friend Ms Abbott have been Members of Parliament, we have seen several debates on race, immigration and the general good relations that exist in our country. When Governments seek to foster those good relations and, indeed, enhance them, they are under a duty to ensure that the institutions and organisations that they create have that purpose. The Commission for Racial Equality has been in existence for all the years that I have been living in the United Kingdom, and I came here when I was nine years of age. The then Government had just abolished, or were just about to abolish, the old Race Relations Board, and its successor was the CRE. So for all the time that I can remember, the black and Asian community has had an institution that was supposed to support and protect it and to speak up for its needs and concerns. In later legislation, even more powers were given to the CRE than the old Race Relations Board had had. Therefore, it is sad that the Government propose to abolish the CRE through this Bill and replace it with an organisation that brings together several other strands of the equality agenda. I want to make it absolutely clear that I support those strands—for want of a better word—having appropriate representation, with a body and organisation that speaks on their behalf, working in like-minded fashion with other organisations to ensure that equality is kept firmly at the top of the Government's political agenda.

I am disappointed that between the First Reading of the Bill in the last Parliament and the Second Reading and Report of the Bill in this Parliament more time has not been spent consulting the black and Asian community. That is a lost opportunity. The Minister will know that at the weekend, under the banner of the former chair of the CRE, Lord Ouseley, several individuals and organisations signed an open letter to her protesting against proposals to abolish the CRE; they accept that a new body may be necessary but the powers that it will be given do not reflect the aspirations and needs of the black and Asian community. They say that in any new body there should be a proper opportunity for the black and Asian community to be represented, hence the importance of the establishment of a race committee.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 5:15 pm, 16th January 2006

Two years ago, my hon. Friend and I, and a group of black and Asian Members of this and the other place, went to see the then Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry and raised with her, in private, the serious concerns of the black community that the new commission would not deal adequately with matters of race. Does he agree that it is regrettable that the issues raised then by Members of both Houses were not taken seriously?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

It is regrettable, but what my hon. Friend said about that meeting was important. At least, the then Secretary of State was prepared to meet us and listen to our concerns. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, because before the Second Reading of the previous Bill she was prepared to listen to our concerns and to engage fully with the chairman of the CRE, Trevor Phillips—as was the then Lord Chancellor, who is still Lord Chancellor, my noble Friend Lord Falconer. Both those senior members of the Cabinet took on board, to some extent, the concerns we expressed and understood that the proposals would mean a serious change to the way in which black and Asian people could both put their views to Government and be protected.

Over the last year, sadly, there has been a lack of consultation and communication. I regret the fact that more time was not spent trying to enter appropriate dialogue with the chairman of the CRE and that organisation about the needs of the black and Asian community. I do not agree with everything that Trevor Phillips says: I certainly do not agree with his views on multiculturalism, which is very much alive in places such as Leicester, Wolverhampton and other parts of the country. I am not speaking as a great cheerleader for him, but I respect his integrity and when he tells me openly that there needs to be better consultation with the CRE I take that seriously.

It is also important that organisations such as the Greater London authority, and the Mayor of London and his special adviser, Lee Jasper, and the 1990 Trust, with Karen Chouhan, Simon Woolley and others, are all involved in the measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is as old as me and has been a Member for as long as me, so she will remind me if there has ever been a time when so many black and Asian groups and organisations came together to protest at what the Government were proposing—

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

My hon. Friend is now going to tell me that there was another occasion, but my point is important, because Ministers have not listened to the concerns of the community.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does my hon. Friend agree that no—not one—reputable black or Asian group supports the commission going ahead without a race committee? It will cause disquiet in our black and Asian communities that the Government have not listened to their united voices.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I agree with my hon. Friend. She is right. This is a united voice in favour of the establishment of a race committee; it is also a united voice in favour of proper representation of black and Asian people on the new commission.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most important roles of organisations campaigning against discrimination is to focus the spotlight of the media on abuses where they exist? One of the dangers of the new legislation, which all hon. Members hope that the Government will be alive to, is that a single, larger organisation will not have the figureheads that we have in the person of Trevor Phillips at the CRE, or Bert Massey at the Disability Rights Commission, who are effective at getting the media to look at abuses, because of their position and their personal experience of discrimination, which makes them a powerful voice in the media.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we have such focus. I am not saying that I do not agree with a body that involves everybody else and every other strand of equality—it is good that they should be able to share the experience of discrimination—but there is a need for the focus that he describes, which is missing.

We are at a time in the politics and history of our country when all the political parties talk about the need for better representation. When I first came to the House, I was the first person of Asian origin for more than 50 years. I was joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, the late Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng, who is now the high commissioner in South Africa. Since then, other black and Asian Members have been elected. I am sitting next to a very talented one—my hon. Friend Ms Butler.

As far as I can remember, Labour party leaders have always talked about the need for more representation in Parliament. Conservative leaders have done the same thing. I heard a passionate speech by the last leader of the Conservative party, Mr. Howard, who talked about the need to get more representation for women and the ethnic minority population of this country.

I am pleased that the Opposition now have the hon. Members for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), both of whom come as elected Members representing the whole of their constituencies, but with the added dimension of being from the ethnic minority community.

The first thing that we notice about the Front-Bench spokespersons is that they are women. That is the most distinguishable thing that we notice about the difference between, for example, the Minister for Women and Equality and her colleague sitting next to her. That is the most important thing that we notice. There are other issues, but gender is a defining issue, which is why race and gender are so important.

I pay tribute to the disability lobby—my hon. Friends sitting around me—for the work that it has done and to the gay and lesbian lobby for what it has done in ensuring that it gets to first base. There is no point just talking about representation. Sadly, the Liberal Democrats had one person of Asian origin in Leicester, South, but he is no longer with us in Parliament, so it is, in a sense, not truly representative. I will not go into the other parties, because they are slightly smaller and may think that I am being unfair.

We all talk about representation. When I first came to the House that was not a fashionable subject, but now, when the new leader of the Conservative party makes a speech, he talks about more women and more black and Asian people, as do all political leaders—not just in this country, but in other countries throughout Europe.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If he has just paid me a compliment—I am never sure—I thank him for that as well.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent argument about why debate on equality has to address all strands of equality, in every way that we can imagine, but he is arguing against his apparent argument on the Order Paper for pre-eminence for race, religion and belief.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

My remark was meant as a compliment; I am always happy to pay the hon. Lady compliments. However, I do not pay her another compliment as I do not think that she has read my amendments. They do not make race pre-eminent. In terms of representation, we will have a disability commissioner, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and I, along with other Members, are asking for the Bill to make it clear that a certain number of people of black and Asian origin will be on the commission. At the moment, we do not have any and there is no guarantee that any of the 10 to 15 commissioners will be either women or black or Asian. When the Minister stands up at the Dispatch Box, we will look for a cast-iron guarantee and commitment that those groups will be represented. Only the disability lobby, which has played a very canny game, is guaranteed a commissioner.

The hon. Lady has me on the equality argument. The black and Asian community are not against the creation of a new body provided that there is, as her colleagues have said, sufficient time, attention and focus on these issues. If we are creating an organisation—some would say a tower of Babel—with so many strands sitting round the table that are, of course, united by the common agenda of equality, there must be adequate representation.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler PPS (Rt Hon Jane Kennedy, Minister of State), Department of Health

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the CEHR is set up without any black or women commissioners, it will have no credibility at all when it comes to being able to represent race or sex issues effectively?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The commission will have no credibility at all. Not even warm words will be sufficient for the communities outside. We want hot words from the Minister and a commitment from her that the issue of representation is first and foremost in the Government's agenda. As she is the Minister responsible for equality, I suspect that it will be quite easy for her to do that.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The hon. Gentleman makes his case as eloquently as he always does, but the premise of his argument appears to be that he wants to continue the excellent work that has been started by the Commission for Racial Equality. Will he comment on the fact that parliamentary answers that I have received show that, in the past 10 years, something like 20 claims of racial discrimination have been made against the CRE? Taxpayers' money has been used to settle some of those cases out of court, so perhaps the CRE does not have such a good record on these matters as he would have us believe.

J

According to the CRE's annual report for the year 2004 some63% of its employees are from ethnic minorities.
I am curious to know how such figures can be achieved without racial discrimination playing a significant part in their selection process. If there is a rational explanation I would be pleased to hear it.

Submitted by John McDonald

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

If an organisation is not working or if it can be improved, let us improve it. I have my own story about the CRE. When I first came to Britain, my mother went to the CRE to ask for help in a discrimination case that she had. She was then, I think, the only person of Asian origin teaching in the London borough of Richmond and we could not understand why she could never obtain promotion. We went to the CRE—I think I was about 11—and asked it for help. Although it did not help my mother, it did not put me off the concept of the need for an organisation that provides help.

A lot of other organisations have claims of racial discrimination made against them, and I concede the point that we need a new organisation provided that it makes for better representation. The representation point is of paramount consideration for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat party, which is always banging on about representation. I have just heard a speech from the president of the Liberal Democrats, and I name him even though I have not given him notice that I would. I have just rushed away from the speech to take part in the debate, but his speech was all about representation. With Muslim people sitting in front of him, he called for more Muslim Members of Parliament from the Liberal Democrat party. Such words are cheap if one goes on to a platform to say that we want more and then one takes away the very mechanism by which we get more.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I have a lot of sympathy with the motivation behind the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. I have been reading a biography of the pre-war life of Lord Halifax, alias Lord Irwin, viceroy of India. It was interesting that the British Government's commission on India contained no national of that country—it was an entirely Caucasian show. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whether or not this is a matter of formal representation, if there is no membership from minority communities, it is extremely unlikely that those communities will readily identify with the body and its actions?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East 5:30 pm, 16th January 2006

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am not familiar with the life of Lord Halifax, but he makes the good point that representation is crucial. When the Minister responds to this first point, I ask her to be absolutely unequivocal. She should not use the words "I hope", "I wish", or "there should" because we have heard them before. We are looking for the words "there must be" if we are not to press the matter to a Division.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

On a point of clarification, does the hon. Gentleman think that the case for guaranteed representation that he is making about the ethnic minorities is as strong as, or stronger than, a similar such case that could be made on behalf of another minority? Is it of equal value, or—I think that this is a perfectly reasonable inquiry and I do not ask it tendentiously—is he arguing his case especially strongly because the CRE originally had genuine concerns about the danger of powerlessness as a result of the creation of the new body?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The hon. Gentleman has an excellent record on these issues. Even though he represents a constituency such as Buckingham, which must have a small percentage of black and Asian people—it is certainly smaller than the 49 per cent. figure for my constituency—he still speaks passionately about such matters, for which I respect him. I think that it is a bit of both. People need to identify readily with the commissioners who will speak on their behalf. It might well be that all the commissioners decide at the first meeting that they have a common agenda that they need to take forward, but we need specifics. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has tabled an amendment to provide for parity for women, which I fully support. Half the commission should consist of women because they make up just over half the population of this country. If we want to go for crude figures and base representation in some way on numbers, we should look at the population of the black and Asian community—it now makes up about 5 million of the 60 million people in this country—and ensure that it is properly represented.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me such a candid and straightforward answer. Further to that answer, would he on the same basis argue that because the gay population is by general consent thought to be approximately 10 per cent. of the adult population, it would logically follow that if the body were to consist of 10 people, there should be one guaranteed place for the gay community, irrespective of whether Stonewall is arguing for such a position? I am not aware off the top of my head that it is arguing for that, but it is an interesting point to establish.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

It is an interesting point and I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There should be at least one such guaranteed place. The whole thing about the commission is that a person could be gay, black and disabled, so several different groups could be covered. If we are serious about the equality agenda, we should consider these issues and ensure that people are guaranteed a place on the commission. Of course the gay community must be guaranteed a place, but that is not what is happening at the moment.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

