HC Deb 28 January 1991 vol 184 cc650-1
38. Mr. Janner

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service whether he will make a statement regarding the progress of his Department's ethnic monitoring policy.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

All Departments and agencies, including my own Department, are implementing the programme for action on race, which incorporates ethnic monitoring.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister agree, as his predecessor so clearly did, that it is unacceptable that so few people from ethnic minorities reach the higher echelons of the civil service? Will he please undertake, as his predecessor so rightly did, to make the most energetic efforts to ensure that the policy is not just something on paper—but that it is implemented?

Mr. Renton

This matter is very close to the heart of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is true that black and Asian people are under-represented at senior level across the civil service, including my own Department. We wish to increase equality of opportunity, but, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, it is most important that those who reach the higher grade should do so on the basis of merit and not because of their sex or their ethnic background. We hope that, by virtue of the programme of action that we published recently, every Department will have been reminded of the need to give ethnic minorities every possible opportunity to reach the higher grades if that is what they merit.

Mr. Soames

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the United States of America positive discrimination of the kind advocated by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) has proved to be a total disaster? Does he agree that it would be quite improper, and totally against the interests of the very high-quality civil service that we have in this country, to allow promotion on any basis other than merit?

Mr. Renton

I hesitate to come between my hon. Friend, who is also a Sussex neighbour, and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). Of course, my hon. Friend is right in suggesting that positive discrimination in favour of people of a particular colour or sex would be wrong. What we seek to achieve is equality of opportunity—in simple terms, that the best available person, regardless of skin colour or sex, should get to the top.

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