Whitehall race bar exposed

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The Independent Online
No Asians work in Whitehall's four most elite grades and ethnic minorities are under-represented at all levels of the civil service, according to a report out tomorrow.

The document, put together by the Labour MP Keith Vaz, draws on the Government's own statistics to argue that the door to the corridors of power is still firmly shut to blacks and Asians.

The report comes in the wake of the row last week over Lord Tebbit's attack on multi-culturalism, and follows pledges from the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet colleagues to champion the plight of ethnic minorities.

Leicester East MP Mr Vaz, the party's most senior Asian parliamentarian, challenged ministers to improve on the record of the last government.

He said: "The lack of Asians representedin the ranks of [the] civil service ... should be considered a matter of national shame. It belies our claim to be a multi-racial society.

"If we are to confine the disgraceful comments of Norman Tebbit to the dustbin of history we need to make rapid progress towards a multi-racial civil service with members of the Asian community at the heart of government, not just languishing on the lowest grades."

The report, entitled "The Glass Ceiling" reveals that the Cabinet Office, which has overall responsibility for the civil service, has no blacks or Asians in the top five grades. The Foreign Office has no blacks or Asians in the top five civil service grades, and Clare Short's new Department for International Development has just one, on grade five.

Of Mr Blair's own staff of 54 advisers in Downing Street there is just one Afro-Caribbean and no Asians.

The Ministry of Defence does better, with six Asians on grade five.

Mr Vaz's report concludes that there is under-representation at many levels of the civil service. Even the government car service emerges poorly from the report. Only two drivers, 0.8 per cent of the service, are of Asian origin, and three are Afro-Caribbean (1.2 per cent of the workforce).

The MP, who was refused information by several departments, plans to make publication and annual event, with a yearly "progress index".

The findings will cause concern in government because of the rhetoric from senior ministers since their election. At this year's Labour Party conference the Prime Minister referred to the lack of black High Court judges, chief constables, permanent secretary and army officers above the rank of colonel.

Critics argue that Mr Blair should adopt President Clinton's motto that his government should "look like America".