|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 1st February 2011|
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Tuesday 25 January 2011
Mr Trevor Phillips, MS Helen Hughes and LYNNE FEATHERSTONE MP
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Q1 Chair: This inquiry session is to look at the work of the Equalities agenda of the Government and, as part of that, we will take evidence from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Can I welcome the Chairman and the Interim Chief Executive to this session? Can I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of all Members of this Committee are noted? Are there any specific interests that Members of the Committee need to declare?
Mr Phillips, thank you for coming. You must feel a bit like a nomad going from committee to committee. How many committees have you now appeared before since you took over the role of Chairman of the EHRC?
Trevor Phillips: The pleasures, Chair, have been numberless; I think about four or five.
Q2 Chair: Of course, Equalities is now part of the Home Office portfolio under the Home Secretary and we’ll be hearing later from Lynne Featherstone, your parent Minister, if I can put it like that. Do you think that the Government’s agenda, the Coalition Government’s current agenda on equalities differs in any respect with the previous Government or is it a continuation of what the previous Government was doing?
Trevor Phillips: First of all, let me say, Chair, thank you very much for inviting us. I think it is very important to us that this Committee sees the Equalities agenda as being as significant enough to have this kind of session this early in your life.
In relation to the Government’s agenda, I would say the single most important thing about the Government’s agenda is that dictated by the Equality Act of 2010 and, in my view, the most important aspect of that is a simple fact that it was enacted by the previous Administration and has, for the most part, been commenced by the new Administration. The reason this is significant is that I think it demonstrates that there is a level of political consensus about the need for a legal basis for equality and that, I think, is an extraordinarily different position than that that has obtained for the last 30 years. Frankly, I think that’s a tribute to the work of people in this place as well as campaigners outside to make those values consensual ones. As regards the Government’s, if you like, performance thus far, I think probably what I would say is that we have begun to develop a good relationship with Ministers, but as Zhou Enlai said about the French Revolution, it is perhaps too early to tell.
Q3 Chair: Some may argue that the focus, certainly if you look at the Coalition document, is very much on gender issues as opposed to race and sexuality. Do you agree with that analysis? Has there been a lot of emphasis on gender as opposed to any of the other strands of equality?
Trevor Phillips: What I would say is I don’t think that this is particularly to do with a lack of will, but I do think it is related to the way in which Government deals with equalities issues. I think it is unfortunate that the Coalition Government did not take the opportunity to bring all the equality issues together in one place. At the present time, the mandates are spread out over three Departments with age and disability in DWP, race and faith in Communities and Local Government and the rest at the Home Office. Therefore, the agenda, which is essentially set out by the Government Equalities Office within the Home Office, rather reflects the area of responsibility of the Home Office Ministers. So rather than reflecting a lack of will to address some of the other issues on the part of Government, what it reflects is the fragmented structure of the way that equalities is addressed across Government.
Q4 Chair: This is an interesting point. How do you react to the decision to take your organisation from the Equalities Office and put it directly into the Home Office?
Trevor Phillips: If I’m honest, I would say this is a matter for Government. I started my time in quango land as Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality in the Home Office and I guess I shall finish it there. I think, to be honest, from our point of view, the specifics of the Department are less important than the significance of the way that the agenda is brought together across Government. I won’t repeat the remarks I just made a moment ago, but I will add that I think one helpful sign is that the Government has set up an inter-ministerial equality group chaired by the Home Secretary and I think that is helpful. I might just make one other point.
Q5 Chair: How many times has it met since the Coalition was formed? Do you know? You’re not a part of that since you’re not a Minister, but do you get to know how many times it has met?
Trevor Phillips: We are not part of it. I’m aware of only one meeting, but we’re not part of this, so I don’t know. Can I just make one further small point, which is that this fragmentation has a sort of psychological sense? The Ministers who are responsible for the other areas, other than Miss Featherstone, are all Ministers for something and an equality, so there is a slight feeling that that means all of the equality businesses are slightly subsidiary to more important things and I think that’s unfortunate. Let me emphasise: I don’t think that is the view of the individual Ministers or the view of Government overall, but some of the signals that are being sent could be better crafted.
Q6 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Phillips, can I ask how have you acted to address the criticisms levelled at the Equality and Human Rights Commission by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in March last year?
Trevor Phillips: Most of the material points that were raised by the JCHR were issues for the Accounting Officer, so I’m going to ask our Chief Executive Officer to deal with those.
Helen Hughes: Thank you. The JCHR identified that there have mistakes in the setting up of the Commission; mistakes made both by Government and within the Commission. I’m confident that significant progress has been made, certainly in the last 12 months, in increasing the accountability and governance for the decision making within the Commission. We have a strengthened board. We have a strengthened management team and we have a new Finance Director. We have a track record now of a critical delivery; our triennial review on ‘How Fair is Britain?’; some of the human rights inquiries we’re doing.
The other issue was about how developed our approach for human rights was and we’re embedding human rights in the work within the Commission and have three specific human rights inquiries that we’re undertaking at the moment: one on disability harassment, one on older people in social care; and a specific one on human trafficking in Scotland. So we think we’ve increased the pace of delivery as well as improved our accountability and governance.
Q7 Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you. Can I ask: are you concerned that your organisation is perceived as being too close to the Labour party to be an effective force under this Coalition Government?
