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The Eagle has panned it – ex-race relations minister attacks single equalities body

By Lester Holloway

THE GOVERNMENT’S former race relations minister Angela Eagle has panned the governments’ proposed single equalities commission

Angela Eagle
Ex-minister Angela Eagle: plans are flawed

Eagle, a respected backbencher, slammed the government for ‘putting the cart before the horse’ by introducing a Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) without a unified equalities law.

Her comments will further undermine the government’s case for CEHR at a time of growing grassroots revolt against the proposed new body which aims to combine race, disabilities, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion and human rights under one roof.

Eagle expressed doubts over whether a new single equalities body would work without one over-arching equalities law because there were too many differences between the existing laws. Last year the government quashed an attempt by the Liberal Democrats to pass a Single Equalities Bill.

Eagle was race relations minister at the Home Office from 2001 to 2002, at a time when responsibility for overseeing the single equalities process was moved from the Home Office to Patricia Hewitt’s Department for Trade and Industry (DTI).

tone down

Behind-the-scenes Westminster politics became more complicated as it has emerged that a different department has got involved in the process, suggesting there may be in-fighting within Labour circles over CEHR.

David Lammy
Getting involved: David Lammy

David Lammy, a minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (Decaff), has attended a key CEHR meeting and is believed want to tone down the enforcement powers of a new single equalities body.

Lammy has responsibility for human rights, and there is a growing feeling that the government wants to avoid a raft of new legal cases taken out under human rights law which may attract criticism from the right wing press.

Meanwhile Eagle told Blink it would be better to introduce four new commissions covering religion, sexual orientation, age and human rights – which do not currently have existing commissions – rather than get it wrong with a single body.

Her criticism is the latest blow to the governments’ hopes of scrapping the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the gender-specific Equal Opportunities Commission (EoC) in favour of merging those areas with the four other equalities subjects.


Eagle told Blink: “My view is the government are putting the cart before the horse. It is important to get the right legislative framework in place before setting up a single equalities commission.”

She said a single equalities law was needed to police all equalities areas fairly and consistently. Without this, there was no guarantee that the proposed CEHR would be a success.

She added that it was wrong to rule out the option of having seven separate commissions rather than having an all-embracing one. “In principle I see no reason why we can’t have separate commissions, but I’m not going to get too caught up on this.”

Eagle also attacked the CEHR at a Greater London Authority woman’s conference in Westminster earlier this month. Her criticisms echo those of Lord Anthony Lester QC last October, one of the original architects of the 1976 Race Relations Act which established the CRE.

Karen Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, welcomed Eagle’s comments. She said: “It is clear that the Labour benches in Parliament do not speak with one voice on this issue.

equalities mush

“Our position has always been that merging race with other areas will be a disaster for Black communities. We oppose the idea that you can shove all these equalities areas together into one great equalities mush and expect it to work.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: prepared to ‘walk away’

“Many Black victims of racial discrimination want to deal with Black people. Disabled people who are discriminated against want to deal with disabled people, and so on.

“We have always asserted that the model should be ‘6 + 1’ : the six being one commission each for race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion and an overarching Human Rights Commission with enforcement powers and which can supply a human rights foundation for the six equality commissions. people will know theey are going to get specialist help from people who understand their experiences. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the separate commissions under the same roof working closely.

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