On the question of representation, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to nail the allegation that has been made that those of us who argue for black representation are in some way arguing for a hierarchy of discrimination? We are not putting forward such an argument, but simply saying, from our personal experience, that all types of discrimination are distinct, both in their manifestation and because of the solutions to the problems that they pose. Unless there is a proper balance of commissioners who have personal experience of discrimination, the commission will lack credibility and might not engage with different types of discrimination with the precision required.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she takes me on to my next topic, policy and decision making, which are central to the purpose of the race committee.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Is the hon. Gentleman not selling his case rather short by calling only for pro rata representation on the commission? Given that many incidences of discrimination are suffered by the black and Asian community, should not there be greater than pro rata representation for that community? Would not that be more acceptable to that community and make the commission work better?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am happy to start with pro rata representation given that at the moment we have nothing. There are no guarantees on the face of the Bill, so the new body could consist of 10 white men, plus the disability commissioner, who could be a woman. For now, pro rata representation is fine by me.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am listening with interest because I am torn on this issue. There must be representation across the board of the various groups who suffer different forms of discrimination, and there are overlapping areas of discrimination, but I caution my hon. Friend. He has on several occasions referred to black and Asian residents of the United Kingdom, whereas amendment No. 9, which is the linchpin of the group even though it comes at the end, refers to "black or other ethnic" minorities. There is a difference, and I urge him to recognise that difference. There is a significant Ukrainian community in my constituency, for example, and we have a significant Polish community. The discrimination that they face may take a different form from the discrimination faced by members of visible racial or ethnic minorities, but we have to be cognisant of that nuance.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

We are cognisant of it. However, my hon. Friend talks about the Polish community, which is white. Although its members may face discrimination, it is not the racial discrimination that I am describing. I agree that everyone should watch their language and he is right to point out that there are different ways to define these matters.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Is not the flaw in the hon. Gentleman's argument in favour of having certain quotas of people on the commission most evident in relation to disability? In appointing one person with a disability, how on earth is one to define what type of disability that person should have, given that there are so many different types of disability? Should one appoint a person who uses a wheelchair when wheelchair users make up only 5 per cent. of people with a disability? It is nonsensical to suppose that one could ever get a cross-section of people with all sorts of disabilities. I believe that there have even been moves to define left-handedness as a disability under the Bill. The fact that someone does not have a particular disability does not mean that they cannot empathise with people who do have that disability.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The hon. Gentleman is right to this extent: a person can empathise even if he or she does not have a particular disability. However, I can assure him that people who have a disability know that they have a disability. I remember that when my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and I were trying to set up black sections in the 1980s, the then leader of the Labour party, who is now a Member of the House of Lords, asked us to define "black." We replied, "People know instinctively whether they are black—they just have to look in the mirror."

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

My hon. Friend takes us back in time. When he said that the commissioners could be 10 white men, the Minister shook her head fiercely. However, the working party that considered the establishment of the commission comprised 28 people of whom only three were from visible minorities. Does he agree that that feeds the concern felt by the black and Asian community that we will find ourselves hopelessly marginalised in the new commission?

J

Three people in a group of 28 represents, I believe, close on 11% this is,surely, higher than justified by the statistics for our society as a whole. If my memory serves me correctly the ethnic minorities form approx. 8% or 9% of the population of this country. Does D....

Submitted by John McDonald Continue reading

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

That is an important point, which must be pursued. The way in which the consultation process has taken place is regrettable. It has taken place at the time when, following the events of 7 July, the Government have been eager to engage with sections of the Asian community by setting up commissions and working parties. As I said earlier, words are okay and statements and speeches can be magnificent—we have made some fantastic statements on diversity—but in the end what counts is our ability to change legislation for the purposes of progress.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Does my hon. Friend accept that much of the argument against what he is putting forward was put far more strongly 40 years ago when it was argued that there are other forms of discrimination, which undoubtedly existed and which remain, and therefore there was no reason why preference should be given to black and Asians? We have made considerable progress—I do not underestimate that progress when I look at those who occupy the Government Benches and those elsewhere in the country—but the form of discrimination against those who happen not to have a white skin remains. Hence there is undoubtedly an argument—less so now, but the argument of 40 years ago remains—for there to be a committee within the new body that is proposed along the lines that my hon. Friend is proposing. I will be delighted, as I am sure that he will be, when that is no longer necessary.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Absolutely. I am so glad that my hon. Friend has taken me on to my second point, which I have been trying to make. I have only two points to make to the House.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I will give way only because it is the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am genuinely glad that I have been in my place to listen to the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am not making a frivolous point. I am trying to underline the rather serious point that he is making by saying that he should not be led astray, in however well-meaning a fashion, by the intervention and the challenge of definition from my hon. Friend Philip Davies. May I illustratively point out to the hon. Gentleman an observation that the House has been favoured with in the past by my hon. Friend Mr. Boswell, on the subject of definition? Clement Attlee was once asked to define an elephant, to which he replied that on the whole it was quite difficult to do so but equally, on the whole, when someone had seen one, they knew that they had seen it.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

We have had Clement Attlee and Lord Halifax, so goodness knows who we are going to hear from next. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that quote, and I shall use it in my next speech.

The issue of policy and decision making will be important. The proposed body will be charged with making policy. The point of having a race committee is that black and Asian people, it is to be hoped, will be able to decide on policy that affects black and Asian people. There will be a voice for them and somewhere for them to go. This is not happening at present.

I say to my hon. Friend the Minister—this is not meant personally to her because she has been a Minister for only the past year—to quote Mario Puzo, that to criticise people is not the business of politics. It is not personal. I think that we have failed in terms of the equality agenda after eight years. I expected more from our Government than we have given. We need to do more. We need more than good speeches about more black people here and more Asian people there. We need to have good laws, which I hope that we shall introduce as part of the measure that is before us. In addition, we must have bodies that will be able to allow the communities to be able to represent themselves. I am sorry that that is not happening. That is lamentable.

Only this morning, there was an article in The Times about the number of police officers who are not only joining the police service, but leaving it. The police service had 4,629 ethnic minority police officers in 2004. That was an 18 per cent. increase on the previous year. Hooray. That is a fantastic record. However, 17.8 per cent. of black and Asian recruits in 2004 resigned or were dismissed within six months of starting their jobs, compared with 7.7 per cent. of white officers.

Last year, 12.6 per cent. of ethnic minority recruits dropped out of the service within six months compared with 7.6 per cent. of white officers, and the figures continue. In that public service—one that is constantly monitored—to see that sort of reaction and to hear stories of racism against police officers makes me wonder what we have been doing over the past generation. We certainly should have done much more. These are lamentable figures for any Government. For me, someone who is passionately committed to the Labour Government—when I told my hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar that I was tabling the amendment, he said, "Why are you doing so? You are part of the payroll vote even though you are not on the payroll"—that worries me intensely. I do not mean that as a slight to the Minister because she is not yet on the payroll vote, even though she will be voting for the Bill's passage through the House.

I think that we have let people down. We have lost the plot on equality. We have only reacted since 7 July last year, because we discovered that some people who are trying to destroy the good race relations that we enjoy in this country do not come from Lebanon, have not been trained in Syria, and do not have Iranian connections. They were born and bred in Leeds. That is the challenge for us—which body will take up that mantle and try to deal with that fundamental issue? Will it be the new commission for integration and citizenship? Will it be part of the Phillips review? Will it be the Commission for Racial Equality, or what has been left of it in the past 18 months? Will it be Lee Jasper and the Greater London assembly? Will it be Simon Woolley and the 1990 Trust, or Operation Black Vote? Who will accept that mantle? The hon. Member for Daventry talked about Lord Halifax dividing and ruling, but if we divide the community in that way and do not give its members a focus it is a recipe for disaster.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Labour, North Swindon 5:45 pm, 16th January 2006

I have been listening very carefully to the case that my hon. Friend is making. While I understand the Government's approach—and I certainly think that our record on equality is rather better than he suggested—I was struck by what appears to be consensus among all black and Asian organisations on the amendment. It is important that the Government always listen, and I hope that they will reconsider their attitude to the amendment in the light of our discussions. I should be grateful, however, if my hon. Friend would spell out in a little more detail the consequences if the amendment fails.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Before I respond, may I commend my hon. Friend on his work on Britishness? I read his excellent newspaper article about the concept of Britishness, and it reminds me of a point that I intended to make. Nothing that we say takes away from the fact that a black or Asian person who was born in this country, or who, like me, has emigrated here, has a passion for being British. Nor does it take away from our support for the flag or our commitment to the things that are British. A definition of Britishness, besides including a cup of tea, as an article in The Sun said, should include chicken tikka masala and the music on "Top of the Pops", which is very much dominated by black British musicians. We do not wish to take away from that, and I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—incidentally, I congratulate him on his good news today—on their work on Britishness.

As for my hon. Friend's question, if the amendment fails, members of the black and Asian community will think that the Government have let them down at a time when they need their support. If I were marking them, I would say that they have scored "average" on equality. I expect them to achieve "excellent", and we have four years before the next election to make sure that they do so. May I tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whom I have known for a number of years, and who believes in what she is doing, that she may choose to take the common-denominator approach, but she should recognise the needs and desires of the communities? I urge her to speak with passion at the Dispatch Box and to give us the guarantees that we want. I do not want to ask the Deputy Speaker to take the amendment separately so that we can vote on it, as I would have to vote against my own Government, bearing in mind my comments about the non-existence of the payroll vote. However, that needs more than words about wishing and hoping.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I shall give way for the final time to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for generously accepting my interventions. He has spoken extremely eloquently. If he is not successful in persuading the Government to accept his amendment, does he agree that they should consider including in schedule 1, part of which deals with the appointment of commissioners, provisions to cover the recruitment of a commissioner who is specifically appointed to deal with race relations, of a commissioner specifically appointed to deal with disability rights and of commissioners to deal with other key areas, so at least someone can focus directly on those issues and thus make sure that there is a figurehead for those important campaigns.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and I accept that he is sincere. The fact is, however, we need proper representation in the Bill. The issue of portfolios is applicable now. The CRE has a number of commissioners, some of whom deal specifically with, for example, the Muslim community. The portfolio issue is a secondary consideration, but the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to paragraph 2 of schedule 1, because the issue of representation is the key point.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that I have spoken eloquently, but I think that I have spoken for too long. [Hon. Members: "No."] I want to allow my hon. Friends the opportunity to speak. We rarely debate equality in this House, because the Opposition never want to debate it in their time. Mrs. Laing disagrees, but when was the last time that she used one of her Opposition days to discuss equality? Simon Hughes has told us all about his commitment to equality, but I cannot remember when the Liberal Democrats last provided time to debate it.

My hon. Friend Mr. Khan has just returned from Eid celebrations to attend this debate, which must have been a difficult choice.

This is an opportunity to send a powerful message to the black and Asian community, and I hope that the Minister takes it and does not leave me and my hon. Friends in the position of having to call a Division against our own Government.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

Keith Vaz has made an important and eloquent speech. He mentioned that Mr. Khan has attended Eid celebrations, which is what my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve, who is usually here on the Front Bench, is doing. We cannot all attend Eid celebrations, which are important, but I am sure that all hon. Members support them.

I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Leicester, East. When I challenged him on one point, he answered another point, but I still disagree with him on the first point, which amendment No. 43 addresses. Given that we are discussing equality, it is strange that the Bill gives pre-eminence to matters concerning race, religion or belief. We discussed that point at length in Committee, where I argued that it is illogical to include the word "particular" in clause 10(4), because it is not right that particular attention should be paid to one of the strands of equality. However, I will not press that point, because other issues are far more important and I do not feel strongly about it. When we made that point in Committee, the Minister gave a reasonable explanation why the word "particular" should remain. I accepted her argument then and, being consistent, I am sure that she will advance it again today, in which case I shall probably accept it once more.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East has made some important points. In Committee, I moved amendment No. 52, which suggested that the commission should consist of:

"(d) at least one female Commissioner,

(e) at least one Commissioner who represents an ethnic minority,

(f) at least one Commissioner who at the time of appointment is aged over 65 years, and

(g) at least one Commissioner who is either gay, lesbian or transgender.'."

To that extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, East.

