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Equalities watchdog chief Trevor Phillips 'tried to influence inquiry'

Trevor Phillips, head of the Equalities Commission, is facing an investigation into whether he tried to “nobble” a parliamentary inquiry into his work.

Mr Phillips is accused of approaching at least three of the MPs and peers who make up Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights as they were putting finishing touches to their report.

“In our view these discussions could constitute a contempt of both Houses in that they may be an attempt to influence the views of certain members of the committee shortly before it considered a draft report directly relevant to Mr Phillips in his role as chair of the EHRC,” the committee, chaired by Labour MP Andrew Dismore, said in a statement today. “We recommend that the matter should be subject to investigation by the Privileges Committees of both Houses.”

A spokesman for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission confirmed that Mr Phillips had contacted the committee members, but added: “Neither Mr Phillips or the Commission is aware of any reason why any of his actions might amount to contempt of the Houses of Parliament.

“Should the Parliamentary authorities decide to take this matter further both Mr Phillips and the Commission would be happy to co-operate fully.”

Mr Phillips has chaired the EHRC since it was founded in 2007, but his three year tenure has been marked by a series of controversies.

Part of the problem was that the new commission brought together three quangos with only a minimal record of working together, including the Race Relations Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Disability Rights Commission.

But Mr Phillips’s management style and his decision to combine private consultancy work with his £110,000 a year three day a week post also drew criticism, and there were some who disagreed vehemently with his strategy of dealing with human rights as a whole, rather than treating racism, sexism etc. as discrete issues. Mr Phillips is a prominent critic of ‘multiculturalism’, the philosophy that treats all ethnic cultures as equals rather than promoting a single culture.

The decision by the Equalities Minister, Harriet Harman, to reappoint him for a second two year term in office last July caused four of the 14 commissioners to resign. Two others had already resigned two months earlier.

The EHRC’s management has also been severely criticised by the Commons Public Accounts committee over staff costs incurred during the setting up of the organisation, which employs over 400 staff on an annual budget of £61.5m.

More than £11 million was paid out in redundancy to staff who did not want to move from the old quangos to the new, but seven former employees of the Race Relations Commission were taken on as consultants after they had been paid off. One received £104,125 in redundancy, and was then taken back for 11 months and paid fees totalling £105,216.

This provoked a public rebuke from the Commons Public Accounts Committee for “poor management and oversight.”