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Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

Volume 820: debated on Monday 21 March 2022


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 17 March.

“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our work to tackle ethnic disparities and to build a fairer, more inclusive Britain for all.

In April last year, I came before this House following publication of the report by the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. I return to the House today to announce publication of our response to that report and to outline our new Inclusive Britain action plan.

The Sewell commission was established by the Prime Minister in response to the protests that we saw throughout the summer of 2020. It was tasked with carrying out a deeper examination of why disparities exist and considering how we can reduce them. The commission published its findings on 31 March 2021, making 24 recommendations in all, focused on health, education, crime and policing, and employment. The result was a ground-breaking report that set out a new, positive agenda for change. It provided an important contribution to both the national conversation about race and the Government’s efforts to level up and unite the whole country. I take this opportunity to again thank the commissioners for their tireless efforts and the invaluable contribution they have made to helping us better understand this complex and multifaceted policy area.

The Government fully endorse the findings of the Sewell commission and our action plan is based largely on its recommendations. Its report conclusively showed something which I, and indeed honourable Members on all sides of this House, know to be true: disparities do persist in the UK and racism and discrimination continue to shape people’s experiences. However, it also showed that most of these racial disparities are not driven by individual acts of prejudice committed by people behaving, either consciously or subconsciously, in a racist way. What the report’s analysis shows is that, for the most part, negative disparities arise for reasons not associated with personal prejudice. That is why so many disparities stubbornly persist even in this progressive age when there has never been such an acute awareness of racism and so much action and policy against it. All of this underscores the importance of moving beyond gestures and soundbites, to look in depth at the evidence and to challenge many of the deeply held assumptions about race and ethnicity that exist within our society.

The response we have published today, Inclusive Britain, presents a clear strategy to tackle entrenched disparities, promote unity and build a more meritocratic, cohesive society—a society in which everyone, irrespective of their ethnicity or cultural background, can go as far in life as their ambition will take them. The response sets out over 70 actions to level up the country and to close the yawning gaps between different groups in education, employment, health and criminal justice. In many of these areas, we have gone much further than the commission envisaged to ensure that our action plan is as ambitious as it possibly can be.

The UK is a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multicultural success story and we believe that many of our greatest strengths derive from the diversity of our population. One only has to look at our brilliant NHS—one of the largest and most diverse employers in Europe—to see the benefits of being an open, tolerant and welcoming country. However, it would be naive to say that tolerance and inclusion are the universal experiences of everyone who lives here, so our action plan seeks to right these wrongs with three clear aims: building a stronger sense of trust and fairness in our institutions and confidence in British meritocracy; promoting equality of opportunity, encouraging aspiration and empowering individuals; and encouraging and instilling a sense of belonging to a multi-ethnic UK that celebrates its differences while embracing the values that unite us all.

One of the most basic, but also one of the best, ways to build trust is to ensure that every individual in our society knows that they will be treated fairly and will not be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity. We will continue to work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to challenge race discrimination through investigations and supporting individual cases. We will hold social media giants to account for the vile and racist abuse that is allowed to propagate on their platforms. Our ground-breaking Online Safety Bill will force those companies to comply with a tough new regulatory regime, and if they fail to act then the Bill will allow us to issue hefty fines of up to £18 million. These fines could be even heavier for the big operators failing to take down racist posts and racist accounts. We will also tackle unfair pay through new guidance to employers on how to assess and address their ethnicity pay gaps.

To improve the way in which stop-and-search powers are used by the police we will strengthen scrutiny arrangements so that local communities are able to hold their police forces more effectively to account. We will strive towards the goal of ensuring that police officers and members of the judiciary better reflect the people and communities they serve.

To tackle persistent ethnic disparities in health outcomes, our new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will even the playing field in access to good-quality care, with measures to be set out in a White Paper this spring. We will place particular emphasis on maternal health disparities, including identifying and driving change through our new maternity disparities taskforce. We will also tackle misleading information that can undermine trust in our public services and the institutions delivering them. This work includes encouraging more responsible and accurate reporting on race issues in the media.