In Committee, my concern, which I still harbour, was that we should be prescriptive on Report, because law is better if it is not vague, but precise. My amendment in Committee, which is similar to the general points made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East this afternoon, would have allowed Parliament to prescribe some of the qualifications for some of the commissioners. It is important that at least one commissioner is female and that at least one commissioner can discuss issues around age from their own experience. I am not sure whether all hon. Members agree that "aged over 65 years" is a qualification, and if others think that it should be 70, 75 or even older, I would not argue, because the point is sensitive.

In principle, it is important that the commission has members who know about discrimination from their own experience rather than from a second-hand, academic or professional understanding. A reasonable proportion of the commissioners should have an understanding based on their own experience, which is different from an understanding derived from academic study or professional experience. I therefore agree with the general principles behind what the hon. Member for Leicester, East has said this afternoon.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I therefore assume that the hon. Lady will support the amendment.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

My amendment was slightly different from the hon. Gentleman's amendment. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has suggested that his amendment is better, which is his prerogative. If I had wanted to press the matter to a vote, however, I would have tabled a different amendment. I do not support the letter of his amendment, but I support what he has said in principle. However, I suspect that the Minister will advance a legal argument to try to persuade the House that a provision in schedule 1 already covers all those points. Nevertheless, it is important that we have it on record that this House feels strongly that the commission should be composed of people who understand the issues of discrimination against which we are legislating from their own personal experience.

It is also important to recognise that this is a cross-party matter. I suspect that Sandra Gidley agrees with me in principle as she did in Committee, although she may argue about the exact dots and commas. When such matters are considered in the wider sphere, it is important that Parliament is seen to be concerned that the commission is made up of people who have relevant personal experience.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I am surprised by the hon. Lady, because I should have thought that under the new leadership of Mr. Cameron she would want to appeal to the black and Asian community in the United Kingdom by saying that it has a voice in the Conservative party, which says that it must have equal representation. Why is she struggling with the issue, which should be an easy win for the Conservatives?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken—I am not struggling at all. My speech in Committee was made prior to the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney as leader of the Conservative party. My principles are those in which I have always believed and continue consistently to believe. It is delightful that the new leader of my party agrees with me on these matters, as he honestly does. I am pleased that he is directing my party in the right direction in this respect. I might struggle with the exact words that the hon. Member for Leicester, East has used in his amendment—I am not giving him any assurances in that regard—but I am not struggling with the principle. Conservative Members agree with what he said, and he deserves to be complimented on saying it in such a heartfelt way.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 6:00 pm, 16th January 2006

I know that my hon. Friend performed with great skill and dexterity in the Standing Committee on the Bill. However, as I was not fortunate enough to be chosen as a member of the Committee, I am familiar only with some, not all, of the exchanges that took place there. I understand her argument that the terms and wording of her amendment differ from those of the hon. Member for Leicester, East, but if there is something wrong with his amendment, what is it?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

As usual, my hon. Friend asks a very precise question. In principle, there is nothing wrong with the hon. Gentleman's amendment, but I am not willing to commit my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to supporting exactly what he has said word for word. I know that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for that, and I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me as well. I confess that I am a cautious lawyer by training, so I do not rush into precise and binding promises on every dot and comma of a particular amendment unless I am 100 per cent. sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I wish to be led down precisely that path.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I like the hon. Lady, but I do not forgive her, because this moment represents a genuine opportunity for the Conservative party to show some fresh thinking on the equality debate. Mr. Grieve, who is sitting next to her, will have just come back from the Eid celebration, having made his usual marvellous and eloquent speeches in support of this country's ethnic minority communities. If the hon. Lady agrees with the principle of what I have said, here is her chance—her moment in history—to strike a blow for those communities. Why does not she seize it with both hands?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I am tempted by the hon. Gentleman's flattery, but I simply repeat that in principle we support what he said—he advanced some good arguments. It is quite something for agreement on principle to be reached between Conservative and Labour Members. He should quit while he is ahead, or I will find something specific to disagree with.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

It might assist my hon. Friend if I were to tell her my view, without anticipating any speech that I may shortly be called to make. Is it not absolutely crucial that we have a robust and entirely convincing response from the Minister, because some of us will be listening to the debate and deciding what to do in the light of that?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

My hon. Friend is, as ever, extremely wise and experienced in these matters. He is entirely right and anticipates what I am about to say. Although, as I said, I have every respect for the hon. Member for Leicester, East—I must stop paying him compliments or it will be bad for his political image—it is not what he says, but how the Minister responds, that determines how we go forward. The Minister's response will probably be a carefully thought out legal argument. As such, I may well be convinced by it. However, I have already confessed to being a cautious lawyer, and I will continue to proceed with caution. Perhaps that backs up my earlier remarks about the importance of people who sit on the commission drawing their conclusions not from their cold professional understanding but from their own personal experience.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I, too, am a lawyer, although perhaps not as cautious as the hon. Lady. I see no Conservative amendment relating to the disability committee, which is covered in part 5 of schedule 1. The wording in that part of the schedule is on all fours with amendment No. 9, except that one would have to take out the word, "disability", and insert the word, "race". As the hon. Lady has not tabled an amendment to part 5 of schedule 1, I presume that she accepts the disability committee, so why is she being so cautious about the wording—and perhaps even the concept, although I am not so sure about that—of the amendment?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I have been examining the principles that we are debating. Unfortunately, in my position, I do not have the power to do any of the things that the hon. Gentleman would like to be done. When I am sitting on the Government Benches—I think that it will be in the not-too-distant future—I hope that I might have the privilege of dealing with these matters from the Dispatch Box. If the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Leicester, East were to ask me such questions then, I hope that I would be able to reply positively.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

There is no point in the hon. Gentleman continuing to ask me questions, because I am not the Minister.

I want to move on, because we have taken up a lot of time on this and there are many equally important matters still to be debated. Amendment No. 42, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends, relates to the way in which the new commission will be held accountable for the spending of taxpayers' money. I brought that up many times on Second Reading and in Committee. The Minister and Sandra Gidley are smiling because they have heard me make this argument so often, but I make no apology for repeating it.

The cost of the new commission and the work that it undertakes will be very much greater than the cost of the three bodies that it replaces. I am very worried about that. Of course, I accept that as we are widening the scope of the work done by the existing three bodies, excellent as they are, the new operation will cost more than the current one. That is correct. However, there is a difference between more and an enormous amount more—indeed, multiplied several times over. The Minister has given me many answers on that point in our previous deliberations but none has satisfied me.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I am puzzled by the hon. Lady's view. She says that the figure has been multiplied many times. The budget for the new commission is £70 million whereas that for the existing commissions is £48 million. By anyone's calculation, the figure is not multiplied many times.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

The Minister is right. The new commission will cost twice as much. We had that argument previously. [Interruption.] I know that 48 times two does not equal 70, but if any hon. Member can give me an example of a Labour Government's projection and the relevant figures at the end of the year for which it was done coming in below that same projection, I shall withdraw my comments. If the Government estimate £70 million, the commission will cost more than that.

The current £48 million is probably money well spent and I do not therefore argue for a cut in spending on such an important matter. My hon. Friends and I always argue for spending the smallest possible amount of taxpayers' money, yet if the Government plan to put three bodies under one administrative roof, there must be economies of scale and the current budget of £48 million should be reduced. Nevertheless, given that the new commission can rightly cover six strands of work instead of three, that budget will clearly increase. However, if one decreases and then increases a budget, one should not predict spending twice the amount of taxpayers' money.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

We are considering a new body that will cover six strands, but the difference between 48 and 70 is less than 50 per cent. A 50 per cent. increase would be 72. I understand the hon. Lady's position but, if she believes that £70 million is too much, how much would the Conservative party be prepared to pay to tackle discrimination?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

At present, discrimination is tackled by £48 million a year and it is well done. I pay tribute to the three bodies that currently carry out the excellent work. They have worked hard to inform hon. Members about the issues that we are debating and they should be congratulated on their hard work on our proceedings, as should the bodies that represent the other strands of inequality that will come under the new commission for equality and human rights.

The current work represents taxpayers' money well spent, but I am worried. I wager that, when we examine the new body's accounts at the end of its first financial year, it will have cost more than the £70 million predicted by the Minister. I fear that the new body will cost more than twice as much as the current bodies. That is worrying because every pound spent on the commission is a pound of taxpayers' money not spent on health, education or some other matter.

It is our duty, as a House of Commons, to be the guardian of taxpayers' money. Whatever we want to do and however good the intentions of the legislation that we wish to pass—I have said time and again that the Bill's intention is good and we thoroughly support it—if it costs too much, is over-bureaucratic and puts too many burdens on business, thus costing more indirectly to the economy, it will undo some of its good work. It falls to me as Opposition spokesman to make this point because the Government will never make it: Labour Governments always spend more taxpayers' money than they intend because they do not have the regard that they should for the economy.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler PPS (Rt Hon Jane Kennedy, Minister of State), Department of Health 6:15 pm, 16th January 2006

Equal pay, with men and women paid equally, would improve the economy. Do not the new compassionate Conservatives believe that equality and eliminating discrimination are worth it?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind hon. Members of the amendment under discussion? They should confine their remarks to the amendments.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

Certainly, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not need to answer the hon. Lady's question because I have said at least six or seven times in the past half hour how worthy I consider the Bill to be and stressed the importance of the work of the new commission for equality and human rights. The hon. Lady's question was therefore unnecessary and I should not have given way to her.

The new body should be accountable for its spending. Without amendment No. 42, the commission would be required to

"send a copy of a statement under sub-paragraph (1)(b)"— a statement of its accounts for the year—

"to . . . the Secretary of State, and . . . the Comptroller and Auditor General."

Amendment No. 42 would require the commission to send a copy to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. It is essential that hon. Members should be able to examine the accounts of the new body and hold it to account for every pound of taxpayers' money that it spends.

It would be wrong if my concern for fiscal prudence were misinterpreted as opposition to the Bill. I reiterate my total support for the principle of the measure. The official Opposition support the Bill's intention. However, in doing that, it is our duty to be the guardians of taxpayers' money and amendment No. 42 therefore proposes that, every year, we should be able to examine every pound that the commission spends. Of course, I have confidence that every pound will be well spent.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I want to speak about the amendments that I tabled, but I begin my associating myself with those tabled by my hon. Friend Keith Vaz.

As the Library research paper emphasised, when the Bill was first introduced, it and the intentions behind it gained a breadth of support that we had not witnessed for several years. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty said:

"This Bill is a beacon of hope for many of us and I hope that the Government will put real political will behind it."

Other supporters include the Muslim Council of Britain, Ben Summerskill—the chief executive of Stonewall—the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress. It would be regrettable to waste all that good will on the issue of representation among the commissioners. I hope that the Minister will make a strong statement that the issues raised in the debate will be tackled properly and that we shall hear a firm and concrete commitment from the Government that the new body will be adequately representative.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East talked about the definition of black and ethnic minorities. I am the chair of the all-party group on the Irish community in Britain, and I should like to point out that, among all the other definitions of ethnic minorities, we need to recognise that the largest ethnic minority in this country are the Irish, who have suffered discrimination at the hands of the various institutions of this country over the generations.

I have tabled amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 20. If we are to set up a new organisation from the merger of existing organisations, it is important that we help to maintain the morale of the staff of those organisations who transfer to the new one, particularly those who have built up expertise in these fields as a result of working for the existing organisations over the years. A number of members of staff have expressed their concern to the all-party trade union group representing the Public and Commercial Services Union, of which I am the chair. They are worried about continuity of service and the application of TUPE—the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981.

Amendment No. 23 addresses the issue of continuity of service by ensuring that all the staff from the former commissions transferring across to the new commission will be deemed to have continuity of service for the purposes of the civil service compensation scheme. This means that if, for example, a member of staff were to be compensated for redundancy, their service on the existing organisation would be taken into account.

