Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 240 - 243)

MONDAY 20 MAY 2002



  240. You will appreciate that our focus is whether there is a need for a human rights commission but it is happenstance that you have embarked on this endeavour at the same time? Do you think there is an opportunity for fruitful collaboration between this Committee and the Cabinet Office during our inquiry and your consultation process?

  A. Absolutely. Just to say, during the next six months, this is not a formal consultation on our part because the formal consultation, if you like, was the one which ended in March. This is, if you like, the feasability work but certainly we would be very grateful in the next six months for any views that this Committee has. Given the visits that you are going to make, views on that would be extremely helpful to the work.

  241. You referred to six months, if we can be precise, what time will the train be leaving?

  A. It is not necessarily leaving. What I have to do in the autumn, because the timetable is fairly rigorous, I have to publish the draft regulations on sexual orientation and belief. I will want to say something, also, about the interim arrangements for those strands because they come in at the end of 2003. Therefore, given that, I will want to say something about the long term future of a single equality body if we go down that road. Then there will have to be, certainly, a further period when we think about what the structures would look like and I am sure at some stage we will want to consult. I am not quite sure if the timetables are quite on the same track, to use the train analogy. I am sure in anything that we want to do in our timetable we would want to be mindful of any recommendations that you would want to put to us.

  242. Following on from what you just said to Baroness Perry in relation to your proposals probably being exclusively for Great Britain, I would just draw your attention to the difficulty which could arise in a situation where people in Northern Ireland and Scotland enjoy the protection of an equality commission and a human rights commission and the people in England and Wales do not.

  A. I hear what you say. As I understand it, the thing I have always said, the expression I always use, it is a sort of variable geometry that we always have in that as I understand it in Northern Ireland you have got the single equality body, the Commission that they have, which presumably comes under the devolved administration there but what you have also is you have the human rights body which I think comes under the Secretary of State so it operates in a variable way. As I understand it, the proposal in Scotland is to set up some sort of human rights body which deals with some of the devolved matters there. The one thing I would say—of course one always makes this but in a sense that is devolution—it would be done differently and that is what devolution is all about.

  243. Finally, Minister, running through the thread of the evidence you have given us today, you have been very patient and generous with your time, would you agree that it would be reasonable to conclude that your evident reticence about a human rights element in what you might propose arises from pragmatic considerations rather than any principle?

  A. Yes. My pragmatic consideration is that, as I say—and apologies for repeating myself—well, one pragmatic and one policy one. The pragmatic recommendation is that this is a huge agenda if we are to have a single equality body. The policy caution that I have, although as I say I am open to this because I will be very interested to know what this Committee is saying and other people will say, is that from the equalities agenda I would just be very mindful of not diluting the history of what has been done already and if there was going to be a new body where that would take us. So, if you like, that would be my policy note of caution, that is how I would put it.

  Chairman: Minister, thank you very much for your time. We have enjoyed having you with us today.

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