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Another former minister hits out at single equalities body

21/5/2004

FORMER GOVERNMENT minister Keith Vaz today hit out at proposals to abolish the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and merge it with six other equalities subjects in a single body

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz: race could be ‘swallowed up’

Vaz is the second ex-Labour minister to publicly criticise the plans following former race relations minister Angela Eagle.

Writing in today’s Guardian, Vaz sets out to destroy some of the governments’ main arguments for a new ‘super-body’ called the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), combining race, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion and human rights.

Vaz fears this will create a ‘hierarchy of discrimination’ in which race could be swallowed up and submerged under competing equalities demands.

Read his article below:

Divided we stand, united we fall – race, sex and other equality bodies will lose their bite if they are merged

By Keith Vaz MP

WHAT COULD be wrong with the government's plans to merge race, sex and other public equality bodies into one new streamlined commission for equality and human rights, you might wonder?

speech bubbleYour Shout!

What do you think about the single equalities body proposals?

The scheme, set out in last week's white paper, has been welcomed on the grounds that it is better to have one super-body dealing with discrimination and equality than six separate anti-discrimination organisations all with their own agenda.

By bringing in human rights, it is said, we could at last have an organisation with enormous political and moral authority.

But the abolition of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission as separate bodies will be a backward step. Excuse the cynicism, but the timing of this announcement is a little suspect.

Recently we were told by the media-savvy CRE chairman Trevor Phillips that multiculturalism is dead. Many of us have been urged to issue a collective mea culpa because our promotion of multiculturalism has supposedly promoted separatism.

nonsense

This separatism has led to communities looking inwards and therefore not participating fully in society and, worse, this has been an obstacle on the way to becoming really British. What nonsense.

quoteMerge race with all the other forms of discrimination and it will be swallowed up in the belly of a big fish, just like Marlin in Finding Nemounquote
Keith Vaz MP

Patricia Hewitt, the able minister who announced these proposals, represents with me the most multicultural city in Britain. We are regularly seen at Asian events in Leicester, dancing the night away, celebrating the very multiculturalism that this white paper seeks to marginalise – she, elegant in her sari, and me shoehorned into my Nehru jacket.

The new body will submerge race as an issue along with all the other sorts of discrimination. We would like to be able to say that we no longer need the CRE because discrimination has been eliminated.

In fact, we desperately need it. Merge race with all the other forms of discrimination and it will be swallowed up in the belly of a big fish, just like Marlin in Finding Nemo.

No one doubts the advantages of mergers: fewer admin workers, better accountability, fewer commissioners. Overall, a big cost saving. But this is not the same as the marriage of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

distinctive

A commission dealing with both race and human rights cannot be as comprehensive as the CRE, with its own distinctive agenda and broad community support.

Since 1997 Britain has had a pretty good record on race issues. Tony Blair's governments have all been multi-ethnic. The Macpherson report was accepted by Jack Straw, who became the first home secretary to set targets for police recruitment of black and Asian people.

The level of ethnic minority appointments to the senior civil service has increased. For the first time we have permanent secretaries and ambassadors reflecting Britain's ethnic diversity.

The CRE has played a crucial role, and remains virtually the only organisation that can articulate the black and Asian community's concerns.

Issues of equality are complex and diverse, and the experience of discrimination is very different. A white gay man does not encounter the same acts of discrimination as an Asian woman; nor a white disabled woman and a black man.

hierarchy

Similarly, discrimination today is not overt and explicit but covert and institutional. An obvious example is the strong opposition by some Asian religious groups to the concept of gay marriages.

This concept has been accepted in law, but enforcement could be a problem in an organisation that seeks to be fair towards all groups who suffer discrimination. What will be created is a hierarchy of discrimination with the different stakeholders all seeking to have the upper hand.

Already the manoeuvring has begun as to who will be the first chair; is it going to be a white woman or a black man, a disabled person or someone who is gay?

Human rights are different and completely separate from equality issues. Human rights embrace people who are not discriminated against because of their race or colour. A white male can claim his human rights are being infringed; human rights are also protected in the European convention and now incorporated into our law in a way that discrimination issues are not.

Under the creation of a single body, all groups who suffer discrimination will be the real losers, unable to fashion their own agendas, forced into making compromises that alienate their core supporters.

Mainstreaming is good if it means that a general awareness is created throughout society. However, mainstreaming equality issues may also mean marginalising them.

Rather than rolling over and accepting these proposals, the CRE should be taking a tough line to ensure that race remains at the top of this government's agenda. If you give up your best cards at the start of the game, you will be lucky to get a seat at the table when it ends.

Keith Vaz is Labour MP for Leicester East and a former minister for Europe

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Resources:

Teeth and their use

Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: One year On

The Zahid Mubarek Inquiry

pdf Dept. for Communities & Local Government Citizenship Survey

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

Jacqui Smith answers questions on the Single Equalities Body

How to Contact your MP

Links:

Race and Faith and Communities

Election Memory

Catalyst Magazine

UNITE TO PROTECT OUR RIGHTS: sign the statement against the erosion of civil liberties and human rights by new anti-terrorism proposals A Black Manifesto No 2 ID FREE FAROUQ PDP ASSOCIATES Power to the People

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