Creu Prydain Decach
07 July 2010
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has welcomed today’s announcement of the dismissal of an allegation that its Chair, Trevor Phillips, was in contempt of Parliament.
In a report issued earlier today, the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct stated that “taking all the circumstances into account, we do not consider Mr Phillips’ conduct to amount to a contempt of the House.”
Today’s finding follows a previous finding by the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee which indicated that it was “unable to conclude .... that there had been any contempt of the kind alleged in the Joint Committee’s [on Human Rights] Report”.
The Lords Committee also said that it had some sympathy with Mr Phillips’ view that “the dividing line between legitimate engagement with committees and inappropriate interference amounting in some cases to contempt is unclear.” As a result, it has recommended that guidance issued to witnesses appearing before Lords select committees should be amended.
The former Chairman of the JCHR, Mr Andrew Dismore, had alleged that “it was difficult to escape the conclusion that some Members had been influenced in their approach to the draft Report by their private conversations with Mr Phillips.”
The Lords committee found that Mr Dismore’s allegations were “subjective, and that no firm factual evidence is presented in their support; nor are they borne out by the submissions by individual members of the JCHR.”
The Lords Committee also expressed concern that as in Mr Phillips’ case, current procedure affords individuals who are the subject of such personal criticism in a committee report no formal opportunity to see and comment on a draft ahead of publication.
Reacting to the report, Mr Phillips said: “I’m pleased that both Committees have dismissed the allegations of contempt. During this process it has become clear that the current procedures governing conduct between individuals, organisations and parliamentary committees are not clear to almost everyone involved. I therefore welcome the Lords privileges committee’s recommendation that proper guidance should be published. As parliament increases transparency and accountability, this guidance should help ensure that the process and conduct of committee hearings are clear and open.”
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The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.