Saturday, 22 December 2012

An email to Lynne Featherstone

Merry Christmas everyone and sorry for my lack of blogging lately. It seems to be that as soon as I get other aspects of my life running okay another aspect goes to pieces - in this case the aspect going to pieces seems to be my blogging. But here's an open email I've just sent to Lynne Featherstone MP about her decision, when she was still Equality Minister, to sign off on changes which will effectively gut the Equality and Human Right's Commission's obligation to work to end prejudice and discrimination and to create an equal society.

Dear Ms Featherstone,

As per your tweet, I'm emailing you to request an explanation as why you signed off on the "Reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission" which will see the repeal of the EHRC's general duty section 3.


As a member of the Lib Dem Disability Association, as an equal rights campaigner and as a feminist I am absolutely astounded at this decision and at a loss to how, given the principles I've heard you espouse publicly, you could ever justify this.

The obligations being repealed are the obligation for the EHCR to act ‘with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which’:
  • people's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,
  • there is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights,
  • there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,
  • each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and
  • there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.
Additionally, the repeal will also remove the duty for the EHCR to work towards the elimination of hostility and discrimination towards discrimination against specified groups and enabling them to have equal participation in society. The specified groups include disabled people - a group in which an overwhelming majority of people report having experienced outright verbal and physical abuse just for being out in public. This at a time when disabled people are disproportionately being effected by welfare cuts and when my fellow disability activists have been told there isn't even the money to fund an anti disability hate crime public awareness campaign.

And that is without mentioning the repeal of the EHCR's duty to monitor crime rates against specified groups and to share recommendations on how to reduce them.

With the changes you have signed off on, disabled people and other discriminated against groups in society, including ethnic minorities and women will find themselves without any official organisation dedicated to standing up to and working to end discrimination against them.

The obligations of the EHCR were defined in 2006 after extensively being discussed with NGOs, business and others and being agreed by all parties. I can understand the argument, made in the GEO Impact Assessment you signed off on, that the EHCR obligations weren't as necessarily clear and specific as to its duties as they could have been. However, that is an argument for replacing them with new obligations after proper consultation with stakeholder groups - not for gutting them completely.

What you have signed off on, without any apparent regard for the impact on discriminated against groups, the views of party organisations such as the LDDA, the views of NGOs and charities or, for that matter, our party's constitutional commitment to a fair and equal society, is to set back the cause of equality by about ten years. Because once and if this is passed by parliament there will be no prospect of changing it during this parliament. And it is unlikely to be a priority for the next government regardless of the outcome of the next election.

I could understand a Conservative signing off on these changes, given how little they seem to care about the well-being of those groups in society who face routine discrimination, prejudice and hostility. What I cannot understand is how you, a member of a party which entered government to make it fairer and to protect the vulnerable, and a self-described feminist committed to equality for everyone, could sign off on it.

Please could you explain why you decided to do this. As it is I, and no doubt many others within the party, are at a total loss as to why you signed off on this and are supporting it.

Yours sincerely and merry Christmas,

George Potter


  1. Merry Christmas George,I would be interested to see her reply,if she sends one. ;-)

  2. Hi Gary,

    Just to update you that the EMLD is also challenging the proposals. Baroness Sal Brinton, Meral Hussein-Ece, and Lord Lester are doing their bit in the Lords.

    As the English Party Diversity Champion, I feel that we all need to stand together on this matter, for unless we do, under our Party's watch, we will have witnessed the undoing of decades of hard earned and still necessary equalities legislation.

    It is interesting to note that our colleagues in Labour are remaining very quiet, and are not overtly challenging the Tory proposals as vigorously as they should. Perhaps they just wish to make mileage after the event?

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    1. @ Above.Its unwise to leave your e mail address open like that.It attracts Spam Bots and you will be inundated with Spam.

      Better to put your e mail address thus,if indeed you have to,

      uduwerage at gmail dot com.People still get it,but not spam bots.

      BTW,who is Gary?

    2. Hi Ruwan, Labour actually came out strongly in defence of the EHRC when clause 52 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill was debated in Parliament in October. This is the clause that will remove section 3 of the Equality Act which is the General Duty George refers to in his posting. Here is a link to the vote when Labour tried unsuccessfully to remove the clause from the Bill You can read the full debate on this clause and other equality protections being removed via the same Bill here

  3. Don't forget to post reply if there is one! Merry Christmas!

  4. The vast majority of stakeholder responses to the consultation on the reform of the EHRC and its functions rejected the Government proposals and outlined in some detail how it would damage Equality. Home Office Ministers Theresa May, Nick Herbert and Lynne Featherstone pressed ahead regardless pointing to (largely historic) governance problems at the EHRC in justification.

    George Potter is right to challenge Lynne Featherstone. She was the Minister on whose watch this happened. She could have offered some resistance but instead caved in to the demands of Conservative right wingers, probably due to her lack of previous Ministerial experience.

    A number of people have already written to Lynne along similar lines to George. They all received, the same dismissive civil service drafted replies.

    The Government proposals are without merit, the product of ill-informed lobbying from anti 'red tape' and employment rights obsessed small business pressure groups. Incidentally keep a very close eye out for who the Government appoints as new EHRC Commissioners.

    The continued failure to challenge this unprecedented attack on the equalities and human rights infrastructure only brings discredit on the Liberal Democrats as a Party of progress and reform.

  5. See Lib Dem Cllr Lester Holloway's latest blog on the attack on equality law


    Please see link on the GEO website to the list of Government nominees for the PSED Review. I counted 5 Tories, 1 Lib Dem, 2 civil servants (at least one of whom is PSED unfriendly) and 3 non-aligned (or supposedly so). Those with significant grounding in equalities and human rights - not one.


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.