Reflections by Commissioners

Members of the Commission recall their impressions, and say what was most important for them. The pieces here are:

Modernising the Terms of Debate, by Trevor Phillips

Predicting the Future, by Kate Gavron

Implications for the Police Service, by Colin Bailey

One Size Does Not Fit All, by Judith Hunt

The World is Watching, by Sally Tomlinson

New Problems, New Solutions, by David Faulkner

A Labour of Love, by Seamus Taylor

The Chinese Community, by Michael Chan

A Fantastic Experience, by Matthew McFarlane

Politics, by Muhammad Anwar

Race is a Human Rights Issue, by Sarah Spencer

Modernising the Terms of Debate

Trevor Phillips, who was chair of the Runnymede Trust when the Commission was set up, recalls its background and aspirations, including the hope of developing new terms and concepts.

When, in the mid-1990s, the Runnymede Trustees sat in an office perched high above London to consider the Trust’s future, two things were evident. First, that after nearly 30 years of being in the vanguard of race relations thinking and research, it was time to take a reality check on our own understanding of the British people. Second, that the growing diversity of the UK, particularly in cities like London, presented a major new challenge for all those concerned with race and ethnicity.

For me, as a working journalist who wrote and broadcast often about these issues, there was a further problem. The language of race was largely borrowed from the United States, and looked increasingly inappropriate. We spoke of black and white in a nation where people of South Asian origin felt uneasy about being bracketed with others of very different backgrounds. We argued about race in a country where new faith communities – particularly those of the Muslim faith – were flexing their muscles. We reported on ghettoes in cities where very few districts have a majority of any ethnic minority household.

I felt that if we could achieve one single thing, it would be to modernise the terms of debate about the British people themselves. The team assembled by Bhikhu Parekh is high-powered, and the debates which I attended were both profound and open-minded. These are rare qualities in any discussion of race and ethnicity. I believe that the effort they put in has been rewarded. This report tackles some fundamental questions, and I hope will put diversity in a new, less narrow context. I think it will provoke a timely and important debate.

Trevor Phillips is a trustee of the Runnymede Trust, and Chair of the Greater London Assembly, 2000

To Top of Page  

Predicting the Future

Kate Gavron, a Runnymede trustee and vice-chair of the Commission, places the Commission the within the wider context of Runnymede’s work. She begins by referring to a media discussions of Britain’s future population.

On 3 September 2000, the Observer published a report based on research by a demographer who, not surprisingly, wished to remain anonymous. His research claimed that ‘whites’ in Britain will be an ‘ethnic minority’ by the end of the century. Apart from the anonymity of the author of the research, there is much to complain about in this piece of reporting.

It comments on neither the inadequacy nor the use of the term ‘whites’. It fails to question any of the assumptions which appear to be part of the research, such as that fertility rates of different communities will remain unchanged two or more generations after initial immigration. In its emphasis on colour as a defining characteristic, it conflates ‘non-whites’ and ‘immigrants’, ignoring the fact that many of the ‘newcomers’ of the past decade have been ‘white’. It fails to question assumptions about immigration rates remaining constant for many decades. How accurate, after all, would similar predictions have been in the early 1900s, when there was an irrational panic, of the kind that became painfully familiar throughout the 20th century, about the arrival of Jews from eastern Europe and Russia? It is disturbing that the Observer should have published this article, when it's a newspaper that ought to be more reliable for rational reporting and debate on issues of cultural diversity than some others.

What this sort of article underlines is the importance of the messages of the Report on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, as described in this issue of the Bulletin by Bhikhu Parekh. As a nation, we need to rethink our relationship with other peoples of the world, especially those with whom we have been linked for centuries as the result of our imperial past. We also need to rethink our internal relationships, not only between and within different communities but also between religious communities, regions and countries. Devolution, membership of the European Community and mass global migrations have all transformed the world since 1900 and the British need to rethink relationships with our fellow world-citizens.

