Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Thank you for attending today. We welcome the comprehensive group of representatives appearing on behalf of the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland. Due to the number of witnesses, I appeal for succinct questions and answers so that we can cover all the areas that we want to discuss. This is a one-off evidence session. Today's meeting is not part of an inquiry into the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland. It is so that the Committee can familiarise itself with the Commission's work, particularly in light of the arrival of new ethnic groups in Scotland. The minutes of evidence will be published in about a month's time and there will be no consequential report. Rather than all six witnesses answering the same question, perhaps one of you can, or if there is a difference of opinion, perhaps two of you. Mr Kanani, perhaps you would introduce yourself and give us a brief introduction to the work of the CRE in Scotland and describe to us the issues of most concern?


  (Mr Kanani) Perhaps I can say how pleased we are to be here today, especially in the positive context of your desire to become more familiar with the work of the CRE in Scotland. That is of particular importance to us. By asking us to appear before you, you send out a clear political message to organisations across the board that our work is as important as other mainstream bodies. We welcome the opportunity. Today we have with us not only colleagues who work in the CRE office in Scotland, but also the Chief Executive and the Accounting Officer for the Commission for Racial Equality. The reason for bringing a large group of people is so that you have the benefit of what we have to say and, in terms of the questions that you have to ask us, you will receive as full a response as possible from us as an organisation. Principally, I shall take your questions and field them across the panel. In terms of the work of the CRE office in Scotland, as an organisation we operate against a mandate set out in the Race Relations Act 1976. Our role is to fulfil that mandate in the Scottish context. With the emergence of devolution, the Commission for Racial Equality committed itself to making the most of devolution. In that respect it expanded the office space and increased its resources with the objective of making the most of what devolution has to offer in relation to racial equality work. In effect, we achieved what we had to do within the context of the operating environment. In terms of the issues that are of concern to us, clearly an early priority of the Commission for Racial Equality was to take full account of the parliamentary process as established in 1999. To that effect, we established a parliamentary agenda which we have circulated to the Committee as part of the appendices and enclosures to our evidence. In that we sought to establish a broad-ranging agenda for the first term of office of the Scottish Parliament, ensuring that it took full account not only of the ethnic minority communities on the ground, but also its role as the ultimate governance body and accountability body. It sought to effect not only issues of the ethnic minority community, but also to promote racial equality in the ambit of its work. So the parliamentary agenda sets out the clear objectives that we wanted the Parliament to achieve in the first four years. Part of the work that we have been carrying out is to ensure that we check progress against that and monitor the progress. From the evidence that we submitted you will find that a great deal has been achieved as a result of that agenda. We have seen that legislation has been amended in terms of education and housing legislation. An early win was the Amendment Census Order to incorporate some of our concerns with regard to the early orders put in place by the Deputy First Minister at the time. We used the parliamentary process to ensure that we sought an effective outcome in that respect. Working with the Parliament is an important priority for us and continues to be so. Equally, working with the Scottish Executive is a key priority for us and ensuring that the work of the Civil Service in Scotland effectively takes account of racial equality issues, not only in terms of the design of the policy, but also in terms of the thinking and practice of that particular body. We have engaged with the Scottish Executive very effectively. You may think that what we have enabled the Executive to do is to join up more effectively around certain issues. We have also been able to focus in on particular areas of interest that enable other departments to work around the issues; namely, issues about housing, education, and so on. Other areas of priority for us are to ensure that across the board the public sector fully takes account of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. That is a key priority for us. As an organisation not only do we need to refocus ourselves but also our ability to deliver on the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. We also have to play a critical role in ensuring that the public sector, across the board, not only understands, but is enabled and empowered to deliver that important Act that the House chose to effect in order to promote racial equality and to correct behaviour when racial quality took place. We are mindful of that in terms of how we engage with the issue. Working under the amendment Act is a key priority for the organisation across the board. Also we ensure that as an organisation we effectively connect with communities on the ground and ensure that our work reflects the concerns of communities. That has to be done in a way that not only is about us engaging, but also about others engaging more effectively. One of the key priorities in Scotland is that modernising racial equality work is a key priority. In that respect we must ensure that the work that is delivered on the ground takes full account of the legislative changes and cultural changes. Devolution has changed the nature of Scotland and how racial equality work should take place. Our agenda has been about ensuring that there is a step change, not only in terms of how racial equality work is viewed, but how it is delivered on the ground. It is not simply about the work that we fund, but it is also about the work that others fund and carry out. Those are some of the key priorities for us. I can go into more detail in relation to various aspects, but perhaps I can turn to our Chief Executive who can speak about the corporate priorities that we are establishing.

