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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 16:15 GMT
Institutional racism tag 'over-used'
Commission for Racial Equality
Watchdog chair criticises unrepresentative assemblies
Commission for Racial Equality chairman Gurbux Singh has condemned over-use of the term institutional racism.

The use of the term has become widespread since the publication of Sir William Macpherson's Stephen Lawrence inquiry, but Mr Singh says constant labelling is "silly".

Mr Singh also said the House of Lords is now the UK's most representative democratic institution in terms of ethnic minorities, with the House of Commons lagging behind.


We need to see that our democratic institutions reflect the composition of modern Britain

Gurbux Singh
CRE chairman

In an interview on a politics website, ePolitix.com, he commented that there was "gross under-representation" of ethnic minorities in Britain's political institutions.

But asked whether political parties were institutionally racist, he said: "Institutional racism is an overly-used label."

"What I am concerned about is that political parties accept that frankly there is gross under-representation and they need to do something about it."

CRE chairman Gurbux Singh
Gurbux Singh: Chairman warns public services over new bill
And it was "wholly inadequate" that there were only nine people from ethnic minorities in the House of Commons.

The absence of ethnic minority representatives from the Scottish and Welsh assemblies and in the Greater London Assembly also came under fire.

He said: "We need to see that our democratic institutions are far more representative, reflecting the composition of modern Britain.

"The nearest institution that comes to that is the House of Lords which is our oldest democratic institution."

'Discriminatory'

Race relations expert Dr Chris Husbands, of the London School of Economics' sociology department, said institutional racism did need a tighter definition.

He said: "To the extent that it is rather loosely and vapidly used Mr Singh has probably got a point."

Dr Husbands defined institutional racism as "practices which are inherent in procedures rather than personalities of an organisation which produce discriminatory and disadvantaged outcomes according to ethnic group membership".

In the interview, Mr Singh also warned that some areas of the public sector "will be found wanting" when the Race Relations Amendment Bill came into force next year.

He identified the NHS and schools as two areas which needed to be looked at closely.

The CRE is a publicly-funded body set up under the Race Relations Act 1976 to tackle racial discrimination and promote equality.

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See also:

20 Nov 00 | Education
Young black people demand a say
17 Nov 00 | UK
Racism behind bars
27 Oct 00 | Education
Teacher racism 'not whole story'
27 Oct 00 | Education
Ethnic pupils 'failed by system'
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