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Knowing is not believing

by Shirin Aguiar-Holloway

THE GOVERNMENT has rejected calls for guarentees of black representation on the board of a proposed new 'super-equality' body by claiming it was good enough to simply “know” about discrimination.

Meg Munn
Meg Munn: says “knowing about” discrimination is enough for single equality board members.

Yesterday Labours equality minister Meg Munn opposed Tories moves to enshrine in law a minimum number of ethnic minority board members on the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Ms Munn told MP's it was sufficient for potential CEHR commissioners simply to “know about” discrimination.

Today a coalition of black-led campaign organisations are calling for a lobby of MPs over the need to have a race committee and a minimum level of black representation on the CEHR.

The 1990 Trust, Operation Black Vote, the National Assembly Against Racism, the Black Londoners Forum, and the Lesbian and Gay Coalition Against Racism want changes to recognising the need to specifically tackle racial inequality.


Click on the link at the bottom of this article to send your message to MP's on the all-party Standing Committee on the Equality Bill.

“Are you sure you're in the right place?” How our cartoonist Felix sees the new equalities super-commission.

The Bill would abolish the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and merge it with existing commissions dealing with gender and disability, and new areas of sexual orientation, religion, age and human rights.

Last Sunday The Observer reported comments by CRE chairman Trevor Phillips that government plans were “bad for race and bad for equality” and would leave the new body unable to tackle racism.

Yesterday in a speech at Keele University, Mr Phillips called for a new “Commission for Citizenship and Integration” modelled Northern Ireland's Community Relations Council.

Conservative equalities spokeswoman Eleanor Laing proposed an amendment (52) proposing that the CEHR includes at least one commissioner each who is from an ethnic minority, female, over 65 years of age and “either gay, lesbian or transgender.”


But Ms Munn responded by telling MPs on the committee: “There is a major safeguard. The appointees must collectively have knowledge in relation to discrimination and human rights. The board will have members representing all communities.”

 - quote - We want this to work for everybody, not just a small number of people  - unquote -
Equality minister Meg Munn MP

After the meeting she told Blink: “There's no way it's going to be a bunch of white men. It wouldn't have the credibility.”

Asked why she rejected calls for a race committee for the proposed body, she replied: “This is a commission which has to provide services across the whole of Great Britain. We want this to work for everybody, not just a small number of people.”

Earlier Ms Laing, who is MP for Epping Forest, told MPs at the meeting in Parliament that the composition of the commission's board was vital.

She said: “It is up to Parliament at this stage to prescribe some of the qualifications that some of the commissioners should have, and therefore we set that out in amendment 52. I think it would be difficult to argue against it.”


But Sandra Gidley, Liberal Democrat MP for Romsey, said it was
tokenistic to say that commissioners should be appointed from certain sections of the community.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: said government plans offered a 'bad deal' for race.

She said: “How do you define ethnic minority? In many parts of London there are significant Irish minorities.

“There would be a huge outcry from organisations like Operation Black Vote if someone was chosen from the Irish community.”

Tory backbencher James Brokenshire MP denied it was tokenistic in “any way, shape or form.”

He said: “People are concerned that if there isn't a commissioner that comes from these six or so strands, that will send out a message that these sorts of issues are being down-played at a time when we are trying to emphasise greater equality, and that racism is being stamped out.”

Brokenshire said there was a need to demonstrate “that these issues are taken very seriously and sending out a message to people that they are not being weakened in some way.”

Reacting to the debate in the Parliament, Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote rejected Ms Gidley's claims. He said: “She clearly fails to understand what OBV is about. It is particularly disappointing when a female MP espouses the view that representation isn't important.”

Mr Woolley said that knowledge of discrimination was no substitute for experience. “Local authorities have shown that they may have race equality in their directives but the reality is very different.”

Arguing for a race committee, Mr Woolley added: “We are in danger of undermining 40 years of struggle for racial justice.”

The public can attend meetings of the standing committee on the Equality Bill. Further meetings are on Thursday 1st December at 8.55am and 1pm; Tuesday 6th December at 10.30am and 4pm and Thursday 8th December at 8.55am and 1pm.

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Responses to the Equalities Review Interim Report

The 1990 Trust Response to The Equalities Review Interim Report

Equalities Review Interim Report Briefing – Addressing Race Equality

pdf Our Rights, Our Future

pdf Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: The Government's race strategy

CRE response to DTI Statement on Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Equality and Diversity Forum welcomes the progress on a Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Summary of Changes to the CEHR

The 1990 Trust’s response to the CEHR White Paper

pdf Delivering equality and human rights for black and minority ethnic communities

Flush the academic racism in Blunkett’s office down the pan

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