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Lord Goodhart: It is difficult to express an opinion on that. We have not consulted with our Scottish colleagues on the matter, but in view of what the noble Baroness has said, no doubt we will. I think that what she says goes more to the concerns of the Scottish Parliament, who may wish, if anything of the nature of these amendments is accepted by the Government, to reconsider the position of their own commission.
I am most grateful for the powerful contributions made to this debate by three Members of the Committee who have detailed experience of the work of the CRE, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and of the EOC, in the case of the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe of Idlicote and Lady Lockwood. I pay particular attention to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, because I am glad that she supports at least a good many of the principles behind this group of amendments.
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As we will obviously not press them to a Division now, we will carefully consider what she said in deciding in what form to retable them on Report. I am struck by the remarks made by both the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, about problems where there has been some pressure from the Government on the commission.
Finally, I turn to what was said by the Minister. Of course we did not expect her to accept the amendments as drafted. We welcome her approach to this matterthat there are issues that require further discussionand we certainly hope for a fruitful discussion with her between now and after the Recess, on Report.
There is a fairly substantial gap between us at present. We feel that the status of a non-departmental public body is not enoughamong other reasons, because the new commission will be an extremely important constitutional watchdog and will have more enforcement powers. It will have power to issue unlawful act notices under Clause 23, which will be legally binding subject to appeal. So it will not be a body that has powers simply to advise or insist; its power will be those of a tribunal. It therefore has a somewhat different status.
It is also plain that the commission will have to survive unscathed a bad as well as a good government. As I said, there are important issues that will need detailed and careful discussion during the next few months.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley): Before I call Amendment No. 3, I must remind your Lordships that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 4 for reasons of pre-emption.
"(1) In appointing Commissioners the Secretary of State shall
(a) ensure that no fewer than one half of the Commissioners have personal or direct experience of one or more of the causes of discrimination or prejudice referred to in sections 10 and 11(2), and
(b) have regard to the desirability of their together having experience and knowledge relating to the matters in respect of which the Commission has functions, including in particular, human rights."
The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Adebowale. I must apologise on his behalf for not being able to be present today. The purpose of the amendment is to achieve a more representative commission. It provides that the framework for the composition of the commissioners appointed to the CEHR will, as best we can, be truly representative of the communities that the commission is being established to serve.
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The Government have stated that the Bill aims to move us towards a society that reaches out towards its diverse members and communities. Achieving a representative commission from the outset is therefore essential if the CEHR is to enjoy the trust and confidence of the communities that will be the ultimate beneficiaries of its work.
The current criteria for appointment set out in Schedule 1(2)(1) merely require the Secretary of State to consider the overall composition of the commission when appointing individual commissioners. That is not good enough; it does not go far enough. Under the Bill as drafted it is possible to achieve an all-male, all-white commission; although it is unlikely, it is possible. These amendments provide the minimum level of assurance required to ensure, in so far as it is reasonable to do so, that women, individuals from black and ethnic minorities, older people and other representatives from the different strands are appointed at commissioner level.
The amendments would make it a statutory requirement that no less than one half of the commissioners are women, and that no less than one quarter are from a black or other ethnic minority background. Overall we seek to ensure that no less than one half of the commissioners have personal or direct experience of one or more of the causes of discrimination or prejudice referred to in Clauses 10 and 11(2). The amendments are therefore intended to achieve a more representative commission. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia: I broadly support the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. Given previous experience, we should exercise caution in this matter. I see the new commission not as a trade union for any particular group of people but very much as a body of able people, appointed from diverse communities, who are there primarily to look after the interests and set the strategic direction of the commission. It would be a tremendous advantage if the proportion, particularly of women and others, who can do that work were reflected in the new commission.
The noble Lord has identified a crucial problemhere we return to the previous argument about the independence of the commission. The chairperson of the commission should be able to determine on the basis of appraisal how suitable people are without the Secretary of State's interference in such matters. We must emphasise the idea that members of the commission are not appointed because they represent a community, and that although their experience will be beneficial to the community, overall their primary duty is to the commission.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I understand the object of this group of amendments. I wish to speak to the other amendments in the group because they are all linked. I shall look particularly at Amendment No. 55, which suggests that equalities committees of various kinds should be engrafted into to the Bill. I have great sympathy with the point made by the noble Baroness,
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Lady Lockwood, that we should not fetter the powers of the new commission. We would be doing a disservice to the new commission if as Parliament we fettered it by imposing a committee system of the kind envisaged in Amendment No. 55, quota systems or anything else.
I am happy with Schedule 1, provided that we can achieve agreement on independence and a way of achieving a proper system of appointments. I am happy with how it is expressed in paragraph 2. It describes the criteria for appointment as being,
If we attempt to write into the Bill a lot of over-prescriptive stuff of one kind or another, we will, if we are not careful, undermine the cohesiveness of a unified single commission. In my Private Member's Bill, in deference to the disability lobby, I made a concession that would have created a disability committee. I did so partly because the Disability Rights Commission was so new and it seemed politically necessary to do so. Of course, once one does that, every other group says, "Me too". Before you know where you are, you have a Balkanisation or splitting up of the commission into different interest groups. We should not do that.
The chairman, commissioners and senior staff should be left to work out the best structures for achieving the objectives of the Bill. I approve of the way in which that is done in Schedule 1, leaving it to general criteria rather than more specific and intrusive provision. For those reasons, although I sympathise with the aims that the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, explained, I am not really in favour of the means set out in the amendments.
Baroness Lockwood: I agree with the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, said and understand the principles that underlie his contribution, but I feel that we could move into a difficult situation if we started allocating a certain number of members of the commission to certain categories. Other categories appear in later amendments. If we are not careful, we will have more categories than we have commissioners.
I support the guidance in Schedule 1, which sets out clearly the interests that the commission must cover, but I agree in particular with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who said that we were thinking not about a particular category but about the experience and understanding that commissioners could bring. That is important, and that is what we should look for in setting up the commission.
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