A disabled peer who defeated government plans to restrict the remit of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has praised the support she received from across the equality and human rights field.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell won praise herself from cross-party parliamentarians after the government finally conceded defeat this week and agreed not to scrap section three of the Equality Act 2006, the EHRC’s “general duty”.
The general duty describes how the commission should encourage a society where there is respect for human rights mutual respect between groups, and in which every individual has an equal opportunity to participate.
Coalition ministers had argued that keeping such a “wide-ranging and unrealistic general duty” would make it harder for the commission to prioritise its work.
But they were forced to admit defeat, after the House of Lords – led by Baroness Campbell – for the second time overturned plans to abolish the general duty through the enterprise and regulatory reform bill.
Baroness Campbell told Disability News Service that the battle to persuade the government to drop its plans, which began last November at the bill’s second reading in the Lords, had been “exhausting” and “tremendously tough” but “highly rewarding”.
She said she had fought so hard to save section three because she believed that “fundamental principles” were “incredibly important in setting out the terms in which citizens should treat one another”.
She added: “We are in danger of losing some of these priceless principles, like independent living via public services support.
“I hope the journey of this amendment and support I received from the equality and human rights family will be recognised as a model of how we should be working together as a collective, inclusive enterprise.”
Without this “collective effort” the victory “simply would not have happened”, she said.
Baroness Campbell said this success reinforced her belief that she had been right – in 2008 – to “move on from single identity politics and make my way in the unfamiliar, wider equality and human rights world”, which had been “a highly rewarding” journey.
She had told fellow peers this week: “The commission’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.”
The Lords had been debating her section three amendment on the 20th anniversary of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in south London.
Baroness Campbell said the inquiry into the police’s handling of the killing had led to a “sea-change in our approach to equality law and the structural support to promote and enforce it. The general duty embodies this shift in thinking.”
She said the general duty was not just symbolic of “our commitment to preventing the kind of injustice faced by the Lawrence family, or the routine abuse of disabled young people in institutions because of indifference and cruelty”.
If it was removed, she said, the commission’s duty would be changed from holding up a mirror to society to simply “holding up a mirror to itself and asking only: ‘How effective is the commission?’”
Among those praising Baroness Campbell’s role in saving section three was her fellow disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who said her success in convincing the government to think again had been “stunning”.
Others to praise her efforts included the Labour MP and equality campaigner Kate Green; Baroness Stowell, the Conservative women and equalities spokeswoman; the Conservative peer Lord Cormack; and Labour spokesman Lord Stevenson.
25 April 2013