I became involved in the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain when Jim Rose, who was originally planning to be a commissioner, decided that he could not undertake the work involved. I was asked, as a fellow trustee of the Runnymede Trust, to take his place on the Commission. It was a great pity that the Commission could not draw on Jim’s wisdom, knowledge and sensitivity during what was to be the last year of his life; but throughout that period he maintained interest in what we were doing, and attended some of the meetings and at least one of the seminars organised in early 1999 to gather together experts to discuss specific issues.

One of the most gratifying aspects of being involved with the Commission has been the generosity of everyone associated with its work. The Commissioners themselves have been immensely generous with their time, and in the attention they have given to writing, re-writing and commenting on the text of the Report, as Robin Richardson describes in this Bulletin. Our three funders have shown an active interest throughout and provided venues and support for meetings. Other friends have provided hospitality that included catering for residential meetings; especially notable here are United News and Media, the Granada Group and the Regency Hotel, Kensington. I have been interested to note the way in which help which goes beyond the routine can prove inspirational to bodies such as this Commission, not least because support from the outside reinforces our belief in the importance of our enterprise.

From the beginning it has been a principle of the Commission that it should be intellectually independent of the Runnymede Trust, to the extent that it should not feel constrained by Runnymede’s own policies, statements and aims. The links between the Trust and the Commission have therefore been largely administrative; but in the latter stages of the report-writing we have made use of expertise at Runnymede by asking staff to read and comment on various sections of the Report.

One of the problems with reports produced by commissions of limited duration is the tendency for reports (and their recommendations) to be shelved and forgotten. It is the Commissioners’ hope that the Trust will take up and pursue the recommendations in the Report and, especially, revisit the recommendations regularly in the future to see what progress has been made – just as the Report advises should be done with the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report.

It is above all gratifying that despite inevitable disagreements at various points over form, content, policy recommendations and priority areas, we have avoided any dissenting or minority reports. This is without a doubt due in no small part to skilful chairing of meetings and drafting of the Report itself. Beyond that, however, it is due to the Commissioners all feeling sufficiently committed to the aspiration of a successful multi-ethnic Britain to have made personal compromises in some areas, while continuing to argue passionately and persuasively whenever it really mattered.

For myself it has been a challenging and stimulating experience to be part of the Commission, and as a Runnymede trustee I will press for its recommendations to be kept at the forefront of public debate and for its work to be recognised as a benchmark from which important new perceptions will flow.

Kate Gavron is a research fellow at the Institute of Community Studies.

To Top of Page 

Implications for the Police Service

Colin Bailey, a member of the Commission in both its main phases, stresses the importance of its findings for the police service.

I was approached by the original chairman of the Commission on the Future of Multi-ethnic Britain to be a Commissioner as a result of my position as chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Race and Community Relations Sub-Committee. This Committee had representation from various police forces throughout the United Kingdom, as well as the Home Office and the Commission for Racial Equality, and was charged with influencing and monitoring the application of policy in individual police forces. In view of our remit, I considered it important for the Police Service to be involved in the important work of the Multi-ethnic Britain Commission.

Early on this was graphically illustrated when I took part in one of the Commission's visits to Liverpool. In an open forum, attended by a cross-section of the local black and Asian community, I found that I was the focus for searching questions regarding dissatisfaction with local policing and the treatment by the police of the local black and Asian residents. Whilst I was very well informed and aware of the issues on ‘my own patch’, I found it difficult to answer for perceived shortcomings in another Chief Constable's area.

This was an important lesson to have absorbed prior to the Home Secretary initiating the Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Whilst this was to be a searching investigation of how the Metropolitan Police had carried out their enquiries, from the outset it was apparent to me that important lessons for every police force in the country would emerge.

Sir William Macpherson's recommendations have strongly influenced the Commission, both in its discussions and the content of its published Report, and the Police Service and others have a duty to address the Commission's findings with the vigour that the black and Asian communities demand.

Colin F. Bailey, Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police 1995-2000

To Top of Page 

One Size Does not Fit All

Judith Hunt reflects on her experience of being a member of the Commission and links it to her involvement in local government and public administration over the last 20 years.

