The Crusade against Discrimination in Britain Part 4
Continued from Part 3
I had hoped that the NuLabor period could be covered in a single episode, but that that hasn’t turned out to be possible. So here then is Part 4, Part 5 the conclusion will follow shortly.
New Labour – 1997 to 2000
The 1997 election swept ‘New’ Labour into power on the theme of Things can only get better. Once again race and immigration played little part in the election and there was no indication of any plan for new legislation in the Labour manifesto beyond the introduction of racially aggravated offences. No change was planned to the RRA76, however unanticipated events were very soon to alter that picture as so often is the case. Looking back from the perspective of the next election which is due to be held in May 2010 or earlier, it will at that point be clear that the thirteen or so years under New Labour have been the most productive period in history as far as race-related legislation is concerned.
So let’s consider each new development in chronological order, starting with …
The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998
The Crime and Disorder Bill was the first piece of explicitly racially-oriented legislation introduced by Labour following their election victory the previous year. Their election manifesto had included a commitment to create new offences of racially aggravated assault and harassment, since when a further new offence of racially aggravated criminal damage had been added. A principal rationale for the introduction of the new offences was said to be the large increase in ‘racially-motivated incidents’ in the last few years (see the comments on the Macpherson Inquiry report below for additional context). In its consultation document that preceded the Bill the government had stressed that new statutory offences were necessary to emphasise the unacceptability of such crime:
… The Government is convinced that the introduction of specific racial offences will send a strong message to society at large that such crime is unacceptable and that it will be dealt with very seriously by the police and the courts. They will also ensure that a higher priority is given to the identification of the racial element of the crime in the gathering of evidence, thus preventing the racial aspect from being overlooked in sentencing.
There was considerable disagreement about whether the increase in racial incidents was real or whether it merely reflected in large part an increasing willingness on the part of victims of such incidents to come forward. There was also the open-ended definition of ‘racial incident’ which had been put forward by the Association of Chief Police Officers and since adopted by all police forces [emphasis added]:
“Any incident in which it appears to the reporting or investigating officer that the complaint involves an element of racial motivation or any incident which
includes an allegation of racial motivation made by any person.”
The new Act provided for significantly increased penalties for racially aggravated crimes, compared to their ‘non-racial’ equivalents. Racially aggravated common assault carried a maximum penalty of 2 years as opposed to 6 months. In the case of actual bodily harm the maximum sentence was increased from five to seven years, for harassment 2 years instead of 6 months and for racially aggravated criminal damage the maximum was now 14 years instead of 10.
The Human Rights Act of 1998
The HRA98 is not usually considered as part of the suite of race relations legislation, however it does serve as an additional, last line of defence for those for whom all else has failed. In effect the HRA98 incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law with a few extra bells and whistles. The EHCR dates back to 1950 and, like the Geneva Convention on Refugees, it reflects a time and place now long gone, an age when intercontinental travel was difficult and costly and migration from the third world on the present scale would have been unthinkable.
Although the EHCR was largely a British invention, it was never intended by its creators to have any practical application in Britain itself. It was felt that the common law and other constitutional protections provided sufficient time-tested safeguards against the sort of absolutist repression that had periodically afflicted continental Europe since the middle ages. All the more surprising then when in 1966 the Labour government exercised Britain’s option to formally adopt the Convention and, more crucially, to abide by the judgments of the EHR Court in Strasbourg. British citizens would now be permitted to bring cases against their own Government for alleged breaches of their Convention rights directly before the Court. This decision was to have far-reaching consequences.
Almost immediately a major issue flared up concerning British passport holders of Asian descent who were resident in the newly-independent former colonies in East Africa. Several of these countries began a process of ‘africanisation’ in which persons who did not take up local citizenship on independence could be subject to personal and economic sanctions. Alert to public opinion on the potential admission of up to 200,000 Asians, in 1968 the Labour government rushed through emergency legislation in the form of the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968. This Act effectively removed the right of abode in the UK from the Asians and provoked a firestorm of bitter recrimination. Cue Anthony Lester:
… Thirty three years ago I was co-counsel for the applicants before the European Commission of Human Rights in what is known as the East African Asians’ case. The case led to a dramatic improvement in the position of the 200,000 British Asian nationals who were being made refugees by the racist policies of the rulers in East Africa. … It was a test case involving a challenge to the compatibility of section 1 of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 with the European Convention on Human Rights.
