Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800-819)

JULIE MELLOR, JOHN SHARMAN, BRYAN HEISER, DANIEL SILVERSTONE AND BERT MASSIE

THURSDAY 13 JUNE 2002

  800. Could I just ask, I am also interested in this question of self-confidence, because there are a lot of people out there that can do lots of jobs, if we just demystified the jobs and said, "Listen, you can do it." What about role models, identifying role models, which would encourage greater participation from excluded groups, whether people with disabilities, Muslim women that I have been speaking about, or others; what can the Government do, there must be a role, but what can the Government do, what can your organisations do, to promote those role models?
  (Mr Silverstone) I suppose, one of the things that we could do is to promote our own Commissioners rather more as role models, because, as we have already heard today, our organisations are unusual in being run at strategic level by the majority of the people that we are there to represent; maybe that is an issue that we ought to reflect on.
  (Ms Mellor) I think it is not just role models, I think it is about mentoring. And some of the recommendations I think that are likely to come out of some work that was being done in the Cabinet Office, but goodness know where it has moved, in the latest change of Departments, was around things like mentoring, or work-shadowing, or apprenticeships. And it does not have to be a Muslim woman that apprentices another Muslim woman, but actually giving people the experience and giving ethnic minority women the experience, working alongside or being a non-voting member of an organisation, actually to really understand how they operate, and build their confidence to go for it.
  (Mr Silverstone) I would just like to come back on the Muslim women point of Mr Prentice, because it is a challenge that we are facing internally within the CRE at the moment, both rhetorically, in the major speech that Gurbux Singh did last month, where one of the key shifts in our approach is to challenge racism wherever we see it, including in minority communities, which is quite a big shift for us, long overdue, some people would say. But, in terms of our own thinking, in practice, and I think this goes for public authorities as well, your point about you meet communities in your constituencies and a number of men with beards show up; recently I was at a meeting in Wales with Gurbux Singh, where we had exactly that experience, and Gurbux went back again last week, because he said he did not want just to meet men, and he said he would come back in a month's time in order to see a more representative group, and did. I think public bodies need to become more assertive in ensuring that they are consulting with a wider cross-section, not just the usual suspects, and that requires a rethink in terms of how we all do consultation. I think there is far too much of this tired old two-way exchanges that goes on, particularly at civic level, between community representatives and civic leaders, that the same people have been talking to each other for 20 years; and that is also a factor in the kind of alienation that you opened up your remarks with. I am pretty sure it has got resonances for all three of us, actually.
  (Mr Heiser) On the question of mentoring, Engage is already developing a database of both disabled people in public office and disabled people who have expressed an interest in getting appointments, and we are starting to put the two together, and that is a start, I think, in something which is quite practical and can be done; but we would like to take it further. But I think we can suggest a model of doing it, but I think it needs to be over to you, actually, to put some responsibility to do this onto the public bodies themselves, the sponsoring Departments. But it is a straightforward thing to do; and then I think we can get beyond that to the point where interested disabled people, women, ethnic minorities, whatever, can be put in touch with people on the awarding of appointments, who are not necessarily members of those groups, perhaps it is better if they are, I do not know, we can debate that one. But, certainly, the wider the pool of people with experience of appointment, who are prepared to coach and mentor people who want public appointments, the more successful we can be.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  801. Can I come back to the single body, please, again, but you recently said that, and you gave a very comprehensive answer but I want to explore it a bit further, "there are people who would like to get rid of us," and, I think, in a speech, you said that "young as we are there are those who would throttle us in our cots. Once again our future would be in the hands of non-disabled people." Were you talking specifically about somebody, or an organisation, or was it a more general thing you were discussing, or thinking about?
  (Mr Massie) I think it is a general thing, I am not sure these people are necessarily just picking on the DRC, I think it is a bigger issue. And I think the Government does actually have a dilemma, it does not make sense to create another three Commissions, I agree with that, I think there are other institutional arrangements, actually, which would all be as valid as a single body, which the Government does not appear to have even considered. And what I was disappointed about was, when the Government issued its paper in January, it suddenly announced it was minded that a single equality body would be a good thing; well, they said they had thought about it, there is no evidence in the paper they had thought about it, actually, it is just one page, there was no thinking there at all and no evidence of their thinking. And then, at the end of the consultation period, Barbara Roche said, "Well, yes, this is what we are minded to do," there was still no addressing of the other institutional arrangements. Now those institutional arrangements might not work, I am happy to admit they may not work, but at least they should have been considered. And if disabled people are going to have the DRC taken away from them then at least that should be justified and the other models should have been examined by Government. And so there is a feeling that this is virtually a fait accompli, and all we have got to go for now is how we try to preserve disabled people's position; and I do think the best way of preserving it, frankly, would be to, as I said earlier, get the single Equality Act through, because that would take away the big policy agenda, and once that is delivered then the other things actually could work. And the other thing I would say is, I agreed with Lord Irvine, when he speculated recently that maybe, because in disability human rights are a huge issue, in access to the Health Service, amongst other things, and Lord Irvine speculated about a general human rights body, with some silos and cross-fertilisation underneath that. Now I think that should be considered as well, because that would actually be giving disabled people access to more rights in law, in areas where they are not being protected at the moment.