Many hon. Members will think that that would naturally be the case, but I have raised the issue because of the recent experience of staff at the Learning and Skills Council, which is implementing massive redundancies. Many of its staff had previously transferred from the training and enterprise councils, and they thought that that service would be regarded as part of the continuity of their employment. However, many of the staff who are facing redundancy have had their entitlement calculated only from the creation of the LSC. Their service with the TECs has not been taken into account, and their supposed continuity of service has not been recognised. It would therefore be helpful if the Minister could place on the record the assurance that, for the purpose of the civil service compensation scheme, all the staff transferring from the three existing commissions will be regarded as having continuity of service.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I have some sympathy with the point that the hon. Gentleman has made about the Learning and Skills Council. Does he agree that there is already an exemplary code of practice for the handling of transfers and redundancies in the public sector? Should it not, therefore, be a matter of general principle that that should apply to all such cases, rather than a particular one being exempt?

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

It is true that there is a code of practice—it is helpful and it should be applied generally. It would be reassuring, however, if the Minister could put on the record that these particular members of staff will be protected. I say that because of the experience at the LSC, which undermined the morale of the large numbers of people who had transferred across from the TECs and who thought that they had some security.

Amendment No. 24 also deals with staffing. It would ensure that the TUPE regulations apply to all staff of the former commissions, whenever they transfer to the new commission. Again, I seek a statement on the record from the Minister to reassure the staff who are now being identified for transfer. The transfer from the existing commissions will be a staggered process. Most of the staff at the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission will transfer to the new body in 2007. However, staff at the Commission for Racial Equality will not transfer until 2009. As this is a piecemeal process, rather than a wholesale transfer of staff, it is important that we have an assurance that the TUPE regulations will apply to all transfers, whenever they occur.

Furthermore, some members of staff are anxious that the TUPE regulations do not cover all matters and that they will not be fully protected.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Conservative, Hornchurch

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. Does he agree that for the new commission to be effective in its roles and responsibilities, it is important that there is continuity of staffing so that the knowledge and experience gained by the staff of the existing bodies is properly transferred to the new commission? The doubts that the hon. Gentleman is raising about TUPE and continuity of service might encourage existing staff to look for other opportunities, rather than transferring across.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I have no doubt that the staff who serve the existing commissions will seek to serve the new one with the same commitment and dedication that have made the existing ones so successful. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, however. We need to reassure those members of staff who are transferring across that they are secure in their employment, and that they will have the opportunity to continue what for many of them is a vocation, as a result of the dedication that they have demonstrated over the years. The last thing that we should be doing is undermining their morale or their commitment to their work. I would therefore welcome an assurance on the record from the Minister that TUPE will apply at each stage of the transfers from the different bodies, no matter when they occur.

I mentioned that the TUPE regulations were not effective in guaranteeing full protection in regard to a whole range of issues. They allow flexibility for the employer, but they do not apply to fundamental issues such as pensions. I hope that the guidance that has been issued for past civil service transfers to new organisations—and even to organisations outside the public sector—on issues such as the protection of pensions and ensuring that alternative proposals are put to staff in full consultation to give them that protection, will apply in this instance as well, so that we can offer security to those members of staff.

Amendment No. 20 is about representation. The three existing commissions have secured representation from both sides of industry, including the trade union movement. There have been trade union nominations—usually two per board—to each of the existing organisations. The reason for that is that the bulk of the casework of those organisations has arisen as a result of discrimination in employment. It was therefore natural to ask the organisations with experience in employment relations—both employers and trade unions—to nominate people to sit on the commissions' boards. It is interesting that the nominations from the trade unions have largely involved women and representatives of the black and ethnic minority groups.

I am worried that there is no commitment in the Bill to seek trade union representation on the new body, and I ask the Minister to assure us—in any form of words that she can give us this evening—that at least some direction will be given to the new body to consult and involve the trade unions and, if possible, seek nominations from them, and not just for commissioners. An alternative might be to ensure that there is adequate trade union representation on the advisory bodies that will be established to advise the commission on individual inquiries and on the overall direction of policy. In that way, we would achieve a representative body that would be effective in building on existing experience, which has largely been focused on issues relating to employment rights.

We welcome the Bill, but it is on these points of detail that the new body will fail or succeed. I hope that the Minister will respond flexibly so that we can genuinely take into account the issues raised in this debate. In that way, we would demonstrate that the House of Commons has a value, even at this late stage of the Bill, in ensuring that the legislation will be effective.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

I listened with great interest to Keith Vaz. I have not changed my view on these issues since Second Reading, although I have become far more aware of the strength of feeling on them in the black and ethnic minority community. I want slightly to hold the hon. Gentleman to account for his accusation that we do not take equality issues seriously. I think that it was Lord Lester, in another place, who made a serious attempt to introduce a single equalities Act, and I believe that we had a debate on equal opportunities in 2000.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

My point was that there is a lot of common ground on the equalities agenda, but the race agenda that is part of that is not just about words, but about actions and deeds.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities 6:30 pm, 16th January 2006

I have no quarrel with that argument and I am sympathetic to the intent of the amendments.

In some respects, the key question that needs to be considered is whether one has to have experienced an issue in order to be able first, to understand it, and secondly, to deal with it. I am not sure that I have the answers, but to return to an issue outside the equality agenda, one of the most emotional and sometimes traumatic experiences through which a woman can go is giving birth. A lot of evidence shows that having an understanding midwife will make a big difference to that experience. The key question is whether the midwife has to have given birth in order to understand the experience fully. That might seem an odd parallel, but some would argue that experiencing birth oneself is very important, while others would say that training, empathy and so on can overcome such problems.

I have some problems with the argument about whether the amendment limits the recruitment pool. I always feel highly offended, as a woman, at accusations that all-women shortlists will somehow end up with an inferior candidate. Let me knock that issue on the head. The argument has been raised with me, however, and I feel that I ought to mention it.

The Bill already provides for commissioners to have experience or knowledge relating to a relevant matter, across the strands, and to human rights. The question that I ask myself is whether that is enough. After listening to the hon. Member for Leicester, East, it is clear that there will be wider implications if we do not take seriously the discontent in the black and ethnic minority communities. I would react with absolute horror to a commission that was made up of 10 white men, but I do not think that that will happen. I wonder whether for once we should trust those concerned to get on with it rather than prescribing it in the Bill. I do not know the answer.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East also lauded the Commission for Racial Equality, saying that it was the one place where black and ethnic minority communities could go if they had a problem. Is that really the case? Although the issue was mentioned when I had briefings with the CRE, it did not seem the most important thing on the agenda of those to whom I spoke. It was only after the Bill's Second Reading that other representative bodies of black and ethnic minority communities came forward and it became obvious that there was a huge amount of discontent. Why did the CRE not make that feeling known at the very beginning? Would a single equalities commission, with a range of people with experience of different discriminations, and with a strong responsibility to consult, be a better way forward?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The hon. Lady mentioned that she wishes to trust the new body on the issue of representation, but why should we? We are parliamentarians, and there is a common agenda. To borrow the words of Mrs. Laing, if we want to be clear why cannot we be clear here, rather than leaving it to another body to make the decision for us? If we do not legislate clearly, and if we leave wooliness and vagueness, of course people will take advantage of that. Why are the Liberal Democrats not prepared to support the amendments?

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

We have not yet declared our position, so the hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see.

Were we to go down a quota route for the different strands of discrimination, we would be faced with some real problems. Gender is potentially the biggest source of discrimination in society, but I would not necessarily insist on a 50 per cent. gender representation. Racial discrimination might be one of the more acute problems in society, but we run the risk of having a committee—I hesitate to use the word "tokenistic"—whose members are chosen because of what they are rather than because of what they can do and how they can progress the agenda.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood

Will the hon. Lady and her colleagues support or oppose the Bill's provision that at least one commissioner should be or have been a disabled person?

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

We have no particular problems with that, but that is the whole difficulty. Ideally, I would prefer there not to be different provisions for different strands of inequality. The Bill is an attempt to set up the commission, but several attempts have been made during the Bill's passage to try to address various other inequalities, mostly with a spectacular lack of success.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

Does the hon. Lady accept that the first qualification for being a commissioner is a general understanding of the power processes in society, which could be satisfied by any member? There is also a need for knowledge of and interest in particular issues such as disability, for knowledge of issues from the perspective of a commissioner from Wales or Scotland, and for a guarantee that there will be commissioners who have direct experience of the application of racism, for which Labour Members are arguing.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The issue of direct experience is fraught with problems, particularly in relation to disability. As has been mentioned, someone who uses a wheelchair has a different perspective on life from someone who has visual impairment or a hearing problem. Do we need to have people with direct experience of and an interest in a particular issue—we must not lose sight of the human rights aspect—and how relevant is it to be pigeonholed in such a way? I am not entirely convinced that that is necessary if other provisions are in place to make sure that the necessary groups are consulted adequately.

One of the other problems, which one of the amendments attempts to address, is that black and ethnic minority communities undoubtedly experience discrimination, as do women. All the evidence shows that a black ethnic minority woman will experience more and enhanced discrimination. There is a case for considering some of the wider causes of discrimination in a more holistic way, rather than trying to tackle each separate strand. That is why I welcome the human rights-based approach.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I will pose to the hon. Lady the question that I attempted to pose to Mrs. Laing, although I am not sure that she quite understood it. Schedule 1, in part 5, contains provisions for a disability committee. The wording of that part of schedule 1 is on all-fours with amendment No. 9. Does the hon. Lady support the inclusion of a disability committee provision in the legislation, and if so, can she say that she supports amendment No. 9? If she does not support the inclusion of such a provision in schedule 1, why, if she wants to consider matters holistically, has she not tabled an amendment to remove it?

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but I have addressed it to a certain extent. This is an occasion when the Minister's response will be the key to how we vote if the House divides.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The hon. Lady is making a thoughtful and balanced speech. Does she agree that the terms of recruitment for those bodies should be based on a person's ability to do the job, which is true equality? If we believe in equality we should ensure that the best person is chosen for the job, irrespective of their sex, race or background. Someone such as my hon. Friend John Bercow is a good advocate for anti-discrimination without being from an ethnic minority. The chief executive of the Disabled Drivers Motor Club, Ed Passant, is an excellent advocate for the cause, but is not disabled himself. People do not have to be from certain backgrounds to be good advocates for the causes for which they are arguing.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The hon. Gentleman raises one of the key points. The danger with the amendments is that people are chosen because of what they are rather than what they can bring. It is not necessarily the case that there is nobody available, but I am unconvinced that we are looking at the complete pool.

It concerns me that black and ethnic minority groups feel disfranchised and I am not convinced that the CRE was the voice that it thought it was. The representations that I have received have been stronger and more forceful than those from the CRE at the beginning of the process. It concerns me that a body that has a useful function and has done many good things is perhaps not linking to other sectors of the black and ethnic minority communities as well as it could be.

We must not be complacent, but we are in danger of becoming so if we say that we will set the quotas and the problem will be solved, as the people concerned will make sure that the issues are addressed. It is more important to ensure that mechanisms are built in to ensure adequate consultation with all members of society. If the Minister can reassure us on that point, there may for once be a case for saying let us trust the group and allow it to go ahead. The fundamental problem is one of discrimination per se, and it does not matter to me which strand of discrimination. We will get to the end result quicker if we stop thinking in silos and start thinking about the basic problem.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood

It is a pleasure to rise to speak to the amendments that stand in my name and to welcome the Bill, which is part of the significant progress being made by the Government towards the creation of the kind of society where people can participate equally without the fear of discrimination or prejudice.

I am delighted that we have a consensus, as we tend to have nowadays on equality issues—it is marvellous—on most of the key issues in relation to establishing a new commission for equality and human rights. A mere eight or nine years ago, the Conservatives were fighting tooth and nail against the setting up the Disability Rights Commission and were arguing on the quiet to get rid of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. In fairness, none of the Conservative Members present tonight was involved, but I am convinced that we would not have the Bill were it not for the fact that we have a Labour Government.

I have, however, tabled amendments, for the obvious reason that I believe the Bill can be improved. I wish to support amendments Nos. 16 to 18, which stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend Keith Vaz. I have reciprocated by attaching my name to all his amendments and he made powerful arguments in their support.

The amendments are essentially those that were tabled on Report in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Ouseley. The purpose of amendment No. 18 is to address representation and ensure that the commission represents the society that it will serve.

