Skip to main content

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Volume 785: debated on Monday 16 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the process for recent appointments to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

My Lords, recent appointments to the Equality and Human Rights Commission have been carried out in accordance with the code of practice for public appointments administered by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Successful applicants have been selected on merit through open and fair competition.

I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, if it is correct, how is it that for the first of the recent appointments, despite not being recommended by the interview panel, a candidate was appointed who has subsequently refused to attend board meetings until certain of his demands have been met? In the second instance, a commissioner whose term of office ended in January 2017 was eventually advised in August 2017 that the term of office would not be renewed despite a recommendation that it should be. No reason was given, even though there is a requirement under the rules to do so and the termination letter highly praised the work and contribution of the commissioner in question.

I thank the noble Baroness for raising those two issues. On the first, I think she might be referring to my noble friend Lord Shinkwin. His recruitment process took far longer than originally intended and, yes, it has now a reached a situation now where there are ongoing discussions between the chair of the EHRC and my noble friend. The Government value the role of the EHRC and believe that my noble friend has the knowledge, passion and personal background to make a significant contribution. That is why he was chosen by the Secretary of State for the role. In the second case raised by the noble Baroness—I apologise for the long answer but she raised two issues—40 commissioners have been appointed to the EHRC since 2006 and only seven have been reappointed. Individual appointments and reappointments are matters for the Secretary of State. I think the House will agree that there can be no automatic expectation of reappointments for members of any public boards.

My Lords, the Government’s own website says that in 2015 the public bodies transformation programme,

“successfully produced fewer, more accountable, more efficient public bodies”,

which were required “to be politically impartial” and were,

“needed to act independently in order to establish facts”.

Given the shambles the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, has just outlined, does this apply also to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has a very important job to do?

I agree with the noble Baroness that the commission has an important job to do. Perhaps I may mention that when the coalition Government came in in 2010, it was concluded that the commission should be retained but substantially reformed. I would not use the word “shambles”, but it was certainly in some disarray at that time. The commission has now undergone a distinct restructuring and the budget has been reduced so that it can focus on the issues most important to it. The Equality Act 2006 provides for its independence and the investigating commissioners are not employees of the state.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm what my noble friend Lady Prosser said about the absence of a recommendation from the interview panel for her noble friend? If that is the case, what is the purpose of an interview process if its recommendations are not then observed?

I cannot speak any further about that individual case. If I can get any more information, I will do so. As we know, there was a clear and well-defined process with independent assessors on the panel.

My Lords, now that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been reorganised and restructured, looking at its remit, will it concentrate much more on looking at the equality issues across the country that were identified by the race audit recently carried out by the Government?

I thank my noble friend for her intervention and I pay tribute to those who were involved in the race audit. It has certainly given us a good basis on which to go forward. We share the views of the members of the Women and Equalities Committee who said in January this year that the EHRC should play to its unique strengths and powers as provided by legislation. That means making more selective legal interventions and perhaps leaving research to other bodies in order to focus on issues such as those raised by the race audit because they are the most important.

My Lords, the Equality Act 2006 gave the commission important powers of investigation and enforcement. Leaving aside the fact that there is not much enforcement, which I have raised before, does the Minister agree that it is grossly improper for someone who is appointed to an independent law enforcement agency to put pressure on that body to agree with his particular hang-up on a particular issue as a condition of his taking part as a commissioner?

The chair of the EHRC has reached what I think we can say is a compromise with my noble friend Lord Shinkwin on the issue to which the noble Lord refers. On enforcement, obviously law enforcement is a matter for the police while investigation is certainly a matter for the commission.

My Lords, I am reluctant to pursue from the Front Bench a case that apparently involves an individual Member of this House, but certain statements were made by my noble friend Lady Prosser in her question. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister was able to investigate what has been said and, perhaps in a letter to Members of the House, indicate which of the statements made by my noble friend Lady Prosser are correct and which the Minister does not believe are correct.