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CRACKDOWN ON DISCRIMINATION ANNOUNCED

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A new equality commission to fight discrimination and challenge ...
A new equality commission to fight discrimination and challenge

inequality wherever it occurs was announced.

Under the plans, the work of existing equality commissions will come

together to give greater support and more joined-up advice to

individuals, businesses and communities to crackdown on

discrimination, and promote equality and diversity.

For the first time - via the new body - the government will provide

support for the promotion of human rights. The new body,

provisionally called the Commission for Equality and Human Rights

(CEHR), is the result of the biggest review of equality institutions

in a quarter of a century.

It will bring together the work of three existing equality

commissions - the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal

Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission and

take responsibility for new laws outlawing workplace discrimination

on age, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary and minister for women

said:

'We are committed to providing opportunity for all and equality

matters to everyone - it is not a minority concern. A successful

society must make full use of the talents of all its members.

'But tackling discrimination in the 21st Century requires a joined-up

approach that puts equality in the mainstream of concerns.

'As individuals, our identities are diverse, complex and

multi-layered. People don't see themselves as solely a woman, or

black, or gay and neither should our equality organisations.

'By bringing these bodies into one organisation we will make life

much easier for individuals to get help and advice, especially when

they are discriminated against on more than one level.

Lord Falconer, secretary of state at the Department for

Constitutional Affairs said:

'Human rights and equality are two sides of a single coin - respect

for the dignity and the value of each perso n. The CEHR should be able

to change the way that public authorities treat individuals and drive

up our public service standards. It will champion human rights good

practice and responsibilities throughout the public sector, reducing

the need to go to court over problems. We want to see a human rights

culture, not a litigation culture.

'With rights also come responsibilities. Human rights involve

balancing one person's rights against another's and taking into

account the rights of the wider community. This will be key to the

success of the new body.'

Ms Hewitt also announced that she was setting up a task force with

members reflecting different equality interests to advise on the

governance and structure of the new body ahead of a White Paper next

spring.

The government will consult widely on the priorities for a new

commission to ensure it provides a framework for supporting all

individual equalities issues as well as championing equality as a

mainstream issue.

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights would:

* better reflect today's Britain and promote diversity and equality

as key drivers of a culture of respect which underpins a prosperous

and cohesive society;

* improve the existing situation where an individual's problems are

often pigeonholed into one category (race, gender or disability) when

things can be more complicated. People often have multiple identities

with equality issues ie - an employee could be an ethnic minority

woman with an equal pay issue;

* deliver a better service for businesses, as well as public sector

organisations at a local and national level, providing information

and advice on implementing a broad diversity strategy in the

workplace that covers a range of equalities. At the moment they have

to go separately to each commission;

* promote equality in the delivery of public services so that all

citizens are better served;

* promote respect for human rights in public services, so that

everyone is treated properly and human rights abuses are stamped out;

* continue to enforce anti-discrimination legislation in race,

gender, and disability and take on responsibilities for

discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation

and age.

Ms Hewitt continued:

'We consulted widely on how best to achieve our vision of a fairer,

more inclusive and prosperous Britain and concluded that a single

body to cover all equalities is an important step forward.

'The new commission will also help organisations such as schools, the

police and other public, private and voluntary sector bodies get

comprehensive advice on diversity and become better employers,

improve performance, strengthen community relations and reduce human

rights abuses.'

NOTES

1. Ms Hewitt made a written statement to the House of Commons today

and Lord Falconer has made a written statement to the House of Lords.

To obtain a copy visit the websites:

www.dti.gov.uk and www.dca.gov.uk

2. The task force will include representatives from the existing

statutory equality Commissions, faith communities, 'new' strands

(sexual orientation, religion/belief and age), business, human rights

experts, and trade unions.

3. For more information see the press notice on the publication of

Making it Happen 'New plans in the drive towards equality for all',

ODPM, Barbara Roche MP, 15 May 2002 -

http://www.gnn.gov.uk/gnn/national.nsf/CO/5DB1DD77DBC092BD80256BBA00

398ABB?opendocument

4. The government's consultation Equality and Diversity: Making it

Happen was published in October 2002. It sought views on future

arrangements for equality institutions in Great Britain -

www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/equality/project/project.htm

5. Today's announcement forms the government's response to the Joint

Committee on Human Rights Sixth Report on the Case for a Human Rights

Commission

http://www.publications.par liament.uk/pa/jt200203/jtselect/jtrights

/67/6702.htm

6. The Department for Constitutional Affairs has responsibility for

human rights within government. http://www.humanrights.gov.uk

7. Information on new equality legislation can be found at

http://www.dti.gov.uk/er/equality/

8. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was established following

the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA); the Commission for Racial

Equality (CRE) was established following the Race Relations Act 1976

RRA); and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) was established in

2000 to provide institutional support for the Disability

Discrimination Act. Each is charged with working towards the

elimination of discrimination in relation to their strands; promoting

equality of opportunity for their strands; and keeping under review

the relevant legislation. In addition, DRC is charged with

encouraging good practice in the treatment of disabled people. The

powers of the EOC are set out in the SDA; the CRE in the RRA and the

DRC in the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999.

9. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force on 2 October 2000, and

section 6 places a legal obligation on all public authorities not to

breach anyone's Convention rights (the rights from the European

Convention on Human Rights, annexed to the Act). Anyone who feels

that their Convention rights have been breached can assert their

rights in any court or tribunal in the UK - rather than having to go

to Strasbourg, as was previously the case.

10. When the Human Rights Act came into force the government said

that they had not closed their mind to the idea of a Human Rights

Commission, but that much more work needed to be done. The Joint

Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights was set up in 2001, and one

of their first items of business was to inquire into the case for a

Human Rights Commission. In March 2003 they recommended that the

Government create an integrated Commission for Equality and Hu man

Rights. The government has carefully considered that recommendation

in coming to the decision it has announced.

11. The CEHR will serve the whole of Great Britain, in keeping with

the distribution of powers to the UK and Scottish Parliaments and the

National Assembly for Wales (equality legislation is a reserved

matter in Scotland, and not transferred to Wales). The government is

responding to the strong call for the body's arrangements in Scotland

and Wales to fit well with devolved legislation, institutions and

policies, and for its policies to take account of the social,

cultural and economic circumstances of Scotland and Wales. The

Scottish and Welsh perspective will be represented in the task force.

The CEHR will need to work in close partnership with the proposed

Scottish Human Rights Commission, taking full account of the division

between devolved and reserved matters. Proposals will be published in

the White Paper. Currently each of the commissions has an office in

Scotland and Wales.

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