HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc734-6W
24. Mr. Hopkins

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he proposes to improve race relations and community cohesion. [64770]

Beverley Hughes

The Government are committed to making race equality and community cohesion central to their aims.

We are committed to outlaw discrimination in employment by December 2003 as required by European Employment Directives.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 came into force on 2 April. It places a general duty on specified public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination—and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups.

Public bodies were required to have in place by 31 May this year, realistic and timely plans to show how they intend to comply with the general duty.

The Government are working right across Departments on a number of measures to promote community cohesion. Our aim is to build communities where: there is a common vision and a sense of belonging for all people; there is an appreciation of people's different backgrounds and circumstances; where those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the work place, in schools and within neighbourhoods.

Following the disturbances, we rapidly set up a programme of summer activities. This summer, we are running an enhanced programme of activities—both on community cohesion and to address issues of street crime. For example, a £16 million summer activities programme run by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) also includes community cohesion criteria alongside other aims.

We are also engaging young people through other measures. For example, "Beyond Labels"—an international conference for young people, supported by the Home Office, will take place in Leicester in July.

We commissioned the Community Cohesion Review Team—chaired by Ted Cantle—to explore the causes of last summer's disturbances and the independent report made several, wide-ranging recommendations. The Government published its initial response to the Cantle Report in December last year.

The recommendations are being taken forward by the Ministerial Group on Community Cohesion, which I chair. The group is advised by a Community Cohesion Panel, chaired by Ted Cantle. The panel comprises people with expertise in relevant areas—including young people and the community. The Government announced membership of the panel on 22 May 2002.

A new Community Cohesion Unit has been established to support the Ministerial Group and Panel—and to work across Government to deliver community cohesion.

Community Facilitators are now in place in 34 towns across the country to bring together local people, foster dialogue and encourage the search for positive solutions to local problems. Community Support teams are also being provided to Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, to address community cohesion issues and each town has also produced an outline community cohesion action plan.

To assist local government address community cohesion issues. The Home Office has published—jointly with the Commission for Racial Equality, Local Government Association and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—draft guidance for local authorities. This sets out a series of practical steps that they (and other local agencies) can take to address community cohesion issues. A copy of this has been placed in the Library. We are seeking views on it by 14 August.

The Government believe that community cohesion is an issue that all local authorities need to urgently consider. Some local areas will conclude that their existing policies and community planning systems are satisfactory. But the Government believe that the majority will need to amend some of their policies in order to build effective community cohesion. A small number of areas may identify a wide range of issues which are best addressed by a specific and focused action plan. A number of areas other than Bradford, Oldham and Burnley have already indicated their commitment to developing such plans.

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