Commission seeks tighter race laws: The Commission for Racial Equality has called for new legislation to fight discrimination, including an updating of blasphemy law. Nick Cohen reports

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Indy Politics
WITH A WARNING that 'ugly tensions' could shatter Britain's complacency, the Commission for Racial Equality yesterday launched wide-ranging plans to tighten and extend anti-discrimination legislation.

It called for the 1976 Race Relations Act to be given priority in the courts over all other laws, for employers to be forced to work for equal opportunity and for a criminal offence of 'racially motivated violence' to be created.

Sir Michael Day, the commission's chairman, said strong action was needed to tackle discrimination in every sector of life. 'It is no reassurance to those denied a job or a house or a university place because of their racial origins that things are worse elsewhere,' he said. 'Good race relations are a very fragile thing. As we have witnessed recently in the US and Germany, some very ugly developments can shatter complacency.'

Whether Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, will accept the conclusions of the commission's statutory review of the effectiveness of 1976 Act is open to doubt.

Similar demands for change were made by the CRE in its last review seven years ago, but were ignored by the Government.

On 9 June, Mr Clarke told the Commons that he favoured the ethnic monitoring of workforces as a tool against inadvertent discrimination but was opposed to anything that looked like a legal requirement for companies to have target numbers of employees from ethnic minorities.

Yesterday the commission said, in effect, that he should think again. New legislation should require the compulsory monitoring of public and private sector workforces but also impose a duty on employers to provide equality of opportunity, it said.

The economic power of central and local government should be used at once against discriminatory employers, it added. Since 1969 there has been a clause in each Whitehall contract requiring employers to treat people from ethnic minorities fairly. But the commission said the provision was useless because no attempt had been made to monitor it.

Sir Michael emphasised that he was not arguing for the special treatment of minorities but for a level playing field. His proposals were 'totally in tune with the Citizen's Charter' and fostered a 'climate of opportunity for all'.

The most significant legal change proposed by the commission was for the Race Relations Act to be amended so that any practice by an organisation which indirectly discriminated against minorities would be illegal. At present only a complete bar to ethnic minority employment or membership of a club is unlawful.

The law should recognise that freedom from discrimination was a basic civil right by overturning a recent House of Lords ruling which said the Race Relations Act could not be used to prevent parents using parental-choice rights to take children away from schools with large numbers of black children. Instead, the Act should be given absolute priority.

As well as legal remedies, the commission proposed that those who took cases of racial discrimination to industrial tribunals should be given legal aid. The maximum compensation paid to victims of racism should be raised from pounds 10,000 to pounds 30,000, the limit set in Northern Ireland for religious discrimination.