… The Commission adopted its Report in the case almost thirty years ago, on 14th December 1973. It concluded that publicly to single out a group for differential treatment on racial grounds constitutes a special affront to human dignity and that each of the applicants, as British citizens, had been subjected to such degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the Convention. … It was a momentous decision unprecedented in the jurisprudence of the European Convention on Human Rights. …
East African Asians versus The United Kingdom: The Inside Story (2003)
Labour had been hoist on its own petard. There would be further embarrassment for successive governments at the hands of the HER Court. In 1985 a case was brought which had profound implications for Britain’s immigration policy, which had to be altered to conform to the Convention by allowing women, as well as men, to import spouses and fiancés. Chain migration from the third world could now take off with a vengeance.
In subsequent years the UK was found to be in violation of the Convention more often than any other European state. Popular opinion was repeatedly incensed by what was viewed as unwarranted interference into Britain’s internal affairs by an unelected and unelected continental institution. Feelings ran particularly high when the Court condemned the British government for the SAS killings of three IRA terrorists in Gibraltar in 1988, and further ruled that the government should pay the legal costs of the relatives of those killed. The Court’s ruling was hailed by human rights advocates.
Of the 66 Articles and five accompanying protocols included in the ECHR, the Articles which have proved the most contentious and most deployed in cases involving race and/or immigration issues are:
• Art. 3 - Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
• Art. 8 - Provides a right to respect for family life;
• Art. 12 – Provides the right to marry;
• Art. 14 – Prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, national origin, etc.
On the face of it that all seems reasonable enough as does in truth the Convention as a whole, but the Achilles heel lies in Article 1, which defines who shall be entitled to protection under the Convention as follows [emphasis added]:
Art . 1 – The High Contracting Parties shall secure to
everyone with their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in section I of this Convention.
This has been interpreted to mean anyone physically present within a contracting State or even someone outside that State’s borders who has come under its temporary jurisdiction (in a war zone, for example). Convention rights are applicable not just to citizens or even legal permanent residents but also illegal migrants and failed asylum seekers too. Claimants do not have be a national of another Convention state, they just have to present within one, legally or illegally.
With that background it seems quite astonishing that the original error of allowing the HER Court to have jurisdiction over British cases should be compounded by incorporating the ECHR itself into British law. But that’s exactly what happened, the net effect of the HRA98 has been to make it easier to bring cases of alleged human rights abuse since ‘victims’ can now pursue their complaints through British courts rather than having the trouble and expense of taking them to Strasbourg. The predictable outcome is that misuse of the human rights legislation has proliferated, aided and abetted by an eager legal industry subsidised by public funds. The Human Rights Lawyers Association (President: A. Lester) had 650 members in 2002, it now has over 1800.
Since 1998 there has been a seemingly endless stream of high-profile human rights cases, hardly a week goes by without a ‘political correctness gone mad’ article appearing in the press, more often than not with a human rights angle. Many are a product of the domestic compensation-culture or are completely frivolous, like serial murderer Dennis Nilsen’s claim that not having access to homosexual pornography in jail was a violation of his human rights. That one was rejected, however, unlike a number of other notorious cases that involved foreign nationals. One such was the case of Learco Chimdamo, mixed-race leader of an ethnic gang which was responsible for the murder of headmaster Philip Lawrence in 1995. In 2007 an immigration tribunal refused to order Chindamo’s deportation on completion of his sentence on the grounds that it would violate his right to ‘family life’. In 2008 Al Qaeda’s ‘right-hand man in Europe’ Abu Qatada escaped deportation to Jordan after a successful claim that his human rights would be violated. Although that decision was overturned on appeal by the Law Lords, he has lodged another claim with the European Court and cannot be deported until that case is resolved. Human rights group Amnesty International said it was “gravely concerned” about the ruling’s implications. Spokesman Nicola Duckworth said: “States simply cannot pick and choose which people have human rights.” It’s reasonable to ask why not.
The case of A v Home Secretary
in 2005 involved 14 foreign nationals suspected of terrorism who were being held in custody pending investigation. A court ruled that their rights under Article 14 were being violated since they had been discriminated against on the basis of nationality and/or immigration status, and ordered their release. As a result all were released from custody and placed under ‘control orders’ (a form of house arrest); unsurprisingly several have since absconded. The most notorious case is perhaps that of the Afghan hijackers, a group of ten Afghans said to be under threat by the Taliban and who hijacked an airliner in Kabul, forcing it to be flown to Stansted near London. Several served short jail terms and in the process all claimed political asylum. All claims were rejected but their deportation was blocked following a ruling in 2006 that returning them to Afghanistan would breach their human rights. All are believed to still be in Britain, and living on state benefits.
