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The BBC's Robin Denselow
"If there's one issue on which new labour promised to make a difference, it's race"
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Bill Morris, Transport and General Workers' Union
"A climate of fear has been created"
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UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw
"I'm very proud of our record on race relations"
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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Government defends race record

The government has defended its record on race relations after coming under fire from a prominent trade unionist.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said he was completely mystified by the claims made by Transport and General Workers Union leader Bill Morris that its recent policies discriminated against ethnic minorities.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has also rejected the claims made by Mr Morris' in a newspaper article.


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Race hate: A demonstration against asylum seekers
Mr Straw told the BBC he viewed the government "as a beacon of race relations in this country".

"I am very proud indeed of our record on race relations," he said.

"We're doing more than any government has done since the last Labour government in the 1970s to improve race relations."

Listing the government's achievements, Mr Straw cited the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill, which is currently before Parliament, and other measures taken in the wake of the Macpherson report in to the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Mr Morris, who has been a lifelong Labour supporter, wrote in The Independent that black supporters of the government were losing faith because the government's policies were "giving life to racists".

Downing Street said the prime minister "rejects absolutely the claim that the government fans or fosters racism in any shape or form".

A spokesman said Mr Morris was "entitled to his views", but insisted the government could legitimately claim to have done more than any other to improve race relations.

Mr Morris had never expressed his concerns to the prime minister in private, but the home secretary "would be happy" to discuss them with him in the coming days, said the spokesman.

Asylum policy attacked

The union leader also attacked the government's actions towards asylum seekers as "utterly insane".

But Mr Straw defended the decision to issue vouchers instead of cash to asylum seekers: "We wanted to avoid a situation where people came into this country not to claim asylum but to get benefits."

Both Labour and Conservatives were referred to the Commission for Racial Equality earlier this week on their language towards asylum seekers.

Mr Morris warned that for the first time in his experience, race would be an issue in next month's local elections.

"The whole climate has changed on the basis of some of the policies that are being promoted," Mr Morris told the BBC.

Referring to comments made by Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien who described the department as institutionally racist, Mr Morris said: "The government has to do its job and the law has to be obeyed, but I am complaining about the culture that surrounds the law.

"If you are saying black people should trust a department that is institutionally racist and that none of the policies that come out of that department is infected by that sort of culture, that is insulting people's intelligence."

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See also:

14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Profile: Bill Morris
02 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum vouchers spark protests
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum cost under fire
08 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Row over Home Office 'racism'
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
06 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Government defends asylum delays
14 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Pressure on Straw over asylum seekers
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