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Government U-turn on equality duty

PAYING THEIR RESPECTS: (L-R - Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson at the Stephen Lawrence memorial service)

AS PRIME Minister David Cameron sat at a memorial service to mark the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder yesterday (April 22), the House of Lords was preparing to vote on the Government’s plan to get rid of a “fundamental” piece of equalities legislation borne out of the tragedy.

But in a U-turn welcomed by campaigners, 17 Liberal Democrat peers and one Conservative, joined others in voting to keep the general quality duty, which forms section 3 of the Equality Act 2010.

The duty asks the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to ensure all public bodies show ‘due regard’ in their policies, practices and procedures to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and foster good relationships between different groups.

It was first introduced in the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 following the Macpherson Inquiry into the 18-year-old’s death, and was later incorporated into the Equality Act 2010.

The Government wanted to drop the duty, arguing that the EHRC's general human rights commitment was unnecessary and that its other legal duties satisfied its role.

Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, has also spoken out against the proposals.

But the plan was defeated in the House of Lords on Monday night by 210 votes to 180.

Independent crossbencher Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who has led the opposition to the Government on the issue, told peers that the general duty was a "fundamental principle".

Lib Dem politician Lester Holloway, who had been lobbying his party to vote against the proposed change, told The Voice: “This is wonderful news, really wonderful. It shows that campaigning does work.

“Seventeen Lib Dems defied the whip because they were moved by the strength of our case from a coalition of equalities experts all piling on the pressure, and they listened.”

It is believed that equalities minister Jo Swinson now plans to drop the reforms.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who represents Streatham, said: “Jo Swinson has notified me that the Government is U-turning on [its] move to repeal the EHRC’s general duty.

“I welcome the decision of the Government to listen to Labour and others who argued against [it]. The Government should never have proposed repealing the duty to promote equalities and human rights in the first place.”

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