Trevor Phillips: One always has to be concerned about other people’s perceptions but, of course, as all of you will know, this is something that’s almost impossible to control. The direct answer to your question is that, in my view, this was one of the errors in the set-up of the Commission. We’ve mentioned others before but, for example, I think the previous administration didn’t allow enough time. Originally, the proposition was that the three existing Commissions should take on new responsibilities and merge over a period of two or three years. I think, with hindsight, that clearly would have been a better proposition. It was the one that we advanced previously, but Ministers decided otherwise. There are things like that.
Relating to your specific point, it was suggested to Ministers that the first board of the Commission should not have been a stakeholder board; it should have been smaller and it should have been more plural. I still believe that is right. I think that it would have been a good move in the last round of appointments. Ministers did not decide to do that. I hope that the next set of appointments, which will take place towards the end of 2012, will reflect that position.
Q8 Lorraine Fullbrook: Currently, are you saying that most of your employees, if you like, are members of the Labour party and that will change?
Trevor Phillips: I couldn’t tell you anything about the political preferences of most of our employees and I don’t think that is a matter for the board or for anybody else. People’s political persuasions are their own. I think where it does matter is in the board itself, which sets directions. I have never had any secrets about this-I have always believed that our board would have been better if it had been more clearly politically plural, but unfortunately that was not in my hands.
Q9 Mr Clappison: Can you just tell us a little bit more about that? For those of us who have not listened to the announcement, it is not exactly at our fingertips. I am not cognisant of these boards and things. When you say "not politically plural" what do you mean?
Trevor Phillips: I think there are three things about our board. Let me remind you that the way this works is that members of the board are appointed by the responsible Secretary of State: at the moment, our Home Secretary; previously to that, the Lord Privy Seal and so on. The process is that the Government advertises; there is a panel of which I am a member, but I am not the chair, which interviews candidates. A group of candidates is then recommended to the Secretary of State. Normally, we recommend, if there are 10 places, we would recommend 13 or 14, so the Secretary of State has a choice.
There are two problems. One is, do candidates come forward from a range of backgrounds, including, say, business in terms of career, or a political background in centre-right or liberal politics? The truth is that they haven’t, by and large, but even where I think there have been possibilities, they haven’t been taken. We haven’t, or the Government certainly hasn’t, gone out of its way to encourage that plurality. I think it would be a good aim for Government to encourage that plurality. That, by the way, is not a suggestion that because this Government is of a different colour to the previous one that it should then load the board with its own supporters. I think the important thing here is that there is diversity of type of person, of background, and of political and religious outlook on the board.
Q10 Mr Clappison: Maybe you need the Commission to look into your Commission to make sure it is diverse enough.
Trevor Phillips: No, I think you can do it much more simply than that, if I may say so. I think we have frankly quite enough commissioning going on.
Q11 Mr Winnick: As far as the employees are concerned, Mr Phillips, or Miss Hughes, are there any questions whatsoever, when they are being interviewed, about their politics?
Helen Hughes: Absolutely not, and we, the employees of the Commission, are a body independent of Government but, nevertheless, we abide by the codes and conduct. As Accounting Officer, I’m responsible to Parliament for governance and accountability, responding to the Treasury requirement on managing public money and so forth. We also adhere to codes and standards of conduct, and certainly would not expect, and I wouldn’t countenance, political questions being asked at interview-completely inappropriate. The codes of conduct we have for staff are very clear and their responsibilities are very clear.
Q12 Mr Winnick: Mr Phillips, your CV is well-known, much publicised. As a public figure over the years, it would be odd otherwise. Do you take any active role in the Labour party?
Trevor Phillips: No.
Q13 Mr Winnick: One other question, if I may. You have been criticised, if I am correct, because, as well as being Chair of the organisation, you’re involved, as I understand it, with a private consultancy firm. Is there a clash? You obviously don’t consider there’s a clash of interests otherwise you wouldn’t be so involved. How do you justify your involvement with the private sector?
Trevor Phillips: There are several points here. First of all, I am not a full-time Chair; I am a part-time appointee.
Q14 Mr Winnick: How many days a week?
Trevor Phillips: Three and a half. I am not at the stage of my life where I’d like to spend three and a half days of the week twiddling my thumbs. I’m engaged in a number of charitable activities, but it seemed to me that there are other things that I could do that were of help. Can I just say something about the fact? I haven’t been involved with that consultancy for about two years. Thirdly, the reason that was set up and declared-as, by the way, was the case for a number of other members of our board, including some of those who appeared before the Joint Committee on Human Rights-is that it was thought important to set up an entity through which other work could be channelled, so it was transparent when we were doing work for the Commission and when we’re not doing work. At least two of the people who raised this issue themselves had similar consultants. That’s where I got the idea from but, of course, it became an issue and it seemed to me that nothing of this kind was worth while if it got in the way of the Commission’s work.
Q15 Chair: But you left the consultancy two years ago, is that right?
Trevor Phillips: I stepped down as a director. I’m not involved in its affairs. It’s not an issue to be honest.
Q16 Mark Reckless: Where do you stand with respect to this bonfire of the quangos?
