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Government shrug off concerns over all-white equality body

by Urmee Khan

MINISTERS BRUSHED aside MP's fears that an equalities merger could result in an all-white body.

Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott: warned against squandering gains on race over past 30 years.

Equalities minister Meg Munn rejected suggestions that the absence of a race committee in the proposed single equalities body would lead to race being sidelined.

Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott, warned that government plans as they stand could mean the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) is ineffective in tackling racism.

Harry Cohen, Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead, said the planned CEHR was suffering from a 'structural problem' which excluded race.

MPs echoed concerns raised in the House of Lords at the previous stage of the Equality Bill by Lord Herman Ouseley and Lord Victor Adebowale but were given the same short shrift by ministers.


Lord Ouseley warned that without a structure guarenteeing black representation the CEHR could end up with all-white commissioners. London Mayor Ken Livingstone called the proposals “deeply disturbing.”

I don't like Munn days
Meg Munn: doesn't want to “impose” race committee on equality body.

A growing number of MPs and peers believe plans for a committees covering disability, Scotland and Wales should be extended to other areas covered by the new body – race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender and human rights.

Speaking in the House of Commons debate in the Equality Bill Mr Cohen asked Ms Munn: “The Minister said that she wanted to advance existing race equality work, but is that not best done by a race equality committee and a race equality commissioner?”

Ms Munn, who is also a trade minister, replied: “It is better for the commission to make those decisions, rather than impose committees through the Bill.”


And on the issue of the appointment of commissioners she said: “Specifying individual commissioners in the Bill might prevent the commission from covering the full range of equality issues that we want it to cover.”

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Her response failed to pacify MP's. Ms Abbott commented: “There is great concern about the need to ensure that the Bill and the establishment of a single commission do not mean that there will be a reduction in the ability to fight racial discrimination.”

The Equality Bill seeks to abolish the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the disability Rights Commission (DRC) and merge them into the new single equalities body.

Mr Livingstone described the plans as a backward step for anti-racism. “Racism is still very real in the UK. The BNP vote grew eight-fold at the last general election.

“Given this, it is deeply disconcerning that the government is seeking to establish a new commission that in its current form offers black, Asian and ethnic minorities a poorer deal than that on offer at the exiting CRE.”

Blink can exclusively reveal that ministers have rejected calls for the CEHR to be based in London, preferring to move it north.

The unanimous decision of a ministerial committee was to base the body in Manchester with only a small satellite office in the capital.

Sadiq Khan, newly-elected Labour MP for Tooting, insisted that the proposals would end “the inconsistency in anti-discrimination legislation that leads to a hierarchy of protection in equality legislation.”

Conservatives called for cuts in spending for the new body, which is ear-marked to be £70 million per year. Tory frontbencher Eleanor Laing wanted the budget to be cut in half.

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