A month ago I wrote to Harriet Harperson after she announced that she would be launching an inquiry into the “too white” British Parliament. I had all but given up on receiving a reply when out of the blue, one of her underlings sent a reply:
Thank you for your email of November 14th 2008 addressed to Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP expressing your opinions regarding a “too white” British Parliament. Due to their busy schedules Ministers are unable to reply to all their correspondence personally.
You have asked about “proposals for ensuring that Parliament has adequate quotas of ethnic minority, female, disabled, homosexual, trans-gender and other oppressed sections of society.”
The Government’s position is that:
- Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, but equality is not just right in principle.
- Promoting equality is essential for individuals to fulfil their potential, for the creation of a cohesive society and for a strong economy.
In the forthcoming Equality Bill the Government has identified several grounds for protection including race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or belief and also gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity and marital status. For the majority of these, the protected ground is an inherited characteristic which is rarely subject to change. They have been chosen due to wider recognition of needing protection from discrimination and disadvantage, especially when accessing goods, facilities and service. The Equality Bill will ban unjustifiable discrimination against people.
To speed up progress in tackling the inequalities that still exist and to end inequality you have to take positive action to redress disadvantage as well as tackle discrimination. Positive action in employment terms means that, all other things being equal, you can take steps to recruit under-represented groups to your organisations or develop talent within under-represented groups in your workforce. Such measures are voluntary and include job advertising and training.
Widening the scope of positive action will make a difference because it will increase opportunities for people from underrepresented groups. There is clear evidence that certain groups, for whatever reasons, do not get the same opportunities as others – despite having equivalent educational qualifications:
- There is only one High Court Judge from an ethnic minority
- Only 8% of University Vice Chancellors are women
- Only 11% of Directors in the UK’s top 100 companies are women
- Not a single Member of Parliament is an Asian woman
The Bill will extend positive action so that employers can take under-representation into account when selecting between two equally qualified candidates, for example choosing a male teacher if the school already has a large proportion of female teachers.
The new positive action measures will be available to all employers to use on a voluntary basis. They are not about employment quotas and will not allow people to promote one candidate above another if that person is less suitable. They can be used in all types of organisations from businesses, to local authorities through to bodies such as police services. This will allow employers to recruit more people from groups that are currently under-represented in their workforce, so that their workforce in turn better reflects the local community.
Government Equalities Office
I couldn’t resist replying …
I agree that everyone has a right to equality, does that mean that you are going to be creating a position of Minister for Men and introducing legislation that allows “positive discrimination” in favour of white English men or is it a case of (to paraphrase George Orwell) “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”?
I note your comment that only one High Court judge is from an asian minority. Perhaps you could tell me how many people from an asian minority want to be High Court judges, how many have applied with the relevant qualifications and experience and how you determine the number of people that haven’t applied because of a perceived race barrier. I always find statistics on people not applying for something paradoxical in much the same way that statistics on unreported crimes and terrorism are paradoxical.
Your point of there being no asian women MPs is the most important one. The electorate chooses who should be an MP and if a female asian doesn’t manage to get elected in a free and fair election then that isn’t because of racism, it’s because they’re just not the best candidate for the majority of voters. To allow all women lists for elections serves only to undermine one of the most fundamental concepts of democracy which is that (subject to legal bars) every citizen is entitled to stand for election and sit in the Commons if elected by their peers.
Finally, a company would (and should) employ people who are suitable for the jobs on offer. Whether their workforce reflects the ethnic makeup of the local community is an irrelevance and rightly so. If, for example, 10% of the local community is asian and only 5% of the applicants for a job are asian, why should a company be encouraged to employ a higher pro-rated amount of asian applicants? To consciously do that would be to discriminate against the majority of applicants who weren’t asian and discrimination in all forms is wrong.
I don’t imagine I’ll get a reply this time. 🙂