Trevor Phillips: This is the matter for Government. I think it’s something that every Government considers. I think it’s entirely proper for Ministers to ask: are we spending money in the right place? More importantly, it’s important for Ministers to ask: is the thing that we’ve set up still fulfilling a purpose that’s contemporary? For us, this didn’t present a problem at all because our board had been thinking about radical reform for about the last 12 months. For example, I think the Government’s intention is that we should reduce the numbers. In fact, we inherited, at the Government’s behest, about 630 employees. We reduced that by 200 way before any spending review. We have also taken steps to lighten the bureaucracy of equality legislation on public bodies by removing the requirement to provide equality schemes, which I think will save a lot of people a lot of trouble and a vast amount of public money. So, to be honest, none of this causes us any trouble because we are already in the process of devising our own plans for what I think Government calls "radical reform" and we welcome their interest.
Q17 Mark Reckless: A follow-up question, if I may, about the Public Bodies Bill: as I understand it at the moment, it makes provision for a Minister potentially to abolish further quangos including, potentially, your own by order. How do you feel about that?
Trevor Phillips: Again, this is a matter for Parliament, but let me say this: I think that this is something that Parliament has to consider extremely carefully. In our own case, a great deal of parliamentary time, both in this place and in the House of Lords, went into ensuring that there was a right balance of relationship between ourselves and the Government and that our independence was preserved. For this reason, part of our duty is to ensure that Government itself is honest on these issues and that it performs fairly, which is why, for example, we have, with the Treasury’s co-operation, launched a section 31 assessment, as we call it, into the spending review.
But it is absolutely essential that we are seen as independent of Government as is the OBR if that exercise is to have credibility. It would be of concern to me if the Public Bodies Bill were to change things in such a way that that independence, either notionally or operationally, was compromised, or it could be seen that the fact that Ministers had a power could lead to a chilling effect. Now, if you have a board or a chair, dare I say it, who feels no obligation to please Ministers of whatever political colour, that’s kind of fine, but in a situation where Ministers have the power to abolish the body, to change its board or to reduce its funding, it is all too easy to suppose that a quiet phone call could interfere with the Commission’s independence. I think Parliament has to consider this very, very carefully.
Q18 Mark Reckless: So just to clarify, you would prefer Parliament to consider the case for abolition rather than leaving that to Ministers.
Trevor Phillips: In the best of all worlds, yes. Let me say realistically, on the Public Bodies Bill, if the Government has its way and so on, I at least hope that there will be clear protections in any legislation for bodies like us, bearing in mind we are not an executive agency. Parliament has set us up to protect certain values that are independent of politics.
Q19 Mr Winnick: Is it your view that too many black people, if not Asians, but too many black people are stopped by the police in stop-and-search processes?
Trevor Phillips: Yes, we published a report last year entitled ‘Stop and Think’ and, if I may just say, the nature of this report is rather different. This is some of the work that’s been done before. We are changing the role of the Commission quite substantially. Previously the work that had been done on this simply said that there was anxiety amongst communities.
What we have done as part of a shift of emphasis in the way we work-which is much more evidence-led, much more focused on a professional approach to these issues-what we did in this report was to analyse the evidence and to compare similar forces. What we were able to show is that very similar forces performed very differently and, therefore, one has to draw the implication that it isn’t necessary, for example, for it to be seven times as likely to stop and search a black person as a white person. As a consequence of that work, we were able to issue compliance notices or start compliance proceedings against three police forces, one of whom, Thames Valley, has responded rather positively by changing its guidance to its officers already.
Q20 Mr Winnick: And the Met?
Trevor Phillips: I think the Met is a more complicated proposition. It’s worth saying though that though it is always in the headlines, in this respect, the Met is not an outlier and here is where the point that I am making about focusing on the evidence rather than on what is most newsworthy, becomes very, very important. This is not to say that the Met is perfect and so on, but I think the focus on London and the Met continuously has meant that other forces, which objectively are performing far less well, have got off, and we don’t intend that to continue to happen.
Q21 Mr Winnick: If you look around the Palace of Westminster as well as many other places, Mr Phillips, you will see black police officers, but it’s not a very common sight, is it, even after 40, 45 years of a black presence in the capital City?
Trevor Phillips: I agree, but that is true of many other institutions including Parliament itself.
Q22 Mr Winnick: So you don’t see much improvement, leaving Parliament aside for the moment, as far as the police are concerned in recent times.
Trevor Phillips: I don’t see enough improvement.
Chair: It doesn’t apply to the Home Affairs Select Committee of course.
Q23 Lorraine Fullbrook: I’d like to turn to Baroness Stern’s report on rape and to hear your comments. Do you think the authorities have responded adequately to findings of the Stern Report into the investigation of rape?
Trevor Phillips: Let me first of all say that I thought that this was a terrific piece of work and, if you have the opportunity to look at our triennial review-I know it’s 800 pages, but it’s worth having a look at-you will see that a lot of that evidence was used in our assessment. The important point here is that Baroness Stern again took a really clear-eyed look at the evidence.
Now, I know that there is a controversy over the question of what rate should be used and so on. I think it is potentially a slightly false controversy. Different numbers tell you different things. The overall point, however, is that we are not doing well enough in both detecting and concluding the investigation and conviction process. There is still a lot of work to do.
We have done substantial work on our own part on assessing the performance of local authorities, police and so on, and we intend to continue doing that to use the public sector equality duty to exert pressure on public authorities to do more. We have written recently to all local authority chief executives asking them to carefully assess the impact of public spending reductions and we’ve highlighted three specific areas, one of which is provision in the arena of gender-based violence.
Q24 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask: to what extent do you think this is an equalities issue?
