TIME FOR A lonely stand today. How can anyone have doubts about legislation to outlaw racial discrimination? Surely such a law would be a good thing and we should have good things. Now I readily admit that I do not suffer much from racial discrimination although epithets such as 'cheesehead' and 'cloggy' do not always go down well, nor does being asked which finger I used to plug the dyke. But, cross my heart, it is not because I want to indulge unhindered in racist tendencies that I have my doubts about enacting a law against racial discrimination. It is rather because this will be an ineffective law unless it is given real teeth and the only way to do it will entail yet another invasion of liberties. I raise the subject because a notable colleague in the journalism trade, Stephen Vines, the publisher of Spike, did so this week. Writing in this 'Journal of Intellect and Science', he castigated Home Affairs Secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping for using the excuse of 'increasingly heated' debate to delay the introduction of the new law. Mr Vines' case is that the legislation has met with general approval in extensive public consultations, even from the business community, that it addresses a real need, that arguments against it have proved specious and that it is only delayed at the moment by the opposition of some employers' organisations who object on the grounds of cost. Dealing with the contention that anti-discrimination laws have not stopped discrimination in the United States or Britain, he wrote: 'However, no one has argued that legislation prevents discrimination. What it does is put the imprimatur of the state on the notion that discrimination is abhorrent and will not be tolerated.' This is a worthwhile objective, Steve, and I fully support it, but now let us look at what will happen in practice if we have the law in place. There will be no problem using it against an employer who rejects the clearly most qualified candidate for a job on the publicly stated grounds that 'you're an Indian and we don't hire your sort of people around here'. Let it happen just once, however, and the employer will not use that line again. Instead, he will say that he closely considered the merits of all the candidates and came to a decision on the basis of a range of factors that necessarily contained an element of subjective judgment about their suitability to the job, a judgment to which his experience of the business entitles him. How do you prove him a liar? The clue is in the annexes to the consultation paper on this law, which state that 'it will be necessary to designate a statutory agency to monitor, promote and enforce the eventual ordinance' and that the legislation 'might introduce a certain degree of rigidity to business operations in the economy'. In other words, a new quango will have to be established. It will have to formulate and publish a complicated series of rules, procedures and provisions for tribunals to determine whether the employer was a liar and to penalise him if it deems he was. It will put yet another burden of paperwork and human resources infrastructure on employers and further induce them to hire people on service provision contracts rather than as employees. It will be costly, time-consuming and still open to abuse by liars, among whose number there will undoubtedly be jobseekers who are easily subject to feelings of grievance and have learned how to work the system. There is no way around it. Either the law has teeth, and this is the only way to give it teeth, or we must be satisfied with general statements of principle to requite our yearnings for international sophistication, and we can do this without legislation. We may well consider it worth the cost to have the teeth. If so, well and good. But I do not think we should too quickly disparage the views of employer organisations that see the drawbacks. It will be they who are made to suffer. They have a legitimate worry that their hiring decisions will at any time be subjected to the whims of bureaucrats who have little knowledge of their businesses and who can put them under a cloud of suspicion that they did not deserve. If we want this law, then we must allay their worries. I grant you, Steve, that it does not help matters when Dr Ho dodges the issue by claiming it is a heated one and you are absolutely right that heat does not elsewhere stop this government from proceeding with initiatives it favours. But if he avoids heat, it was never my impression that you did. Let us deal with the heat where the heat is to be found.