Queen may be made subject to race laws

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The Independent Online

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, will move an amendment this week to the Race Relations Bill, currently going through the Commons, to bring the Queen within the remit of the law.

The Queen's Household is a public body in that the salary bill of its 667 full-time staff is largely met from the Civil List - which is shortly due for its 10-year review by Parliament. But only 3 per cent of its staff are from ethnic minorities.

Mr Hughes says the head of state should lead by example. "Your legal rights should be the same whether you work for the monarch or for the local corner store," he said. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, emphasised in January that public bodies should set the pace in promoting equal opportunities in employment.

The present measures have been drafted to extend and strengthen existing race relations law in response to the Macpherson report into the police handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder. But the Queen will be exempt, although she has in the past been covered by such legislation.

Buckingham Palace does not accept that the Queen has been covered by such laws, even after taking legal advice. But recently released public records show palace and Home Office officials met in 1968 to discuss the implications of the monarch being covered by that year's Race Relations Act, which remained in force until the mid-Seventies.

The royal households refuse to give detailed breakdowns, but they draw a much lower ratio of staff from the ethnic minorities than that of the population in London, where they are primarily based. One in four of the capital's population is from the ethnic minorities; in inner London the figure is one in three.

There has not been an appointment of a black or Asian from the Commonwealth at the top level since the two-month spell by a Ghanaian press secretary in 1959, just before the royal visit to West Africa. There is no suggestion that the Queen is personally anything but a champion of the multi-racial Commonwealth, although accusations of holding racist stereotypes have dogged Prince Philip, after ill-considered remarks.

Two Asian women have recently been seconded from management consultancies to fill senior posts for a year in the unit that co-ordinates the Royal Family's public engagements. These temporary posts are believed to be the first non-white appointments for nearly 40 years to the Queen's élite Members of the Household, who number just over 30.

A senior palace official said that 3 per cent of the total workforce of the Queen's Household were from ethnic minorities, but would not provide a breakdown by grades.

The large majority of government employers do poorly in ethnic minority representation at the highest levels. For example, the Home Office shows only 1 per cent at senior grades in London, although 28 per cent at white-collar grades.

The Palace insists it is an equal opportunities employer, and six months ago began seminars on the issue. It also now advertises vacancies in ethnic minority publications. A new director of personnel, Elizabeth Hunka, was brought in in October to "modernise" this side of the monarchy.

The Prince of Wales has performed slightly better than the Queen in recruitment. Two years ago he appointed an Afro-Caribbean press secretary, and he has pressed for last 15 years for the recruitment of more ethnic minorities to the Guards and other élite regiments associated with the Royal Family.

The Queen Mother's representative said she could give no details about staff as hers was "a private house". However, the salaries are paid from public money.