The Equality Act 2006 received Royal Assent on the 16 February. Among other things, the Act will establish the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). The CEHR will come into being in October 2007. The CEHR will initially amalgamate the existing Equal Opportunities Commission and Disability Rights Commission, and will take over the functions of the Commission for Racial Equality in April 2009.
The Government has provided several reasons for combining the three previously existing commissions. Firstly it was thought that the depth of expertise and its ability to cast a wide net across all issues would create a "strong and authoritative champion". Also, it was considered that a single body could provide a holistic approach to inequalities affecting several groups and also provide a single access point.
It is planned that by Autumn 2006 the CEHR board and chair will have been appointed, with a minimum of ten and maximum of fifteen members, including a Commissioner each for Scotland and Wales, and one who has been or is a disabled person. These positions have already been advertised in the press and can be accessed here http://www.cehrappointments.co.uk/. The CEHR will not be limited to one location. The main part of the staff will be based in Manchester, also with a presence in London, as well as Glasgow and Cardiff.
The base for the CEHR was a controversial point during debates. Diane Abbott MP (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) spoke against the CEHR being based in Manchester using the phrase "out of sight, out of mind". Many, including Keith Vaz MP, Ken Livingston, National Assembly Against Racism, Muslim Association of Britain and the Churches Commission for Racial Justice, among others, supported Ms Abbott's campaign. Ms Abbott also protested that the requirements in the Bill for the representation of disabled people meant that Black and Asian minorities should also have a guaranteed place on the Commission.
At the moment a transition group is overseeing the formation of the CEHR. The group will advise on the organisation of the structure and infrastructure, strategic direction of work and the deployment of the work force.