Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece writes…

On Monday 4 March, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, a renowned and respected disability rights campaigner, tabled an amendment, to which I included my name and support, opposing the Government’s proposal to repeal the ‘General Duty’ of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, arguing that doing so will fundamentally change the purpose, role and scope for the only equality and human rights statutory organisation in the UK.

The General Duty says that the EHRC ‘shall discharge its functions with a view to encouraging and supporting a society in which:

.. people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination, there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights, there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights

With which part of this do we as Liberal Democrats disagree? – it’s all enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution.

The Government argued, that this General Duty was ‘irrelevant, and not necessary, and would make no difference to the Commission’s work.”

Many of us argued that these aims unify equality and human rights into a single vision, making clear that the Commission’s role extends beyond law enforcement to seeking to help foster progressive cultural change in society.

Many of us who have spent many years of our professional and political lives campaigning for greater equalities made representations to Ministers on this issue, and held many meetings.

EMLD and the LDDA, have written to Ministers making the strong case as to why this is not the time to be weakening any commitment to promote equalities.

As a former Commissioner, I sat through many difficult Board meetings where we agreed successive cuts, as other public bodies have done. It’s fair to say the EHRC has taken more than its fair share of cuts losing some £20m funding, and its staffing levels down by 200. Its grants programme has been cut, saving £10m, and the Helpline is now administered by the Government’s Equalities Office. Savings of £2m were successfully made on redundant offices inherited from the predecessor organisations, the Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Race Equality, and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Given all this, this question as to why the Government were determined to remove the General Duty, was never satisfactorily answered.

The result was that common sense prevailed, and after an excellent debate, the Lords voted to keep the General Duty.

This was an unnecessary defeat for the Government, on an issue of principle, which costs nothing, but means everything to those of us passionately committed to more equality and commitment to human rights, not less.

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  • Helen Dudden 6th Mar '13 - 3:19pm

    I am a very keen supporter of the Hague Convention and the Brussels 11, this is the law that covers international child abduction and child access. International law has never been easy, but this should be covered under the human rights and the rights of the child within those rights.

    I also, have read that some of these cases are ending up in human rights courts, I have read, so I can only presume this to be fact. These cases have grown sadly more and more.

    This area seems to be one that is not in the public eye.

  • Richard Dean 6th Mar '13 - 6:18pm

    The government’s argument is not believable. If taking the General Duty out “would make no difference to the Commission’s work”, then there’d be no problem leaving it in.

    So one has to ask, what might the government’s real motive be? Also, who is “the government”? Aren’t LibDems part of it, indeed in ministerial posts that involve responsibilities for equality? What do they say?

  • Well done! I’m bemused as to why our Ministers are making concessions which contradict our principles without any authority or justification in the Coalition Agreement or from Conference. If we had any clout in Government, the draft Queen’s Speech for next year’s business would not be in purdah but would already have been published and would be coming to Conference for approval this weekend!

  • Geoffrey Payne 7th Mar '13 - 1:08pm

    Meral has done a great job in sticking up for Liberal principles. Those of her Lib Dem colleagues in Parliament who have voted against this have not even tried to explain what they are up to, apart from 1 article on LDV byJo Swinson. She argued against equality legislation on the grounds it amounted to red tape, but did not supply any evidence whether this ideological opposition could be supported by any evidence.
    It is shocking enough that the

  • Geoffrey Payne 7th Mar '13 - 1:10pm

    (Continued…) Parliamentary party vote the way they do, it is also their failure to explain what they are doing which makes it even worse.

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