<fo1> Not published.

  Chairman: Perhaps we can come back to you, Mr Silverstone, because we have a large number of questions and I do not want you to pre-empt those. At the end, if you feel that there is anything that has been missed out, you will be able to tell the Committee about it.

Mr Sarwar

  2. You state that, "Since devolution, the CRE has doubled its resources in Scotland and in doing so responded to many concerns raised in the past about its scope and capacity to effectively promote racial equality in Scotland". What specific concerns were raised about "scope and capacity to effectively promote racial equality in Scotland" before CRE doubled its resources in Scotland, and by whom?
  (Mr Kanani) I arrived in the office of the CRE in Scotland in 1999. At that time there were five officers, one administrative support and there were some policy people and one legal affairs officer. Clearly, it was an organisation that had not fully prepared itself, or had not fully taken account of the fact that devolution would be taking place and the need to respond. There was an issue of ensuring that the organisation would take the full opportunities offered by devolution. In terms of the concerns that were raised, principally, one of the key concerns was the accounts and directors of the organisations that we fund. They felt that our capacity to do litigation work, leading casework, was not as effective as it could be. We did not have a qualified litigator to manage the casework in Scotland. The work in Scotland was managed through Manchester and legal casework was directed through Manchester and it went down to the committee in London. Because of the particular circumstances in Scotland, in that it has a different justice system and a different system of tribunals, we felt that we needed qualified expert resources based within the CRE office in Scotland. That was a key concern that was raised by RECs. In the public sector there was a sense that as an organisation we did not have a public profile. We were not seen around in the community. We were not effecting change; we were not brokering change; and we were not a voice that was on a par with other bodies. When I first arrived there was a clear comparison between the ability of the Equal Opportunities Commission to be much more connected in terms of political activity and a whole range of activities. It was regarded as a key partner for public policy development. The CRE in Scotland did not have that. There was concern about that from the public sector across the board. From the voluntary sector there was a sense that we were not able to engage effectively with issues, not only to the black voluntary sector, but also to the mainstream voluntary sector. In effect, our ability was very limited by the number of people that we had in the office. A cross-section of concerns were raised, mostly to do with our capacity to deal with legal work and our ability effectively to operate in the public policy unit.

  3. Would the CRE in Scotland expand on the level of resources currently available to it, including staff and funding, and indicate how these are utilised?
  (Mr Kanani) When I first arrived in 1999 we had some five staff and we now have 15 staff. The budget for that is approximately 1 million—1.01 million. That is the budget for the Scotland office. We have three teams and, as I noted in Appendix 3, we have a legal affairs team, a public affairs team and a public policy team. We have dedicated units of work, for example, dealing with particular areas of concern across Scotland. That is the budget and that is the staffing.

  4. You now have three times more staff than before. I have the largest ethnic minority community in my constituency in Scotland. I have people from the Crown Office to local government who contact me saying that they want to communicate with the community. However, in the past five years I have not been contacted by the CRE, saying that they want to open communication channels with the ethnic minority communities. I am not aware of any public meeting in my constituency organised by the CRE to talk directly to the public.
  (Mr Kanani) I am sorry to hear that. That is very unfortunate. Let me explain. We have had an intense period of activity particularly with the Crown Office and the criminal justice system across the board. We have had intense engagement with the Solicitor General, the Lord Advocate and others and their ability to support and to guide effectively the minority communities. Over the past two years there has been a programme of work that has been consistent, measured and clear as to the outcomes for which we may be looking. That started in the summer of 1999. At a local level, we fund six Racial Equality Councils. I would imagine that at a local level the work that we kick started at a national level, for example with the Solicitor General and other bodies, would be picked up, driven and followed through at a local level by other locally funded bodies. That should have been happening. I am aware that at a local level there appear to be good connections with the Crown Office, the Procurator Fiscal Service and others between the CRE, the Racial Equality Councils in the rest of Scotland and that particular agency. So there appears to be a level of activity that is taking place, but if you have been missed out, that is unfortunate. Perhaps we can rectify that. It appears that there is an anomaly there. A lot of activity is going on, but it is unfortunate that you have not been included in that.