And then we have the recent revelations that the Labour government has ‘quietly’ changed the guidance provided to asylum caseworkers to permit the granting of ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in around 40,000 ‘legacy’ cases where asylum had been refused but the individuals concerned had evaded deportation for four years. Human rights concerns and the probability of extended litigation were cited as a principal motivation in this decision.
And, last but not least, intimations of further insanity to come. In 2006 the HER Court awarded a Congolese woman who was seeking asylum in Canada €35,000 pecuniary damages and €14,000 costs. There was no indication that the woman had ever been in Europe, however it transpired that she had arranged for a relative to smuggle her five-year old daughter into Holland, pending the resolution of her Canadian asylum claim. On arrival in Belgium from the Congo the brother was apprehended. The girl was taken into custody for five days and then returned to the Congo. The woman’s claims under Articles 3 (inhuman treatment) and 8 (right to family life) were upheld. Under the HRA98 British courts are required to take into account any “judgment, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the European Court of Human Rights” when considering cases.
It would be remiss to end this discussion of the HRA98 without a fuller acknowledgment of the role that Anthony Lester (Baron Lester of Herne Hill since 1993) played in its creation and enactment. As cited on the website of his legal firm Blackstone Chambers:
… Lord Lester has for many years been recognised as a leading silk in administrative and public law, and human rights, and has been described as “one of the most knowledgeable and authoritative figures in the field of human rights”. He campaigned for thirty years to make the European Human Rights Convention directly enforceable in British courts and introduced two Private Members’ Bills on the subject which became models for the Human Rights Act 1998. He was also the architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Race Relations Act 1976. He campaigned successfully for the Civil Partnership Act and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act.
Lester continues to keep his hand in as an active member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights which is chaired by Andrew Dismore, MP for Hendon. Dismore’s chief claim to fame is to have been responsible for prompting Tony Blair to establish Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, a cause which no doubt endeared him to the very significant proportion of his constituents who are of the Jewish faith. The Committee has secured for itself the remit to “…scrutinise all Government Bills and picks out those with significant human rights implications for further examination.” One side effect of this arrangement is that no new government bill may be introduced in Parliament unless it is accompanied by a ministerial attestation of conformance to the HRA98.
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act of 2000
As noted above, there was no stated intention on the part of the incoming Labour government to make any major alterations or additions to the existing race relations legislation. However that changed dramatically in response to the report of the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence which was published in February 1999. The Inquiry Report made seventy recommendations to the Government, which were subsequently examined by a high-level committee chaired by the Home Secretary. The outcome of this process was the decision to extend the Race Relations Act of 1976 to cover not just the police, as recommended by Macpherson, but also to every aspect of the functioning of all but a very few public authorities.
Perceived shortcomings of the RRA76
The main channel through which ongoing criticism of the 1976 Act was directed was the CRE, which conducted three extensive reviews between 1985 and 1998, as it was empowered to do by its charter. Those reviews conducted during the Conservative years fell on stony ground and it took the return of Labour to power for the CRE’s recommendations to get a serious hearing at governmental level.
There were several recurring themes on the CRE’s ‘wish-list’:
• Extend the 1976 Act to cover all activities and functions of all public authorities
• Require all public authorities to take pro-active measures to eliminate racial discrimination and to promote race equality
• Tighten-up the definition of indirect discrimination
• Over-rule recent court decisions that constrained the CRE’s ability to initiate formal investigations without the need to show evidence that actual discrimination had occurred
• Introduce laws against religious discrimination and incitement to religious hatred.
• Make it obligatory for ministers to attest that all new legislation was in conformance with the race relations legislation before presentation to Parliament (as it is with the HRA98).