The second strand in our action plan is to promote equality of opportunity, encourage aspiration and foster personal agency. Over the last decade we have made great strides in widening opportunity and giving more people from all backgrounds the chance to fulfil their true potential, but there is still more to do and we are fully committed to removing the barriers that are holding people back.

That starts from birth. We know that a strong start in life, and a stable family support system, can make all the difference. That is why we will invest £200 million in expanding the supporting families programme and £300 million in transforming start for life services and creating a network of family hubs so that children can grow up in a loving, stable and nurturing environment that fosters creativity and learning. This funding also means that families in desperate circumstances will receive the dedicated support they need to turn their lives around, find well-paid jobs and ensure that they and their loved ones can live happy and healthy lives. Indeed, we have asked the Children’s Commissioner to ensure that such services put the needs of children at the heart of everything they do. We also want to see more ethnic minority children adopted by loving parents who can give them everything they need in life to grow and flourish.

Members across this House know that access to high-quality education from an early age will set a child up for success later in life. While some ethnic minority children outperform their white British peers, that is not the case for every ethnic group, so we will look to level up pupil attainment by understanding what works best to drive up standards and bridge the attainment gaps for good.

We are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade—£14 billion over three years—and supporting children to catch up on what they missed during the pandemic, and we will drive up the quality of education outside mainstream schools. Our forthcoming schools White Paper will focus on improving literacy and numeracy standards for the most disadvantaged pupils. We will also continue to invest in what works for pupils, improve access to apprenticeships and demand better transparency from our higher education providers so that all prospective students know there is a wealth of options open to them.

While promoting and celebrating diversity is hugely important, it is ultimately meaningless if people do not feel a sense of belonging or inclusion. That is why the third strand of our action plan is to instil a sense of belonging in those who feel that they are treated differently, left out or left behind because of their colour, class or creed. No child should grow up feeling alienated from the society in which they live. They should know that this country is proud to call them citizens of our United Kingdom and that that applies to every individual who chooses this country as their home irrespective of whether they were born here. To foster that sense of belonging from an early age, we will work with a panel of experts, historians and school leaders to develop a model history curriculum to help pupils understand the intertwined nature of British and global history and their own place within it.

When those children grow up and enter the workplace, we want to ensure that they do not experience some of the biases and unfairness that they do today. To that end, we are appointing a new ‘inclusion at work’ panel to help employers drive fairness across their organisations. The panel will develop a wide range of new and effective resources that employers can use so that they move beyond unverified, low-quality training materials and create a more meritocratic place to work. That is complemented by a new ‘inclusion confident’ scheme to provide employers with the tools to overcome barriers to in-work progression and improve retention of their ethnic minority staff. Finally, in the fields of science, innovation and medicine, we will ensure that new technology, including cutting-edge medical equipment and artificial intelligence, is harnessed for good and not inadvertently biased against ethnic minorities.

It was right that we took the time to consider carefully the commission’s findings. The breadth and scale of our action plan shows that we have put to good use the time since the report was published, but we have not stood by and waited to publish our response before taking action. We began to implement the commission’s recommendations even before the report was published, including moving the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet Office. We have also published new guidance on how to write about ethnicity while moving away from use of ‘BAME’, and our recent levelling-up White Paper draws on the commission’s findings.

So much work has been done, and I am grateful to all those who have helped us get here. I thank officials for their support in the race disparity unit—Summer Nisar in particular. I also thank Bryony Bonner in my private office and the special adviser Daniel El-Gamry, as well as Munira Mirza, formerly of No. 10.

Inclusive Britain sets out a clear and comprehensive action plan to tackle ethnic disparities, level up communities and build a stronger, fairer and more united country. I will return to the House in 12 months’ time to report on the progress we have made in delivering those actions.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement and give it a partial welcome, 12 years into this Government. A year ago, the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published its report, which within hours was unravelling. It has been discredited by many prominent experts and individuals.

