Appointment of the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

2  Non-Executive Chair of the EHRC

The role and function of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

2.  The EHRC was established in 2007. It replaced and took over the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission. It was also given responsibility for promoting equality and tackling discrimination in respect of age, sexual orientation and religion or belief, promoting good relations between groups and providing institutional support for human rights. The Commission is accredited by the United Nation as a category 'A' status National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), responsible for monitoring the human rights situation in Britain, including compliance with international human rights commitments.

3.  The post of non-executive Chair of the EHRC is a statutory appointment. Appointment is by open competition. The EHRC is currently funded by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) which until recently was answerable to the Home Office. It was thus the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, and the then Minister for Equalities also at the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone MP, who were responsible for the position of non-executive Chair and for the EHRC. Since the repositioning of departmental responsibilities in September 2012, the GEO is now answerable to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, has been involved in the last stages of the selection process for the non-executive Chair.

4.  Trevor Phillips OBE has led the EHRC since it was established in 2007, and he stood down in September 2012 after two terms of office. We wish him well in his future career.

Reform of the EHRC

5.  The EHRC is currently in the midst of a period of significant reform, following on from the plans announced by the Government in 2010 and the consultation paper it launched in 2011. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill currently before Parliament contains statutory provisions which will reform the legislative basis for the EHRC in line with the Government's plans announced following the 2011 consultation. This will remove some of the duties and activities of the Commission. The reform is accompanied by both head-count and budget reductions which also incorporate the impact of the general financial stringency affecting all public bodies.

6.  As part of the process of reform the remuneration for the position of non-executive Chair has been set at £130,000 per annum, pro rata for up to two days a week (which equates to up to £56,000 a year), down from the previous salary of £185,000 per annum, pro rata for three-and-a-half days a week (which equated to £112,000 a year).[1]

The post of non-executive Chair

7.  According to the information for applicants published by the Home Office, the role of the non-executive Chair is:

  • to lead in formulating a clear strategic direction for the EHRC, focusing on its core roles as a strategic enforcer of the law and national expert;
  • to provide leadership in all aspects of its role—improving efficiency, value for money, and performance;
  • to be an effective advocate and ambassador for the EHRC;
  • to build and develop an effective Board; and
  • to hold the Chief Executive to account for the EHRC's effective delivery against its three-year strategic plan and annual business plan.

The responsibilities of the post (which are set out in more detail in the information for applicants) build upon this role and emphasise the need for visible leadership and public presence, leadership and assistance in good governance, and clarity in the planning and delivery of the Commission's objectives.

8.  Lynne Featherstone MP, the then Minster for Equalities, wrote in April 2012 to Sir Alan Beith MP, the Chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, putting the post forward for the pre-appointment process. This letter is attached as Appendix A. The advertisement for the post is published as Appendix B. The closing date for applications was 18 June 2012.

The candidate

9.  The Secretary of State informed us on 1 October that the preferred candidate for the position of non-executive Chair of the EHRC was Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve. This letter is attached as Appendix C. Her curriculum vitae is published as Appendix D. All those applying for the position were required to supply a detailed supporting statement of no more than two pages. Baroness O'Neill's supporting statement is published as Appendix E.

10.  We held a pre-appointment hearing with Baroness O'Neill on 16 October.

Lines of questioning

11.  In line with the guidance drawn up by the House of Commons Liaison Committee on the conduct of pre-appointment hearings, our questioning sought to test the professional competence and personal independence of the candidate. The Liaison Committee also observes that a candidate will need to be able to withstand parliamentary and public scrutiny should they take up the post, and that questioning may therefore be robust.

12.  In the evidence session we explored the following areas with Baroness O'Neill:

  • Her general suitability for the post, including her independence and relevant experience;
  • Her leadership ability and organisational expertise;
  • Her view on the reform of the EHRC and the challenges the Commission will face going forward; and
  • Retention of category 'A' status for the Commission as a National Human Rights Institution.

A transcript of the oral evidence is available on our Committee website.

The Committee's views on the suitability of the candidate

13.   We consider that Baroness O'Neill has demonstrated her suitability for the post of non-executive Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We are grateful to the Government for giving us the opportunity to hold this hearing and we endorse its choice of candidate.

1   The position had been full-time until it was reduced to three-and-a-half days at the request of the incumbent in 2009. Back

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Prepared 18 October 2012