Helen Grant: It would be a mistake to rush legislation on caste discrimination

Discrimination in any form is completely abhorrent, but I am also clear that bureaucracy and prescription are not routes to equality

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The Independent Online

When politicians are interviewed there is often a lot of talk around their motivations, particularly why they went into politics in the first place. For me it was to make a difference and to make society a more just and fairer place and confront the kind of prejudice I faced growing up.

I grew up in the far northern city of Carlisle. And for a while I was the only person with a darker skin. It was the 60s and it has to be said that there was a fair amount of prejudice around, and I did suffer discrimination. In spite of that I have happy memories of my childhood, there was a real pride within my family and within the community where I lived, and that shaped me as I grew up.

My mother helped set up the first women's refuge in the area where we lived. I would regularly go along while she listened to personal harrowing experiences and worked hard to give every one of the women that asked for help the support they needed. My Mum's work and passion for those that faced difficult circumstances in their lives naturally inspired me to want to make a difference through my work.

I went on to study law at the University of Hull, before moving into family law which led to me setting up by own practice. But the law is an industry where there has been and still remains an imbalance of diversity. That is also often said of politics. I am proud to be one of only 26 MPs from an ethnic minority but equally passionate that this should not remain the case. Politics should be wholly reflective of the communities that it represents.

So it is against this background that I was honoured to have taken on a Ministerial role not only with the Ministry of Justice but also as part of the team looking after the important Women and Equalities portfolio. I am working to tackle barriers to equality - be it by increasing diversity in the Judiciary, or improving the representation of women in business. Discrimination in any form is completely abhorrent.  It can have devastating consequences for individuals and communities and has no place in modern society.

But I am also clear that bureaucracy and prescription are not routes to equality. Real change doesn't come from dictating what people should or shouldn't do. It is prejudice itself that is the barrier, the real enemy here is failing to get the best out of people by perpetuating stereotypes. 

There has been much debate over the issue of caste discrimination in recent months, and I am not just committed to its eradication, but to ensuring that caste itself does not lead to permanent subsets of British society. It would be a mistake to rush the process; we need to take the time to get it right and listen to all interested stakeholders. I am confident that by working together with all those concerned on both sides of the argument, we can create the change that is needed. This is an extremely sensitive and complex issue, and a comprehensive consultation needs to take place before any new legislation.

But of course there is other legislation that we have enacted, after proper consideration, debate and consultation that promotes the cause of equality and rallies against discrimination. I am also proud to have been a member of a Government that achieved an historic milestone by introducing same-sex marriage. It was a privilege to debate an issue that will make a real difference to the lives of the people I represent, and which removes one of the last obstacles to full equality for the LGB&T community. It is tangible change like this that I am working towards as a Minister, but there remains much discrimination to be tackled. We must tackle it head-on.