As my honourable friend Taiwo Owatemi MP said in the Commons:

“If both the Sewell report and the strategy fail to identify the root causes of racial and ethnic disparities, how can either possibly hope to tackle them? That is why the strategy was always going to be hopelessly ineffective and short-sighted, and that is why it will fail to deliver for black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”—[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/22; col. 1073.]

The answer that she received from the Minister there was that:

“A rhetorical trick is happening around this question.”—[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/22; col. 1075.]

Perhaps the Minister can explain why her Government find it so hard to accept that we still have a country where there clearly is discrimination and that racial disparities are the result of historic, endemic and still existing structural racism. Unless we accept that and build from that understanding, both individually and organisationally, we will not solve the terrible racial disparities, many of which are described in the original report.

Although I partially welcome this statement, it is based on the wrong premise. It has some good ideas but quite a few half-baked ones. Let us take employment, for example. It has failed completely to implement mandatory ethnicity pay-gap reporting, despite repeated calls from the CBI, the TUC and the Labour Party to do just that. Unlike with gender pay gaps, there is currently no legal requirement for UK businesses to disclose their ethnicity pay data. Will the UK Government follow the recent recommendation of the Women and Equalities Committee and introduce mandatory ethnicity pay-gap reporting by 2023, including urging employers to publish a supporting action plan?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has previously called for mandatory reporting, similar to the rules in place for the gender pay gap, to apply to all large employers. Commenting on the Government’s decision not to adopt mandatory reporting at this stage, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said:

“The Government has missed an opportunity to tackle racial discrimination and inequality in the workplace by failing to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay reporting. Unfortunately, we know from previous schemes that a voluntary approach will not help drive the changes that are needed in many organisations.”

For example, if the pay gap is non-existent at entry level but significantly skewed at more senior levels, that can help inform the areas of focus. Employers might decide to, for example, invest in mentoring, with a focus on supporting particularly under-represented groups to progress, or in assessing the progression path to interrogate and root out baked-in bias. The TUC recently warned that insecure work is tightening the grip of structural racism in the labour market, with ethnic minority workers overrepresented on zero-hour contracts. Will the Minister urge the Government to introduce the long-awaited employment Bill to tackle zero-hour contracts?

Health, with a long section in the report, brings one of its major suggestions: for the establishment of an office for health disparities, to look into the issue and to work alongside the NHS to reduce differences in areas such as healthy life expectancy, and the propensity to develop some conditions. There are two issues regarding the NHS, and I declare an interest as a non-executive director of a health trust who has been on the workforce race equality course in the last month or so.

One issue is health inequalities, most starkly demonstrated in the pandemic in the unequal way that it affected and cost lives in our ethnic minority communities, but we know this to be the case over a whole range of health matters. How does the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities intend to change this? What levers will it pull to create the culture change and the investment change which will be necessary? The other issue is employment, concerning the treatment and promotion of ethnic minority employees in the NHS. White applicants are 1.6 times more likely to be appointed from shortlisting, compared with BME applicants. This figure has got worse in the last year or so.

BME staff are 1.6 times more likely to enter formal disciplinary process compared with white staff. The number of BME board members in trusts has increased —we should be very pleased about that. The workforce race equality indicators used in the NHS, which are very powerful tools indeed, will have a significant impact over a period of time. What they say relating to perceptions of discrimination, bullying, harassment and abuse—and on beliefs regarding equal opportunities in the workplace—is that they have not improved over time for BME staff.

It is astonishing that there is so little reference to policing in the Minister’s Statement. It was the actions of the police in the United States which sparked the protests here and led to the commissioning of the Sewell report. Trust and confidence in policing are absolutely fundamental to communities feeling safe and secure, and for addressing disadvantage and racial disparity in every other area of life. What action will the Minister take in the action plan to address a transformation in the culture of our policing which so desperately needs to address racial disparity? The report says that it wants to

“bridge divides and create partnerships between the police and communities”.

