Labour leaders may ask some constituency parties to choose their parliamentary candidates from all-black shortlists in an attempt to increase the number of MPs from the ethnic minorities.
Charles Clarke, the Labour Party chairman, said yesterday it was "conceivable" that the party might bring in legislation to allow all-black shortlists before the next general election.
Senior Labour officials have always had doubts over the practicalities of such a move. Before opting for legislation, Labour is expected to try to persuade local parties to select more black candidates, particularly in areas with high ethnic-minority populations.
If this initiative fails, a new law will be considered, along the lines of the Bill introduced in the current parliamentary session to remove legal doubts about all-women shortlists.
In an interview with The Voice newspaper, Mr Clarke said: "It's conceivable. One of the virtues of the Bill currently going through Parliament is that because it was very short it could be squeezed in between other bits of legislation. If we did the same on race that would be possible too."
The Labour chairman said the party's Millbank headquarters was keen to see non-white candidates selected in seats with high ethnic-minority populations where Labour MPs stand down at the next general election. "We'd certainly look at finding a candidate who could represent a community in those circumstances," he said.
"Traditionally we're famous for principally white men [as representatives] although Labour represents a far more diverse community than that," Mr Clarke said. "So we want a more accurate Labour representation of our electorate." There are five black and Asian MPs, all Labour, out of the 659 in the Commons. Activists calculate that Britain needs at least 40 to reflect society.
The introduction of all-women shortlists before the 1997 general election helped Labour to raise its number of female MPs to a record 101. The system was dropped after an industrial tribunal ruled it discriminated against men, and the number fell to 94 after last year's election.
Black groups have given Mr Clarke's move a cautious welcome. Simon Woolley, the head of Operation Black Vote, said people would be "unforgiving" if Labour failed to deliver. "The black community have given Labour unprecedented and unrivalled loyalty and wants to see action," he said.
Labour's ruling national executive committee has approved a new training programme for black members hoping to run for Parliament.Reuse content