Trevor Phillips: It is an equalities issue. It is an equalities issue only from the point of view of it being, largely speaking, gender-based violence. I know the counter-view is that this is a social question and so on, but part of our job is to assess the way that institutions and organisations serve different categories of person. What is clear to us is that, in this area of crime where the victims are predominantly women, the institutions or organisations are not functioning, if I can put it this way, in the same way as if the victims had been predominantly men; therefore, from our point of view, it is clearly and unarguably an equality question.
Q25 Chair: The issue of child grooming has been in the public domain over a number of cases. How do you think the authorities should approach this issue when there are some aspects of concerns relating to the communities, various communities?
Trevor Phillips: The direct answer to your question, Chair, is extremely carefully. I think, as you yourself have pointed out, language is extremely important here. The question for us is ultimately one of whether things are being properly investigated and so on. I don’t think we would want to get into arguments about culture and all of that.
Q26 Chair: Do you disagree with what Jack Straw said?
Trevor Phillips: No, no, I don’t disagree with what Jack Straw said and I don’t think what Jack Straw said is at odds with what you said. It is perfectly reasonable for a Member of Parliament to say, "This is a major issue in my constituency", as has Ann Cryer said. However, I think it is also reasonable for someone to say, as you have said, that that does not mean that we should tar an entire community with being like this. So I think both things are entirely consistent. I think there are two points here. First of all, we need to prevent this developing into casual stereotyping but, at the same time, we must not appear to be ignoring what is undoubtedly a real phenomenon.
Chair: We will be taking evidence from CEOP on this very matter in about half an hour.
Q27 Mr Clappison: Can I say I’m very heartened by the approach that you’ve taken to this? I think it’s a very sensible approach you take, if I may say. Ann Cryer was a very brave person to take this up initially, and ploughed a lonely furrow to some extent. Nothing must obstruct, I think you agree, the police investigation of such cases when they arise, but it’s also very important to say that this is only a very tiny, tiny fragment of the cultures of the group in question, the vast majority of whose members are as horrified as everybody else by what apparently has taken place.
Trevor Phillips: I think the answer is there’s nothing in Pakistani or Muslim culture that says you should do this, but there may be criminals inside that community who use the cover of that community-as there have been, for example, in my own community, people who use the cover of being part of that community to engage in the drugs’ trade, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all drug dealers. So I think we all need to start taking a rather more grown-up and mature approach to this.
If I may say so, by the way, if you let me refer again to this tome, the overwhelming message that we got from the extensive research that we’ve done on attitudes and outcomes is that the British public are now much more sophisticated about these matters than they might have been 25 years ago. It is quite possible, whatever some of the red tops might do, for most British people to accept that there’s a particular group of people who are disproportionately located in a particular community who do a particular crime, but that doesn’t mean that whole community is characterised by it.
Q28 Chair: So what you’re saying is that the public have become more sophisticated in terms of these issues.
Trevor Phillips: Correct, absolutely. If I may say so, the political and media classes have to catch up with the maturity of the ordinary person’s dialogue.
Q29 Chair: You still lamented the inability of the establishment to change, when President Obama was elected. I can remember you being quoted as saying this could not happen in this country given the current ways in which political parties operate. Are you still of that view that that kind of breakthrough is not going to happen in Britain and do you think that is partly because of the failure of maybe people like yourself who have been campaigning for years and years on these issues and there seems to be no break in the glass ceiling?
Trevor Phillips: I don’t think that’s entirely true by the way. Let me remind you precisely of what I said. I was asked about political parties and I said that if President Obama had been a politician in the United Kingdom, he would have been a member of the Labour party. I think that’s fairly incontestable. Secondly, my point was that, in order for President Obama to be nominated, he had to escape the grip of the Democratic party machine. He had to beat the party machine and the point is, the Democratic party has means by which an outsider, an insurgent, can get past the machine. My point was: in this country, our political parties don’t have that. We don’t have primaries, and my point was a very simple one that the political parties have to think rather carefully about their own machineries and the extent to which they present barriers. This was, for avoidance of doubt-because again this was a point that was massively misinterpreted-not a specific criticism of the Labour party. I think there are barriers in all political parties.
Chair: Of course, indeed. Now, I don’t want to open this too much as your Minister is outside and I’m conscious of your funding streams.
Mr Winnick: She is being provoked.
Chair: We won’t keep her waiting too long, but can I just ask for quick questions from Lorraine Fullbrook and Mark Reckless?
Q30 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Phillips, I would just like to pick up on this point about how Barack Obama would be a member of the Labour party.
Trevor Phillips: I knew this was going to be trouble.
Q31 Lorraine Fullbrook: I hope you’re suggesting that only because, in American politics, he is seen as left wing, not because of his colour or his culture. I hope you’re not suggesting that, because the Conservative party could equally have a black leader.
Trevor Phillips: No, no. I was purely-I was purely talking-
Q32 Lorraine Fullbrook: I presume your point related to political persuasion and not the colour or the culture.
Trevor Phillips: I was purely talking-yes, I was purely talking-[Interruption.]
Chair: Order, order, can I have some order? Can we just have an answer to Mrs Fullbrook?
Trevor Phillips: Yes, I was speaking purely of political outlook in a general parallel.
Chair: Politics, yes, and an equally quick question from Mr Reckless.
Q33 Mark Reckless: One, Margaret Thatcher broke through in the Conservative party and, two, we’ve begun experimenting with primaries. Your response?