The Bill is a curious one in some respects, as my hon. Friend Rob Marris pointed out—indeed, he stole much of my speech. Schedule 1 contains a specific commitment that at least one commissioner will be, or will have been, a disabled person. I confess that I had considered asking for two or more disabled commissioners, but to my astonishment I discovered that we are still in the same position as with the first draft of the Bill: when it comes to the other equality strands, there is no provision whatever for commissioners with particular characteristics.

My main concern over the years has been with the disability strand and I am delighted that the Government have accepted the principle that there should be at least one disabled person as a commissioner. A disabled person will bring experience to the commission that the commission should own and that experience is directly relevant and important enough to the work of the commission that we should legislate in that way. I cannot understand why the principle has been abandoned when it comes to gender or race.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality) 6:45 pm, 16th January 2006

The hon. Gentleman is arguing two separate points and answers some of the questions that Keith Vaz asked. There is a big difference between amendments No. 16 and No. 18, in that the first is general and speaks of

"no fewer than one half", which is acceptable, while the second gives specific quotas and therefore is not. Otherwise, the hon. Gentleman's point is absolutely correct.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood

I was speaking to amendment No. 18 and was going to come to No. 16 in a moment. Amendment No. 18 is acceptable and should be supported because it would cater for a minimum provision of women and members of black and other ethnic minority communities as commissioners. It is acceptable because this House apparently, and quite rightly, is going to accept that at least one disabled person should serve as a commissioner. I do not understand why the Government have said that, as a matter of principle, there should be representation for disabled people on the commission but that that should not apply to women or members of black or other ethnic minority groups. That is why the amendment proposes that no fewer than half the commissioners should be women and that no fewer than one quarter should be from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds. That is the same aim as that of amendment No. 10, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. It is not tokenism, nor is it denying the obvious, which is that people should be appointed on merit. It is simply an attempt to ensure that all communities are fairly represented as commissioners.

The Government's arguments against the amendments have tended to be of the following kind: that it is possible under the Bill that we could have 10 white men, but as my very good friend the Minister rightly says, that could not possibly happen. No one believes that the Government would be so foolish as even to think of doing that. I genuinely believe that it has never crossed anyone's mind to have 10 white men serving on the commission, but nothing in the Bill would prevent a Government from appointing commissioners in that way.

The Government have said that the need for flexibility in appointments requires that no such restrictions be imposed, but apparently, there can be restrictions in respect of appointing at least one disabled person. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that it would not be that difficult to make first-rate commission appointments on merit, with at least half the commissioners being women and at least one quarter representing black or other ethnic minority groups. Doing so would be no more difficult than appointing, on merit, a disabled person.

Other Members referred to the third Government argument, which is that to appoint commissioners in such a way would reflect silo thinking. I understand the point and entirely oppose silo thinking in the commission's work. When the commission was proposed, I supported the idea of a single commission for equality and human rights, precisely because I oppose silo thinking. There were those in the disability movement, as in other equality strands, who had grave reservations about that idea. I had practical reservations about the manner in which the commission might be set up but, in principle, I have always supported a single commission, precisely because I oppose the silo mentality.

A friend of mine, Professor Paul Steven Miller, was one of President Clinton's commissioners at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington DC. He is a disabled lawyer and he convinced me—as if I needed convincing—that, when people come through the door, the cause of discrimination may be not abundantly clear. People could be discriminated against on the grounds of race and gender, race and disability, disability and orientation, or goodness knows however many different circumstances. It is right to have a single commission to provide a service to people who allege discrimination; that is the only idea that makes sense. People being referred from one commission to another would not promote equality or human rights.

I support the commission because I am against a silo mentality. I want people to feel assured that allegations of discrimination will be tackled holistically—another term used by Members today. Having said that, I do not believe that a representative commission is a threat, but rather that it is an opportunity. It would strengthen the expertise of the commissioners. Having commissioners who are disabled, or who have experienced discrimination as women or on the ground of race, would strengthen the commission, not weaken it.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's work on disability over many years, but will he explain what somebody in a wheelchair knows about visual impairment that somebody who is not in a wheelchair does not?

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood

Yes, where does one begin? First, Philip Davies may have noticed from his constituency experience that there is a fair degree of communication between disabled people with different impairments. For example, people who use wheelchairs frequently talk to people who have a sight impairment or other such conditions. A strong network of disabled people's organisations share views, and as a result, they become better informed.

I realise that, in establishing a representative commission, the question is where do we draw the line? It is self-evident—I did not expect to have to say this—that although the Bill, which the whole House will doubtless support, proposes creating 10 to 15 commissioners, we can all think of perhaps 50 different interests that we would like to be represented. I am talking about not an abstract situation but a real one, and I am simply suggesting that, just as we need to appoint someone with experience of disability, it is important that those with experience of discrimination on the grounds of gender and race are adequately represented on the commission.

One may disagree with having 50 per cent. representation for women, but the point is that the Bill as drafted makes no provision for women at all. One may be against a quarter of commissioners coming from black and ethnic minority communities, but the Bill as drafted does not require that any commissioners come from such communities.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is easy to trivialise the arguments in favour of representation? Some of us have heard those arguments trivialised for 20 years or more and it is sad to have to rehearse them. However, we are not talking about abstractions but about how to ensure that the commission draws on the many disabled people, women and black people who have a lifetime's knowledge of and expertise in campaigning on those issues. We are talking about how to ensure that the balance of expertise in the community is properly represented on the commission.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

Creating a more representative commission would strengthen the expertise available to the commissioners and give confidence to stakeholders, as several Members have pointed out. It is true that those from black and other ethnic minority groups in particular—along, of course, with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Greater London authority—have made a strong case for such representation, but so have others.

It is because I favour making the commission more representative that I also support the creation of a race committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said, it is self-evident that amendment No. 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, replicates part 5 of schedule 1, which deals with the establishment of the disability committee. But if the Bill is to provide for a disability committee, why should it not provide for a race committee? Notwithstanding the question of consistency, it makes very good sense to create such a committee. Interestingly, at the outset of these discussions, the Disability Rights Commission suggested that, for a period, it might be necessary for each of the equality strands to have a committee, in order to pursue their interests.

I repeat that the last thing that I want is for the commission to have a silo mentality—heaven forbid—but I do want it to have expertise; after all, that is how government is run. Any organisation that wants to use expertise efficiently might well find it useful to set up the odd committee in which such expertise can be found.

I turn to amendments Nos. 16 and 17 and the point that Mrs. Laing raised. Paragraph 2 of schedule 1 proposes that the Secretary of State shall appoint an individual only if the person concerned

"has experience or knowledge relating to a relevant matter, or . . . is suitable for appointment for some other special reason".

I should have thought that that was stating the blindingly obvious. Those requirements are self-evident and I cannot imagine anyone seriously considering appointing a commissioner who did not have experience or knowledge that was relevant to the job. The provision should be tightened, which is why amendment No. 16 would

"ensure that no fewer than one half of the Commissioners have personal or direct experience of one or more of the causes of discrimination and prejudice".

I do not say that people who have not suffered discrimination can have no understanding of a society in which discrimination takes place, but those who have been victims of discrimination or prejudice have something very special to bring to the table. That is the reason for the amendment.

When the amendments were discussed in the other place, the Lord Chancellor said:

"I very much hope that, when the commission is appointed, its make-up will broadly reflect the balance that these amendments seek to secure".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 19 October 2005; Vol. 674, c. 753.]

I am sure that the Government do want that, but he talked about "hoping" that the commission would do that. We do not need to rely on hope because we can, in fact, legislate. The Government are not relying on hope on disability—they are legislating.

I welcome the fact that the objective behind the amendments tabled by my colleagues and me is widely shared by the Government. It is only through primary legislation, however, that we can ensure that the commission is representative, rather than just hoping it might be. The Government have accepted that principle on the face of the Bill in relation to the appointment of a commissioner who is disabled and of the disability committee.

Having a representative commission from the outset is essential if we are to have the expertise to do the job and if the commission is to win the trust of the communities whose members it will serve. In particular, I mean the communities who are most commonly victims of discrimination and prejudice. The Government clearly agree with that view. Those requirements should therefore be in the Bill. If they will not accept the amendments, they will, in my humble opinion, have to come up with some absolutely cast iron guarantees that the commissioners and the structure of the commission will indeed be along the lines for which most right hon. and hon. Members have argued.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 7:00 pm, 16th January 2006

It is a genuine pleasure to follow Roger Berry, who has considerable expertise in the field of disability and with whom, through my own involvement in that area, I have collaborated constructively in the past. He made some trenchant points about not thinking within a silo mentality. From my own experience, I came at the issue with an interest in disability and found myself driven by the fact of discrimination to take a lively interest, too, in issues of gender equality and race equality. In the end, they become indivisible, which is the compelling case for having a single commission.

I like, as it were, to play mental games when anticipating ministerial arguments, and I have been trying hard to do so on why there should be any justification for the special treatment of disability in the Bill. One could say it is because Bert Massey and the Disability Rights Commission were not very happy about it, and that is certainly true. That may well be reflected in the Bill, but in trying to produce acceptable and defensible arguments for the Minister—I offer them to her for nothing—there seem to me to be two.

First, the Disability Rights Commission is relatively new in comparison with the other equality bodies. Secondly, the nature of the discrimination concerned is, as it were, more by analogue than by digital: whereas one is either a racist or one is not, and one is either a feminist or one is not, the test in relation to disability is whether reasonable adjustments are being made, which is a much more opaque area.

Having said which, I have absolutely convinced myself that those arguments are implausible. To return to the beginning of the Report stage, it seems that the Government have already conceded the primary point, as they did on the first group of amendments about the difference between sexual orientation and transgendered people. Having provided to legislate for one group, it seemed difficult to many of us not to legislate for the second. Having provided to legislate for disability, it equally seems difficult not to argue the case for legislating on race. I was particularly attracted by amendment No. 16, at least in that it provides an instruction to Ministers on good practice, which they should adopt.

As Keith Vaz developed his case with his characteristic charm and eloquence, I found myself increasingly warming towards it. As I went through the nature of the argument in the same way that I did on the amendment spoken to by the hon. Member for Kingswood, I anticipated all the ministerial problems. I am sure that the Minister has a great big brief in front of her—I speak from experience—that bears the six-letter word "resist". It will say that first, we need flexibility, and, secondly, it would be insulting to type people by their particular cases. How can we know that people are not multifunctional in two or three areas of disability? Why should we seem to single out one group when we cannot, for example, appoint a transgendered person because we would run out of places on any reasonably sized commission? Would that not send the wrong signals? And Ministers have the right intentions anyway. I think that the Minister has to show the House tonight that the Government do have the right intention, which is to produce a multifunctional and effective commission that is seen to represent the interests engaged in this important area.

The one point on which I perhaps did not quite agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, East—I think I did not; it may have been misinterpretable—was his remark that there are good race relations in this country. I think that that is the case, but we have an obligation to maintain perpetual vigilance, at which I see him nodding. One does not have to agree with every last word that Trevor Phillips said in his rather controversial speech at least to be aware that things can go wrong. Indeed, in other countries with rather less of a multiculturalist tradition than ours—France, in particular—they have gone wrong. We should be conscious that at the very moment when we think things are all right, they may be formally so but that does not necessarily mean that there is deep engagement. That will take more than one generation to achieve and will vary very much with levels of education and experience in particular areas. I am conscious of what one of my colleagues once described as the kind of polite apartheid that can apply in some cities: different ethnic groups may stand off without actually falling out with one another but find little affinity or involvement. That is not a happy position, although those are perhaps wider issues that we cannot develop in full tonight.

Implicit in what the hon. Member for Leicester, East said was the idea that the Bill is all about something real—a significant economic imbalance. If one considers the proportion of people from ethnic minorities who are unemployed, the rates of pay that those in work receive and the general economic position, the figures are still depressingly unpositive. There is a problem and we cannot fail to start by acknowledging that.