Joining the second phase of the Commission, in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, has been a complete mix of emotions and thoughts for me. Including pleasure at the progress that has been made, depression at the stalemate in many organisations, depression at the continuing awful consequences of racism on individuals and their families and excitement at the opportunity to rethink my own views and experiences, and to contribute through the report to a wider public debate.

With others, I was involved in implementing race and equality policies in the Greater London Council in the 1980s, and subsequently at national level for Local Government. Our recent experience, prior to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, was that the significant numerical progress in the 1980s and early 1990s had been maintained only in a small proportion of councils as equalities had slipped off the political agenda for most. Some councils, mainly metropolitan and London boroughs, had maintained their attention and focus, but were not sufficiently rethinking what was required at the turn of the century.

What have I learned? That there is deep-rooted experience of racism for many of our communities, much of which has remained hidden, and that many youngsters believe their life chances will be blighted by racism. That many of our public services have failed to tackle racism and construct services appropriate to our diverse communities. That much of the recent guidance provided by the CRE to national local government organisations, would, if implemented, make significant changes in helping to create open and accessible services fully reflecting the needs of diverse communities. That change in legislation would be helpful. The critical base point is that the facts and figures must be collected, monitored and acted upon.

Above all, the experience of the Commission has been for me a strong reminder that our communities are increasingly complex, therefore solutions have to be complex too. The debates around nation, cultural identify and religion have challenged some of my personal thinking. The debates have also highlighted for me that all involved in developing and implementing public policy need to acknowledge that complexity and find a thousand and one ways of engaging with our diverse communities. We need to really hear the needs and views, and where there are contradictions and difficulties over religion or cultural values to enter into a real debate at the most local level. One size definitely does not fit all. This change will require a much deeper engagement for all in the public services, and an engagement that is about listening and changing in response to the varying needs of our diverse communities.

Judith Hunt was chief executive of the Local Government Management Board, 1993-98, and before that chief executive of Ealing Borough Council.

To Top of Page

The World is Watching

Sally Tomlinson reflects on the Commission’s emphasis on the concept of belonging, and places its report within the wider international context.

It was both a pleasure and an honour to serve on the Commission on the Future of Multi-ethnic Britain. In all our meetings the discussion which interested me most and to which we returned again and again was that of ‘belonging’.

Whom do we most closely identify ourselves with – family, community, country, nation-state – and why is it that we so often define our inclusion by the exclusion, denigration and hatred of others? Our conclusions were that, despite much racism and xenophobia, Britain is a community of communities, a multicultural post-nation still struggling to come to terms with the end of Empire. There is enough evidence of advance in the struggle for equality and racial justice to believe that a newly defined Britain does have a future.

Perhaps we did not stress enough that the world is watching. In the modern world, claims to nationhood, recognition of national identities, and relationships between majorities and minorities living in the same territory are matters for intense international debate, and people are prepared to kill and die for the recognition of their national or ethnic identity.

Britain is uniquely placed to offer an example to the world of a country struggling with itself to resist appeals to a racist nationalism that excludes communities defined as racial, ethnic, or refugee.

In the recent past few politicians or other public figures were willing to take a lead in asserting that minorities do share a ‘national identity’, and some, shamefully, still attempt to scapegoat minorities as responsible for social and economic ills. But there are now, as the Commission found in its work, many leaders from all communities and in all walks of life – in Parliament, the professions, business, sport, and cultural activities, and countless others in the general public – who see the dangers of a country split by ugly divisions. They are working to create a decent society which can give a lead to Europe and to the world in its respect for all individuals as equals within a community of communities.

Sally Tomlinson is Emeritus Professor of Educational Policy at Goldsmith's College, University of London

To Top of Page 

New Problems, New Solutions

David Faulkner comments on the principal implications of the report for public administration and law.

Britain is coming to realise that 21st-century problems need more than 20th-century solutions.

Education is about more than test scores and exam results; health is about more than waiting lists and recovery rates; employment is about more than numbers claiming benefit; criminal justice is about more than catching criminals and locking them up. Racial equality – and social justice – are about more than avoiding discrimination. The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain has contributed to this realisation, most obviously as regards racial equality, but also in other areas of social policy, politics and governance.