Trevor Phillips: Look, let me be serious. One of the important things that has happened is that the number of minority members, ethnic minority members-I know there is an issue by the way about Jewish representation in Parliament-but the ethnic minority representation in Parliament has risen from I think 15 to 27 at the last election. This is an unarguable good. However, we are still some way south of where we ought to be, which is about 55% to 60% if this Parliament were truly representative. Therefore, I think it’s extremely important that no party takes its foot off the pedal on this and that, if I may say so, Members support the work that was done by the Speaker’s Conference to increase diversity of representatives here.
Q34 Chair: Mr Phillips, we will have you back on this matter, since we are your parent Committee, some time in the future, but we’re most grateful. If there’s any other information, obviously, your tome, as you describe it, I’m sure the clerks will be very keen to read this. They’ve already read it over the weekend.
Trevor Phillips: If I may, sir, it may be worth us dropping you a line about some of the things that we expect to change.
Chair: That would be very helpful if you could do that. Mr Phillips, Miss Hughes, thank you very much.
Trevor Phillips: My pleasure.
Chair: Thank you. Could we call to the dais the Minister, please?
Examination of Witness
Witness: Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities and Criminal Information, gave evidence.
Q35 Chair: Good morning, Minister. Welcome to the Committee. This is, I know, your first appearance before a Select Committee since becoming a Minister and can I welcome you most warmly and congratulate you, even though it’s rather belatedly, on your appointment as Minister for Equality? We’ve just heard from the Chairman of the EHRC, so some of the points that Members may raise are issues that may come in your crossexamination. Perhaps you can start by telling me briefly what the Government’s vision is as far as equality is concerned?
Lynne Featherstone: Right, well, I think the Government vision could be termed thus: when I first entered the equalities arena, if you like, I was appointed to the London board of the CRE, the Commission for Racial Equality, and that was just coming to the end of the era where all of the equality groups, the women’s commission, the Disability Rights Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, and all of the lobby groups had been fighting so hard for equal rights to end discrimination. In fact, the birth of EHRC and the Equality Act itself were, in a sense, I don’t know about a full stop, but they were certainly a semi-colon at the end of the individual groups campaigning for individual strands. Now that all of the protected characteristics have come together in the Equality Act, the law in this country on equalities is phenomenal really.
Q36 Chair: So if you could sum up your vision now, what would the vision be?
Lynne Featherstone: The vision now is to move on to the next generation of what we do about equalities in this country.
Q37 Chair: Which is?
Lynne Featherstone: Which is a wider vision; it’s about two guiding principles. We’ve published the equality strategy. It’s about equal treatment and equal opportunity. Of course, we’ve come a long way and we’ve got a long way to go, but in a country where we’ve got the biggest gap between the rich and the poor, that is the real inequality. If you tackle in a more overarching way some of those systemic inequalities, then you address issues around the poorest, the minorities and the disabilities.
Q38 Chair: Indeed. The Coalition document set up a number of benchmarks, which you hope to achieve as far as the equalities agenda is concerned. One is to increase the number of women on the boards of our major companies and the other was to provide internships in Whitehall. Can you tell me about progress in those two areas? How many internships have been offered?
Lynne Featherstone: I can’t give you that exact answer-we can write to you-because the Cabinet Office is leading on that piece of work. In terms of women on boards, as you will know, there is a huge amount of work going on. I have been to Lord knows how many conferences, meetings, speeches, with different networks of women and leading men who chair Barclays and those kinds of institutions. As we have appointed Lord Davies to-
Chair: Yes, who is, of course, a man.
Lynne Featherstone: He is a man, but sometimes send a thief to catch a thief; I think that maybe is the thinking there. He is integral to that level of industry in terms of the FTSE 100 and so on.
Q39 Chair: Yes, so can you tell us any improvements since you became the Minister for Equality since it’s in the Coalition document? I think it is point number 4 of your Coalition document. How many more women have been appointed to the boards of FTSE companies since you’ve become the Minister for Equality?
Lynne Featherstone: I can’t give you an exact number and I don’t think it would be relative to my actual actions thus far, although when I went to Cranfield-the people at Cranfield research women on boards in the FTSE 100-it’s still an appallingly low level. It’s 12% on the FTSE 100.
Q40 Chair: If you could write to us on that, I’d be most grateful.
Lynne Featherstone: I will be happy to write to you. When Lord Davies comes forward with his report, then action will be taken, but I would say to you, Chair, that there is a lot of work going on and there is a feeling of-
Q41 Chair: Sure, we’ll explore some of that in other questions. One final question from me: how many times has the ministerial group on equality met since May of last year?
Lynne Featherstone: I’d have to stand corrected, but I think it’s three times.
Q42 Chair: Mr Phillips seems to think it’s-you’ve been to all these meetings?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes.
Q43 Chair: So you’d remember if it was three?
Lynne Featherstone: Possibly I would remember if it was three, yes. I think it’s three. To tell you the truth, there’s certainly two, but I think there were three.
Q44 Lorraine Fullbrook: Would you agree that your specific role, Minister, appears to be almost entirely focused on gender issues and does that reflect the focus of the Government’s Equality agenda?
Lynne Featherstone: No, my actual portfolio is quite wide. It is LGB&T. It is women. It is the Equality Act, but it is also anything else that might be affected by the Equality Act. So if I see something that needs raising, I will raise it, but equalities is mainstreamed now. Maria Miller heads disability in the Department of Work and Pensions. Andrew Stunell heads cohesion and community work in the Department of Communities and Local Government. So I would argue that it is more mainstreamed than ever. Sorry, what was the second point that you made?