If that is the economic side, the other side is representation or stakeholder involvement, which is what the amendment and the debate are about. If people do not feel that they have a stake in this country and that their interests are being taken seriously and represented, we should be ashamed of ourselves in this place, but whether we are or are not, we are building up problems for the future. We have to involve all our people, and I did not need the recent change in the leadership of my party to reinforce my views in support of that. If one is a one-nation politician of any party, one is about bringing people together and recognising that they have views, aspirations, fears and experiences that need to be taken extremely seriously.

In relating all that to the substance of the debate, it seemed to me that I should like three sets of assurances from the Minister. The first is on the wider work of the Commission for Racial Equality. It would be useful if she could put on the record how some of the other functions—what I might call the positive functions—of the CRE are to be discharged, particularly its work on local racial integration. Many of us feel strongly that that should continue and be safeguarded, and is—in a sense, although I do not wish to give a hierarchy—more important than the mere legal enforcement of equality. Both are extremely important, but the positive approach, which says, "Let's encourage good practice and good race relations", is an important part. Some of that activity may transfer to the new commission, but it would be useful if the Minister could confirm that.

The second issue is economic imbalance and I hope that Trevor Phillips's commission will carry out some studies on that. My party will not prescribe a magic solution that would somehow produce economic equality overnight, but no one should be comfortable unless we are working towards that.

The third issue is the institutional and operational matters that are under debate in the Bill. John McDonnell was right to mention staff issues because, in my sad experience, they are not always well handled by Governments, of whichever party, in legislation. The issue of participation is central and whether we have a separate race committee or another structure—the Minister may come up with a good argument on that—the institution will not work unless people feel comfortable with it and that it has some relevance to them.

Mr. Winnick mentioned India, and I should point out that Lord Irwin, as he then was, was rather a rather liberal—if it is not derogatory to use the word these days—Viceroy, but he was wrestling with a commission that was a non-starter because it was all Brits and no Indians. That does not work, because any structure needs to be acceptable to the various communities involved.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

My hon. Friend makes his point pithily and eloquently, as ever. With due respect, may I take him back to a point that was interestingly but wrongly made by Sandra Gidley earlier? She mentioned a possible analogy between the issue we are debating and the role of a midwife. Does a midwife have to have given birth to be a suitable person to deliver a baby? What we are talking about here is not a one-off function: it is an ongoing advocacy and representational role, and that is the important point that we have to bear in mind.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I agree, and had I wished to indulge myself earlier I would have taken up the hon. Lady on a related point to her analogy of the midwife. At least part of the case that she made is that a midwife, whether or not she has given birth, should be experienced and knowledgeable about people giving birth and, by definition, sympathetic to them. A midwife should not be multifunctional and also act as a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist in her spare time. Therefore, we need people on the commission who are heavyweights, who understand what is involved and who can engage with and win the confidence of the minority communities, minority interests and others who might be discriminated against.

I love moving amendments and trying to get a Bill right, and part of that includes the cerebral function and taking a cool look at how legislation works, as with the points that my hon. Friend Mrs. Laing rightly made about the administrative cost of the new commission. However, it is also important to understand that the process includes an element of emotional intelligence and the reflection of anger and disquiet in the community. My hon. Friend Philip Davies asked about the common feature and I think that at least part of it is the anger people feel—for example, whatever their skin colour—at the discrimination that they have endured for no good reason and, sometimes, as they see it, as the fault of society. The Bill will not solve all ills, but we could make a start by saying that it should reflect not only the best structure that we can produce, but the anger of individuals about how they have been treated and a determination across all the parties to do our level best to see that that does not happen in the future.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 7:15 pm, 16th January 2006

I wish to speak in support of the amendments that would introduce a race committee and provide proper representation among the commissioners. I also support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend John McDonnell and other colleagues on issues of staff protection, and I hope that the Minister will take them seriously.

As my hon. Friend Keith Vaz reminded the House, it is some 20 years since he and I were first selected as prospective parliamentary candidates, together with Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng. We were not selected because of our good looks and charisma, at random or as an act of patronage by our leadership. Indeed, as a group, we were regarded with some fear—yes, even my hon. Friend—when we first entered the House in 1987. We were selected on the back of a feeling in society that had arisen because of the riots in London, Bristol and Liverpool in the early 1980s. There was a strong feeling in society at the time, especially in the communities from which we were selected, that it was high time that, towards the end of the 20th century, this House of Commons started to look like the people of Britain.

The argument, which was accepted on all sides at the time, was that for young black and Asian people to feel part of and engaged with this society, they had to see representation at the highest level. That was not because only black and Asian people can understand the issues of black people and other ethnic minorities. Nor was it because of quotas or numbers. Nor was it because in an ideal world it would not matter what colour MPs were. The idea was that representation mattered because of what it said about an institution. People can read about issues of discrimination and even do dissertations on them, but unless they have lived them and felt them, they will not be able to give them the emphasis that only living them gives.

I have heard all the mockery about needing to have a one-legged person, one blind person and one Chinese person for the past 20 years, but the arguments on representation are about the legitimacy of institutions and the wealth of talent available to institutions. If the arguments about representation were valid for the House of Commons 20 years ago, how much more valid are the same arguments for this commission on equality today? I beg Members not to have a continuous rehearsal of arguments that we heard 20 years ago. If the case for representation was important 20 years ago, it is—if anything—more important today.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The hon. Lady is here because of her ability, and so is Keith Vaz. Does she agree that true equality means that the best person for the job is given the job, whatever their background? If that means that all the people on the commission are black, so be it. If that means that all the people on the commission have a disability, so be it. While we talk about quotas and look at people on the basis of their colour or whether they are disabled, we will never have true equality. It should be irrelevant what colour people are or whether they have a disability: what matters is that we have good people, whatever their background.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Of course, in an ideal world colour, gender, sexuality or physical challenges would not matter, but we are not in an ideal world and all my experience of these issues, which goes back a few years before the hon. Gentleman entered the House, tells me that unless we debate representation, raise the issue and put in place the structures and the law to ensure it—as we are calling for in this case—we will find that the majority of people best placed to empathise with the issues are somehow, magically, always white males. Time after time, that is the practical outcome.

I am old enough to remember when the CRE was set up and am the first to acknowledge that although it has had some excellent leaders, it has not been as effective in recent years as it might have been. I am the first to acknowledge that the CRE has faced challenges as an institution, but I remind the House that when it was set up in 1977 it embodied the best and most hopeful aspirations of our society for racial equality. In those early years, it attracted the best and brightest members of our black and Asian community. The House should also remember that the CRE is not just a London organisation; in community after community, in town after town, local racial equality committees, often with only one or two paid staff, do incredible work 18 hours a day, as beacons, fighting for equality in their community.

As this debate may be our last chance to say anything about the CRE before it goes in two years' time, we should not just look at where it has failed and where we might disagree with one of its chairs on a particular issue. We should look at the hopes and aspirations that it embodied and at the incredibly brave work of hundreds upon hundreds of individuals for the national body or for their community, long before race and equality were fashionable or acceptable. It would be wrong for the House not to acknowledge the contribution that the CRE has made to ensuring that we do not see in our society what the French saw last summer—community after community in flames.

I entirely concede that the CRE may not have achieved all that we hoped. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, I do not agree with what Trevor Phillips said about multiculturalism, but we should not forget what the CRE represented, the hopes it embodied and the real achievements of individuals associated with it.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

No, I must make progress.

Of course, I support bringing all the equality strands into one commission, but my fear is that unless we get the legislation and the structures right, the commission will embody what I have seen so often, whether at local authority, non-governmental organisation or Government level: lowest common denominator equality, which is no good for anyone, although it provides a laugh for some people who are hostile to the whole notion of equalities in principle. Lowest common denominator equality sells every equality strand short. Sadly, it is my experience that if race is merged with other equalities issues, without sufficient thought and care about the structures, race inevitably falls to the bottom of the agenda. That is why, when the Government set up a working party to look into the matter, out of 28 people there were only three visible minorities. When we say that we want not just assurances but legislation and structures, we are not looking in the crystal ball, we are reading the book.

It astonishes me that two years after my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and I took a group of concerned parliamentarians to see Ministers, the Government have not moved on the issue. As I said earlier, I am arguing not for a hierarchy of equalities, but that, based on my experience of working on equality for 30 years—not just as an MP, but in my trade union and my community—all the equality strands have a distinct character. On employment, for example, the problem for most white women is how to get through the glass ceiling: the problem for most black people is how to get through the door. Of course, the commission must broker a collective view at the end of the day, but unless there are people on it who understand the distinctions between the challenges faced by disabled persons, by people whose problem is their colour or by women, we shall end up with lowest common denominator solutions that pay lip service to, but do not address, the difficult issues.

Many issues concerned with race are difficult. This society still finds it difficult to face many of the realities about race. When I started raising the issue of the underachievement of black boys, white people asked me whether it was not a little embarrassing to talk about that. I was not afraid to talk about it, because the issue is real and it needs to be addressed. However, if we have a commission with no structures and without the right legislation, the temptation will be to duck the difficult issues; there will be lowest common denominator equalities.

Ministers talk about empathy and hoping. No individual in the black community is more committed to institutions, to the state and to making things work through the political process than I am, but there are persons out there in our communities who are really not that interested in middle-class white men empathising with their situation; they want representation and stakeholder involvement. We have heard about Lord Halifax and the end of the Indian empire, but I have to tell the House that the days of white men empathising with the situation of other people have long been left behind. I do not say that because we are not all people and because everybody cannot represent everybody else, but because institutions are more than the sum of their parts. They are about what they say—the message they give to a society. So when Ministers tell me that they hope that the commission will not be all white men, what do they mean? They are Ministers. If they want to ensure that the commission has proper representation, the remedy is in their hands. They can put those matters on the face of the Bill.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East that the Government have made progress on inequalities. This society has made progress on equalities in the 20 years since I have been a Member of Parliament; indeed, sometimes society makes progress ahead of politicians and they have to scrabble to keep up. We have made progress, but if the commission goes ahead with the Government resolutely refusing to listen to the united voice of black and Asian communities and the Bill goes forward without a race committee, without the proper structural arrangements, we shall set the race issue in this country back many years.

Ministers say to me, "Diane, why are you going on about race? The issues are different now, it's all about human rights." All the issues are serious, but if they do not have mind to the race issue, it will have a way of forcing itself back on to the political agenda. Rather than the House having to create structures and produce law to deal with a situation where black, Asian or minority persons feel disfranchised and marginalised, why do not we this evening ensure that we have the thought-out structures and arrangements that will reassure black and Asian people that just as representation mattered to the House of Commons 20 years ago, it matters for the new equality commission? I could not let the debate go past without speaking on this matter, because representation is important.

Of course, I am here to represent everybody and I try to balance every view in my constituency and work for every community. However, the people, black and white, who worked so hard to elect me in 1987 would have been disappointed if, at a point when the Government are being completely obdurate and it seems as though there is no hope, I had not stood up and spoken to this issue. That is what representation is about. It is not about advancing the issue when it is easy, or when a Member is in a majority, or when the Government are on their side; it is about advancing the issue because it has to be done—because that is where we come from and where we learn and, in the end, we know that we are answerable.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 7:30 pm, 16th January 2006

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who is my good friend and parliamentary colleague. I fully agree with her. I did not want to interrupt her passionate flow in the debate. She talked about the local race equality councils, but from my experience as a Member of Parliament since 1983, and as a local councillor for 11 years before that, I can say that the local race equality councils stopped serious trouble in parts of our country. I note that there is no guarantee of any local institution being set up, following from this measure.

My amendment—No. 26—is about setting up a London committee, but before I talk about that, I want to praise my hon. Friend Keith Vaz for suggesting that there should be a race committee. I fully support the eloquent and strong case that he made. Indeed, I have added my name to the amendments that he tabled in that regard.

I should also like to mention my hon. Friend Roger Berry, who talked about the need for the commissioners to have direct experience of the discrimination strands that they are suppose to represent—that was Lord Ouseley's amendment in the other place. I referred to that on Second Reading, during an intervention, and I still do not think that that has been properly addressed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, the Minister and the Government are hoping that it will come about. I should prefer that to be included in the Bill.