For me, the experience of working as a member of the Commission has demonstrated the need to move on from avoiding discrimination to promoting equality and valuing diversity; to stop thinking of people as belonging to a ‘majority’ or ‘minority’; and for people to translate that change of outlook into their personal lives as individuals, their collective lives as citizens, and their working lives in their various professions, trades and occupations.

The means of satisfying that need are partly a matter of personal and social values, and partly of professional or sometimes political judgement. They include not only programmes and techniques – training, recruitment, monitoring – but political and professional leadership and commitment. Conditions for success include a clearer and more coherent understanding of human rights; of the individual and collective responsibilities of citizenship; and of the nature and importance of civil society. They also include structures and mechanisms to ensure that public services are not only accountable but also legitimate.

The questions raised by the Report, and the answers it gives to them, are not just about the treatment of what have in the past been termed ‘ethnic minorities’. They most certainly cannot be dismissed as ‘political correctness’. They go to the heart of modern British society, its social and political values, the relationship between the state and the citizen, the nature of authority, and the character of moral and political leadership.

David Faulkner is Senior Research Associate, University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research

To Top of Page 

A Labour of Love

Seamus Taylor recalls personal and professional experience in relation to the Commission's work, and stresses that the Irish dimension in the Commission's report is one of its distinctive features – Irish experience illuminates Britishness rather as the experience of black people illuminates whiteness.

Growing up in small-town rural Ireland in the 60s and 70s I lived in a very homogeneous society – almost everyone was white and all cultural symbols were Irish. My sense of Irishness was affirmed on a daily basis. Following university I found myself leaving Ireland to work initially as a social worker with London’s Irish community. Living in London and working with excluded Irish people taught me that Irish identity was not unproblematic and the Irish experience was marked not only by diversity and success but also by disadvantage and discrimination. Whilst not belonging to a visible minority I quickly realised that I belonged to a perceived minority and that accent does not lag far behind colour as a marker of difference. I found that my accent elicited a range of positive and negative responses from ‘oh you’re Irish’, as if I were some kind of rare zoological exhibit, to expectations that I be as eloquent as Wilde or as thick as the Paddy in a Punch cartoon.

I became involved in founding a charity, Action Group for Irish Youth, which seeks to promote Irish community inclusion and tackle Irish community exclusion. We and others worked with the Commission for Racial Equality on a two-year research study on the Irish experience of discrimination in Britain. Launched in 1997, the report was welcomed by the Home Secretary. He is committed to drawing on the research to inform Britain’s future race relations strategy.

Alongside this voluntary activity I've been working in local government, both in mainstream policy and equal opportunities. For a number of years my locale has been Haringey, a borough marked by the range and importance of its diverse communities – with sizeable African, African Caribbean, Asian, Cypriot, Jewish, Irish and Kurdish communities – and it was through this work that I was invited to sit on the Commission.

From the very beginning I felt both a delight and a responsibility – delight that the Irish experience had been thought about at the outset, and a sense of responsibility to articulate the Irish experience appropriately at key stages of the Commission’s work. I have to say unequivocally that I have thoroughly enjoyed my involvement with the Commission – for me it has been a genuine labour of love. I care professionally and passionately about the future of multi-ethnic Britain – and about every topic we discussed, every argument, and every emphasis in the final report.

What I will always cherish about working with the Commission was the genuine collective effort involved in producing its findings – the way in which Commissioners engaged, meeting after meeting, with each others' drafts; went away and diligently refined their own efforts; and always reached a workable consensus. It was wonderful to engage with and witness the expert chairing by Bhikhu Parekh, the willingness of Commissioners to compromise, and the skilled editing by Robin Richardson, which have combined to produce a report that all Commissioners could sign up to.

Involvement with the Commission has also been a wonderful learning experience, enabling me to contextualise day-to-day equalities and diversity practice in a multi-ethnic borough within a wider theoretical and policy framework.

