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The BBC's Guto Harri
"The party now says there should be no confusion"
 real 56k

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Originally the plan was for the main party leaders alone to sign up on behalf of their candidates"
 real 56k

Conservative Party chairman, Michael Ancram
"William Hague signed the compact on behalf of the whole Conservative party"
 real 28k

Sunday, 22 April, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Hague moves to end race row
William Hague
Hague: 'Happy' to sign CRE compact
William Hague has insisted that accusations of racism against his party have far more to do with avoiding debate on the issue of asylum than prejudice in Conservative ranks.

I will not be brow-beaten or in any way discouraged by the insults thrown at me

William Hague
The Tory leader accused Labour of trying to create a smokescreen in an attempt to hide problems in the asylum system.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph, the Tory leader wrote: "Labour politicians try to censor any discussion (of asylum) by labelling all who raise the issue as racist. It is a shabby and contemptible ploy.

"I will not be brow-beaten or in any way discouraged by the insults thrown at me."

Mr Hague's article is his latest attempt to end the spiralling row over Tory attitude to racism and in it he insists that it has "no place" in the party.

On Saturday, he said he was "happy" to sign a Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) anti-racism compact on behalf of his party, adding that individual members are not expected to do so too.

His comments come 24 hours after his number two Michael Portillo declared he would not be signing the CRE pledge.

I did not expect or require all candidates to sign the (CRE) compact individually

William Hague
Claims of a Tory split culminated in Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy accusing Mr Hague of being unfit to lead his party or the country.

But Mr Hague has moved swiftly by releasing his statement, which declares that "racism has no place in the Conservative Party or its campaigning".

He goes on: "That is why I was happy to sign the CRE compact on behalf of the party and its candidates at the forthcoming election.

"I did not expect or require all candidates to sign the compact individually, as Michael Portillo made clear on Friday. I have instead placed (party chairman) Michael Ancram in charge of investigating any alleged misconduct.

William Hague's position is increasingly untenable as every day goes by

Charles Kennedy
"The CRE has made clear publicly and in conversations with us that the compact is not designed to inhibit robust debate on matters of concern to people, such as the current state of our asylum system. The Conservatives will continue to expose Labour's failures in this and in other areas.

"We believe it is in the interest of all the public, whatever their background may be, that we have an asylum system whose rules are fairly and firmly applied and where the laws are properly enforced. We will continue to campaign vigorously on that basis."

The CRE has also tried to lower the political temperature by saying it did not want to pressure MPs into signing the election compact.

That compact was drawn up to encourage politicians not to use racist language during the forthcoming general election campaign.

'Witch-hunt' reminder

But the pact has attracted increasing criticism, with some Tory MPs rejecting it outright and a former minister calling it "loathsome and offensive".

One Tory backbencher has said the CRE's actions reminded him of the anti-communist witch-hunts in the US in the 1950s.

Asked about the pledge during a trip to Wales on Friday, Mr Portillo said he had not signed it "because I speak for myself and I have said that I offer equality of esteem to everyone in this country".

Signature totals

Some 78% of Labour MPs, 100% of Liberal Democrats and 35% of Tories have so far signed the compact.

Labour has said that all its MPs will be expected to sign.

Tory Party chairman Michael Ancram has insisted it was clear from the start that Mr Hague had signed the compact on behalf of the whole party.

But Charles Kennedy said: "I think William Hague's position is increasingly untenable as every day goes by.

"If he can't lead his party in a united sense he certainly isn't fit to lead the country after a general election."

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See also:

21 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Race body plays down pledge row
20 Apr 01 | UK
Are the British a race?
20 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Full text of anti-racism election pledge
20 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Portillo refuses to sign race pledge
20 Apr 01 | UK Politics
'Blackmail' claim in race row
19 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Tories reject Cook race claim
17 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Tory candidates warned over racism
04 Apr 01 | UK Politics
MP defends race comments
01 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Michael Portillo: A political rebirth
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