Will the Minister explain how she thinks that we can possibly bridge that divide when black schoolgirls are being strip-searched? Is she aware that this is not an isolated incident? The Metropolitan Police’s own figures show that, in 2021, 25 young people under 18 were strip-searched. Most were black or from other ethnic minorities. Some 60% were black, and only two of the 25 children were white.

The Conservative Government have had 12 years to act. Instead, they have failed to deliver and failed to acknowledge the genuine reasons for racial and ethnic disparities in Britain today. Britain and its communities deserve better.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for this Statement. There is progress is some areas of disparities, while questions arise on other matters which need clarification. The first major question relates to the Covid pandemic and the Government’s disregard for the disproportional impact on ethnic minorities. Many workers have lost their lives. The pandemic showed how heavily we depend on our diverse communities to serve our NHS. Will the Minister commit to including the impact of the pandemic on ethnic disparity in the terms of reference for the Covid inquiry?

I had to enter a local hospital for a procedure recently, and throughout the seven days I was there I did not meet a single white person. All the services were provided by minorities from various parts of the world. How can we adequately thank them—instead of criticising their appearances as postboxes, as the Prime Minister once said? The actions set out by the government plan do not go nearly far enough to create a more inclusive society. They kick the can down the road on most issues with the creation of new strategies and frameworks in the years to come.

The new framework for stop and search will not build trust between the police and the ethnic communities they serve, unless they end suspicionless stop and search due to its disproportionate impact on minorities. On policing, I was shocked to hear from some crime commissioners that they do not intend to appoint additional police officers. Underrepresentation of police in recruitment, retention and promotion still remains a concern after over 50 years. This is not going to help the adversarial relations between the police and black communities. It is a shame on our police that a young, black student was stripped and searched intimately last week. How are the Government to put these matters right? The Government must be held to account for their actions.

It is worrying that the Government have set out an action plan to tackle inequality based on recommendations from a commission which concluded that there was no systemic racism in Britain. The Inclusive Britain strategy, published on Wednesday evening, was developed in response to a controversial report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities last year. The commitments in the action plan include revamping the history curriculum for schoolchildren, a cash injection for school pupils who have fallen behind during the pandemic, and clamping down on online racist abuse through new legislation. On this, we do not need to look far: simply examine a football match on a Saturday afternoon to see how much we hate the extent of racism which is perpetrated on football grounds, and the action taken by many football players by taking the knee.

Moreover, I understand that the Department for Education will invest up to £75 million to deliver a state scholarship programme for students in higher education. The Government aim to improve maternal health outcomes for ethnic-minority women, a disparity which experts have linked to systematic racism. I trust that the Minister will have answers to some of these questions.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for the points they raised. I will try to deal with them as best as I can, one by one. I thank the noble Baroness for her limited support for the report. The report has, in many cases, gone down well. There are clearly things with which people do not agree, and we are listening to them. Should any noble Lord have anything which they would want to write to me about the report, I will give an undertaking to discuss it with the Minister in the other place, Kemi Badenoch, and get back to them.

The noble Baroness asked me about structural racism. I cannot rule out that some organisations in the UK may be institutionally racist. Of course, that is why we are funding the Equality and Human Rights Commission to strengthen its investigative work. I also believe that the term should be applied based on evidence. Often, the causes of racial disparity are complex, and not rooted in discrimination or prejudice. As the commission said, they did not find clear evidence for it in the areas it examined. This does not mean that people do not experience racism, but institutional racism is deeper, and we need evidence to say that it is there. I understand that there are structural reasons why some ethnic groups have better or worse outcomes than others. The new strategy aims to deal with those root causes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised the issue of the ethnicity pay gap. We are publishing guidance to employers on voluntary ethnicity pay reporting by summer 2022. No one should have to worry about why they are not being given the same opportunities as their colleagues. Ethnicity pay gap reporting is one of the tools which employers can use to build transparency and trust among their employees. It may not be the most appropriate tool for every type of employer seeking to ensure fairness in the workplace. It is also a complex measure and can be affected by many factors—meaning that it is easy for the data to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. We want to help those employers who want to use ethnicity pay gap reporting to ensure that their approach allows for meaningful comparisons to be made between employers. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has extensively consulted with experts and employers to identify these issues. We will be using this consultation, and robust evidence, to design a trustworthy reporting system which helps employers to identify causes of pay disparities. However, we reserve the right to introduce legislation at a future point, if and when the reporting tools are sufficiently developed, effective in driving positive change and accessible to more businesses.