I was here when my hon. Friend John McDonnell talked about TUPE rights, which are important, and trade union rights. I saw a little bit of data from the last honours list that shows that, whereas scores of businessman got gongs, only three trade unionists did so—and two of them were from trade unions that are not in the TUC. There is a case to be made for trade union representation on organisations such as the CEHR. It is sad that a Labour Back Bencher has to argue for that.

I return to amendment No. 26 and the case for a London committee. I am arguing the case put forward, for example, by the Mayor of London, who said in his representations to hon. Members:

"The Equality Bill does not recognise the unique devolution arrangements in London. The Bill should establish a London Committee, in line with the decision-making committees proposed for Scotland and Wales."

Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has said, if this is okay in relation to a disability commissioner, if it is okay to have a race commissioner and a race committee and if that is all right for Scotland and Wales, it should be all right for London as well. London has more extensive discrimination problems, but also more positive experiences than the other regions on how to bring about solutions to the problems that we face in the discrimination streams. There is a big case for the London committee. That London context provides unique lessons, opportunities and challenges with regard to equality and diversity. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world and is certainly unique in the UK context.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting

My hon. Friend made the point that we will be losing the race equality councils and the local connection. Bearing in mind that more than 300 languages are spoken in London, that more than 14 faiths are represented in the community and that almost 50 per cent. of ethnic minorities live in London, does not that compound the need and the call for a London committee?

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Absolutely. My hon. Friend has been looking over my shoulder at the next point in my speech, which contained those important statistics. I will not repeat them, but they are important. That level of diversity is unmatched, certainly in this country. Some 30 per cent. of residents are from ethnic minority backgrounds. There are also more ethnic minority businesses in the capital—a greater concentration of them.

There are more than 60,000 voluntary organisations, a significant number of which are involved with ethnic minority concerns and the ethnic minority sector. London is the base for the highest number of listed public bodies subject to the race equality duty, and those will soon have the disability and gender duties. London has a specific element that cannot be safely and properly abrogated or absorbed into the nationwide body.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I am not a London Member, but I am sympathetic to what my hon. Friend is saying. I introduce what is not, I hope, considered a controversial point among one or two colleagues. Would not race relations in our capital be strengthened if a visiting cleric with notorious racist views on Jews or homosexuals was not embraced, whether by the Mayor of London or anyone else? If we are against racism, surely we are against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, presumably.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

That sort of issue provides a perfect case for having a London committee. That point could not be more relevant. However, I will not get drawn into that; I shall discuss that matter with my hon. Friend on another day and another occasion.

I shall read another part of the Mayor's briefing, although it is a bit jargony. I want to read it into the record, because I think that the point is made. The Mayor's staff say:

"A Greater London Committee would enhance the work of the CEHR by helping to ensure . . . a regional focus on London appropriate to London's size, demography, complexity and diversity, and experience in developing and delivering equality policies . . . appropriate engagement with London's unique governance arrangements . . . synergy between regional strategies and national strategy and policy" and

"tailored stakeholder engagement and dialogue, which will aid clear and transparent channels of communication."

That is a bit jargony, but when hon. Members read it in Hansard, they will see the point.

Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Conservative, Croydon Central

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the points that he is making, because there is dynamic change in London's population. Mr. Winnick indicated that there can be many controversies within London's governance and perhaps there is value in a London committee intervening occasionally when some of the local CRE bodies get into difficulty.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I want to return to that point, which is well made. It would be better if there were a London committee that worked together with, for example, the GLA, the Mayor and other stakeholders—to use that jargon—when we have an important issue on race to discuss.

The Commission for Racial Equality sent to Members its concerns and one of them was about the location. It recognised that the CEHR will be

"based at two sites, with a majority of CEHR staff based in Manchester. This is a disappointing development, as despite having a 'significant presence' in London, the CRE believes it is vital that the headquarters of the new body be located in London . . . London is still the centre of decision making in the UK. In order for the CEHR to be a powerful, influential body, it needs to be located where the majority of decision makers are also located."

All the ministries are in London. The Prime Minister is in London; the Treasury is in London; the major health authorities and bodies to do with policy making are in London; the main police force is in London; and the courts are in London. In the private sector, the City of London is the finance capital, and the stock exchange is in London. Much of business is in London and there needs to be a connection.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to come to Sheffield to talk to the range of civil servants who work for the Government and who are based in Sheffield. Not everybody is in London.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I take that point and I agree with moving some of the ministries out of London. Why do we not have the CEHR's headquarters in London where the main ministries are and a "significant presence" outside the capital?

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley

I apologise for not being present earlier, but I have been following the debate elsewhere.

Many hon. Members and many agencies believe that it is vital that the CEHR is a new, single statutory body that can offer integrated advice and guidance, and that is the problem. Does my hon. Friend not see that the amendment and the idea of a London committee work against that aim? People who favour London rather than Manchester as the location for the main services of the new body are almost striving to split it. The key point is that it is integrated and can offer advice by working across all the disciplines. The question of the CEHR's location has been settled and the amendment would work against the key features that would make the commission work as a body.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I agree that the commission must be integrated and cover the whole country and that it needs to be effective. However, on the specific point of how it lobbies and gets in touch with the policy makers, I should point out that the policy makers are not in Manchester or Sheffield. They are in London. The CRE and the new commission need to be able to approach them.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

Does the hon. Gentleman consider the EOC and the Disability Rights Commission to be ineffective because they are based in Manchester?

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I am not saying that those bodies are ineffective, although I would have liked both to have been more effective. I certainly think that the EOC would have been more effective if it had been based in London and had more ready access to Ministers. The argument that I am making is that made by the CRE itself and not just by the Mayor of London, me and other London Labour Members. The CRE is saying that its successor body needs to be in London to be effective.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler PPS (Rt Hon Jane Kennedy, Minister of State), Department of Health

As my hon. Friend Keith Vaz said, who will carry the mantle of race equalities? The establishments that he named—the National Assembly Against Racism, Operation Black Vote and the Greater London assembly—are based in London and have regular meetings with key stakeholders. If this strand is to be effective, it must have strong, cohesive links in London.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I agree with that very well made point. That is why I think that a London committee would be extremely beneficial. Even if the other headquarters were in Manchester, a London committee would provide a focus and enable the commission to lobby more effectively.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 7:45 pm, 16th January 2006

I understand the argument of London versus the regions, but many of us in London have supported measures to tackle unemployment by the devolution of decision making and administrative units to the regions. However, any such moves must take account of the impact that they have on human beings. We have many staff in the existing organisations and 60 per cent. of the CRE's staff are from ethnic minority groups, 40 per cent. of the DRC's staff are disabled and 80 per cent. of the EOC's staff are women. Many of those groups also have caring responsibilities, with their roots in London. The move that has now been determined could have been handled so much better if there had been adequate trade union consultation, which there has not been, on the impact on those people's lives.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

That is a very well made point. I will not dwell on it but we have had representations from the DRC that expresses concern that its staff in London should be properly protected. On the gender argument, we know that, in the capital, many women's issues can "disappear" when it comes to addressing their needs. Such specific issues for women would be better addressed if there were a London committee.

Let me refer again to the representations from the Mayor and the CRE. The Mayor says:

"Locating the CEHR in Manchester risks a downgrading and isolation of the institution, which all efforts must be taken to safeguard against."

The CRE says:

"We feel that downgrading equality in this way will cause considerable detriment to those from ethnic minority and other disadvantaged groups.

The concerns expressed could not be clearer, and a London committee could mitigate against the effects of what is being proposed.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does my hon. Friend agree that, of course, Manchester is a wonderful city and that we support moves to create employment outside London? However, there must be the suspicion that some people in government believe that putting the new commission in Manchester means out of sight, out of mind.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Absolutely, and that fear was expressed in the comments I have just read out, and particularly by the CRE.

I hesitate to say this because some of my colleagues might not like it, but the argument is a bit like that over schools, sex offenders and different lists. We get into a muddle when we have different lists. In London, we have the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor and they have a role in relation to race equality duties. If the CEHR does not have a London committee, it will come in from afar and make pronouncements, statements and policies on race matters. We will then get mixed messages, unco-ordinated messages and perhaps opposing messages. That would be pretty disastrous in a situation similar to the one that took place during the riots in France. The bodies need to be together and must work together, and that means that there is a powerful case for a London committee.

I return to where we started and the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington made about local race equality councils that did so well. I hope that it will come about, but there is no guarantee of anything like a representational structure at a local level. At the very least, there needs to be a regional commitment where it matters, and it matters in London. We do not want what happened in France—in the main, it was in and around Paris—to occur here. We do not want riots and a festering situation in which people do not think that the injustices that they feel can be addressed. They need to be able to go to a body in London that is concerned with those injustices. Such a committee must be based in London.

I was not trying to make a regional case in which London was set against the rest. However, for the commission to be effective, it must have a London committee. That is why I tabled my amendment.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I somewhat disagree with my hon. Friend Harry Cohen. I do not demur from having a London committee, but I do not think that a committee for London, as a unique region in England, needs to be provided for by the Bill. Paragraph 11 of schedule 1 makes provision for the commission to set up funded, decision-making committees.

My hon. Friend's arguments on amendment No. 26 in favour of a London committee would be better put to the commission after the Bill is passed, as I hope that it will. We could then consider a series of regional committees, such as one for the greater west midlands, which has a slightly higher population than Scotland. If Scotland and Wales are to get their own committees—I am sure that it is obvious to hon. Members why that should be—I would welcome a debate on regional committees for England. We should not forestall that debate by providing for just a London committee in the Bill, especially given that paragraph 11 of schedule 1 would allow the commission to set up a London, west midlands, or east midlands committee. I would prefer to leave the matter to the commission than to accept amendment No. 26.

I hope that the Minister will give us reassurances about staff and the TUPE stuff to which my hon. Friend John McDonnell referred when he spoke to amendment No. 24. We also need reassurances about matters that are not covered by TUPE, especially pensions and relocation. I appreciate that the Minister cannot give us chapter and verse on all the details tonight, but I hope that she will choose to reassure hon. Members that the needs of the employees of various bodies who might be displaced, or may have to reapply for jobs when the commission comes in, will be addressed and that their continuity of employment will be assured if, as one hopes, they get jobs in the new body.

I support the concept of a single equalities commission. As my hon. Friend Roger Berry said, I do not want any silos. I want simplification, as I said earlier. A holistic approach has been mentioned, and although I am open to correction, there is a holistic approach to most of the strands of equality and anti-discrimination stuff that we have now. There is a holistic approach on remedies because people go to an employment tribunal. It might seem strange that people who suffer race discrimination when they are not served in a bar because of the colour of their skin go to an employment tribunal—formerly known as an industrial tribunal—but I think that it is still the case. It is desirable to continue a holistic approach with a single commission and equalities body and to continue the drive towards simplification so that it becomes easier for people to assert their rights.

Mrs. Laing referred to costs when she spoke to amendment No. 42, which would provide for a report to go to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. According to the Government's projections, the new body will cost less than 50 per cent. more than the existing framework. The hon. Lady first said that the costs would be many times more than current costs, and then that they would be twice as great. When she was told about the Government's estimates, she understandably said that she was sure that the overall bill for the six strands covered by the Bill would be more than twice the £48 million that the current three strands cost, or more than £96 million. Leaving aside for a minute the start-up costs—there are start-up costs for a new organisation—relocation costs and so on, I will wager her £100, payable to a charity, that the costs in the first year will not exceed £96 million.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I accept the hon. Gentleman's wager.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Epping Forest, but I will not go for double or quits, as my hon. Friend Roger Berry urges—I am sure that you would not allow me to, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting

Even if the costs were as large as Her Majesty's official Opposition suggest, does my hon. Friend agree that the commission could be considered as a loss-leader because of the benefit that we will gain? On a cost-benefit analysis, using the widest possible talent in our community—whether we are considering employment or people being served in a bar—is worthy of a reasonable cost.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I entirely agree and touched on that matter earlier when I made an intervention on the hon. Member for Epping Forest. She chose not to answer my question about how much she would be prepared to pay for anti-discrimination legislation, so I hope that she will answer now. It is a pity that she remains in a sedentary position and will not follow on from the point that my hon. Friend Mr. Khan made.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I did answer the question. My answer was precisely that the amount was the £48 million that it is at present, plus the corresponding amount for adding three new strands, minus the amount that could be saved due to economies of scale. That was my answer, and the amount comes to less than £96 million.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

That reply is rather interesting and revealing. If I go into a retailer and ask the price of a television, I do not expect to be told, "We calculate it by taking account of rent, lighting costs and VAT," because I expect to be told the price. However, I understand that the hon. Lady cannot give a price.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

It is not possible to put an exact price on defending and promoting equality, which is a matter of principle to which we are all absolutely committed.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am now slightly more confused because I thought that the hon. Lady was putting a price on that earlier when she said that she thought that the cost would be more than £96 million—more than twice the £48 million. I take the point that she was not saying that that cost would not be justified.