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry
The catalyst which energized the process and opened the door for new legislation was the report of the Lawrence Inquiry. Most especially it was the finding that ‘institutional racism’ was endemic in the Metropolitan Police and had played a decisive role in the way in which the murder investigation had been conducted which provided the key. Despite the Report’s insistence that few signs of overt racism had been found within the police, the charge of institutional racism was to prove enough of a rallying call for the proponents of new legislation that the ministerial committee was soon persuaded to sanction wide-ranging change to the existing Act. The Home Secretary made a statement about the report on 24 February 1999 in which he said:
…I want this report to serve as a watershed in our attitudes to racism. I want it to act as a catalyst for permanent and irrevocable change, not just across our public services but across the whole of our society. … In terms of race equality, let us make Britain a beacon to the World. … we shall extend the Race Relations Act 1976 not just to cover the police, as the report recommends, but to cover all the public services. The new law will allow the Commission for Racial Equality to investigate what is happening within individual police forces and other public services.
The report contained 70 recommendations with the overarching objective of eliminating racist prejudice and disadvantage. Also proposed was a new and simplified definition of a racist incident:
DEFINITION OF RACIST INCIDENT
12. That the definition should be: “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.
13. That the term “racist incident” must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment.
14. That this definition should be universally adopted by the Police, local Government and other relevant agencies.
This recommendation was accepted by the Home Secretary and has since been adopted as the official definition by all police forces in Britain for use in all statistical reports, replacing the earlier APCO definition which had been in use since 1986. Not surprisingly, the number of ‘racist incidents’ reported to the police leapt from an average of around 12,000 in the five years through 1998 to over 23,000 in 1999. In 2007 a total of 61,262 such incidents were reported (Source: Home Office annual reports on ‘Race and the Criminal Justice System’).
Passage through Parliament
The Bill started out in the Lords and soon took on the by-now familiar format in which only symbolic opposition would be offered by the Conservative opposition. In fact, this time, their principal complaint would be that the Bill did not go far enough in fulfilling the recommendations of the Macpherson Report. The opposition spokesman was quick to confirm that the Conservatives would not oppose the Bill, even though it was deeply flawed.
Lord Cope of Berkeley … I have read the Bill carefully and studied quite a lot of what has been said and written about it. My view at the moment is that it is a sham. The Bill achieves a little, but it does not achieve what Ministers said they intended to achieve. It does not respond in full, as they said, to the Lawrence case, and it does not fulfil the expectations of the Commission for Racial Equality, even in the limited areas that it covers.
If the Minister had said that the Government had decided that it was unwise for the law to be extended very much, we could have respected that view and discussed it. But this Bill pretends to do things that it does not achieve. We are not going to oppose it today because we remain resolutely opposed to racial discrimination wherever it occurs. It is wrong in principle and appalling in practice. I am sure that everyone agrees with that.
The Bill as introduced came under immediate attack owing the absence of any provisions for sanctions against indirect discrimination. Government spokesman Lord Bassam stated that this was a deliberate omission because of the severe constraints that might be put on public bodies in formulating policy:
Lord Bassam of Brighton … Any policy or practice that had a differential impact on different racial groups because of a requirement or condition could be challenged in the courts. That could potentially include any age-based policy because of the different demographic profiles of different racial groups, and also any regional policy because of the different regional spread of different racial groups.
This aroused the ire of Anthony Lester (now in Parliament as a life peer) particularly. Describing himself as “an architect of the Race Relations Act 1976” which had originally codified the concept of indirect discrimination, he was to prove a committed advocate for its inclusion, a position which the government was eventually to concede. This concession was extracted despite government statistics showing that access discrimination claims going to court were overwhelmingly on the grounds of direct discrimination (99%). Lester’s trump card was that in failing to provide for indirect discrimination Britain would be in breach of its obligations uder European Community law and other international instruments, including the ECHR. Labour’s 1966 chickens were still flocking home to roost. On January 20th 2000 Home Secretary Jack Straw conceded defeat in the following terms:
… We have listened carefully to the arguments put forward about the issue and have concluded that, on balance, the risk of spurious challenge is outweighed by the principle of including indirect discrimination in respect of public sector functions in the Bill.
Direct and indirect racial discrimination is already prohibited under the Race Relations Act 1976 in the fields of employment, training, education, housing and the provision of goods, facilities and services in respect of the public and private sector. The Act is already being extended by the Bill to new fields in the public sector which have previously been determined by case law not to be a “service” and to which prohibitions on direct or indirect discrimination did not, therefore, apply. The Act will now extend to areas such as the implementation of central and local government’s regulatory, economic and social policies and law enforcement in respect of indirect discrimination as well.
