Originally published by Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats
Campaigning by EMLD and equalities experts has led to the government listening and dropping a plan to axe a key element of equalities law.
Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece
Lib Dem equalities minister Jo Swinson made the concession this week after peers rejected proposals to axe a vision statement which spelt out the need for the equalities watchdog – the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – to work towards the elimination of discrimination in Britain.
Campaigners, including the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, expressed delight at the news. The fight to preserve the ‘general duty’ had been led in the Lords by former EMLD chair Baroness Meral Husein-Ece.
17 Lib Dem peers, including former leader Lord David Steel and Baroness Floella Benjamin, defied a three-line whip, contributing to a 180-210 defeat for the government. Many more Lib Dems abstained.
Over 3,000 members of the public had lobbied parliament thanks to a campaign by the public service union PCS backed by Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
The Lords vote came on the 20th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence which was marked by a special service attended by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.
Ethnic Minority Lib Dems Chair, Issan Ghazni
Issan Ghazni, EMLD chair, said: “It is fitting that on the Anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence, the government has decided to pull back from any further dismantling of equalities legislation that is the envy of Europe, and has been won over the past 50 years through much struggle and campaigning by ordinary people, and in particular by BME communities.
“EMLD has played a critical role in this campaign through the support of many Lib Dem members and Parliamentarians. However, we still have a long way to go to ensure that we protect existing legislation and support EHRC to become a more effective public sector regulator of the Equalities Act 2010.
“EMLD offers its deep gratitude and recognises the major leadership role played by Baroness Meral Hussain Ece in working with us and in campaigning tirelessly in Parliament to keep the General Duty.”
The victory for equality campaigners was significant as the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition has rarely backed down on legislation.
But the news was tempered when it emerged that Swinson intends to oppose another important Lords amendment (36) which helps to underpin equalities laws.
Last week Swinson told the Commons that she wanted the EHRC to report on its’ own work rather than monitor the state of discrimination in society.
However privately ministers say that now they have given way to the Lords on the general duty there is nothing preventing the equalities watchdog from carrying out whatever monitoring they wish.
Ministers were also defeated for a second time caste prejudice. Peers voted to include caste alongside other forms of discrimination.
Yesterday peers remained defiant in their support for caste to be recognised as well as enabling the EHRC to do its’ job, with disability campaigner Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton (pictured) leading the fight to keep the duty.
She told colleagues: “The EHRC’s role as an agent of change matters to millions of people in this country, whether they are an elderly person in hospital, a woman fleeing a violent partner or a black teenager and his friend waiting for a bus.
“In a civilised society such as ours people in these vulnerable situations should feel confident that our institutions will accord them dignified and fair treatment as equal citizens.”
Baroness Hussein-Ece added: “I strongly believe that it would be extremely damaging for us as a country and society if we are seen to be rolling back on equality.
“Transparency, scrutiny and accountability remain the watchwords. Retaining the general duty is one key element of these, where we strive to become a society that values social justice and promotes greater equality.”
LIB DEM PEERS WHO SUPPORTED EQUALITY LAW
Lord Dominic Addington
Lord Eric Avebury
Baroness Elizabeth Barker
Baroness Floella Benjamin
Baroness Sal Brinton
Lord Tim Clement-Jones
Lord Brian Cotter
Lord Navnit Dholakia
Baroness Dee Doocey
Lord Ronnie Fearn
Lord Qurban Hussain
Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece
Lord Andrew Phillips of Sudbury
Lord Roger Roberts of Llandudno
Lord David Steel of Aikwood
Lord Paul Strasburger
Lord Martin Thomas of Gresford