Chuka Umunna - Equalities Commission could be abolished by stealth

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Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna MP has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable MP to urge him to rethink measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that will weaken the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Umunna believes that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which is due to return to the House of Commons for its third reading this month, contains measures relating to the Equality and Human Rights Commission which Cable referred to as “legislative tidying-up” at Second Reading.

Umunna argues that it makes fundamental changes to the duties of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, removing its general duty to promote human rights and a society free of discrimination. The move has also been criticised by some Liberal Democratic councillors and activists who have expressed concern at the implications of the move.

Issan Ghazni, Chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, wrote to the Equalities Minister expressing alarm at the proposed change. In the letter, Ghazni wrote the actions the Government has taken in respect of the Commission,

amount to effectively abolishing the EHRC by stealth, which could potentially reverse progress made on equalities over the past decades.

Umunna echoes these sentiments. In his letter to the Business Secretary, Umunna wrote:

There are those who do not have the interests of equality at heart who would like to see the abolition of the Commission. It is our view that you are aiding and abetting them in their endeavour to abolish the Commission with the provisions in your Bill.

He went on to say:

We fundamentally disagree with the inclusion of Clause 52 in your Bill which relates to the Commission. It is not clear why this has been prioritised in an ‘Enterprise’ Bill. The changes your Government has made to the Commission by repealing its general duty, together with the 60 per cent cut in its budget, contracting out of its helpline and stopping its grant programme, can only be viewed as a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to undermine the effectiveness and independence of the Commission, with a view to moving towards its abolition. It is certainly not, as you stated at Second Reading, 'legislative tidying up' but something which calls into question the Government’s commitment to promoting equality.

As the date of the third reading fast approaches, the importance and future of robust and meaningful race equality legislation and provisions, hangs precariously in the balance.

Francine Fernandes

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