Labour to axe rights quangos

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Indy Politics
Labour is planning to abolish the quangos on race and sex discrimination and create a powerful human rights commission to police civil liberties.

A Blair administration would incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into law and senior Labour figures believe there should be one body to enforce its provisions.

Supporters of the plan point out that a single organisation would enjoy a higher profile and save expenditure. It is envisaged that the new "super quango" could incorporate the functions of the Data Protection Registrar and the Fair Employment Commission in Northern Ireland, which combats discrimination on grounds of religion. The new body would also champion the rights of the disabled and victims of "ageism".

Senior figures at the two biggest commissions are aware of the plans, and there private misgivings that a "single rights commission" would not promote the aspirations of women and ethnic minorities as strongly as the existing system. There are also fears about job losses.

Herman Ouseley, chair of the CRE, is to express caution about the idea in the next edition of his organisation's Connections magazine. In the article he contends that while there is a strong argument for a single body, it would only enjoy his support if it could be proved that a single body enhanced the opportunities of the most disadvantaged sections of society.

Elizabeth Hodder, deputy chairwoman of the EoC, said there would have to be a "comprehensive and objective" debate about a human rights commission: "It should not be at the expense of the dilution of existing rights under sex discrimination legislation."

Despite the EoC's caution, Kamlesh Bahl, its chairwoman, would be uniquely placed to take over as head of the new commission because of her gender and Asian ethnic origin.

Her past association with the Conservative Party is unlikely to be a disadvantage. A Blair administration might be well disposed towards someone who does not necessarily see increased public expenditure as the solution to problems.