A disabled Tory peer has resigned as a board member of the equality watchdog over a government minister’s “collusion” with the decision not to appoint him as a disability commissioner.
Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin made the announcement in a speech in the House of Lords on Tuesday, during a debate on the human rights implications of Brexit.
He told peers that women and equalities minister Justine Greening had “colluded” with the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner (EHRC) to scrap the role of disability commissioner by appointing him instead as a general commissioner.
He told peers that he would not collude in this “shameful downgrading of disability”.
He has previously criticised the commission’s “shocking” behaviour over the appointment process.
He has also written to the prime minister, threatening to resign the Conservative whip and work instead as a crossbench peer.
He told fellow peers on Tuesday that Greening “colluded with the commission to help get rid of the role when she decided to appoint me as a general commissioner instead”.
He said: “Needless to say, she did not make that point clear to me at the time she wrote to offer me the role of a commissioner on the board.
“Had the minister bothered to ask me, I would have told her straight that disabled people desperately need a dedicated disability commissioner to champion our equality. That need cannot simply be abolished.”
He told peers he was “withdrawing” his acceptance of the post of commissioner because it was “made under false pretences”.
He repeated a request he had made to the prime minister to release all the communications between the government and EHRC over his appointment “so that parliament can understand how on earth the equalities minister could possibly think that agreeing to help get rid of the disability commissioner role would somehow help disabled people in our fight for equality”.
Lord Shinkwin (pictured) had been refusing to attend EHRC board meetings in protest at the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner.
He had applied last year for the post of disability commissioner but was told months later – just 36 hours before his first board meeting – that the role had been made redundant and that he had instead been appointed as a general commissioner and would not lead on disability issues.
He has suggested that the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner – rather than as the commissioner leading on disability issues – was only made after the commission learned that he had been selected for the role by Greening.
Theresa May has told Lord Shinkwin in a letter that the government “had no involvement in the EHRC’s decision to abolish the Disability Commissioner role”.
Lord Shinkwin told Disability News Service last night (Wednesday) that he was waiting for a reply from the prime minister to his latest letter before deciding whether to resign the whip.
He said: “I’m reassured that the prime minister hasn’t replied yet, as I think the situation deserves careful consideration.”
The commission insists that it had decided there was no need for a disability commissioner because of the decision to “mainstream” disability into its work.
It has said that during the gap of several months between the interviews for the post, last December, and Greening’s decision to appoint Lord Shinkwin in April, the statutory disability committee had “expired” and the board had decided that the post of disability commissioner should also be scrapped.
An EHRC spokeswoman said the commission was “disappointed Lord Shinkwin believes he cannot take up his position as a commissioner”.
She claimed that the decision on the future of the disability commissioner role was taken “after no successful candidate was appointed”.
She said: “As the statutory disability committee had come to an end it was decided to strengthen our disability work by mainstreaming it across the whole of the organisation.
“This gives a greater voice for disabled people as all board members now focus on disability issues which will be central to all the commission’s work.”
She refused to say if the commission knew what would happen now over replacing Lord Shinkwin, saying that it was “a question for government”.
The Government Equalities Office had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday), nearly two days after Lord Shinkwin’s speech.