This ended completely the distinction between functions performed by, for example the police, which constituted a ‘service’ and were therefore already covered by the 1976 Act (asking a constable the time, say) and those which did not (such as being stopped on suspicion of possession). The effect that this change would have upon policing, especially in areas with large ethnic populations, would prove to be profound.
On 13 January 2000, Lester moved a new clause to impose a general duty on public authorities to promote racial equality and to make it enforceable by regulations requiring compliance statements. “Any duty must be backed with a strong enforcement mechanism developed in consultation with the Commission for Racial Equality, as our amendment requires;” he said. This echoed one the CRE’s own long-term demands and was to become a central element of the new law.
Following an untroubled passage through the Lords apart, that is, from Anthony Lester’s relentless savaging of the government in pursuit of the closing of every conceivable loophole, the Bill arrived in the Commons on March 9th, 2000. Home Secretary Straw’s introduction was unctuously sanctimonious even by his elevated standards:
… The Bill is a fundamental part of our programme to achieve racial equality in this country. One of the Government’s central aims is to achieve a society where there is respect for all, regardless of their race, colour or creed, and a society that celebrates its cultural richness and ethnic diversity. That is not only inherently right but essential for Britain’s economic and social success.
In the world of business, it is increasingly clear that the world-class organisations capable of surviving and adapting in a global marketplace are those that value and embrace diversity. A successful multicultural society is not simply a question of equality for a minority; it is an essential competitive strategy for the UK, benefiting each and every one of us regardless of our religion or the colour of our skin.
Did anyone then present actually believe this tripe? Mr. Straw (jew) then proceeded to lay it on even thicker with this treacly eulogy to Lord Lester (jew):
… It would be appropriate to place on record not only my thanks, but the thanks of a huge number of people, for the work of Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who over the years has made probably a greater, more singular, contribution to the development of race relations legislation than anyone else in this country. It was he who--behind Roy Jenkins--was the architect of the Race Relations Act 1965, the Race Relations Act 1968 and the Race Relations Act 1976. I have no hesitation in saying that I have listened very carefully to the advice that he has offered.
Not wishing to be outdone, the opposition spokesman, the shadow Home Secretary rose to re-iterate that the Conservatives bent the knee to nobody in their condemnation of the evilness of racial discrimination and were second to none in their zeal to root it out:
… We on this side of the House remain unreservedly and absolutely opposed to racial discrimination. For that reason, we will support the Second Reading of the Bill today.
By this time the dissenters from 1976 had all, alas, long since departed. There was however one brave soul who stood up for his principles and refused to kowtow to pressure from his own front bench to remain silent. That was the Conservative MP for Aldershot (‘Home of the British Army’) and former Monday Club member, Gerald Howarth. He had on earlier occasions distinguished himself in the House by condemning the findings of Lawrence Inquiry a ‘grotesque fabrication’, and by calling for the deportation of father of Princess Diana’s last consort and Harrods’s owner. the ‘phony pharaoh’ Mohammed al-Fayed.
Howarth opened his innings with a stern challenge to Straw on what effect he anticipated the new measures might have the number of anti-discrimination cases. He was answered with Straw’s customary slipperiness:
… There are some details about the costs towards the end of the explanatory notes to the Bill, on page 13. We do not anticipate significant costs arising. We have given our best estimates. However, a very large cost will hit public authorities and society as a whole if we do not legislate. The first cost that we should be concerned about is the moral cost, but there would also be a financial cost.
Then followed an interesting exchange between Howarth and several partisan supporters of the Bill, which I repeat here in slightly edited form.
Mr. Woodward, (Lab. St. Helens South): Some Conservative Members may support the Bill, but as the hon. Gentleman [G. Howarth] knows, on section 28, for example, his party felt so strongly that it could not allow a vote of conscience. On an issue such as the Bill, it would send a strong signal to the country if the Conservative party had a three-line Whip--if its Members were present and if they were prepared to stand up and say that the Bill mattered. Belonging as they do to a party which for 18 years did nothing to implement the recommendations of the Commission for Racial Equality, perhaps it is not surprising that they are not so prepared.
In March last year, during the debate on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) told the House:
It is fair to say that some unpalatable truths have to be faced, one of which is the fact that no Government have ever received a mandate to turn the United Kingdom into a multiracial society.
What a great excuse for indifference.
As the hon. Member for Aldershot told the House last year, he regretted that some people who have come here freely and others who have sought refuge in this country appear no longer content to learn and accept our native customs and traditions, but wish to assert their own.
