The Queen's Speech: Race watchdogs say reforms `hamstrung from the start'

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The Independent Online
PROPOSALS TO extend race laws to cover the police, prisons and immigration service were described as "hamstrung from the start" by the Commission for Racial Equality.

Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the commission, the statutory race watchdog body, said that he was "astonished" that the proposals only covered direct discrimination and left out indirect racist action and behaviour.

Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill announced yesterday, the 22- year-old Race Relations Act would extend its provisions to the public sector, including the police, prisons and immigration service, which were excluded from the original legislation.

The announcement follows a pledge by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, in response to publication of the inquiry report in February this year on the Stephen Lawrence murder.

The Bill will extend the 1976 Act to make it unlawful for public bodies to discriminate on racial grounds in relation to employment, training and education and the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The changes will also make chief police officers vicariously liable for racial discrimination by officers.

Sir Herman said: "We are astonished the Government has decided to restrict the changes in the law to this.

"It will mean the drive against institutional racism called for in the Stephen Lawrence report will be hamstrung from the start. By leaving out indirect discrimination, what the Lawrence inquiry termed unwitting racism, we fear it will seriously weaken the ability of the CRE to help in tackling the very issues that report highlighted." A spokesman said that by just concentrating on direct discrimination the commission would be unable to launch investigations into areas such as the disproportionate number of black people who are stopped and searched by the police.

Sir Herman added that the Commission for Racial Equality was still awaiting a decision by the Government on introducing an enforceable duty on public bodies to combat racism and promote racial equality, which was the only way to root out deep-seated institutional racism.

The former prime minister Lord Callaghan of Cardiff has admitted his Labour government made a mistake in bowing to pressure to leave police out of the existing legislation.

The Bill would extend the Act to make it unlawful for a public authority to discriminate directly in carrying out any of its functions.