I suggested earlier to the hon. Lady that there was a contradiction because she and her party appeared to be sitting on the fence on amendment No. 9, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Keith Vaz. I asked her whether she would support a race committee given that neither she nor her hon. Friends had tabled an amendment to remove the provisions in schedule 1 on the disability committee. She responded that I was urging her to do something that she had not the power to do, but that she hoped to be in ministerial office soon—I thought that that was rather optimistic of her. Forgive me if I misunderstand the procedures of the House after nearly five years here, but I thought that any hon. Member could table an amendment on Report. The hon. Lady chose—quite properly, I must say—not to table an amendment to remove the provisions on the disability committee, but she was incorrect to suggest that it was not in her power to table such an amendment.

I am rather attracted to amendment No. 16, which refers to the make-up of the commission. There is a contradiction between providing for a disability committee in the Bill and not providing for a race committee. I am entirely happy that the Bill provides for a specified commissioner with a disability in paragraph 1(3)(a) of schedule 1, but it is a contradiction that the Bill does not provide for commissioners representing the other five strands. The Bill contains contradictions.

I understand that there are different ways of approaching things. Judge Rosalie Abella said powerfully about a similar situation in Canada in the 1980s that equality sometimes means treating people the same and sometimes means treating people differently. That is one of the touchstones by which I live when I consider discrimination measures. Equality is not mechanical. Philip Davies is no longer in the Chamber. My hon. Friend Ms Abbott was very restrained when she heard from him the arguments that she knows viscerally from her experience as a black woman in our society—I know of them one removed after talking to people—and we had 20 or 30 years ago. The hon. Gentleman certainly looks less than 40. Where have some Conservative Members been for the past 20 years? I salute the Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen for at least getting up to about the end of 20th century with this stuff and welcome the fact that several Conservative Members have struggled into the 21st century, but some Conservative Back Benchers really have a pretty antediluvian approach to the matter. We should not have to go through such arguments again and again in the Chamber and elsewhere and it is sad that we must do so.

From my hon. Friend the Minister I seek assurances regarding the staff, and in particular an explanation of the contradictions between the treatment of disability and the treatment of race. That is not to say that the other four strands are unimportant, I hasten to add, but disability is mentioned at least twice in the Bill—in relation to a commissioner with a disability and a disability committee. In race, we are dealing with an incredibly important strand to me, the Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton, South-West, which was previously represented by that notorious racist Powell. Such matters are extremely important in my constituency. There is a contradiction in relation to a race committee and I beg the Minister to explain that contradiction. If she does not, amendment No. 9 and those that flow from it will be extremely attractive to me.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality) 8:00 pm, 16th January 2006

I thank hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friends, for raising some important issues relating to the new commission. We all share a concern to ensure that the new commission is able to operate efficiently, effectively, fairly and with the confidence of the many communities who will look to it for leadership and support.

Amendment No. 43 would dilute the commission's requirement to have regard to the importance of exercising its clause 10 duties for groups defined by race, religion or belief. We have made it clear throughout the debates on the Bill here and in the other place that there will be no diminution in the powers and responsibilities that the new commission will inherit from its predecessor bodies. That has been a fundamental principle as we progress towards establishing the new commission.

An important part of the new body's success will be its ability to do as much as, and more than, our existing arrangements. Alone among the existing equality commissions the Commission for Racial Equality has a duty to promote good relations between people of different racial groups. In addition, in 2000 we amended the Race Relations Act 1976 to require public bodies to have regard for the need to promote good relations between racial groups. The new commission will have to carry forward the historical legacy of the CRE and work with public bodies to help them to comply with the race equality duty.

Hon. Members will know that the Commission for Racial Equality has, since its inception, supported a strong network of local race equality councils and other organisations delivering local race equality work. Many of us are familiar with their work and the important role that they play in our constituencies, particularly among those who have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their race or religion. I met recently with the chair of the British Federation of Race Equality Councils; the federation is concerned to ensure that the councils' work is able to continue and I look forward to continuing our discussions to ensure that that is the case.

For those reasons, we have required the commission to have particular regard to its duties in clause 10 and the importance of exercising them in relation to groups defined by race, religion or belief. That is an important guarantee to the CRE, the race equality councils and others who do local race equality work, and to black and minority ethnic communities in this country. I believe that we have found the right balance between acknowledging the historical legacy of the commission's good relations work and the need to ensure that the concerns of all its interest groups are heard and addressed.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I accept the Minister's explanation which, combined with the impassioned speeches made by some Labour Back Benchers, has led me to decide not to pursue amendment No. 43.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I thank the hon. Lady.

Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, tabled by my hon. Friend John McDonnell, are designed to protect the position of those who work for the existing commissions. We are aware that a transition of the type in prospect always gives rise to concerns and uncertainty among staff and we are committed to a well managed, open and transparent transition process in which staff are fully consulted.

I can reassure my hon. Friend by confirming that it is our intention that the full protection of TUPE will apply to all staff of the existing three commissions. I also assure him that it is not our intention to transfer any staff to the new commission without the full protection of TUPE. We are working closely with employee representatives and senior management of the existing commissions to develop the most effective way forward in that and related matters. We have established a union forum to act as a consultative mechanism on the commission for equality and human rights between the commissions and recognised trade unions, with Government participation.

The provisions of clause 39(5) will, in effect, safeguard the existing terms and conditions of those staff who transfer into the new commission and ensure that their period of employment continues with the new commission without being counted as a break in service for either employment or pension rights. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's specific question. TUPE applies to all contractual terms and conditions and includes an existing right to a redundancy payment. In addition to that statutory protection, it is Government policy to ensure that staff who transfer from one public sector organisation to another are no worse off as a result of that transfer.

TUPE protection will also apply to staff transferring under a transfer scheme whenever they join the CEHR, whether that is before the new commission becomes operational—our target date is October 2007—or when the CRE folds in 2009, or any time in between. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

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?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

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.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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.

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 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 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.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood

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

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

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 Roger Berry? In other words, half of the committee should be women and a quarter should be black or Asian, at least.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to give due regard to a range of views.

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.

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.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 8:15 pm, 16th January 2006

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.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

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 assurance—not only in terms of race but for the other strands if they ask for it—and 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.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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 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.

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.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

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.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Following the suggestion of my hon. Friend 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?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler PPS (Rt Hon Jane Kennedy, Minister of State), Department of Health

The Minister talked about a review headed by Trevor Phillips. Can she give the House an assurance 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?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, I have met the majority of groups that she named and I pay tribute to their work. I shall come to that point later.

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 society—young 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 way—it 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.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Will the Minister allow to me to intervene? She sounds as though she is about to embark on her peroration, and I would hate her to finish—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Is the Minister giving way? I cannot allow two hon. Members to be on their feet at the same time.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

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—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to reassure her hon. Friend that it is the end of the beginning.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I think that it is the beginning of the end, but it is not the end. Indeed, I was about to say that today is not the end of the process—far 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 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.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The Minister has moved a long way on representation today. Let us be clear about the race committee: she not only hopes that it will happen, but wants it to happen, so if it does not happen—she thinks it impossible that it will not happen—she will make sure that the Government's views are brought to the attention of the commission, even though it will be independent, and if necessary she will return to the House to seek ways to make sure that it happens. Am I almost right?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

My hon. Friend is almost right. I do not want to go as far as him, because my confidence that the commission will take the race committee seriously is so great that I cannot see the need to return to the House.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

On that basis, I will not press my amendment to a vote this evening.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I thank my hon. Friend for making that clear. I understand the concern that the issue has raised among black and Asian communities, and I am sensitive to the need to take the matter forward in a way that encourages their involvement and also their confidence that the new body will deliver.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The black and Asian communities will be pleased that the Minister appears to have moved towards our position tonight—we have listened to her remarks carefully and will study them in Hansard. However, she should be assured that although some hon. Members will move on as the issue unfolds, others will not move on and will return to the Floor of the House again and again until we have a commission that represents a genuine step forward for all the equality strands within it.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. What is encouraging about this process is that the number of people who are not only interested in but committed to ensuring that we advance issues of equality is much greater than some years ago.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I apologise for intervening again, but the point raised by my hon. Friend Ms Butler is important. Will the Minister convene a meeting between the CRE, the 1990 Trust, the Greater London authority and Operation Black Vote as soon as possible to make sure that everyone has a stake in ensuring that those commitments are carried through?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I am happy to convene such a meeting.

The position taken by my hon. Friend Harry Cohen on London is slightly different from mine. The involvement of people throughout Britain is important, and I want to see how we can involve black and minority ethnic groups throughout the whole of Britain. The board will decide the way forward, once it is appointed towards the end of year, but we are already preparing the options for it to consider. Nevertheless, I thank my hon. Friend for raising the important issue of London in amendments Nos. 25 and 26. Despite the fact that I am Yorkshire born and bred, I share his pride in what our capital, which has one of the most diverse populations of any capital city, has to offer. However, I disagree with him about a statutory committee, which would be neither necessary nor wise.

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that discrimination is not location specific, but in many respects the commission's functions will be location specific. The site will be split between Manchester and London, but I emphasise that further work remains to be done. We need to consider what are the appropriate functions to be located in Manchester and in London. None of us, however proud we are of our own part of the country, would argue that the lobbying of Parliament and regular contact with decision making needs to be based in London. We do not have in mind specific splits in terms of numbers. This will be part of a longer process to determine the appropriate functions. Our work on location identified that many of the functions undertaken are not location-specific, particularly now that most people use the phone to contact organisations. There are many ways in which we can make the commission accessible without having to have it on people's doorsteps.

I should emphasise that there will be offices in Scotland and Wales as well as in Manchester and London, and regional arrangements across England. I want the commission to reach into every community. It will have regional arrangements that are beyond those for the current commissions, although further work is required to determine how that is to be done. Nothing in the Bill prevents the new commission from establishing a committee for London. Indeed, the London region will want to consider how it responds to the challenge of the regional structure. I do not, however, agree that such a committee should be set out in statute. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead will withdraw his amendment and that the people of the south and the north of England can once again become good friends.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 8:30 pm, 16th January 2006

The Minister's comments about the further work that is required are very helpful. I hope that she will emphasise the need to be effective as regards the lobbying of Ministers and key policy decision makers. On that basis, I am happy not to press my amendment.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I am pleased to make my hon. Friend happy.

Amendment No. 42 would ensure that a financial statement prepared by the commission is sent to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee as well as to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Secretary of State, for which the Bill already provides. The Bill requires the commission to provide an annual financial statement and send it to the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is required to examine, certify and report on the commission's financial statement and to lay a copy of the statement and his report before Parliament. Each year, the Public Accounts Committee undertakes several inquiries and investigations, often drawing on those reports. The relationship between the Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General is close and co-operative.

I hope that Mrs. Laing will understand why the amendment, while well intentioned, is unnecessary. The Bill has sufficient safeguards, as there are with non-departmental public bodies generally, to ensure rigorous scrutiny, accountability and transparency.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I accept the Minister's assurances and I will not press my amendment. I look forward to the publication of the first year's accounts.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

On that note, I conclude my contribution to this part of the debate.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.