The noble Baroness asked me why we had not mandated ethnicity pay reporting. A meaningful pay gap reporting standard for ethnicity will necessarily need to be very different from the one for gender reporting—which uses just two categories and we were discussing last week. We will not be legislating for mandatory reporting at this stage; rather, we will support employers with voluntary reporting. However, we reserve the right, as I have already said, to introduce legislation at a future time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, talked about the NHS Race and Health Observatory, which found widespread ethnic inequalities across a range of health services, with some communities found to have particularly poor access, experiences and outcomes. Why are the findings in our report so different? We welcome the NHS Race and Health Observatory’s examination of health disparities in the UK today. The Government are committed to reducing unacceptable disparities in health outcomes and experience of care, including by ethnicity, many of which have been further highlighted and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Department of Health and Social Care will publish a health disparities White Paper later this year, which will set out impactful measures to address ill health and health disparities, so that a person’s background does not dictate their prospects for a healthy life ahead of them.

We got to the point of asking about low trust in police among the ethnic minorities, particularly among young people. Recent events have raised serious issues with the police, and it is right that the Government ask those difficult questions to drive positive change. The Government, with policing partners, remain committed to driving forward good progress and improving trust in policing and crime. Our police are more diverse than ever before. Forces have worked hard to improve community engagement and we have seen major improvements in how the police deal with racist crimes, but we know that there is more to do. That is why attracting more officers from a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds is a core ambition of our drive to recruit an extra 20,000 officers. The government response to CRED, along with wider activity being delivered across government and policing, remains vital to ensuring that we create safer streets and neighbourhoods for all our community. Our plan is to improve training to provide police officers with the practical skills that they need to interact with communities. That is a matter for the Home Office and, if there are any particular questions that noble Lords would like me to raise with the Home Office, I am happy to do so and report back.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue of the outrageous case of a black 15 year-old Hackney schoolgirl who was strip-searched. I cannot comment on this case, as I am not familiar with its details, but it raises issues of serious concern, and I shall raise them with my ministerial colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for Education. I believe that there is an Urgent Question tomorrow, when noble Lords will have the opportunity to put their questions to my noble friend the Minister at the Home Office. Let me be absolutely clear: the behaviour of the police in this case was totally unacceptable. The Metropolitan Police apologised on Tuesday for the child’s truly regrettable treatment, and it is vital that the IOPC concludes its investigation into this case and that any findings are acted on swiftly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised the issue of the Government being committed to an inclusive Britain, when the powers of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are used in a discriminatory manner against ethnic minorities. These powers are not discriminatory. When making use of public order powers, the police must ensure that their use is balanced, proportionate and in line with human rights and equalities legislation. Through their training, authorised professionals practise continuous personal development in the police to strive for their management of any protests getting the right balance. The Home Office, again, has conducted an overarching equalities impact assessment for the Bill to consider the impact the measures will have on those with particular protected characteristics.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the point about the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities. On 3 December 2021, we published the final report to the Prime Minister on progress to address Covid-19 health disparities. The report summarises government work to address those disparities since the end of May 2021 and considers the Government’s overall approach to tackling Covid-19 disparities since the review commenced in June. Thanks to our award-winning analysis and new research, backed by more than £7 million in government funding, we now have a much better understanding of the factors that have driven the higher infection and mortality rates among ethnic minority groups. To reduce the health disparities we have seen during the pandemic, the Government will accept and implement the recommendations from the final Covid-19 disparities report.

