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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 09:58 GMT
Four decades of UK race law
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

Empire Windrush
The Empire Windrush brought many Caribbean immigrants to the UK
On the 40th anniversary of the UK's first Race Relations Act, the BBC News website looks back to when it was introduced and at developments since then.

Forty years ago racial discrimination in every sphere of life was commonplace for ethnic minorities in the UK.

Commonwealth citizens invited to come and help the 'mother country' after the end of the World War II routinely faced signs stating 'No Blacks' as they searched for lodgings.

As well as housing, the 'Windrush generation' - so-called after the ship which brought many Caribbean immigrants to the UK in 1948 - often found themselves refused entry to public places like restaurants or pubs on the basis of nothing but the colour of their skin.

Ken Martindale, of history group Black British Heritage, came to the UK with his parents in 1957 and remembers the early days well.

"My father was a bus conductor so he was at the coal face with the general public. He was assaulted several times, spat on quite regularly, fares were thrown to the ground because people refused to put money in his hand," Mr Martindale recalls.
Racism was rife through the whole of UK life
Ken Martindale, Black British Heritage

The 1965 Race Relations Act was a limited piece of legislation pushed through by a Labour government in the face of fierce opposition from the Conservatives.

It made it unlawful to refuse access to anyone on racial grounds to public places such as hotels, restaurants, pubs, cinemas or public transport.

Refusing to rent accommodation to people because of their race was also no longer allowed and stirring up racial hatred -'incitement' - became a criminal offence.


It also set up the Race Relations Board - the predecessor of today's Commission for Racial Equality.

But Ken Martindale says even after the 1968 amendment - which outlawed discrimination in areas such as employment and providing goods and services - there was little change.

"It made a difference to the government and the statute books but in real terms there was no benefit. Racism was rife through the whole of UK life," he said.

CRE Chairman Trevor Phillips
CRE chairman Trevor Phillips says there is still more to be done
It was not until the Race Relations Act of 1976 that things really began to improve, Mr Martindale added.

That law made both direct and indirect discrimination an offence and gave those affected by discrimination redress through employment tribunals and the courts.

And in 2001 another amendment to the Act brought public bodies, including local authorities and police, under its scope for the first time obliging them to ensure their policies resulted in the equal treatment of all.

At an event to commemorate the 40 years of race law, CRE chair Trevor Phillips said significant progress had been made since 1965 but there was still more to do.

"The fact that we have strong anti-discrimination laws has led to the near disappearance of commonplace practices which disfigured our society. That does not mean they don't ever happen but today they are the exception rather than the rule."

Racial tensions

But in spite of laws against racial discrimination, ethnic minorities Britons still lag behind their white counterparts in many respects.

Boys of Caribbean and Bangladeshi origin underachieve at school, ethnic minorities are more likely to be unemployed and are under-represented in key institutions such as parliament, the senior judiciary and police force.

Now more than ever, the public debate has to be about prioritising racism
Denis Fernando, National Assembly Against Racism

Overtly racist behaviour is generally frowned upon but there are clear signs Britain, as a whole, is not at ease with its racial diversity.

Far-right groups such as the British National Party have seen an upsurge in their popularity, particularly in northern English towns such as Burnley and Bradford which in 2001 witnessed racial clashes between white and Asian youths.

More recently fighting in Birmingham between black and Asian groups showed racial tensions are still very much part of life in some parts of the UK.

'Public debate'

Muslims feel particularly vulnerable in the wake of terror attacks says Tahir Butt of the Muslim Safety Forum who feels the UK's race laws have not kept up with the complexity of racial discrimination in the UK.

Muslim women
Muslims are not specifically covered by the UK's race relations laws

"We were talking about prayer rooms at work recently and how some employers are still quoting the 2001 Amendment Act to say there's no legal requirement for us to have a prayer room at work' but this is a basic requirement for Muslims.

"The act did address some issues to a smaller extent but still there needs to be more protection. Muslims do still feel vulnerable especially after the terrorist attacks and the polarisation of some communities ," Mr Butt said.

And some race groups are concerned that the government's proposal to create a single equalities body encompassing race, disability and gender issues may result in racial tensions increasing.

Denis Fernando of the National Assembly Against Racism says race issues need specialised attention.

"Dedicated resources are critical at a time which has seen a rise in racist attacks, increased votes for the openly racist BNP, and the brutal murder of young black people like Anthony Walker. Now more than ever, the public debate has to be about prioritising racism," Mr Fernando said.

BNP national press officer Dr Phill Edwards said: "The BNP has no policy of hostility or 'hate' towards individual members of ethnic minorities but we recognise that the creation of this multiracial/multicultural society from a previously racial homogeneous one in just a few years, has introduced tensions through the natural tendency of each group to favour its own co-racials."

He added that the party was using the democratic process to help prompt a free and open debate on whether it was "in the interests of the native (white) British people" to continue with a policy of "enforced racial diversity, without a democratic mandate".

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