HL Deb 27 October 1983 vol 444 cc362-4

3.16 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the interest of cutting state expenditure and improving race relations, they will abolish the Commission for Racial Equality.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, no. The Government do not think that this would serve the interests of good race relations.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which is in the short form that seems to have become usual since we resumed on Monday. Do Her Majesty's Government accept the recommendation of the commission that mandatory ethnic records should be kept by all firms? If so, does this include records of people of English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Jewish race? What will be the position of people of mixed race—people who, like some cousins of mine, have an English father and a Chinese mother? Can my noble friend estimate what the cost of these proposals will be, first, to the taxpayer, and, secondly, to industry?

Lord Elton

My Lords, under the Race Relations Act 1976 the commission has a duty to submit to the Home Secretary proposals for amending the Act when it thinks this necessary. The commission has recently published a consultative paper covering a number of proposals on which it has invited public comment. When the commission puts firm proposals to the Home Secretary they will be considered most carefully, but I cannot indicate now what his response might be.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, if we are really serious about improving race relations, is it not the last thing that we should do, to abolish the Commission for Racial Equality? Is the noble Lord aware that this is our most important task in the country at the moment?

Lord Elton

My Lords, race relations are important and, as I say, we are not considering abolishing the commission.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while agreeing with my noble friend that the commission should not be abolished, can he answer the question of my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton about the cost of the commission?

Lord Elton

My Lords, in the financial year 1982–83 the cost to the Exchequer of maintaining the commission was about £8.3 million. Some £2.2 million of that sum was in support of local community race relations councils. In the current year the commission's grant will enable it to continue its activities at broadly the same level.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's original Answer, but would he not agree that despite its restricted functions the commission has contributed greatly to racial equality in public places, in housing and in employment, particularly in the large industries?

Lord Elton

My Lords, those are, indeed, the aims of the commission, and I am grateful for the noble Lord's recognition of its achievements. I believe that under the new chairmanship it will continue to improve on its performance.