Lords amendment: No. 273, in page 81, line 29, after "committed;" insert—
(aa) for racially discriminatory behaviour to be made a specific disciplinary offence;
§ Mr. Brittan
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
I start by assuring the House that it is inconceivable that this Government would take the position that I am asking the House to take this evening if we thought that doing so would harm or cast a slur upon the police. I can say without fear of contradiction that the degree of support that we have rightly and consistently given the police is unparalleled. Everyone is particularly conscious of the enormous burden that they are shouldering in connection with the miners' dispute. They face physical assault and wholly unjustified attacks and my colleagues and I have been at the forefront in defending them — not only verbally but financially, legally and in every other possible way.
When it comes to the lot of the individual policeman, as opposed to the tasks to be performed by the police service as a whole, we have adopted the same approach. We have implemented the Edmund-Davies report on police pay in full and stuck to it, and in this Bill we are providing for the first time what has long been sought—legal representation for police officers in serious disciplinary hearings.
The Bill will provide valuable powers for the police: clearer powers generally, more powers to stop and search and more power to search for evidence of crime. We have consistently resisted repeated efforts during the course of the lengthy consideration of the Bill to cut the powers of the police. It is now important to get on the statute book an important piece of legislation which is of great value to the police and to the community. It is against the background of that record and that approach that I strenuously rebut any suggestion that the Government would even contemplate being party to any step which would damage the genuine interests of the police service.
The House will recall the origin of the amendment. It was a recommendation by Lord Scarman in his report on the Brixton disturbances, published in 1981. Following the recommendation, the previous Home Secretary consulted the police advisory board, on which are represented the police, staff and local authority associations.
The board was unanimous that there could be no question of racially discriminatory behaviour being tolerated in the police service. The police service is totally opposed to such behaviour. It is wholly deplored. The board did not think that such behaviour should not lead to disciplinary action, but it noted that such behaviour could be dealt with under the existing police discipline code, and it therefore recommended that the creation of a specific disciplinary offence would not be appropriate. It believed 1062 that racially discriminatory behaviour was not tolerable to the police, that it should be a disciplinary offence and that it was already a disciplinary offence. That position was accepted by the Government. It remains our view that a specific offence is unnecessary because the existing provisions of the code, such as discreditable conduct and abuse of authority, are wide enough in their scope to catch all conceivable instances of racially discriminatory behaviour. The House will be aware that the position was put most forcefully by my noble Friend Lord Elton in the recent debate in another place. As the House will also be aware, those arguments did not prevail there.
The decision before this House is, therefore, whether to reject the amendment that has been made, and take out of the Bill a provision that has been put in it. That is not the same as deciding whether to put it in in the first place. The creation of this new specific disciplinary offence will not materially affect the reality of disciplinary procedures, because anyone who would fall foul of it would fall foul of existing disciplinary provisions. Therefore, it does not in any way prejudice the position of police officers; nor does it in any way impute racial discrimination to the police service.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
My right hon. and learned Friend, with the considerable authority of his office, said that the amendment would not damage the police service. If so, why are the police advisory board and the police staff associations unanimous that it should not be accepted? Why is his judgment so much better than theirs?
§ Mr. Brittan
My hon. Friend could not have heard me explain that my view has not changed. As recently as 10 days ago, in another place, the Government opposed the amendment. My hon. Friend is aware that the basis on which the board and the Government did not feel it necessary to introduce such a provision was that the conduct that it sought to meet, which would be reprehensible if committed by a police officer, amounted to a disciplinary offence under another heading. There is a difference between something that is not necessary, and whose inclusion therefore one cannot support, and something that is objectionable because it imposes a new burden on the police service or introduces a new hazard.
When considering not what one supports and asks the House to include, but what one asks the House not to take out, different considerations arise. That is not an unreasonable position. The amendment does not make any practical difference to what is or is not a disciplinary offence. It does not in any way imply racial discrimination by the police service—another suggestion that has been made. One might just as well say that the offences of discreditable conduct and abuse of authority imply that the Government believe that those malpractices are characteristic of the police service.