Q45 Lorraine Fullbrook: Does your role reflect the focus of the Government’s Equalities agenda?
Lynne Featherstone: Not my role, no, it doesn’t. The equalities agenda, if you look, I don’t know if you’ve read the equality strategy, but that is-
Q46 Chair: You said it doesn’t, but aren’t you the Minister for Equality?
Lynne Featherstone: I am and I can raise anything, but the nomenclatures or whatever, of the way the Government is run, says I can intervene in anything, but my specific portfolio is women, LGB&T and the Equality Act-
Q47 Chair: So who does race?
Lynne Featherstone: Andrew Stunell does race.
Q48 Chair: Right, that’s a bit complicated, isn’t it?
Lynne Featherstone: Well, it’s not and that’s why I’m holding this up because that is the inter-ministerial equalities group and the whole point is-
Q49 Chair: Excellent; maybe we can have copies. Mrs Fullbrook, did you have any other questions?
Lynne Featherstone: I think it’s very important; you’ve driven through every Department. You can’t make an improvement or move forward on equalities if it doesn’t drive right across Government.
Q50 Chair: Indeed, but one of the points made by the Chairman of EHRC was that the architecture of Whitehall means that equalities is divided between different Departments and what would be more appropriate is if it was all under you, for example, and then you can then drive this from one Department.
Lynne Featherstone: Well, I drive anyway. The Chair of the Equality Commission should be happy to learn that and I fundamentally disagree with his view then that there should be a singular head. Both the Home Secretary, who’s also Minister for Women and Equalities, and myself do take an overarching view, but that inter-ministerial group is absolutely crucial to making sure it goes through every Department and they can’t say, "Oh, it’s Lynne; it’s Equalities, not us".
Chair: Of course, indeed. Mr Reckless has a quick supplementary, then Dr Huppert, and then we’ll move on to the Stern review.
Q51 Mark Reckless: The Chair of the Commission raises a concern that Ministers might later threaten to abolish the Commission by order under powers from the Public Bodies Bill and he said it would be better if Parliament were to look at the case for abolition. Is that something that Ministers would provide time for as the Public Bodies Bill goes through at the Commons stages?
Lynne Featherstone: At this point in time, the idea that there’s going to be any abolition in terms of the EHRC seems remarkable to me. We have just been working flat out to work out how the new incarnation of EHRC will go forward and, therefore, I’m not sure-
Q52 Chair: I don’t think Mr Reckless meant the EHRC was being abolished. The Public Bodies Bill that abolishes some of the other quangos.
Lynne Featherstone: Sorry.
Q53 Mark Reckless: On the EHRC, I think, we’ve had these three tests for a bonfire for the quangos. It’s not quite clear why or if the Commission is escaping these tests, or if Parliament can consider this properly rather than leaving it to Ministers.
Lynne Featherstone: We have considered it and the Cabinet Office has considered it against the three tests and that’s why it’s in four schedules in the Public Bodies Bill.
Q54 Mark Reckless: But will Parliament be allowed to consider it and to vote on it?
Lynne Featherstone: I couldn’t answer that question straight off.
Q55 Chair: But do you think it’s a good idea? You’re appearing before this Committee; we’re interested in the ideas of Ministers. Do you think the proposal put by Mr Reckless is something worth studying?
Lynne Featherstone: Not really; no, I don’t.
Q56 Chair: Why?
Lynne Featherstone: Because I myself am satisfied that it has been through the scrutiny; it deserves to be in the Public Bodies Bill and it will take its course there. I don’t see any necessity to vote in the Commons.
Chair: Thank you. Dr Huppert has a supplementary.
Q57 Dr Huppert: Can I ask about two particular areas that you’re involved in from your wider portfolio? The first is the transgender-related policy. This has been traditionally a very neglected group. What exactly are you doing at the moment with transgender policy?
Lynne Featherstone: At the moment, as part of the LGB&T work plan that was launched by the Prime Minister at Downing Street right at the beginning of this Parliament, it talked of the transgender action plan; the first one ever in Government history. That is going forward and will come forward in due course over this year. There’s been a series of roundtables and discussions and I’ve met with the transgender community to take it forward. I think you’re absolutely right; it is perhaps one of the most marginalised of communities and, therefore, needs the most protection. Up to now, it hasn’t had it.
Q58 Lorraine Fullbrook: Minister, when do you intend to respond to Baroness Stern’s review into the handling of rape complaints and do you agree with her that the under-reporting and the negative victim experiences of the criminal justice system stem from failures of implementation rather than policy?
Lynne Featherstone: We hope to be reporting relatively shortly. We have taken great notice of Baroness Stern. In fact, I met her myself. I think she’s a formidable woman with a very clear sense of what matters in as much as she has brought forward the idea of the prevention and the pre-work rather than just the conviction. I’m sorry; what was the second part?
Q59 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you agree with her that the under-reporting and the negative victim experiences of the criminal justice system stem from failures of implementation rather than policy?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes, I do, actually. I think there’s a lot of work to do about making those who have experienced rape or sexual violence come forward, and feeling that they are comfortable and supported to come forward. I think that is the mechanism that is less through the formal channels, if you like, because what Baroness Stern said was that so many women don’t come near it because they fear the judiciary, the police and all those systems. Therefore, the soft services and the local support from those, particularly in communities, who understand how to work with women to get the message out to those women, is perhaps the better channel. I think that’s the one that needs to be pursued perhaps more forcefully than the statutory services.
