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Community Affairs correspondent Geeta Guru-Murthy
"Minorities represent less than 1% of senior civil servants"
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Saturday, 8 April, 2000, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Row over Home Office 'racism'
Home Office
Looking to be a beacon of good practice
A Home Office minister has sparked a row over race relations and recruitment by accusing his own department of being institutionally racist.

Mike O'Brien said that 30% of staff had experienced discrimination and that talented staff from ethnic minorities were being lost.

About 20% - one in five - of Home Office staff are from ethnic backgrounds, and across Whitehall, there has been a drive to increase recruitment and promotion of ethnic minority staff.

Writing in The Parliamentary Monitor, Mr O'Brien, the minister responsible for race relations, said: "Our policy is one of strong anti-racism. But our organisation, both internally and in the services it delivers, fails to reflect our multiracial society.


All too often we are losing the best and the brightest people from ethnic minorities

Mike O'Brien
"Positive progress within the Home Office will pave the way for the introduction of similar targets in other Whitehall departments, and public sector organisations."

He said Home Secretary Jack Straw was determined that the department and its services would become a beacon of good practice in the public sector.

Last year, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry redefined institutional racism as "the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin".

Mr O'Brien wrote: "The Home Office is institutionally racist. That does not mean that all its staff are racist."

He went on: "The Home Office is the lead department on race equality within the government. If we wish the wider public to share our vision of the way forward, the Home Office needs to ensure it gets its house in order as does the rest of the public sector as well.

"A recent staff survey was disappointing: 30% of staff felt they had been discriminated against. All too often, we are losing the best and the brightest people from ethnic minorities because our organisation is not encouraging them."

'Cut ethnic minority staff'

But a Tory MP accused Mr O'Brien of political correctness and said if the Home Office was consistent, it would reduce the number of ethnic minority employees on its staff.

Aldershot MP Gerald Howarth dismissed Mr O'Brien's remarks as "a total absurdity".


This government has become completely obsessed with political correctness

Gerald Howarth
He said: "This is demonstrated by the fact that 20% of the staff are from ethnic minorities. That is well in excess of their representation of the population as a whole.

"The home secretary is insisting that police forces recruit ethnic minority people in proportion to the population. On that basis, we should be reducing the number of ethnic minority people working for the Home Office."

Mr Howarth said there seemed to be one rule for ethnic minorities and another for the rest.

"The home secretary should slap down Mr O'Brien for his quite ludicrous assertion.

"This government has become completely obsessed with political correctness and race issues.

"Yet it does absolutely nothing about the situation in Zimbabwe where a black tyrant is getting his thugs forcibly to remove the people who built up that country simply because they are white."

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See also:

28 Jul 99 | UK Politics
Ethnic targets for public services
25 Mar 99 | Stephen Lawrence
The Lawrence inquiry
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