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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Lib Dems propose new equality agency
Charles Kennedy launches mini-manifesto for ethnic minorities
Kennedy: Negative campaigning will backfire
The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) would be swallowed up into a wider equality commission under new Liberal Democrat proposals.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy announced the plan as part of a new party manifesto for ethnic minorities.

The move follows calls for reform of the CRE in the wake of its efforts to persuade all election candidates to sign a pact against racism.

The Lib Dems say the plans were drawn up before the current race row and are aimed at forming a commission to tackle all kinds of discrimination.

New powers

The proposed new Equality Commission would bring together the CRE with other commissions to oversee laws on gender, disability, religion and sexuality, as well as race.

It would be able to investigate and take action on breaches of a new Equality Act, rather than wait for individual victims to take action.

The CRE has already been given new powers of investigation.

Lord Navnit Dholakia
Dholakia: Issues more than just race
The Lib Dems say the new act would strengthen the fight against discrimination by consolidating piecemeal legislation.

They also want to establish policy hate crime investigation units to co-ordinate information and action against racist and so-called "hate" crimes.

Former CRE member Dr Raj Chandran, who was a Tory candidate in 1997, has called for the radical reform of the commission to restore is credibility.

He claims the CRE is filled with Labour supporters who want to portray Conservatives as racists.

But Lib Dem president Lord Navnit Dholakia said his party's proposals were not a reaction to the current controversy.

Wider remit

"The issues which confront this country are far more than issues of race," he said.

His party wanted a commission with a broader remit as well as a new and separate human rights commission.

Mr Kennedy insisted that his party would mount a positive campaign on the race issue during the forthcoming election campaign.

And he issued this warning: "I think that if there is an attempt by certain candidates to play on people's fears as opposed to addressing their hopes it will backfire badly."

Mr Kennedy again called on Mr Hague to withdraw the whip from Tory MPs who refused to sign the CRE pledge.

Heath contrast

The Lib Dem leader contrasted Mr Hague's failure to do so with Sir Edward Heath's "principled" sacking of Enoch Powell after his infamous "rivers of blood" speech.

"We have not seen the same resolution or determination from present party leadership," he said.

The mini-manifesto also includes plans to reform current immigration laws to prevent the splitting-up of asylum seekers and their families and to replace the voucher system.

It also promises regular reviews of immigration policy, which would take account of the UK's skills needs.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Ann Widdecombe is now attacking the role of the CRE too"
Ann Widdecombe MP on Breakfast with Frost
"People have got to make their own decisions"
Dr Roy Chandran former member of the CRE
claims the CRE has become a wing of the Labour Party

Race row
Should race be an election issue?

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