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Vaz the way to do it

by Lester Holloway

EX-FOREIGN OFFICE minister Keith Vaz is set to increase pressure on government to give in to demands for race to be part of a new super-equalities body.

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz: opposes the governments colour-blind approach to new race body.

The Leicester East MP is leading a last ditch effort to get a race committee written into a new law setting up a single equalities body, abolishing the Commission for Racial Equality and merging seven equalities subjects together.

Equalities minister Meg Munn has so far resisted growing pressure from Black MPs and peers to give ground and recognise race in the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

The Equalities Bill will get its final reading n the House of Commons next Monday (16th January) before receiving royal ascent.

Campaigners are challenging the 15 Asian and African-Caribbean MPs to “show their mettle” and speak out on the most important change to Britain's race institutions for decades.

Labour MP Diane Abbott has previously attacked government plans as “a betrayal of the black community… which is taking race relations back 30 years.”


Mr Vaz tabled amendments yesterday proposing a race committee with a “sufficient share” of resources, and that a quarter of the CEHR commissioners are from an ethnic minority.

Meg Munn
Equalities minister Meg Munn

Ms Munn has previously rejected a move by Conservative MP's during the Equality Bill's committee stage, to set a minimum level of one ethnic minority commissioner on the CEHR board.

The government also squashed efforts in the Lords by ex-CRE chairman Lord Herman Ouseley and Lord Victor Adebowale, to set up a race committee.

The majority of Black MPs are understood to favour a race committee, including ministers David Lammy and Dr Ashok Kumar.

Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote (OBV), challenged Black MPs to declare where they stand during the Commons debate on Monday.


He said: “This is D-day for Britain's Black MPs, when we will see the mettle of those who stand up and take part in this critical debate.

Simon Woolley
Simon Woolley: said Black MPs must declare where they stand on government plans to axe the CRE and exclude race from new super-body.

“Are they prepared to speak on behalf of Black communities and demand a statutory race committee.

“Failure to do so will leave Black communities wondering what their Black politicians are there for if, on such an important issue, they stay silent.”

Activists are busy lobbying Black MPs to make their views known in the Commons debate. This follows an intensive lobbying campaign by The 1990 Trust, OBV, and the National Assembly Against Racism.

Blink has run an email lobbying campaign which has seen 55 readers lobby Ms Munn and the UK's Black MPs.

239 people and organisations have so far signed a statement calling for a race committee, including the Lords-bound Sir Bill Morris, Doreen Lawrence and London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

red line

Two national consultations carried out by The 1990 Trust in 2004 and 2005 showed Britain's BME communities united in opposing plans to axe the CRE and merge race with sexual orientation, disability, religion, age, gender and human rights.

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Support for the CEHR went up if the new body had a race committee, ring-fenced resources to tackle racism comparable to the current £20m annual CRE budget, an guaranteed Black representation on the CEHR board.

The government is proposing a committee for disability and a guarantee of a disabled person as a CEHR commissioner following heavy lobbying by Disability Rights Commission chairman Bert Massie at the pre-Equalities Bill 'taskforce stage.'

Those close to the process say the CRE and its chairman Trevor Phillips were almost invisible by comparison, supporting their own abolition at first, before Mr Phillips suddenly stole headlines with a threat to “walk away” if his “red line” demands were not met.

The CRE appeared to share the concerns of activists for a while before Mr Phillips adopted a new position of arguing for a 'Commission for Citizenship and Integration' to operate separate from, but alongside, the CEHR.

If MPs approve the Bill next week the government hope to set up the CEHR by 2007, with the CRE finally closing in 2009. Many campaigners believe the plans will push race down the agenda when race is forced to compete with other equalities areas.

Keith Vaz told Blink: “It is unacceptable that the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) does not have a requirement for black and minority ethnic representation on its board as it does in relation to disability.

Implementing a statutory Race Committee will give the required weight to the race agenda and ensure that it is kept at the forefront and does not loose influence and authority.”

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The 1990 Trust’s response to the CEHR White Paper

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