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The BBC's John Devitt
"The report's key proposals have become somewhat lost in a row over what it means to be British"
 real 28k

Lord Bhiku Parekh and Dr Raj Chandran
in debate
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Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
No to rethink on British identity
children at a sports day
Britain's ethnic mix is increasing
Home Secretary Jack Straw has rejected requests for a rethink about what it means to be British after the publication of a report which examined the nation's ethnic mix.

The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain calls on ministers to make a formal declaration that Britain is a multi-cultural and multi-faith society.

"I am proud of what I believe to be the best of British values

Home Secretary Jack Straw

Proposals concerning education, employment and criminal justice are among 138 recommendations set out in the study published on Wednesday.

Critics of the report - including Home Secretary Jack Straw - say it goes too far by suggesting the use of the word British should be called into question because of its racial connotations of "white colonialism".

The two-year study co-ordinated by the Runnymede Trust also suggests the way forward for the nation should be as a "community of communities".

Equality action

The Commissioners, which include Greater London Assembly chairman Trevor Phillips and Labour peer Lord Bhiku Parekh, recommend Britain follow the example of Australia, Canada and the US in acknowledging the multi-cultural society.

The report also recommends a new human rights commission, an equality commission as well as a single Equality Act to cover all unlawful discrimination.
Home Secretary Jack Straw
Home Secretary Jack Straw: proud to be British

Government policy on asylum seekers comes under fire for creating "statelessness and racial and ethnic divisions".

But the fiercest controversy has centred over its recommendations on the use of the word 'British'.

Straw backs Britishness

Although the government is sympathetic to many of the report's specific recommendations, it has rejected its views on Britishness and re-affirmed its commitment to a British national identity.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said:

"Everyone should stand up for Britain and for British values and celebrate the nation's diversity - a stance the Government was following.

"I do not accept the arguments of those on the nationalist right or the liberal left that Britain as a cohesive whole is dead.

"I am proud of what I believe to be the best of British values."

But the commission says it has been misinterpreted at a time of complex and highly charged debate over the race issue.

"We do not denigrate British history. There is a very important role for a common national culture and a common civic nationality. But we are requesting this common culture needs to be discussed and renegotiated," Commission chairman Lord Parekh said.

'PC garbage'

Some Conservative ministers condemn it as a missed opportunity which fails to recognise the progress already being made.

Tory MP Gerald Howarth, a member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said the report was "corrosive, new Labour, politically correct garbage".

He said the overwhelming majority of the population were homogenous, white, Anglo Saxons.

"People choose to come and live here to take advantage of our tolerance and prosperity," he said.

"We should not engage in flagellation over our glorious past - I for one am proud of our imperial heritage."

The Association of Chief Police Officers has welcomed the report, saying it broadens the debate on the challenges facing multi-ethnic Britain.

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See also:

11 Oct 00 | UK
What is Britishness?
23 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Row over UK 'racism'
14 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Government 'gives comfort' to racists
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