Stop and search is one of the many vital tools used by the police. It is very important that it is used proportionately and not in any discriminatory way. The police will continue their training to understand how best to use that tool, which in some cases is quite appropriate.

My Lords, for all the criticism that this report has rightly faced about its findings, many of which are flawed, I tentatively welcome parts of it, not least because it has among its stated intentions a clear acknowledgment that the Government must build trust and a sense that every individual in our society must be treated fairly. As the report says, we must acknowledge failings, improve actions, behaviours and systems that led to the loss of trust, and the Government and other stakeholders must do so with honesty and transparency.

In this spirit, can my noble friend explain why, despite the Government’s commitment to adopt a definition of Islamophobia, they have failed to adopt the APPG cross-party, non-legally binding, agreed definition, which has been adopted by all political parties, including the Conservative Party in Scotland, local authorities, universities, the NUS, charities and numerous other organisations? It is supported by over 800 British Muslim organisations and underpinned by more than 100 academics who are experts in this area. Why is the definition accepted by large sections of the community that it seeks to protect not acceptable to government?

Why, despite promising to appoint two advisers to review the definition nearly three years ago, has only one been appointed? Even he has yet to be engaged by government or given any clarity as to his remit; he has not even been given terms or reference or any resources to support his work. I know that my noble friend will be appalled to learn that he has not even had the decency of a response to his correspondence with No. 10 and from two separate Secretaries of State. Can my noble friend therefore say how many times in the last three years a Minister has met their own cross-government working group on anti-Muslim hatred? When did the meeting last take place?

I am sure my noble friend will agree that this Government’s commitment to equality should be judged not by what they say their intention is or what they intend to do but by what they actually do.

I am grateful for my noble friend’s broad support for the report and the actions. I am alarmed by the other points that she raises about meetings and resourcing et cetera, and I hope she will allow me to take this back to the Minister and write to confirm the position.

My Lords, I totally endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness—I was about to call her my noble friend, as she is my friend—Lady Warsi. It really is time that we all, on a cross-party basis, gripped the Islamophobia definition. If we do not, we are in danger of having a hierarchy of racisms in this country, with some groups feeling less represented than others. None of us wants that.

I welcome the Minister’s tone and sensitivity, as always, and some aspects of the Statement and the document that goes with it. We are told that there will be new attention to history in the curriculum, but I hope that, when the noble Baroness goes back, as she promises to do, on our behalf to her colleagues in government, she addresses the fact that some Ministers, even in the last couple of years, have said really insensitive things about the Black Lives Matter movement and even about Black History Month, which feeds the so-called culture wars but do not feed the kind of conversation that we all want to have about inclusion.

On pay and other issues around enforcement, I welcome the fact that the action plan talks about reinvesting in the EHRC in enforcement activity and having a landmark new fund of £250,000 to help victims seek enforcement. I am afraid that, legal fees being what they are, £250,000 is not enough. I suggest to the Minister that, if any form of regulation is taken seriously by the Government, there should be some centralised state and government responsibility and it should not all be left to individuals to take up cases.

Finally, on policing, I am sure we welcome what the Minister said about encouraging black and other minority police officers to join the force. But every time we create, in this House and the other place, a new, broad, draconian police power, existing biases will mean that, by accident or design, it is used to the detriment of race equality and against certain marginalised groups in particular. I welcome the Minister’s invitation to a meeting with some of us on a cross-party basis, if she would not mind.

I hope my track record speaks for itself, in that I am very happy to meet noble Lords on a cross-party basis. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is pleased with the EHRC investment. I take the point about legal fees, and of course I will discuss that with the Minister—without any promises. On the definition of Islamophobia, which the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and my noble friend Lady Warsi raised, I am afraid that we cannot accept the APPG definition of Islamophobia because we do not want to adopt a definition that would conflict with the Equality Act.

My Lords, I have two questions. How will the new community consultation arrangements differ from the Section 106 police-community consultative groups established following the Scarman inquiry? And how will the Government counter the inevitable accusations that the new geographic stop and search data will give the police the excuse they need to target innocent black people?

