Multi-ethnic Britain comes under microscope

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One of the biggest ever projects on multi-ethnicity in Britain will be launched today. Kim Sengupta says some of its proposals are likely to be adopted by the Government.

The initiative is described by senior figures in Whitehall as an important step in achieving Tony Blair's vision of Britain where no one is excluded on grounds of race or religion. One of the most ambitious projects ever launched on multi-ethnicity, it will present policy ideas on how the country's social and political institutions will have to adapt to the changing nature of the population.

The findings and recommendations, which will be published as discussion papers during the next two years, are expected to be controversial. One of the issues the initiative will be addressing is whether the Church of England should have guaranteed seats in the House of Lords for 26 male bishops, and whether similar rights should be extended to Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders. The Commission will also examine the law, asking why there is such a paucity of non-white judges and why only 2 per cent of the judiciary come from ethnic minorities.

The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, which has received the support of the Conservative leader, William Hague, as well as the Prime Minister, will compile and analyse views of the public and examine UK and European laws to consider what changes are "necessary to achieve social cohesion and respect for diversity".

Urging people to give evidence to the Commission, the Prime Minister said: "I believe passionately that we can build a nation which respects diversity and provides social cohesion. The work of the Commission is at the heart of this task."

Within Whitehall the Commission is seen as a development in the traditional role of think tanks in policy formation. It is hoped the exercise will lead to involving the population in the changes affecting their lives, and lead to further similar projects.

The Commission has been set up by the Runnymede Trust, whose chair, Trevor Phillips, has strong links with the Labour leadership, and is tipped to run for the post of mayor of London. Helen Seaford, a former senior Treasury official, is the director of the Commission, and it will be chaired by Sir John Burgh, a former head of the British Council and president of Trinity College, Oxford. Members are drawn from the fields of health, law, policing, employment, local government, education and the media. It will be using the database of the Policy Studies Institute, and working with the grassroots l990 Trust.

As well as interested pressure groups, the Commission wants evidence from individuals, who will be able to send their views through e-mail, or to a computer website. In particular, it is hoped young people will relate their views and experiences.

Members will also be visiting different parts of the country seeking oral and written evidence.