  802. Can we follow that along; you mentioned Lord Irvine. This Committee has been looking very closely at the House of Lords reform, and that is in discussion, as you know; there is going to be some form of elected part of the House of Lords, it could be as high as 70 per cent, it could be as low as 25 per cent, it will be somewhere in-between. If you were acting as a single body, do you think that would help to get people, such as yourselves, put in, not in statute but certainly given a boost within what would be a very important, elected body in this country, on a regional basis, probably; do you think that would help, acting as a single entity?
  (Mr Massie) It is not apparent how it would help.

  803. I am asking the question?
  (Mr Massie) I cannot give you a clear yes, equally I cannot give you a clear no. A single equality body would have the advantage, as Julie was saying earlier, of pushing all equality issues up an agenda; but whether all issues would be treated equally, it could end up with a battle within the single body for different strands trying to assert influence within the body, it is a possibility. If a part of the Upper House were directly elected then there are now disabled councillors, quite large numbers of disabled councillors, who are standing for election and succeeding, and a number of Members of Parliament. I suspect there are probably more disabled Peers, proportionately, than there are in the Lower House, if only because of the age, and disability being largely age-related. So I am beginning to waffle now, actually, am I not, because I am not answering your question properly.

  804. No, you are not, actually; because what I am trying to explore is, if we have got a major change coming in the constitutional way that we look at legislation, etc., this is a chance, potentially, for all of you to get more involved in how this is going to be really set up for the very long-term future, one presumes, on an elected chamber, and I am just wondering whether or not maybe working more coherently together would act more constantly with the Cabinet Office actually to get representation in the percentages you want?
  (Mr Massie) What could they do, with respect; they could say, "We should have a percentage of people from disrelated groups." We have got six groups already, and before the single equality body even gets off the ground somebody is going to suggest including children, and there will be another list of issues which will be added, before the Bill ever reaches Parliament. I do not know; it will depend on whether the body really can represent disabled people. Even when you say `disabled people', we have heard earlier about the percentage of that, a particular problem of Muslim women. When I talk about disabled people, who am I talking about; the image is the wheelchair-user, we are actually a minority of disabled people. Talking about role models, the Prime Minister has given a commitment to the DRC that the Government will start using disabled people in Government advertising; now if that happens that will be great for role models. Who will they have; will they have people who are overtly disabled, with a stick, or who are blind, or will they actually have someone with epilepsy? When you see it in drama, you will see some obviously disabled people, but I have never seen in a drama someone having an epileptic seizure, and there is huge discrimination against people who have epilepsy. So even in the disability field there is a wide range of people. And I think it needs a pretty specialist outfit to protect their interests, quite honestly; but if this new thing is going to happen then it will be for the disabled people involved in it, and I would hope there would be some disabled people involved, there is no guarantee, of course, but there ought to be at least some, who would be pushing this agenda. But it is by no means an inevitable consequence that the single body would lead to greater representation of disabled people in any elected chamber.

  805. Can I widen it out, just lastly, on the Public Appointments Unit in the Cabinet Office. There is a letter we have been sent, from Christopher Leslie to Graham Allen, who is a Member in this House, and trying to explain how the register will be used, and the benefits of having the register, and keeping it. Do you feel that, as a group, I mean individually, you should have, not access to that, obviously, because that is confidential information, but an input into the way the register is kept, and it goes across Departments, and the way actually your interests are put into that register? Because I suspect it is a fairly interesting document you fill in, which I think we have touched on; do you think there should be more input, from that point of view?
  (Mr Silverstone) I think that, whether we continue independently or join up, we will all be interested in regularly updating the Public Appointments Unit with the names of suitable candidates that we come across, day to day; and we have certainly been doing this, fairly actively, in the last year.

  806. With success?
  (Mr Silverstone) We do not know; they do not tell us. So maybe the answer that I would like to put to your question, if that is your question, is, yes, we would like to know the end results.

  807. What about you, Julie; is that your feeling as well?
  (Ms Mellor) We have had some influence, and have for a long time put forward names of the men and women who come to us, we refer them to that. I think my question would be, or rather, my understanding is that, actually, the use of that register by Departments is probably fairly limited, and that, of the 4,000-odd names on it, over the last few years, only 200 have received public appointments. And so I think I would question whether that is the right focus, or whether we should be getting every Department to look at the kind of people who have the skills within their own register.

  808. Christopher goes on to say: "However, the register has now been made available to all departments via the Government's secure intranet so that they can consult it when carrying out a public appointments competition to identify people who might be suitable candidates..." Do you think that is moving down the right sort of line?
  (Ms Mellor) Yes.