I will need to go back to my colleagues in the Home Office to see how the consultation will differ, and I will provide an answer to the noble Lord. On the issue of stop and search and the targeting of and focusing on young black people, that is not what we want and that is not what we are striving to do. But the question the noble Lord asked is relevant, and again I will feed that into the system, get an answer and write to him.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the Statement. I am celebrating that, finally, we are discussing race across all parties in this House and the other place. My noble friend said that it is difficult to get employers to put reporting on a legal footing. Maybe my noble friend would suggest that we start with the public sector, where a lot of entrants come in from minority communities but, as they progress through the organisation, they become less and less. I want to give a tiny example from my home city. I know I bang on about my home city, but it is quite relevant. It used to have better representation within the public sector 15 or 20 years ago than it has now. How do we monitor progress being made through organisations, particularly through the public sector, where people come in in large numbers at entry and then disappear when they get towards middle and top?

My noble friend raises a very interesting question. On the issue of how we monitor the recruitment and attrition of ethnic minorities, I might start with the Department for Work and Pensions. I will talk to our HR team and see whether I can glean any information there. I know it has data, and I will be very pleased to see it. I would like to take the point about starting with the public sector back to Minister Badenoch and see what we can do.

I am pleased we are discussing race without feeling intimidated in any way. As I said on Thursday, in the International Women’s Day debate, we should be free to speak and tolerant of each other’s positions. I hope that, as the work unfolds on this action plan, which is a marathon and not a sprint, we will do it within those parameters.

My Lords, the talk about race has been going on for decades now and all we seem to do is keep repeating ourselves. Reports have been published time and again, but we have not really got to the end of it. The Minister talks about having evidence; I would have thought that there was enough evidence in the Macpherson report, which came out in 1999, to show what the experience of the black community has been and continues to be—including police treatment, especially of young black men. There is enough evidence over decades on race relations between the police and the community. It is there. We do not need any more reports; all we need is to see what the Government are going to do. Actions need to happen.

I take the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence. She has every right to speak in the way she does, with the experiences she has had. Our hearts go out her, even as the years have gone on, for what she has had to experience.

In this report, we want to look back and see what we have learned and gleaned. However, as I said on Thursday, it is not what you say, it is what you do, and it is not what you promise, it is what you deliver. I had a session with Minister Badenoch before this Statement. She asked me to make it absolutely clear that she is prepared to meet anybody and hear any points that they wish to make. I know that the noble Baroness has met and spoken with her before, but the door is open. This is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box on this issue. I would like to think that I can help the noble Baroness by making sure that we do what we say.

My Lords, I had the privilege of chairing the House’s Select Committee on youth unemployment last year; we reported in November. I draw the Minister’s attention to paragraphs 276 to 278 of that report, which make a number of very positive recommendations for addressing some of the issues that have been identified in the Chamber tonight.

Specifically, is the Minister aware of the report of 29 June last year from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said:

“Second-generation ethnic minorities are achieving great success in education, but this does not translate into equal success in the labour market … they are less likely to be employed, and some … are less likely to reach managerial/professional occupations, than the white majority.”

A sentence appears in the Statement claiming that

“access to high-quality education from an early age will set a child up for success later in life.”

However, there is a lot of evidence that that is not the case. So can I draw the Minister’s attention to the recommendations, which we have not yet debated on the Floor of the House but which make a number of positive suggestions for addressing that issue?

I wholeheartedly endorse and agree with what the noble Lord says. It is crucial that we ensure everyone is treated fairly in the workplace so that they can thrive and reach their full potential. We recognise that employers stand the best chance of achieving this when they focus their efforts on effective actions that have a proven track record of improving diversity and inclusion. I have spent the majority of my life trying to get people into work, focusing very much on people from ethnic communities. There was a point when we were not doing terribly well on it, but the situation has improved. I am absolutely at one that the best education is the best way for people to get a good start in life. I know that my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, our work coaches, are working day in, day out to get people into jobs, to get people into better jobs and to help people have a career, regardless of their ethnicity.