He told the House of his fears when he described the threat of indoctrination in our schools to make children “value cultural diversity”.
His views are not unique; they are shared by noble Lords, such as Lord [Norman] Tebbit, who fears that multiculturalism will divide our society.
The hon. Member for Aldershot is not alone even in this place. He justifies his views by saying that minorities represent only 6 per cent. of the population. His advice is that they need to be more understanding of us and our centuries-old culture. There we have it: them and us; black versus white; division at the heart of our society and our policy making. That is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Woodward: In a moment.
We all worry about being victims of crime. However, most crime is random and could happen to anyone. Racist crime is different. The victims know that they were chosen because of the colour of their skin. Black people take extra steps to make their homes secure; they often stay home at night. Victimisation is worse because it is often repeated. Often, it is deadly. As the hon. Member for Aldershot has often reminded the House, ethnic minorities may make up only 6 per cent. of the population, but their members constituted one in six of all homicides in the past three years. I give way.
Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. turncoat* Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), but if the United Kingdom is so bleak after his new party has been in government for three years, why do so many people come to these islands from so many different parts of the world? They come here not because it might be a little better than Bangladesh, but because they have heard that Britain is a fair and prosperous country. [* A reference to Woodward having defected to Labour the previous year following a reprimand for supporting the repeal of ‘Section 28’, a regulation prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in schools. DD]
Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman obviously feels self-satisfied when he makes such remarks, which only trivialise the debate. I shall not reply to the nonsense expressed by the hon. Gentleman. It does nothing to recommend his party, and nothing to recommend this country as a decent, civilised society.
Jean Corston (Lab., Bristol East): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. I welcome the fact that the Government have the opportunity, after all those wasted years since the late-1970s, to widen the scope of the race relations legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) referred in his thoughtful speech to the Tory party’s indifference to this issue when it was in Government from 1979 to 1997. When Norman Tebbit was a Minister, he came to the House and said that he would present a report of the Commission for Racial Equality to Parliament in the way a head waiter would serve a bottle of coca-cola. That probably says it all.
Furthermore, I find it extraordinary that the present Conservative party has had more to say about General Pinochet than about Stephen Lawrence.
What little support Howarth did receive from his party colleagues was decidedly lukewarm at best:
Mr. Stephen Twigg (Lab., Enfield Southgate): I am listening carefully to the balanced approach that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lidington) is taking--in stark contrast to the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). When I spoke earlier, I suggested that the hon. Gentleman could take the opportunity to repudiate the remarks of the hon. Member for Aldershot. I would be grateful if he would do that.
Mr. Lidington (Con., Aylesbury): I was about to say that I do not agree--I have made that clear in what I have said hitherto--with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said. However, the House would be foolish if it ignored the fact that the opinions that he quite legitimately expressed are shared by many of our fellow citizens. It is right that those arguments should be addressed maturely in debate rather than being simply pilloried and branded, which is not the way forward. He expressed his concerns about the Bill’s possible impact on stop and search, and those concerns are shared quite widely by many people who would probably share the principled opposition to racism that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate outlined in his speech.
It fell to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mike O’Brien) to close the debate, and in so doing he couldn’t resist taking another gratuitous swipe at Gerald Howarth, the only MP among the entire 600-odd who had had the integrity and testicular fortitude to articulate the real thoughts of the overwhelming majority of the indigenous population. Following the obligatory opening mush, O’Brien acclaimed the opposition for their ‘contribution’ to the debate, and then laid into Howarth:
Mr. O’Brien: The Bill fulfils a commitment to early legislation made by the Government in response to the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.
We heard good speeches from the Conservative Benches. I thought that in many ways the best speech of the day was that from the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who made an important contribution to the debate. The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) also showed that many in the Conservative party support the creation of a successful multicultural Britain. I welcome that.
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) let the Conservative party and the House down, with a speech of monumental littleness and saloon bar prejudice. He posed as a defender of the police against race relations legislation, but as a former parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation and as a Home Office Minister, I know that most police officers in Britain would want to dissociate themselves from the hon. Gentleman’s speech and his prejudice. They would have been appalled by it, just as I hope that they would have agreed with the comments of the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, the right hon. Member for Fareham.
The Bill passed its Second Reading without a Division and came into force as the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 on April 2nd, 2001.