The question has been asked: why single out the police service? I hear echoes of that from the Government Benches. By the very nature of their sensitive work and of the powers rightly given to them, it is inevitable that Parliament should control closely the way in which police work is carried out. That is, in part, what the Bill is about.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain how police work is less or more sensitive today than it was 10 days ago?
§ Mr. Brittan
I did not suggest that it was. I have explained why it is right that police work should be controlled, why the Bill controlls police work in considerable detail——
§ Mr. Brittan
I can deal with only one point at a time, although I am flattered that my hon. Friend thinks that I can deal with two.
Police work is controlled by the Bill. It is not unreasonable that racial discrimination, if proved, should be a disciplinary matter. That is the position of the police, and has been all along. The only question is whether there should be a specific provision to that effect. I have made it clear that I do not think that such a provision is necessary. I have not changed my view. There is a difference between a provision that is not necessary and one that is detrimental.
There has been a suggestion that the provision is not only detrimental to the police but singles them out. It is not surprising that there should be a closer regulation of police powers than of other powers. It is simply not true that the police are being singled out by having imposed upon them alone a public requirement that they should not engage in racially discriminatory behaviour.
Since 1973, the immigration rules, which have the force of law and regulate the work of the immigration service, have included the provision:Immigration officers will carry out their duties without regard to the race, colour or religion of people seeking to enter the United Kingdom.The fact that those provisions are in the rules rather than in the statute does not make any practical difference to their importance, because they have the effect of law.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
Are the provisions in the immigration rules contained in any statute?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Is my right hon. and learned Friend saying that the police regulations also have the force of law? We are talking about what is in the statute.
§ Mr. Brittan
The position is absolutely clear. The police regulations have the force of law. The provision that has been passed in another place introduces into statute a requirement that certain matters should be covered by police regulations. Those regulations will have to be promulgated. The provision is a skeleton provision, and no more than that. It must be seen in that context.
I am seeking to deal with the suggestion that there is something unique in including in a provision that has the force of law a requirement that there should not be discrimination on grounds of race. I have quoted the immigration rules as an example. In addition, there has been general legislation making it unlawful to discriminate on racial grounds in employment and housing and in the provision of a variety of services, including education and transport. That legislation bites directly on a large number of public servants in both central and local government. If they act contrary to that legislation, they will be subject to the appropriate disciplinary procedures.
For the purpose of arguing the merits or otherwise of that legislation, it is not possible to say that the police, by 1064 being mentioned expressly rather than covered by other disciplinary provisions, are being singled out in a unique manner.
§ Mr. Budgen
My right hon. and learned Friend deals with this mainly from the point of view of the police. Does he agree that from the point of view of the coloured community——
§ Mr. Budgen
The black community—this confers upon them an additional advantage which is not enjoyed by white people?
§ Mr. Brittan
I do not think that for one moment. If the police were to discriminate against people on other grounds, or were rude to them, they would be guilty of a disciplinary offence. For that reason—my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Whitelaw takes the same view —I have said that it was unnecessary to have such a provision. If that is so, all that this provision is doing is spelling out in a particular respect a ground for complaint which would be just as available to all other people who had been handled by the police in an objectionable way who could complain under the other disciplinary heads that I have mentioned.
I agree that, because it makes no difference, there was no necessity for such an amendment to be introduced. There is a difference in saying that the provision duplicates what already exists and saying that it imposes an extra hazard. Nothing that anyone has said can suggest that. To suggest that it imposes an extra hazard in contrary to the case that has been put forward on behalf of the police throughout the three years during which this debate has been conducted. In the board to which I have referred, the argument was not put that the police discriminate, or that they ought to discriminate, or if they discriminated it was anything other than objectionable and something against which complaint should be made.
The sole ground and argument put forward was that it was perfectly possible to complain against such discrimination and that, there fore, no change was needed. That was an argument that I accepted. It is inconsistent with that argument to say now that a specific provision of racially discriminatory behaviour adds to the burdens and impositions on the police. If one is seeking to give examples of other examples where there is specific reference to racial discrimination, one need mention not just immigration officers and the general provisions of the law which make racial discrimination unlawful and which apply to many public servants, but, in the private sector, the fact that the Bar Council is to consider a recommendation by the Senate of the Inns of Court to the effect that it should be an offence of professional misconduct for a barrister to cause or permit racial discrimination. It is expected that that recommendation will be accepted.
