Equality Bill – CRE’s Powers Must Stay, And Be Extended

Equality for all, not for some – says OutRage!

London – 25 October 2005


“We support the black community’s call for a guaranteed race unit and guaranteed black commissioners on the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR),” said Peter Tatchell of the lesbian and gay human rights group OutRage!.

“All six equality strands should have their own separate units and equal representation on the CEHR.

“We deplore the Equality Bill’s failure to guarantee specific units for each of the six equality strands. Under the new CEHR there will, for example, be no designated race or sexuality unit, and no guaranteed commissioners to represent black, gay and other communities working to overcome discrimination.

“The marginalisation of any community is wrong, as is the prioritisation of action against some forms of discrimination over others.

“OutRage! recommends a guaranteed equal number of CEHR commissioners from each of the six equality strands.

“Instead of weakening the Commission for Racial Equality’s powers, the government should extended them to the other five equality strands covering disability, religion, age, gender and sexuality,”

Mr Tatchell was criticising key aspects of the government’s current Equality Bill, describing the new legislation as “divisive, unequal and weak.”

OutRage! has submitted to Ministers five suggested reforms to ensure the new CEHR promotes a “unified, comprehensive, non-discriminatory and effective equality agenda.”

The key changes to the Equality Bill proposed by OutRage! are:

1. An All-inclusive Equality Bill – A Precondition for the CEHR

2. Upwards Harmonisation, Based on Race Legislation

3. Incorporation of the CRE’s Powers Into the CEHR

4. Semi-Autonomous Units for Each of the Six Equality Strands

5. A Duty on Public Bodies to Proactively Combat All Discrimination

“The Equality Bill as it presently stands will not deliver equality and remedy discrimination,” added Mr Tatchell.

“It creates a hierarchy of equality, giving some communities more rights and protections than others. This will just reinforce and perpetuate discrimination; creating resentment and disharmonious community relations,” he said.

Copy of the OutRage! letter to the DTI:

Equality Bill

The LGBT human rights group OutRage! supports the creation of a unified, comprehensive, all-inclusive Commission for Equality and Human Rights, with strong legal powers to remedy all forms of discrimination and to monitor, promote and enforce equality for everyone, with the following provisos:

(a) An All-inclusive Equality Bill – A Precondition for the CEHR

The legislation establishing the CEHR should, at the same time, harmonise all six equality strands within a single, comprehensive, all-inclusive Equal Rights Act to guarantee everyone equal treatment and equal protection against harassment, discrimination and hate crimes. Without this harmonisation, the different strands would operate within an unequal legislative framework, and the CEHR would therefore enshrine and perpetuate inequality.

(b) Upwards Harmonisation, Based on Race Legislation

There should be an upwards harmonisation of equality laws, based on the strongest existing legislation – the laws on race. In other words, legislation concerning disability, gender, age, sexuality and religion or other belief needs to be bought into line with race legislation.

It would be ethically wrong and a practical nightmare for the CEHR to be established with the six different equality strands having unequal legislative status. To be meaningful, effective and work harmoniously the CEHR must ensure that all equality strands enjoy an equal legal footing

There can be no hierarchy of equality, whereby some forms of discrimination are deemed more important than others, with more powers of redress. That is a recipe for conflict and resentment, which would be disastrous for community relations.

(c) Incorporation of the CRE’s Powers Into the CEHR

The powers of the CEHR should include all the powers currently available to the Commission for Racial Equality. We cannot accept the downgrading of the CRE’s statutory powers. On the contrary, the CEHR should enjoy all the CRE’s existing powers and these powers should extended to cover all five other areas of anti-discrimination work, such as age, gender, sexuality and so on.

(d) Semi-Autonomous Units for Each of the Six Equality Strands

Within the CEHR there should be separate units, each with a considerable degree of autonomy, to deal with the six different equality strands. This means the creation of a race unit, a women’s unit, a sexuality unit and so on. Having specialised units dedicated to focusing on particular areas of inequality, and with powers to tackle specific forms of discrimination, is vital to the CEHR’s effectiveness.

(e) A Duty on Public Bodies to Proactively Combat All Discrimination

It cannot be right that the Equality Bill proposes to extend the public sector duty to promote equality and combat discrimination from race issues to gender and disability only – and not to issues concerning discrimination based on age, sexual orientation and religion or belief (including lack of religious belief). This is divisive and discriminatory.

These proposals institutionalise discrimination. Women, black and disabled people are deemed more worthy of protection than lesbians and gay men, the elderly and people of faith or other belief.

Under the Equality Bill, public bodies, such as local councils, will remain free to take no action to protect gay and disabled people, and adherents to religious and other beliefs.

While action to combat race, gender and disability discrimination will be a legal requirement for all public sector bodies, action against homophobia and other forms of discrimination will remain a mere option. Why the double standards?

Note: The existing statutory requirement for public bodies to promote race equality was legislated in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

We very much regret that the government has previously, on three separate occasions, refused requests by OutRage! to extend this legislation to tackle discrimination against women, gay people and all other disadvantaged and vulnerable minorities.