Q60 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just following on: you agree that it’s a failure of the implementation rather than policy. Local authorities and police are facing efficiency savings. To what extent will you be able to guarantee that women will have access to sexual assault centres?
Lynne Featherstone: The Government is putting forward, I think, £2.2 million of funding particularly for sexual referral centres because they are considered so important. In fact, there’s £28 million ring-fenced for domestic violence in terms of independent sexual advisers, advocacy, the National Helplines and the sexual assault referral centres because, without that message going out that the Government regards that as such an area that needs support to essentially ring-fence funding, it sends out a message. We expect local authorities also to take on that mantle.
Q61 Lorraine Fullbrook: How are you going to distribute that ring-fenced money of £28 million to local authorities?
Lynne Featherstone: There are processes where local authorities can apply, but they are looking for match funding on a number of things and also the other thing is, geographically where there aren’t those services, that is somewhere that would get priority. There is a process. If you want to know the exact process, I can make sure that I supply it to the Committee to be distributed.
Chair: Dr Huppert has a quick question.
Q62 Dr Huppert: Yes, related to this-in fact, I think, taking a wider perspective-you’ve been appointed the International Violence Against Women champion; presumably championing against it.
Lynne Featherstone: Tackling it, yes; not promoting it.
Q63 Dr Huppert: What does that involve and does that interact with what’s happening domestically? What does that actually mean?
Lynne Featherstone: It started under the last Government and it’s something we thought was very important, so I have been appointed at ministerial level as a champion to tackle violence against women across the world, which is a huge issue. At the moment, the planning work is being done so that I can group together and be a voice for Whitehall, whether it’s in the UN or in the European Union, but also in terms of working across countries. I recently met the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict zones. At the moment there’s a planning exercise as to how to make it strategically valuable, given that it is such a huge remit with a small resource.
Q64 Dr Huppert: How much support from the Foreign Office is there for your work?
Lynne Featherstone: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DFID and the Home Office are all working together on this.
Q65 Chair: Sorry; Dr Huppert said how much support is there for your work? Do you get people or money?
Lynne Featherstone: I get financial support; there is an officer. The officials are working together and there is going to be a small fund, but I think you’re talking probably around £100,000 for the year.
Q66 Mr Winnick: We are all concerned, Minister, about pimping involving child grooming-a deplorable and obnoxious criminal practice, to say the least. What do you say to the allegations made by some who argue that the equality duty, which is to be brought into force in April, will make it more difficult for the police to investigate on the basis that it might harm community and race relations? Do you think there’s any substance to the allegation?
Lynne Featherstone: No, I don’t, and I would be quite appalled if the police felt they couldn’t investigate fully on full and fair evidence, as I would expect them to do whatever the circumstances.
Q67 Mr Winnick: Exactly; that’s the hope of all of us. Do you believe that child grooming-as I’ve said, a criminal act-should not be put as the responsibility of one particular group in this country? It has been the tendency in more recent times to focus, say, on Muslims rather than those involved in other groups.
Lynne Featherstone: I think first and foremost, child abuse and child sexual exploitation is an appalling crime. It is sexual abuse and it can’t be tolerated whoever’s doing it. It affects all sorts of children; it affects boys as well as girls. While the recent reports have been very emotive, I don’t think we should jump to any conclusions about a national pattern of offending without further analysis, and that’s why CEOP have been asked to undertake a thematic assessment. I look forward to seeing the results because it is an important issue. If it did need looking at, we should look at it and if it’s the wrong way to look at it, then we shouldn’t be looking at it.
Q68 Mr Winnick: So you agree with the Chair who, outside of this Committee, made the point that this, as you say, is a deplorable crime, should be looked upon as such, investigated by the police and not focus on any particular ethnic group, but deal with the crime itself?
Lynne Featherstone: I do; absolutely. It is a criminal offence and it should be dealt with and with the full force of the law; end of.
Chair: Always good to agree with the Chairman.
Lynne Featherstone: Right, Chair, I will remember that for future.
Q69 Mark Reckless: The previous Government raised from 18 to 21 the age at which someone could come into the country to get married and said this was intended to deal with the problem of forced marriage. However, last month, the Court of Appeal ruled that this was against the ECHR, notwithstanding that Denmark appears to be able to have an age of 23 without similar challenge, and clearly this also has implications for the Government’s policy on cutting net migration. What is the Home Office going to do about this?
Lynne Featherstone: We continued where the last Government left off and it was done with absolutely the right intentions. It was done to allow that maturing between 18 and 21, which might give an individual the force themselves to be able to resist forced marriage. However, we are where we are and the policy is now under legal challenge, as you know. We successfully defended our policy in the High Court. The Court of Appeal found the age of 21 policy couldn’t be applied to the individual claimants who’ve been denied a marriage visa on age grounds. We were very disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s decision. We’re seeking permission to appeal the Supreme Court and a stay of the court’s appeal judgment.
Q70 Mark Reckless: And if we do not succeed at the Supreme Court, will the Government consider bringing forward primary legislation to enforce the rule on this issue?
Lynne Featherstone: We’re going to have to look at what we do in the event that happens, but we are of the view that 21 was a good move.