  809. But do you think there should be more input?
  (Mr Massie) I am just trying to think how would sort of ordinary, intelligent, sensible people behave; it is less time-consuming just to throw the advert in the paper, is it not, really, than actually to start trawling through a large register and trying to match up the skills. So it could be that some people would actually put that effort in; it could be that others would say, "Well, the register's there, but, of course, if they were really interested they would pick up the advert anyway." Now I do not know how the register is used, but I was just trying to think, if someone were very busy, what would be the easiest thing to do.
  (Mr Heiser) I think one of the issues is how the register is constructed and how people get on it, and the register could be useful, but it is going to be more useful to the extent that it is widely advertised, the advertising is targeted, and all the other things we have talked about. We have been talking a lot to the Cabinet Office about the process of how we share information about people wanting appointments, and information about appointments that are current; and there is a huge amount to be done, that is quite clear. If getting onto the register is arcane and only known to people `in the know' then it is not going to be terribly useful.

  810. Can I just put something forward, perhaps something like a bumped-up independent assessor, to try to get the balance right within the Cabinet Office, because the Cabinet Office is a bit of a sort of black art, to most people, I think to all of us, that we do not quite know what goes on in the wider context. Do you think a sort of slightly more, somebody who could actually look at it, Dame Rennie, or somebody like that, to say, "Well, this is what's going on within the register," because none of us seem to know, do we, what is actually happening?
  (Mr Heiser) Is the register the proper focus; or should the proper focus be wide advertising of appointments?

  811. I just find that interesting, because there is a letter here from the Cabinet Office itself, actually saying that it is the importance here attaching to that register, and I am just wondering whether or not maybe things are moving out of sync slightly?
  (Mr Massie) I had not really thought about it, but you raised Dame Rennie and her post, I think that would probably be helpful, actually. I am just trying to think of when these points were, I have lost count of the number of times, when there were certain public bodies that had been looking for somebody who is disabled, I have had calls from civil servants, saying, "It has all got to be open, of course, but who do you think we should send the application forms to?" And so sometimes, whether it be on the register or not, there does seem to be examples of some Government Departments, and it is a quite small number, have contacted me. I was just saying that a small number of Government Departments, probably those who know me, have actually `phoned me, on numerous occasions, saying, "Look, this committee is coming up and do you know anyone we could send application forms to?" So there is an attempt to get people; but, yes, I think, if the register is going to be there, as I have not seen it, I cannot really comment on it, but it is certainly worth having an oversight of it.

Chairman

  812. Thanks very much, Ian, for that. Can I ask you some very, very quick questions, and you to give very quick answers, if you could, even though they are not ones that lend themselves to quick answers? My sense, from listening to you, is that no-one really is in favour of quotas; is that right? I have not heard anyone argue in favour of quotas; there is no short-cut through quotas to sorting all this out. Does anyone want to say `no' on behalf of your collective selves?
  (Ms Mellor) We agree with you.
  (Mr Heiser) Targets.

  813. No; no, I am not talking about targets. The next bit was that you think targets are useful, and they should be seriously pursued and persistently pursued?
  (Mr Heiser) Yes.

  814. But you do think that the notion of laying a duty upon public bodies is a good idea, which would include a duty to pursue targets vigorously, presumably?
  (Mr Heiser) Yes.
  (Mr Silverstone) And that duty does apply now, on race.

  815. And it does apply now to race, and the argument is it should be extended?
  (Mr Silverstone) Yes.
  (Ms Mellor) Not just to the three grounds that our bodies represent, but the new grounds as well: age, religion and sexual orientation.

  816. Yes. That might be a last question, which, again, is an impossible one to answer. We do not talk about class, these days, do we, at all? Let me ask Julie, just to say goodbye; presumably, we think that working-class women have a rawer deal than middle-class women, do we not?
  (Ms Mellor) I do not think you can answer the question in isolation. That is why I think the multiple identity issue is so important. The interlinking of race, gender, class, for example, is just so strong that you cannot look at any of it in isolation; and the diversity that we are talking about should be absolutely in terms of different socioeconomic groups, as well as gender, race, etc.

  817. But it is obvious, is it not, that a working-class woman is less advantaged than a middle-class woman? It does not matter about overlapping identities, and all that, it is just obvious, is it not, that that is the case?
  (Ms Mellor) Yes. I am not sure where your question is leading.

  818. But we do not have a class commission, do we, we do not have a social class commission, we do not have a commission whose job it is to redress class imbalances?
  (Ms Mellor) No, but, in a sense, our job is to do ourselves out of a job, and what one would hope, with things like the duty on the public sector, is that it actually is looking across all the issues and looking at where the particular critical points are. For example, my own organisation has an emphasis on pay and poverty, because we know that the women who are most disadvantaged are poorer women because of unequal pay, etc.

  819. Do you think, again, an impossible question, middle-class women, as a species, are more or less advantaged than working-class men?
  (Ms Mellor) I do not think you can generalise like that.

 


 
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