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Trevor Phillips under pressure to oppose single equalities body

Exclusive by Lester Holloway

CRE CHIEF Trevor Phillips is facing calls from black community leaders to come out against the single equality body. As opposition in Westminster grows, activists are hopeful Phillips will reflect the hostility of Black communities towards the governments’ proposals

Last month trade secretary Patricia Hewitt unveiled a White Paper on plans for a single equalities body – which would axe the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the existing gender and disability commissions, merging those subjects with sexual orientation, religion, age, and human rights.

Trevor Phillips
Will Trevor Phillips listen to black communities on CEHR?

But just five weeks later opposition is growing from Black and Minority Ethnic organisations and MP’s who fear the merger could see race equality slip down the agenda and believe the plans do not ‘add value’ to existing race laws.

Some black leaders are calling on CRE chairman Phillips to line up firmly on the ‘anti’ side over the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). However a well-placed source told Blink that Phillips is already considering a more sceptical line.

In Parliament former foreign office minister Keith Vaz is leading opposition to the plans. It is understood Diane Abbott, Oona King, Baroness Pola Uddin and former Home Office minister Angela Eagle all have deep concerns about CEHR.


Writing in The Guardian last month Vaz warned that the CEHR could create ‘a hierarchy of discrimination’ in which race could be swallowed up and submerged under competing equalities demands. Earlier this year Eagle told Blink the government was ‘putting the cart before the horse’ by introducing a single equality body without a single equality law to back it up.

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Trade minister Jacqui Smith, who is leading on the plans, was understood to have been given a severe grilling by Vaz and other MP’s a fortnight ago. Next Monday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party may yet see further unrest from MP’s over the single equality body.

If Phillips comes out against the CEHR plans it could seriously damage ministers’ hopes of setting up the body in time for 2006 – the deadline for the government to comply with a new European law.

In March Phillips said he would be prepared to walk away from the whole process unless key demands on race were fulfilled. It is believed the White Paper was greeted with deep disappointment at the CRE, with some staff believing that Phillips’ “red lines” had not been met.

Make your views heard : respond to the single equalities proposals hereKaren Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, said: “We have led a campaign for months to raise concerns over the governments’ single equalities proposals. We are now seeing a snowballing of opposition, not just from Parliamentarians, but also from many grassroots BME organisations who now realise that they are being offered a bad deal for race equality.

“We call on Trevor Phillips to reflect this growing sense – which we are picking up across the country – that Black communities are highly sceptical if not deeply opposed to the plans. I strongly believe that if Trevor and Black communities are together on this one, the government will be forced to think again.

“CEHR is not the only way. We, at the 1990 Trust, have been developing proposals for separate commissions working together in new ways, which would both protect and enhance race and all the other strands.

“At the same time, we are consulting widely with BME communities on Blink and with a series of regional consultations meetings we are putting together. However even at this stage it is clear that the government has not convinced BME people one iota.”

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