A senior member of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet has welcomed the creation of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (ECHR).

Speaking at a reception at the party conference in Blackpool, Theresa May paid tribute to the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

The ECHR came into being on Monday. It incorporates the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the EOC.

The body will also have responsibilities on rights in relation to age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, and will ensure that unions and organisations have the correct training and information to advise people on these rights.

“Today is a momentous occasion – it is my birthday,” she told a crowd of activists and other delegates at the Absolutely Equal reception on Monday, who sang Happy Birthday.

Ms May, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, said the Equal Opportunities Commission had made a real difference.

“I want to say a very personal thank you to the EOC, who we have worked with over the years to make sure there are more women in Parliament as Conservatives.”

She said there are opportunities and challenges ahead for the new ECHR, and warned that it must work on an “absolutely equal basis” for all groups that the ECHR has to represent.

Ms May said that the Absolutely Equal party has a deserved reputation as one of the best at conference.

Barclays sponsored the event. Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, Senior Diversity Manager at Barclays Group, where he has responsibility for devising and delivering the Barclays Group Diversity Strategy, introduced Ms May.

He welcomed the new ECHR and said that the bank will continue to support gay rights organisation Stonewall and the commission in their equality work.

Stonewall, the ECHR and Equal Rights on Age hosted the Absolutely Equal reception.

At last week’s Labour party conference, the Prime Minister attended and spent ten minutes mingling with the crowd.

Party leader Sir Menzies Campbell addressed the Liberal Democrats’ Absolutely Equal conference reception in Brighton a fortnight ago.

Tory leader David Cameron did not attend Absolutely Equal for the second year running, but gay Shadow Cabinet member Alan Duncan was there.