Peers defeat government over human rights plans


Peers have thrown out the government's plan to remove the Equality and Human Rights Commission's "general duty" to promote equal opportunities and prevent unfair discrimination.

The change was proposed in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, debated by peers for a second day at report stage on 4 March 2013.

Crossbencher Baroness Campbell of Surbiton introduced an amendment to preserve the EHCR's general duty, saying: "It articulates the fundamental principles we as a society we should be aiming for... Culture, ethics and principles are at least as important as the law."

She was supported by a cross-section of peers.

Labour's Lord Morris of Handsworth said the duty currently represents "a commitment to the principles of equality" and Conservative peer Lord Cormack argued that "there is a place for aspiration in legislation".

The chair of the Commission, crossbencher Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve, said the government's proposals "are unlikely to have a significant adverse impact on its work".

Opposition equalities spokesperson Baroness Thornton described Labour as "adamantly opposed" to the government's plans. She said "this [House] is not the right place to do it" because it needed extensive scrutiny from outside bodies and the EHRC.

Replying for the government, equalities spokesperson Baroness Stowell of Beeston suggested the Commission "has not been universally acclaimed" and that it would be "negligent not to try to understand those problems and put them right".

She argued: "The repeal of the general duty will neither stop nor hinder the Commission's ability to fulfil its equalities and human rights duties... it will actually help it become more effective."

Baroness Campbell did not accept the government's case and forced the issue to a vote, in which her amendment was passed by 217 votes to 166.

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