Race: Phillips joins attack on Home Office

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The Government faced fresh criticism of its race policies yesterday when another leading black Labour figure attacked plans to place a £10,000 bond on visitors to the UK.

Trevor Phillips, Labour's candidate for deputy mayor of London, launched a savage assault on the Home Office proposals. Mr Phillips' comments came as Downing Street attempted to counter a high-profile attack on its asylum and immigration polices by Bill Morris, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union.

Mr Morris rattled ministers yesterday when he claimed in The Independent that comments made by Jack Straw and his ministers had "given life to the racists". Mr Phillips, who is likely to be the leader of the Labour group in the Greater London Assembly, said it was clear that there was a case for changes to the bond scheme.

"It's a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There are simpler ways of making the system easier and more accessible and that don't discriminate against poorer members of the community." He added that it wasn't just the poor who would be hit by the proposals, pointing out that it was "ridiculous" that his aunt might have to pay whenever she made a trip from the United States.

The Home Secretary rebutted Mr Morris' claims, pointing out that he had overseen Sir William Macpherson of Cluny's inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence and had introduced a raft of anti-racist measures. Writing in today's Independent, the Home Secretary said he was proud of Labour's record on race relations and was "surprised and genuinely perplexed" by Mr Morris' comments. Mr Straw admitted Mr Morris has a right to his opinion, but countered that the Home Office will not back down from its "firm but fair" approach to asylum. He said: "We have sought to consult as widely as possible in advance of the reforms ... but I make no apologies for our changes to asylum policy."

The Home Secretary was backed up strongly by Downing Street. A spokesman said: "The Prime Minister rejects absolutely the claim that the Government fosters racism in any shape or form and we would argue that there's no more passionate advocate of race relations issues than Jack Straw and that his and the Government's record in this area speaks for itself."

The Home Office said last night that it was set to go ahead with a reformed version of its bonds scheme. A spokeswoman stressed that £10,000 may not be the figure and consultation was being undertaken to find which countries should feature in a pilot project due to begin in October.

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