In terms of addressing the Irish experience in the Commission’s work, I think the report does justice to it wherever evidence was available to the Commission. In some ways, the Irish dimension is a unique feature of this report and helps shed fresh light on key themes – an understanding of Irish experience in Britain illuminates Britishness in much the same way that the experience of black people illuminates whiteness. My hope, speaking both personally and as a Commissioner, is that the report will help us all understand how we may better share our collective, multiple and different identities in a future multi-ethnic Britain.

Séamus Taylor is Head of Policy: Equalities and Diversity. Haringey Council and outgoing Chair, Action Group for Irish Youth

To Top of Page


The Chinese Community


Michael Chan reflects on the concept of ‘a community of citizens and communities’, referring in particular to its relevance for the Chinese community in Britain.

A Britain that is a community of citizens and of communities is very appealing to the Chinese community, established here for more than a century but maintaining its distinctive cultural values and practices. Non-Chinese communities and individuals in Britain have adopted some Chinese practices: eating Chinese food, using traditional Chinese medicine and practising tai chi and kung-fu.

As a community, the Chinese in Britain have been found by national surveys of ethnic minorities to be relatively healthy and successful. Nevertheless, some sections of the community, particularly the elderly and young families in food catering, experience social isolation and poverty. The elderly may have difficulty with the English language and not be living near other Chinese people who can help them. However, because of the perceived successfulnes of the Chinese community compared with others, the many problems of the Chinese working in catering have not been given sufficient prominence.

Immigration and asylum have become significant issues for the Chinese community in Britain since the tragedy of the 58 young people from Fujian (Southern China) found dead in a transport container in Dover in June 2000. While not condoning illegal immigration, Chinese in Britain believe that current immigration and asylum policies are based on increasingly harsh and racist principles that drive desperate people to take desperate steps in order to escape oppression, persecution and the ravages of poverty in developing countries. Such people then succumb to the blandishments of criminals and are exploited by them and their evil organisations. The Commission’s recommendations on immigration and asylum have the support of the Chinese community.

The future for a multi-ethnic Britain envisaged by the Commission’s report will lead to a more equitable society where merit is recognised and diversity valued. This is the Britain where Britons of all backgrounds, including the Chinese, will participate fully. Politics is a field most Chinese people have ignored until now – but not in the future.

Michael Chan is Chair of the Chinese in Britain Forum and Professor of Ethnic Health, University of Liverpool

To Top of Page

A Fantastic Experience

Matthew McFarlane describes his personal experience of being a member of the Commission and considers implications for the police service.

Personally, being involved in preparing the Report has been a fantastic experience. To have the opportunity to sit and discuss issues of race and discrimination with the members of the Commission really has been an education for me.

I remember in particular, before I became fully involved with the Commission, going to see Stuart Hall deliver a lecture as part of the Windrush celebrations in Nottingham. I took all of my staff to hear him. The next day back at work we placed a quote from him on our office wall. To subsequently have the opportunity to share ideas on policing, with him and the other Commission members, has vastly increased my understanding of many of the issues we face.

When I attended hearings of the Lawrence Inquiry, I considered it a unique opportunity to learn how to improve policing. I would certainly say that the meetings of the Commission were an opportunity just as valuable, and unique.

In drafting the Report, the Commission has not avoided difficult questions. It has attempted to deal with complex issues on a sound academic basis, whilst giving useful, practical guidance and advice. Throughout, the Commission has been aware that the Report must be accessible to a huge variety of audiences, at all times balancing the intellectual with the pragmatic. Fundamentally, it must lead to change and improvement.

This has been no easy achievement. I have no doubt that some will disagree with aspects of the report, possibly even attempt to challenge its validity. I, however, hope that it will inform, challenge and, most of all, ensure that the momentum provided by the Lawrence Inquiry is sustained to improve not only policing, but the many other areas which the report covers.

Matthew McFarlane is Chief Inspector (Community and Race Relations) with Nottinghamshire Police. He attended sessions of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry as the official representative of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

To Top of Page


Muhammad Anwar, who has written many research studies over the years on the involvement of Asian and black communities in elections and politics, stresses the importance of the report for all political parties.