In order to proceed on with the narrative I will place Howarth’s speech in its entirety in a separate entry below.
The financial impact of the Act
Since 1994 a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been required for any legislative proposal which is considered to have a significant financial impact on business, the voluntary sector, or which imposes costs of more than £5m on the public sector. In opening the Commons debate Home Secretary Jack Straw remarked cryptically on the financial consequences of the Bill:
… There is no extensive regulatory impact assessment for the Bill because the private sector has undertaken to fulfil its responsibilities under the Bill, as it has fulfilled them under the 1976 Act.
No mention there of the effect on public expenditures which, according to the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill, would be nominal (i.e. less than £5 million):
FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL
80. With the exception of the following, the measures in the Bill will be cost neutral or have a minimal impact on public expenditure.
90. The Bill will not have any significant effects on public service manpower.
These are quite extraordinary evasions which were allowed to pass essentially unchallenged in both Houses. It simply strains credulity to be asked to believe that a Bill which sought to impose stringent new duties and complex requirements for compliance and reporting on more than 50,000 public authorities would have a minimal impact on public expenditure and effective manpower levels. The only major expense line item cited in the Notes to the Bill concerned the possibility of an increase in the Legal Aid budget especially relating to immigration-related cases, but even there no attempt was made to quantify how the Act might impact that.
However we can make a few educated guesses on what the actual cost impact could have been. I have recently obtained some interesting information via a FoI request from a borough council in the North of England. It turns out that this local authority, which in 2001 had an ethnic majority population under 5% of its total, employs a full-time staff of twenty in its ‘Ethnic Diversity Service’, at a cost to the public approaching half a million pounds. The council’s website indicates that the service is provided as part of its work in ‘promoting racial equality’. The council has also confirmed that it has a three-person team responsible for ensuring compliance with “Equality and Diversity” directives. This expense and additional manpower is felt to be justifiable even though the council is responsible for a quite affluent, mostly suburban area with a nominal ethnic population. If we were to scale this investment up to a city the size of London and down to the smallest rural council, every one of which has the same duties under the Act as a multiracial metropolis, the real additional cost must surely amount to many billions annually to the taxpayers. It would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the need for compliance with the RRAA2000 has created lucrative career openings for tens of thousands of Diversity parasites Professionals, like this one, for example. As a further indicator of the scale of the Diversity Industry, meet the six members of the ‘Equalities and Cohesion Unit’ at the Cumbria County Council, which administers one of the most sparsely populated and least enriched (0.7% ethnic) areas of the country.
Of course the duties imposed by the RRA2000 do not just apply to municipal government. Every public authority has similar responsibilities, ranging from the Metropolitan Police to, according to Schedule 1A to the Act “… an internal drainage board which is continued in being by virtue of section 1 of the Land Drainage Act 1991.” Fire Brigades are certainly not exempt either. We learned from press disclosures attendant to the ‘Gay Pride Snub’ row in 2006 that the Strathclyde Fire Service employs a three-person ‘Diversity and Equality’ team. Even the Ministry of Defence has been moved to declare that for it ‘Diversity is a core business’, and that ‘…Drawing on this diversity enhances our capability to deliver our business.’ The UK’s Defence Academy has been moved to set up its own Joint Equality and Diversity Training Centre (JEDTC) as ‘the centre of excellence for Equality and Diversity training across the MOD.’ Training is targeted towards officers and WOs who will be performing the duties of Equality and Diversity Adviser at Unit, Establishment and Formation Headquarters levels. No doubt JEDTC graduates are welcomed as valuable additions to the team by the complement at Camp Bastion and by the sailors on extended submarine duty with HMS Astute.
And what’s so bloody marvelous is that, if we are to believe Jack Straw, it’s all been made possible with minimal impact on public expenditure!
Summary of 2000 Act
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 as finally enacted included the following main provisions:
• Imposes a statutory ‘general duty’ on 50,000 public authorities to eliminate racial discrimination and to promote racial equality.
• Additionally, most authorities are made subject to ‘specific duties’ in their role as employers, educators, service providers and so forth.
• Extends the prohibition of racial discrimination to all functions of public authorities not already covered by the 1976 Act
• Defines the term ‘public authority’ in the widest possible sense for the purpose of outlawing racial discrimination. Examples are private companies performing functions traditionally performed by the public sector (e.g. managing security services) or the ‘public’ aspects of private organisations (e.g. the Royal College of Surgeons).
