Disabled peer makes Lords history as she warns government over EHRC


A disabled peer has become the first member of the House of Lords to deliver a speech during a debate with the help of a personal assistant (PA).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell used the historic occasion to speak in defence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), during the second reading of the government’s enterprise and regulatory reform bill, which aims – among other measures – to “simplify regulation and reduce unnecessary red tape”.

The government wants the EHRC to “focus on its core functions” and so it aims to repeal “vague and unnecessary duties and powers” that became law through the Equality Act 2006, including the EHRC’s “general duty” and its duty to promote good relations between different groups.

But Baroness Campbell, a former EHRC commissioner, warned that removing the general duty would put at risk the EHRC’s independence and its international “A” status as a human rights institution.

She said that repealing the general duty – which “requires the commission to promote the values which the legislation represents, not just the legislation itself” – would mean “the character and scope of the commission will be fundamentally diminished and its independence placed at risk”.

She said: “For me, it is a choice between a strong independent body, committed to promoting and safeguarding British values, irrespective of the government of the day, and a much diminished and far less independent body, confined to promoting the enforcement of law.”

Since she joined the Lords in 2007, Baroness Campbell has often relied on fellow disabled peers to finish her speeches when unable to continue speaking for impairment-related reasons.

But yesterday (14 November) she was able to use her PA, Carole Taylor, to deliver part of her speech for the first time.

She told her fellow peers that her PA was “a new, stronger voice who will enable me to continue contributing to debates” in the Lords, and that the move was “equality in action”.

Disability News Service revealed in August that the Lords procedure committee had decided that Baroness Campbell’s request for her PA to support her during debates was “reasonable”.

That decision overturned a standing order dating back to 1707, which stated that “no person shall be on the floor of the House” except peers and House of Lords staff.

Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings, did not mention that the speech was completed by her PA, but simply attributed it to Baroness Campbell.

15 November 2012