The involvement of ethnic minorities in all aspects of British public life is crucial if we are to create, in the future, a society free of racial disadvantage and racial discrimination. I believe that, in addition to the progress of ethnic minorities in education and the professions, their integration into the political process is of fundamental importance. There should be more ‘decision makers’ from these communities.

However, the representation of ethnic minorities in the mainstream of British politics is very small, though their participation in elections as voters has increased recently. In the last few years, political parties have become more aware of the importance of the ethnic minority vote and the under-representation of ethnic minorities as elected people. Some efforts have therefore been made to encourage ethnic minorities to register as electors and to become members of political parties. It appears from research that ethnic minorities have responded well to these efforts. However, more needs to be done.

I believe that the integration of ethnic minorities into the political process requires their effective not token representation and involvement. There are only nine MPs in the House of Commons and about 530 local councillors of ethnic minority origin. There is no ethnic minority person elected for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Four ethnic minority origin MEPs are representing the UK in the European Parliament and there are 18 life peers of ethnic minority origin in the House of Lords. It is clear that more needs to be done to encourage and help ethnic minorities to participate in the decision making process, so that the process reflects our multi-racial society. This should also include appointments to unelected bodies.

The political parties have a responsibility to increase the number of ethnic minorities in the decision making process. This will help to achieve equal opportunity not only within the political parties but also outside them. The Commission has made recommendations in this context which should be taken seriously by the political parties and other relevant bodies. The increased participation in the political process and the positive policies of political parties should also help the integration of ethnic minorities as full citizens of this country. Therefore, equality of opportunity in the political process is crucial to achieve equality in other fields, and this means effective representation and involvement. The next general election will be a good time for the political parties to show their commitment to providing equality of opportunity for ethnic minorities, in much the same way that the Labour Party did at the last general election to increase the number of women in the House of Commons.

Professor Muhammad Anwar is research professor at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick (CRER) and previously director of CRER, 1989-94, and head of research at the Commission for Racial Equality, 1981-9.

To Top of Page

Race is a Human Rights Issue

Sarah Spencer stresses that racial justice is a human rights issue and places the report within the context of recent national and international developments. See also the article by Anthony Lester on page 00.

The extreme racism witnessed during the Second World War led to the unprecedented negotiation of the post-war international human rights agreements, committing nations to action against discrimination and to protect other fundamental rights. Race equality is a quintessential human rights issue, and is recognised as such abroad. But perversely in Britain human rights has been seen as the prerogative of white lawyers. No longer.

The Commission’s report draws out the full significance of human rights principles, and the international legal standards to which the UK has signed up, for achieving race equality. It stresses the importance of a human rights culture – a culture of mutual respect among equals, and of respect for minorities, to achieving that goal. It recognises the potential significance of the new Human Rights Act in bringing about that cultural shift, and in providing new grounds on which black and Asian people can challenge the infringement of their rights.

The report argues that human rights principles provide an ethical code on how individuals should treat each other, and the ground-rules for negotiating conflicting rights in a multi-cultural society. As such they must be centre-stage in the negotiation of our future, not left to lawyers and the courts. Human rights principles are the language we all must learn to speak, at home, at school, at work and in public life.

Acknowledging the significance of human rights principles does not mean that the specific measures needed to address race discrimination and promote equality should lose their focus. The report is indeed replete with comprehensive legislative and policy recommendations. It means that those addressing race equality issues should work closely with those working on other human rights issues, including those of gender and disability, each ensuring that they reflect both race equality and wider human rights principles in their work. There is a useful analogy here with the environmental field. At one time people working on wildlife protection or global warming operated entirely separately. Now they see themselves as part of a single environmental movement. Far from losing their individual focus, they have been strengthened by working together, recognising what unites them as well as their own distinctness.

If the report helps to draw together thought and practice on race equality and human rights issues, each strengthening the other, it could lead to a step-change in the progress over the next decade.

Sarah Spencer is director of the human rights programme at the Institute for Public Policy Research.>

Help us end racism

As an independently funded charity we rely on the support of generous individuals to continue our work.