Asian peer accuses House of Lords of deep-seated racism

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Jo Dillon

Jo Dillon

24 October 1999

The House of Lords was last night accused of deep-seated racism and homophobia after Lord Waheed Alli confided in colleagues his distress and anger at his treatment in the Upper House.

He has told them that the few black and Asian members are the victims of racism from other peers and some members of the Lords' staff.

Senior government sources last night said they had little doubt that the claims of Lord Alli were well-founded. Other peers backed his allegations. Planet 24 boss Lord Alli, 34 was one of the young entrepreneurs appointed to a life peerage by Tony Blair last year but soon became appalled by the way he was treated.

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, who was one of the first peers created by the Prime Minister, said: "Waheed is a very honest man and he wouldn't say anything like this lightly. I am really sad people feel like that."

Lord Alli, who is openly gay, has told colleagues he feels that other peers believe he doesn't belong and that, although they would not say it to his face, are asking "What are you doing here? You don't belong".

In April, when Lord Alli backed the reduction of the gay age of consent to 16, Lord Tebbit, the Tory life peer and former party chairman, said: "Like around 3 per cent of the population Lord Alli is Asian. Like probably less than 5 per cent - and more likely around 1 per cent - he is an active homosexual. So just who will Mr Blair's new House of Lords represent?"

Speaking from his central London home yesterday, Lord Tebbit was quite dismissive of Lord Alli's views. He said: ''I suspect it is all in his mind. He may have expected some sort of special welcoming mat for him and was disappointed when it wasn't there. There is certainly no racist environment.''

But an aide to a senior government peer said yesterday: "The culture of the House of Lords is white, upper class and male and anybody who doesn't fit that has problems. In many ways it is a club, it does its business as a club and functions as a club. If your face doesn't fit it is difficult. There is a real challenge for women in the Lords and race is also a factor."

Lord Alli, a friend of the Prime Minister and well-connected in government circles, is understood to have been angered by incidents such as being told to keep quiet in the peers lobby while in discussion with black peeress and equal rights campaigner Baroness Amos. He has made it known that he "felt this would never have happened had he been white... It would not have happened to Baroness Thatcher."

He is understood to have been "struck by a general level of hostility" from the House of Lords attendants, and was shocked that in 1999 the second chamber still did not possess a copy of the Koran when the businessman Lord Ahmed requested it to swear in.

Lord Alli has also made his concerns known about the attitude of fellow peers, particularly some hereditary back- benchers who he feels "seem to shake their heads when they come upon any of the black peers".

Life peers, by contrast, "actually do make the title 'peer' mean something and treat you as an equal," he made clear to colleagues.

Conrad Russell, the Liberal peer, said: "I'm very sorry about it. Lord Alli has a double problem because he is the only 'out' gay peer and joined immediately we were about to vote on the age of consent."