Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 15:32 UK

BNP to consider non-white members

BNP leader Nick Griffin
Nick Griffin faced legal action over the BNP constitution

BNP leader Nick Griffin has agreed to ask his party to amend its constitution so it does not discriminate on grounds of race or religion, a court heard.

The UK's equalities watchdog had argued the BNP broke the Race Relations Act by restricting members to "indigenous Caucasian" people.

The court heard Mr Griffin had agreed to use "all reasonable endeavours" to revise its constitution.

BNP members will be asked to agree to the changes at a meeting in November.

Mr Griffin was not at the hearing at Central London County Court on Thursday morning.

Membership frozen

But Robin Allen QC, counsel for the commission, said Mr Griffin had agreed to present party members with a revised constitution at its general meeting next month and the party had agreed not to accept new members in the meantime.

The BNP agreed to use "all reasonable endeavours" to revise its constitution so it did not discriminate on what are termed "protected characteristics" in clause four of the Equality Bill - which include race, gender and religious belief.

John Wadham of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

But BBC correspondent Andy Tighe said it remained to be seen whether Mr Griffin could persuade his party to allow the change.

The case centred around a section in the BNP constitution which said membership was restricted to "indigenous British ethnic groups" including the "Anglo-Saxon folk community" and the "Celtic Scottish folk community".

During a previous hearing the judge said no evidence had been presented to suggest many people from ethnic minorities wanted to join the BNP.

But John Wadham, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that was not the point.

'Not political'

He told the BBC: "Everyone has to obey the law in this country, we have already taken proceedings against the Labour Party, we have now won these proceedings against the British National Party.

"The law is for everyone, this is not a political issue for us, the key issue for us is the lawfulness of their membership criteria. It is for other people to decide whether their policies are right or wrong."

BNP spokesman Chris Roberts on the party's membership

He added it was "unfortunate the BNP spent several months before conceding and dealing properly with our legal requirements" and said the EHRC would be monitoring the party's compliance with the court order on membership.

This year's European elections saw the party have its first two Euro MPs elected.

BNP spokesman Chris Roberts told the BBC: "If we want to be in the electoral process, which we do, and we are being forced by the establishment to change our rules then we are going to have to change them.

"But the fundamental beliefs of our party and our core principles will never change."

Bankruptcy fear

On the BNP website Mr Griffin had asked supporters to help fund the "horrendous" bills for the legal case and accused the commission of "trying to bankrupt us".

Richard Barnbrook, the party's representative on the London Assembly, said he believed BNP members would vote in favour of a reformed constitution.

"The first reason being that trying to fight this court case would bankrupt the party and we have more important issues to deal with, including elections."

The court heard Mr Griffin would be given 10 days to submit a signed undertaking confirming the proposed changes. The case was adjourned until 28 January.

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