Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Friday, 8 September 2006 11:45 UK

Phillips to be equality watchdog

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips had previously opposed the body

The head of Britain's race watchdog, Trevor Phillips, will become the first chair of a new equalities commission.

Mr Phillips, who has caused controversy by questioning multiculturalism, will run the body, which launches in 2007.

The Commission for Equalities and Human Rights will merge the work of Britain's separate disability, race and equal opportunities bodies.

Mr Phillips, the former Labour chairman of the London Assembly, had previously opposed the new commission.

The new commission inherits the responsibilities of the separate commissions for racial equality, disability and equal opportunities.

Ministers decided to merge the bodies in an attempt to create a broader view of how equality should operate in a modern society, ahead of a proposed modernising of the laws during this Parliament.

As chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Mr Phillips opposed the new body, saying it was the wrong idea at the wrong time.

'Workable body'

But defending his appointment to the £160,000-a-year post, Mr Phillips told the BBC he would be able to speak out on all the different equality issues because of hard work done to make the proposed super-watchdog workable.

The whole point of this is that we need to become a society at ease with our diversity rather than one which asks everyone to behave in a particular way
Trevor Phillips

"The staff and commissioners of the [three watchdogs] worked very hard with government ministers to get them to understand what our work was really about.

"What we have done is improve the original proposal to a point where it is possible to make the structure work.

"The job of the commission is not simply to be an advocate. There is a deeper point, there is huge demographic change going on in this country. Most of our media, our schools and our workplaces and so on are to some extent geared to the interests of single white men.

"Partly because there are more disabled people working, many more women working, we are going to a situation were fewer than one in four people in the workplace will be white men.

Ken Livingstone
He's gone so far over to the other side that I expect soon he'll be joining the BNP
London Mayor Ken Livingstone attacks Trevor Phillips

"We need a step change to make it possible for women to behave like women in the workplace and for men not to be alpha males, for example.

"The whole point of this is that we need to become a society at ease with our diversity rather than one which asks everyone to behave in a particular way."

Some disability groups have expressed deep reservations about the new commission's ability or willingness to fight their corner, fearing their rights will be seen as less important than other groups.

Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said Mr Phillips must ensure that the new body would gain the respect of all Britons.

"We need a clear break from the past, with no more special pleading but equality and human rights acknowledged as intrinsic to Britain's prosperity, security and well-being," said Mr Massie.

"Success for the Commission and Britain on disability would mean eliminating notions of care, welfare and charity and replacing them with rights, opportunities and full citizenship for disabled people."

And some anti-racism groups claim Mr Phillips has lost credibility by questioning multiculturalism, arguing it has undermined the position of minorities.

Last week London Mayor Ken Livingstone joined those critics, accusing the CRE chief of "pandering to the right" so much that "soon he'll be joining the BNP".

But Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said the CRE chief was the "best man for the job".

"Trevor Phillips has a proven track record, a wealth of experience and is prepared to tackle the difficult and controversial issues head on," said Ms Kelly.

"This will be a valuable asset right across the whole equalities agenda."

Profile: Trevor Phillips
15 Mar 10 |  UK

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