• Empowers the Home Secretary to add to the list of public authorities other organisations at his discretion
• gives the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) powers to enforce specific duties imposed on public authorities;
• gives the CRE powers to issue Codes of Practice to provide practical guidance to public bodies on how to fulfil their general and specific duties to promote race equality;
• makes Chief Officers of Police vicariously liable for acts of discrimination carried out by officers under their direction and control and provides for compensation, costs, or expenses awarded as a result of a claim to be paid out of police funds;
• restricts the power of ministers to make racially-discriminatory decisions in the interests of national security.
Under its new powers the CRE (now the EHRC) has made available a Code of Practice which sets out in painstaking detail the statutory duties that all public authorities must perform to ensure compliance with the Act. Helpfully the CRE has also prepared a series of ‘good practice guides’ for the benefit of public authorities, for schools, for further and higher education institutions, and additionally a general guide to ethnic monitoring. Listed therein are detailed directions on the processes that must be followed, the policies and procedures that must be developed, and the ongoing reporting that must be periodically submitted in order for an authority not to fall foul of the Act, thus triggering a formal investigation by the CRE and, potentially, career-limiting court appearances for those bureaucrats who have fallen short of the required standard.
All this may sound a little abstract so it might be instructive to consider the effect that the imposition of these duties has upon a typical public authority. For this purpose, I have chosen (entirely at random) the East Sussex County Council, a relatively small authority which includes no major urban centres, and with very few resident ethnics (2.7% according to council figures). There are possibly few local authorities in the country for which the RRAA2000 has less relevance than East Sussex, but that hasn’t deterred the council from installing a three-person Equality and Diversity Team in which every member carries at least the title of ‘Manager’. Whether that’s simply a case of title inflation or whether there are additional more junior E&D professionals beavering away at the coal face would probably take a FoI request to sort out. Given the distinct lack of enrichment though, three E&D pros on the staff would seem to be more than sufficient.
Like every other one of the 50,000-odd public authorities, ESCC has had to prepare a Race Equality Scheme, which must be updated every three years. A Racial Equality Scheme is defined as ‘a timetabled and realistic plan, setting out an authority’s arrangements for meeting the general and specific duties required under Act.’ Each year the council is required to complete an Ethnic Monitoring report in which annual data concerning ‘progress’ with E&D must be presented to the Audit Commission, which then compiles them with thousands of others into its national tables of Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPI) for all local authorities (‘Name and Shame’).
The Council has instituted a ‘rolling programme of Equality Impact Assessments into all its plans and actions, according to its Council Plan 2008/9 Monitoring report. Performing an EIA for any new or revised policy or function is part of the statutory general duty to eliminate discrimination. An example is the Equality Framework for schools which ‘suggests’ that the EIA process should be a integral part of the policy-making process within each school. The council has thoughtfully collected together a comprehensive selection of its E&D initiatives on its website.
But that’s not all. Eastbourne, one of the three larger towns within the county which have their own district council, even operates its own Diversity programme! (Staffing level unknown). It has produced its own Race Equality Scheme. How this relates to the county-level scheme is unclear, since neither acknowledges the existence of the other, perhaps a legacy of some earlier internicene strife or a turf war. Let’s hope though they’re offering taxpayers value for money and heeding the Blairite calls for ‘joined-up government’ by not duplicating effort. Perhaps someone closer to the scene could investigate and let us know. At the same time someone might also take a glance at the Eastbourne report’s front cover and confirm how typical the ethnic mix depicted there is of the area. Eastbourne also provides a very handy link to its own library of EIAs. One dealing with equality in its Parks and Gardens Service makes for particularly riveting reading, highlighting as it does the urgent need for diversity training of all parks and garden maintenance staff as well as the need to increase the diversity of tenants in council allotments (small council-owned gardening plots). A side-point to be made is that this EIA, and others, appear to have been produced by the line management of the particular department involved. The cost of their time (and the opportunity cost of them not doing what they are really supposed to be doing as in the case of the schools) must also be added to the direct expense of the E&D professionals to form a true picture of the total cost to taxpayers.
Now, bearing in mind that similar diversity-related efforts continue every day all over the country in every one of the 50-odd thousand public authorities, what is the probability that the impact of the RRAA2000 on public expenditure has been minimal, as Jack Straw assured Parliament it would be?
To continue with Part 5.