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July 01, 2000

Government condemned for reneging on religious question pledge

Faith communities have condemned the Government for reneging on its promise to include a religion question in next year's census following the further postponement on a required legislation amendment, The Muslim News reports. The Home Office has denied that this is the case. Home Office Minister, Mike O'Brien, blamed the Conservative MPs Eric Forth and David MacLean for vetoing the Private Members Bill. "It is once in 10 year opportunity to get information about faith communities on to the Census so that we can establish whether a particular faith community have their needs," he told The Muslim News and added, "the Government wants to see this through."

The monthly quotes Revd. Prof. Leslie Francis of the 2001 Census Religious Affiliation group expressing his "extreme disappointment" at the failure of the government to provide parliamentary time to amend the 1920 Census Act.

"The Government was well aware of moves to 'sabotage' the Private Members Bill by some MPs were in place and the faith communities asked the Government to take a different track," he said. He contrasted the lack of measures with the success of the Scottish Assembly to put legislation in place to enable the changes.

The criticism follows today's postponement of the second reading of the Bill to amend the 1920 Census Act until Monday. The delay in the amendment, originally introduced by cross-party peer, Lord Weatherill, is the third and means there is little likelihood that a religious question will be included in time for next year's census. A spokesperson at the Home Office told The Muslim News that the Private Member's Bill will be part of the main Parliamentary business on Monday but "will be in a queue".

The outgoing Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Iqbal Sacranie, has said he was also "utterly dismayed." He told The Muslim News that the campaign to include a region question, which was supported by all faith communities, could end in "failure because the Government did not allow legislation time for a debate".

An editorial in this month's The Muslim News, reminds its readers that Home Secretary Jack Straw offered assurances in 1998 and again more recently in interviews with the paper about the Government's determination to include a religion question in the 2001 Census.

"The first indications that the Government may be reneging on its promise came when an amendment was agreed to make the religion question voluntary after pressure from some members of the Jewish and Christian communities and the Tory Party," its editor Ahmed Versi said. He added that faith communities had also expressed fears to the Government about the lack of parliamentary time before the postponements.

The Muslim News repeated assertions by Home Office that it was still "very much committed to see the Bill through," while admitting it "may be very tight" for the Treasury to publish in its "regulations" on the census due the week after the Whitsun holidays. It also quoted Revd Francis saying that he was told by the Treasury "if there is no success for 2001 then we can have it for 2011" as the "most insulting comment."

However, the Home Office has denied that it has reneged on its promise and has put the blame on the Tory Party saying it is the two Conservative MPs, Eric Forth and David Maclean who blocked the passage by asking for a debate.

Faith groups have been campaigning to include a question on religious identity in the census in order to provide much-needed data on minority communities for central and local governments to plan a more equitable allocation of public resources and better services such as community relations, health care, education, employment and housing.

For further information contact us on 020 7608 2822 or 077 68 241 325. Please acknowledge The Muslim News when using the press release

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