Mr Carmichael

  5. How many lawyers do you have?
  (Mr Kanani) In the CRE in Scotland we have one litigator.

  6. What does Ms Liesl Centenera do?
  (Mr Kanani) She is our corporate lawyer.

  7. You work for the UK office?
  (Mr Kanani) That is right.

  8. In terms of criminal cases presumably you act as a reporting agency for the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service.
  (Mr Kanani) What do you mean in terms of "reporting"?

  9. You would not initiate prosecutions in your own right?
  (Mr Kanani) No.
  (Ms Bolt) No.

  10. When you talk about initiating proceedings, that is in civil cases?
  (Ms Bolt) Yes. We assist individuals in taking complaints of racial discrimination through the civil courts or employment tribunals or the sheriff court. In regard to powers to pursue discrimination cases, it is all civil and not criminal.

  11. Are you experiencing any discernable time limit for cases?
  (Ms Bolt) Over the past two years we have seen an increasing number of inquiries. We have a solicitor and what we call two legal action officers who are the officers who initially advise people who come to us with a complaint and decide whether they have a complaint that comes within the Act and provide advice and assistance up to the point that the Commission as a whole decides to give the full representation. We have seen an increase. In 2000 we had 57 applications for assistance—that is not inquiries, but that is proper applications for assistance where people are investigating a complaint of discrimination—and in the last year we had 87. So we are seeing an increase.

Mr Weir

  12. On that point, have you found that an approach from the CRE to employers prior to litigation does any good? I ask that because the DRC indicated that they found that if they approached the employer the matter could be solved without a court case. Do you find the same, or do you find they end up in court?
  (Ms Bolt) Similar to the DRC, we have a question procedure, which we often use. We send out what is called an RR65 questionnaire which asks an employer to provide us with an explanation of what has happened and their explanation counters what the applicant has said to us. During that process they can provide us with evidence to counter what is being said or to give an explanation and to resolve the matter. Therefore, sometimes matters can be conciliated at an earlier stage. You may want to talk about the private sector officer, who actively works with the private sector employers.

  13. What sort of percentage of cases would you find are conciliated from the initial responses to you? Are a significant number conciliated, or do you find that the majority end up in a tribunal or court?
  (Ms Bolt) There is a significant amount of conciliation and settlement of cases. Proceedings are often about issues. Particularly in the employment situation, we have to do that. The time limit is strict. There is only a three-month time limit from the act of discrimination to the proceedings in front of a tribunal. Often to protect the position of people that is a necessary step to take. Throughout the CRE the statistics show that the majority of cases settle rather than going to a full hearing.


  14. To what extent is racism an issue across Scotland as a whole?
  (Mr Kanani) That is a big question. It is one that is often asked of us particularly by the press. Racism is an issue and extensively so. If we turn our attention to the conversation that we have just had about casework, we know that the number of people who are approaching us has increased on a year by year basis. That is a benchmark. We know that people who are either receiving services or are seeking employment or who are in employment feel that they are increasingly being discriminated against. We are seeing an interesting increase in service-related cases, particularly in relation to health and education. So, increasingly, we are finding that people who are receiving services of a discriminatory nature are approaching us and feeling confident to approach us. Using our casework level as an indicator, that is a mark of the increase of discrimination and the prevalence of racism. We have given you copies of two pieces of research.<fu2> One is rural racism, which is the first of its kind in Britain and was undertaken by Inverness College. In that regard we were able to demonstrate the impact of racism in rural areas and the isolation that people feel. Scotland is particularly rural and across the board communities are suffering from isolation. They feel that public services are not meeting their needs. There is not a network of support. Our research bears that out. Looking at our employment research in the private sector, where we spoke to individuals—minority job seekers in particular—they felt quite clearly that they were being discriminated against, or felt that there was discrimination operating in the labour market. If you look at what we uncovered in that research, the majority of employers felt that it was all right to have a policy or a statement, but they felt that they were not convinced of the argument to go any further because it was not an issue. That issue of numbers is constantly felt. If you look at the number of cases that are coming through from what people are saying in terms of the criminal justice system figures that are reported in particular by the police, the increase in racial incidents has increased exponentially in the past four years. Four years ago we were talking about 800 or so cases and now we are talking about over 2,500 cases of racial incidents. We are seeing a huge increase in racial incidents across the board, not just in urban areas, but also in rural areas. In terms of pockets of discrimination in areas like Glasgow or Edinburgh and in terms of access to services for care or housing, we know that ethnic communities are still living in overcrowded properties and that they are located in particular areas where there is not a social justice agenda working effectively. There are also issues about community safety and community confidence operating across the board. Across the swathe of life in Scotland we know that racism has an impact or is impacting on the daily lives of people.

