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Battle in Lords Over Coalition Plans to Scrap Equalities Law

Posted on the 03 March 2013 by Lesterjholloway @brolezholloway

House-of-LordsEthnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) are lobbying Lib Dems in the House of Lords over clauses in the proposed law to scrap elements of Britain’s equalities legislation.

EMLD are turning up the heat on party peers ahead of a debate in the Upper House tomorrow (Monday 4th March) where former EMLD chair, Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece is planning to speak out over Government plans.

She is concerned by parts of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which would scrap the ‘general duty’ on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to promote good race relations and work towards the elimination of prejudice and hate.

Baroness Hussein-Ece and a number of other peers have already expressed concern over the plans at an earlier reading of the Bill. Opponents of the move says Clause 56 (1, a & b) is a much needed aspirational mission statement and every bit as valuable as the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution which talks of ‘liberty, equality and community.’ Aspirations that should define us as a party, shape our work and hopefully the outcomes we achieve.

EMLD believe that while racial prejudice and unequal outcomes remain so rife in society it is crucial that Britain’s anti-discrimination watchdog keep a firm commitment to work towards the elimination of prejudice and hate and to promote good race and community relations.

The Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA) are known to have similar concerns over the impact of this proposal on people with disabilities.

Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece

Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece

During a previous reading of the Bill, Government peers argued that the change was a ‘tidying up exercise’. Yet there has been no demand for such a tidy up, and considering the statistical evidence showing that the effects of prejudice in our country the need for a clear statement of aspiration is undeniable.

Clause 56 (1) (a) proposes the repeal of section 3 of the Equality Act 2006. We are particularly concerned with clauses of the bill that propose to:

  • Remove the ECHR (Commission for Equality and Human Rights) general duty;
  • Remove the ECHR duty to promote good relations;
  • Remove the ECHR duty to work to eliminate prejudice and hate towards groups including BAME people;
  • Remove the ECHR duty to work towards enabling BAME people to participate in society;
  • Remove the ECHR duty to promote or encourage the favourable treatment of BAME people;
  • Remove the ECHR duty to assist with the monitoring crime against groups including BAME people;
  • Remove the ECHR duty to assist with the prevention or reduction of crime affecting certain groups including BAME people;
  • Remove provisions to protect people from third party harassment;
  • Remove the formal procedure which enables applicants to ask questions of an alleged discriminator (the questionnaire procedure).

We are also concerned by Clause 56(1)(b) which would remove the ECHR duties to:

  • Promote understanding of the importance of good relations between and towards members of different groups;
  • Work towards the elimination of prejudice against, hatred of and hostility towards members of groups;
  • Work towards enabling members of groups to participate in society.

EMLD argue that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill must be seen in the context of other moves by Government to reduce the protection from discrimination, including the plan to abolish the requirement on Britain’s public authorities (including Local Authorities and Government departments) to carry out Equality Impact Assessments on new policies to ensure they do not discriminate against service users.

There is also a Conservative-led review of the Public Sector Duty of public authorities to promote good community relations. And there is widespread concern in some quarters at the severe and disproportionate funding cuts to the EHRC and the removal of its’ powers to launch investigations into public authorities suspected of discriminating.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Article first published on Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats website. @EMLibDems

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