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Breakfast with Frost
Trevor Phillips, chair, Commission for Racial Equality
Trevor Phillips, chair, Commission for Racial Equality
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: TREVOR PHILLIPS, CHAIR, COMMISSION FOR RACIAL EQUALITY MARCH 2nd, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well, the Commission for Racial Equality, or CRE for short, the body set up to tackle racial discrimination, has a new chairman this weekend. He's the former student radical turned broadcaster, friend of cabinet ministers, and renaissance man, Trevor Philips. He takes over in difficult times for the CRE. After nearly 30 years in existence, some people question what it really does and whether it's still needed. Well Trevor Phillips thinks it is - obviously - and welcome.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Congratulations.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Thank you.

DAVID FROST: Let me start straight away with something you said here that, talking of stop and search, you said the CRE can slap a non-discrimination notice on the police force. It is a power that we have used with both private and public sector organisations in the past and if we are forced to use it again, we will.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: I follow that by saying that no one wants to go down that road. The essential point here David is that CRE has got two jobs. One is to promote good relations between communities and to tackle discrimination. The point about both of these things is that if we don't, it's not just a problem for minorities, it's a problem for the whole society. You have divided communities, you have social and economic costs of conflict and disorder. You have discrimination and you have costs for the whole community. For example, job discrimination, wage discrimination rather, it's running about nine per cent across the labour market, that is to say non-whites earning nine per cent less than whites.

DAVID FROST: But that -

TREVOR PHILLIPS: If I may just make this point.

DAVID FROST: All right, but it's not really the answer to the question.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: No, but I - well it's an important point of background. That means that what is happening is that Gordon Brown is getting - losing - about ten billion pounds a year that could be used on new hospitals, new schools, more police officers, modernise transport - for the whole community.

DAVID FROST: Yes but it's not straight ... because obviously at the same time businesses would have to find nine per cent more - maybe they should - but it's not just nine per cent.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Well it's a matter of fairness, isn't it?

DAVID FROST: It's the fairness issue but it, but somebody's got to pay for it obviously. But on stop and search, are you for or against? You've said in one quote you are but then in another that you're not, and I just wanted to know where exactly you stand on the police today - versus or with black people?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Well this is -

DAVID FROST: And other ethnic groups.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Well you see this is exactly the kind of example that I'm talking about. The issue of stop and search is not whether we think the power should exist in principle or not. Black men, like myself, are actually the most likely to be victims of crimes, so we have no problems about the police exercising their power. The issue is the way in which they exercise where for a black person, a black man, is four or eight times as likely to be stopped as a white person. And that means if you were stopping white people at the same rate, there would be three million extra stops. If you actually brought, got rid of that bias there would be 75,000 fewer stops. And that would mean, 75,000 occasions on which police officers, instead of stopping black teenagers or - with no, usually no results - would be patrolling the streets where elderly ladies are saying we can't come out of our front doors because we're afraid and we never see a police officer. That's for the good of the whole community and that's why getting rid of discrimination works for everybody - it's not just about what's good for minorities.

DAVID FROST: The Mail on Sunday says today, now on his first day as head of the self important Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips threatens harsh legal action for discrimination. Waving a big stick at ordinary people worried sick about housing, health and education, is no answer.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Well you see, this is an example of how people sort of - their brains and their mouths sort of disconnect when they talk about race. This is in the context of an editorial about asylum. We have no, actually relatively limited powers in relation to immigration and asylum. It's not really our business who comes and goes. What we're interested in is, is there an effective integration policy for those who are allowed to settle, who are given refuge status. That editorial, it seems to me doesn't answer the question what value would it be to the readers of - I think it's actually the News of the World - what value would it be to the readers of the News of the World if we said we're not going to tackle discrimination because for some obscure reason? It wouldn't be of any value, it wouldn't make any difference to the asylum issue but what it would do would mean that readers of the News of the World who are black or Asian would be more victimised than they are now, and as I've been saying, the community as a whole would lose out.

DAVID FROST: But in terms of dealing with these things, there's two attitudes on this asylum thing, one is that Tony Blair wants to cut the number of asylum seekers by 50 per cent. On the other hand some people say that the media coverage of the asylum seeker issue has damaged race relations in Britain. Is that true?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Well I certainly think that there is an issue to be dealt with on the issue of asylum seekers. We're not interested in what happens on the other side of the gates at Dover. That's not the CRE's business. But it is our business in relation to what happens in communities once people are here, how can we integrate them most effectively. It does not help if people couch the whole discussion about that purely in racial terms to talk about it as though we are bulging at the seams and everything is going to collapse. Let's remember that the population of Europe as a whole is going to fall by 100 million. We are going to have confront the issues of migration if we want to maintain our prosperity, we want a labour market that works. And therefore we have to be talking about how we integrate the people who are, who come here legally, and then we can talk separately about how we deal with the issues of racketeering, how we deal with the crooks who are exploiting asylum seekers and migrants, and I'm very much with the tabloids on that issue. But let's separate these issues and not treat everybody who looks foreign as though they're a thief.

DAVID FROST: And what, from a CRE point of view, do you feel about the prospects of war in Iraq? And if war in Iraq comes do you think it will exacerbate racial tensions with Muslims and non-Muslims in this country?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: The issue of whether to go to war or not is not -

DAVID FROST: Well that's -

TREVOR PHILLIPS: - is not for us. But there is no doubt that certainly since September 11th the issue of the war on terror has created tensions within our communities. Issues within schools, conflicts in some, between some communities, and it will be actually my first priority and we'll be launching an initiative tomorrow morning, which will be to bring together communities and some of the agencies, schools, police, who have to deal with those tensions and those conflicts. I think this is a very, very important issue for the whole nation and the CRE has a major role to play in leading, to make sure that the conflicts that may happen overseas do not spill over into British streets.

DAVID FROST: And how long are you going to do this job for? For four years, basically, or indefinitely?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: David Blunkett has been kind enough to give me a four year run, let's see what happens at the end of that.

DAVID FROST: Will you go back into politics again?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: I'm, I think set on the path of public service David. Let's get this job right, let me do this very well and then hopefully people will ask me to do other things. I'm, I'm not looking to see what happens on the other side.

DAVID FROST: Do you have to give up your political affiliations while you're in this job?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: I can't be an elected representative and therefore I've resigned as a member of, as chair of the London Assembly, yes.

DAVID FROST: Which will be, elections coming up in 2004, do you think Ken will win?

TREVOR PHILLIPS: Well I, I can't say. You know, you've got to say he's a strong contender but the Labour candidate, Nicky Gavron, is a pretty strong campaigner. People like her and I think there's going to be a fair old fight there.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Trevor.

TREVOR PHILLIPS: A pleasure.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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