Q71 Dr Huppert: Thank you. Can I move on to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which, as I’m sure you know, was heavily criticised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I now sit on the successor committee to? There were a number of criticisms about the Chair and how it all functioned. Do you think the Commission has overcome those problems?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes, I think it’s working very, very hard at the moment. Virtually as soon as I came into post, I went to meet the new board. I think it’s done remarkably well in finding the skills needed for board members. I think it understands that it has to do better on a great number of things including its transparency. I think, in terms of the Commissioners that left, as I said, it now has good replacements. It understands that its accounting procedures have perhaps not always been exactly as one might have wished, but the intention and the desire is there to reform. As I’m sure the Committee is aware, there are substantive financial reductions to be applied, or they’re not finalised, and I think that will be a help to the Commission in enabling them to focus on what perhaps was always intended-that they focus on their core functions.
Q72 Dr Huppert: Which are?
Lynne Featherstone: On the equalities side-and pretty much on the human rights side as well, although I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong-to ensure that the equality legislation in this country is understood, that they support those complying with the equality legislation, and where neither of those things work, they take action to ensure that it is complied with. I’m sure that’s pretty much the same on the human rights side too. That, in a nutshell, is where I think the intention was, so that this body is, in a sense, a national treasure. It becomes a respected and revered national institution that guards our equalities and our human rights. The honourable-
Chair: Mr Reckless.
Lynne Featherstone: Mr Reckless, I’m sorry; I’m so used to saying the honourable gentleman.
Chair: Well, he is an honourable gentleman, but that’s his name.
Lynne Featherstone: You’re smiling, but these issues of equality and human rights are absolutely crucial and, in my view, that is where the Commission is going. I think it has a real will to get there. I don’t know if the Chair said something contrary before I came in.
Q73 Dr Huppert: Can I just ask: your statement that it’s a national treasure, is that a statement of official Coalition policy?
Lynne Featherstone: In a way, it’s an ambition.
Q74 Chair: So you’ll know when your work is complete when Trevor Phillips becomes a national treasure.
Lynne Featherstone: I wasn’t referring to the Chair.
Chair: Dr Huppert, we’re interrupting your examination. Do you have any more?
Dr Huppert: Shall I move on to the criminal information aspects?
Chair: Please, thank you.
Q75 Dr Huppert: Just two aspects: you also have a role in criminal information I think.
Lynne Featherstone: I do.
Dr Huppert: That sits interestingly with some of the roles about equality as well, but I wanted to ask both briefly about CRB checks and the progress in reforming that, and about the DNA database. You probably know about some of my historic concerns about that. In terms of CRB checks, I think one thing that was planned was to reduce the need for multiple checks for different organisations. How is that process going?
Lynne Featherstone: It’s going very well. As you’ll be aware, maybe, Sunita Mason is the independent reviewer and that was one of things she was looking at. In fact, it’s one of the high levels of correspondence I get, regarding people’s annoyance on the issue. In fact, CRB checks are portable. It’s kind of a mythology that they’re not. However, they’re only portable at the point at which they were issued, so that if years elapse, it’s up to the employer whether they wish to see what happened in the intervening time. It was also I believe on the Freedom website in terms of suggestions. This Government is minded to accept that suggestion and that will be coming forward in the Freedom Bill.
Q76 Dr Huppert: You’re also in charge of the DNA database, I believe, and we know-
Chair: Is that right? Are you in charge?
Lynne Featherstone: I’m not in charge of the DNA database. In fact, James Brokenshire is the DNA Minister, but I am aware.
Q77 Chair: You’re aware of it; you’ve not responsibility for it.
Lynne Featherstone: No.
Dr Huppert: In that case, I’ll leave the question.
Q78 Chair: On the CRB checks, what is the current backlog of cases?
Lynne Featherstone: Just give me a moment to find the figures. What I do know is they’re now meeting their targets. They have been advanced-
Q79 Chair: Yes, we understand about targets. What is the current backlog?
Lynne Featherstone: I’ll have to write to you on the actual backlog because I’ve only got the target figures with me.
Q80 Chair: You don’t know what the backlog of the CRB checks is? How many are waiting to be approved?
Lynne Featherstone: Not off the top of my head, I don’t, and I’m happy to write to the Chair and the Committee to give them the exact figures as of today.
Q81 Chair: Do you know the average time it takes to get a CRB check?
Lynne Featherstone: At the moment the standard CRB is done within 10 days and the enhanced CRB within 20 days, and both of those targets are currently being met, although they weren’t originally. There has been a vast improvement with the change to what is called LISC. Originally you would have to apply to all police forces and wait for them all to reply, and it depended how timely those police forces were.
Q82 Chair: Do you know how many CRB checks were done, for example, in the last month?
Lynne Featherstone: No, I don’t know off the top of my head. I can supply that information to you.
Q83 Chair: Right, I think what would be very helpful is that if you could-
Lynne Featherstone: I am more than happy to give you a statistical background to all of this.
Q84 Chair: That would be very helpful. If you could possibly let me have that response by midday on Friday that would be very helpful to the Committee.
Lynne Featherstone: I’m sure we can. I simply was trying to answer the more process-driven parts of your questions, so I don’t have the figures with me in terms of actual backlog.
Q85 Chair: You can go back to the Ministry and remind your officials, who I am sure are there to assist you.
Lynne Featherstone: I am sure they are.
Chair: Thank you very much. Thank you, if you would let me have that. Minister, thank you so much for coming in, it is a pleasure to see you on your first occasion before the Committee. I'm sure we will see you again. Thank you very much.
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