<fo2>Not published.

Mr Sarwar

  15. You say that the number of cases has substantially increased. It may be the case that more people are reporting such cases?
  (Mr Kanani) Absolutely. Surely that does not take anything away from the fact that racism is being reported.

Mr Carmichael

  16. Is it possible that in the past few years people have said that certain conduct is racially aggravated? Are we seeing a more easily identifiable number of cases involving a racial element appearing in court? Have these cases always been there, but they were just not easy to point to?
  (Mr Kanani) Absolutely. One of the issues in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was about the identification of reporting. Since then we have seen public agencies becoming more geared up, trained and understanding about the responsibilities of how you target, track and monitor racial incidents, so yes, absolutely.

Ann McKechin

  17. Given the fact that a large number of cases are in the employment area, have you seen a rise in the cases involving the private sector where it may be more difficult to identify them?
  (Mr Kanani) We are seeing a steady flow of cases in the private sector. On a GB-wide level, there is definitely an increase in the number of cases in the private sector. Some come from agencies that have done a lot in terms of equal opportunities. They are still coming through and they are being identified. I do not think that it is more difficult in the private sector to try to identify such cases as it is in other sectors. That is not our experience.

  18. I am really talking about small and medium-sized enterprises. I would have thought that it would be difficult to try to track down levels of racism. I wondered whether any pattern has emerged. Are you aware of any pattern in the research?
  (Mr Kanani) The private sector research that we carried out covered the SME sector. In that we have perceptions of racial equality and opportunities by that sector and how they deem it to be important or not for their work. If you use that as a marker for how they may treat issues that emerge in the workplace, it is safe to say that it has not been treated in an important manner. On the positive side, we have worked with the SME sector and tried to identify what they need in terms of the effective guidance and support. We have produced a leaflet in partnership with the SME sector—the trade associations that represent the SME sector—and we have worked with them in producing a guidance statement for the SME sector which clearly sets out in plain terms what they intend to do, how they may do it and how they may avoid discrimination. We have taken a positive step on the back of some of the research in which we have engaged.

Mr Lazarowicz

  19. I believe that there is evidence—correct me if I am wrong—about the changing nature of the ethnic minority community in Scotland and immigration to Scotland that may be quite significant. I believe that whereas the bulk of the ethnic minority communities in Scotland used to come from South Asia or South China and now there is an increasing prevalence of people from other parts of the world which were not previously represented to any great extent in Scotland. In the category that I suppose you could call the "invisible" ethnic minority, you are now seeing an increasing number of immigrants from places in Eastern Europe, such as Kosovo, Albania and other places. What assessment are you making of the effect or change in the ethnic make-up of Scotland on your work?
  (Mr Kanani) Clearly, it is of central importance to our work. That is one of the key priorities that I have already spoken about. That is our ability to ensure that there is a connection with communities and the connections of those communities not only with our work but also the work of the public sector and other sectors across the board. It is quite critical that there is effective support and guidance provided to the public sector in enabling that process. In terms of the issue raised, we have to be mindful of the fact that, as a non-department public body, our role is to ensure that our mandate is effectively taken account of by the public sector and by other sectors across the board. For example, Kathleen sits on the Ministerial Refugee Integration Forum, which is critically looking at how communities are being inducted and supported, how the voluntary sector is taking account of the issues, and how the public sector is joining up around services for the communities. Effectively, we are changing, in so far as we provide guidance and support to agencies to ensure that they take full account of the needs of ethnic minority groups and new communities. We are keen that those lessons are learned. In talking about asylum seeker communities, as the dispersal programme continues, we hope that lessons are learned from Glasgow to other parts of Scotland. Part of the refugee integration programme approach is to enable that to take shape and to take effect. On a local level, in terms of what we fund, and in terms of the Racial Equality Councils, part of our agenda is to ensure that there is much more of a connection and a fit to ensure that what takes place on the ground takes account of the needs of different communities and the way in which the work is delivered so that it has a wider scope and takes accounts of some of the distinct issues that may emerge for new communities. Those issues may be about language, where communities are located and what that means for access, community safety and such matters. Does that answer your question?


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