Echoing the criticisms of former government race relations minister Angela Eagle last week, Livingstone said proposals to merge seven different equalities areas together would not work without a single equalities law. Eagle said her government was ‘putting the cart before the horse’.
Livingstone is the latest in an increasingly long line of prominent figures to attack proposals for a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). Former Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) chairman Lord Herman Ouseley, Lord Anthony Lester QC, and former Stephen Lawrence inquiry member Dr Richard Stone have all spoken out.
Even current CRE chairman Trevor Phillips, who favours the proposals in principle, warned that he would walk away unless key demands on race equality are met.
In a submission to the House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the single equalities proposals, the Livingstone’s paper stated that “a single Equalities Commission of the sort proposed is a step in the wrong direction.
“The Mayor believes that problems would not be best addressed through the creation of a single Equalities Commission. Inconsistency in discrimination law will make the operation of a single commission extremely difficult.”
| No Ken do: Livingstone says CEHR will be a retrograde step
Last year the government squashed a single equalities Bill introduced in the House of Lords by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester.
But Blink has learnt that ministers may be softening their line. Debate at last weekends’ Labour National Policy Forum indicates that a new single equalities body will have the urgent task of assessing whether a unified equalities law is needed.
The concession, believed to have the full support of Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, is understood to be a recognition of growing unrest among several equalities lobbies over the proposals.
Dissatisfaction amongst race equality experts has been particularly acute, not least because of the perception that race and grassroots Black activists have been cut out of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) process to design the new body.
Labour are believed to be on course to include the single equalities body in their general election manifesto, and are prepared to engage in a more public defence of the proposals in an attempt to claim greater support for the proposals.
The move is seen as a recognition that the DTI taskforce has failed to win the trust and confidence of many equalities lobbies, and that growing opposition to the CEHR needs to be checked before it crashes the whole thing.
But the question of whether a bolder public strategy by government will succeed is open to question. Livingstone said CEHR could create an ‘illusion’ of equal weight between separate equalities subjects, but in reality ‘marginalisation of each equality issue’ might occur.
A single body could become a “monolith” and an “inaccessible organisation”. His paper added: “The economy of scale argument of putting all equalities strands together to save money is false. The shortcomings of present commissions are partly due to inadequate resources and arrangements to address the scale of discrimination.”
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