My Lords, I welcome the Inclusive Britain action plan, but I thought the Sewell commission struck a good balance by acknowledging that racism is a real force in the UK while avoiding framing every racial and ethnic disparity as products of institutional discrimination and systemic racism. However, that was quite controversial, and noble Lords will know that there was a backlash against it. I wonder, therefore, whether the Minister could, rather than having meetings, organise a fuller debate on this new report now so that we can discuss the action plan in some detail. There are lots of myths and misinformation; maybe we could contribute to enhancing the public debate. I was really shocked at the abuse that the original commissioners got, but only last week the University of Nottingham withdrew its offer of an honorary degree to Dr Tony Sewell, the chair of CRED, because, it said, he was too politically toxic. People were saying that he had normalised white supremacy, that he was an establishment black guy, and all that sort of thing. Can we, here, help turn this into a constructive discussion, as well as having an action plan?

Forgive me if I have got this wrong, and I am sure the noble Baroness will tell me, but it is up to any noble Lord to put down for a debate or raise Written Questions. So, if I may, I turn the question on the noble Baroness and suggest that she makes the running in getting a debate on this.

My Lords, I will follow on from where the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, left off and commend the Sewell commission for its work. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would agree that it is perhaps worth quoting directly from the Statement made by my honourable friend the Minister, Kemi Badenoch, last week. She was quite clear in saying that the report “conclusively showed something” that she and others

“know to be true: disparities do persist in the UK and racism and discrimination continue to shape people’s experiences. But it also showed that most of these racial disparities are not driven by individual acts of prejudice committed by people behaving, either consciously or subconsciously, in a racist way. What the report’s analysis shows is that, for the most part, negative disparities arise for reasons not associated with personal prejudice. That is why so many disparities stubbornly persist even in this progressive age when there has never been such an acute awareness of racism and so much action and policy against it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/22; col. 1070.]

Reflecting on that point, will my noble friend the Minister say how the Government are supporting stronger families? That seems to be important to all of us in terms of reaching our potential, and I know that it was a strong feature in the original Sewell commission report.

I thank my noble friend for her contribution. I agree wholeheartedly with the words that she read from Minister Badenoch. Family life in the UK needs to be strong and resilient, and it needs to ensure that young people grow up knowing that they are supported and cared for. This does not always happen, so I am pleased that our Government have put around £650 million—I think; do not quote me—into supporting families and, more importantly, into the family hubs and the reducing parental conflict programme, which, I hope, based on the evidence thus far, is making a huge difference to the lives of people who struggle to maintain good family relationships.

My Lords, may I draw the Minister’s attention to the very end of this report, on the impact of AI and algorithms? Action 72 says that the Government will address

“potential racial bias in algorithmic decision-making.”

The only word I would disagree with is “potential”, because there have been some shocking examples, such as in facial recognition technologies, where the algorithms used and the data that is fed to set them up has been overtly racially biased. May I invite the Minister to tell the House a little more about what the Government intend to do in this area? I think they are going to need expert help. Would the Minister, for example, consider contacting the Council for the Mathematical Sciences, which is an umbrella body comprising a range of different mathematical experience and expertise? In the world in which we live now and the algorithms which in great part determine our lives, the potential for racial bias is enormous, and I invite the Government to take the advice that will be needed to fix that.

I thank the noble Viscount for that question. I did not catch the name of the council that he referred to, but if he could let me have that afterwards, I will certainly pass it on. The space of decision-making algorithms and AI is fast-moving, and they are increasingly embedded in all our lives. Greater understanding and transparency from those building these systems is crucial to ensure that the public trust the decisions being made. Our first priority is understanding what it means to improve transparency in the use of AI. We want to build the most trusted AI governance system in the world. We also want to ensure diversity of thought and experience in the sector, as this is the best way to avoid in-built bias. To achieve this, up to £24 million of funding is being put towards attracting early career talent into digital and tech roles.