I bring forward all these points to make it clear, not just, as is the first limb of my argument, that the police service is not disadvantaged by this amendment, unnecessary though it be, but that it is in no sense a slur on them by singling them out or suggesting that they are uniquely or particularly prone to engage in racially discriminatory practices. I pay tribute to the genuine efforts that the police have made to improve race relations in recent years and 1065 to the fact that, if there has been an improvment in the Brixton area, it is in large part due to the efforts of the police.
If the amendment
were left in the Bill—this is the point my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) made—it would still be necessary to define in regulations what constitutes the offence of racially discriminatory behaviour. That will be done — I lay great stress on this—in the closest consultations with those who represent the police on the police advisory board. I attach the greatest importance to that.
I am happy to take this opportunity to assure the House that I will take the consultations seriously and make every effort to reach agreement on the regulations which would be practicable and fair to the police. I very much hope that it will be possible to reach that agreement.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
When my right hon. and learned Friend considers the regulations, will he be sure to provide that racist language and abuse fall within the scope of conduct prohibited by the regulations?
§ Mr. Brittan
In the absence of consultations, it would be unwise of me to jump the gun and say what will or will not be in the regulations. If any of my hon. Friends have views on the matter, they can be taken into account.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
When my right hon. and learned Friend brings forward the regulations, having had all the consultations that he has described, must they have the approval of the House and can they be amended?
§ Mr. Brittan
They will be subject to the negative procedure and can be prayed against.
At no stage during the lengthy debates on the Bill have the Government been prepared unacceptably to fetter police powers and discretion, nor to prejudice police interests. My hon. Friends will be aware of the enormous efforts that have been made within the House and outside it to force us to do just that. We have resolutely resisted any such attempts for two years now. That is true at this stage also.
In the past week, the Government have stated their view clearly on two other matters of much greater practical significance to the police than the amendment under discussion. We have successfully urged the House to reject amendments that would have prevented plain clothes officers from exercising powers to stop and search. That is a matter of practical importance which, if it had been allowed to stand, would have seriously impeded the police in carrying out their duties.
Today we have resisted an amendment on the exclusion of evidence proposed by Lord Scarman and passed into the Bill as a result of his efforts. We have won the vote on that issue. Both matters would have severely limited police effectiveness. Considering the Bill as a whole, I believe that no great issue of principle is at stake. Those who have argued against the amendment have done so not on the ground of principle but because they believe it to be unnecessary. We have a two-Chamber system of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. The other place has passed two other amendments which we believe have serious implications for the policing of this country and we have not hesitated to oppose them. We do not believe that 1066 it would be right to reject this amendment on racially discriminatory behaviour. I therefore advise the House to agree to it.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
On behalf of the Official Opposition, I give firm and unequivocal support to the amendment moved by Lord Scarman and passed in the other place which will make racially discriminatory behaviour a specific disciplinary offence in the police force. I do so after a defensive and, if I may say so, a mealy-mouthed speech by the Home Secretary, who seemed to be inciting his Back Benchers to vote as they wish. He was saying to the House that the Government do not support the amendment but believe that it should stay because it was passed in the other place. He then went on to cite two other instances where the Government invited us to vote against amendments passed in the other place. In code, what the Home Secretary was saying to his Back Benchers was, "Carry on chaps, you can vote against this. We do not care about it. It is not important." That is not the view of the Official Opposition. We consider the amendment to be important.
We also understand that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), the paid representative of the Police Federation, is to lead a much-publicised revolt. There has been an early-day motion signed by at least 16 Conservative Members who intend to oppose the amendment.
I say to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and the Police Federation, "If you are against racially discriminatory behaviour in the police force, you have no reason to oppose this amendment. What you are doing in your opposition is saying something very different to the police force. You are saying, 'Carry on chaps, it is OK the way that you are behaving now ''' They are saying that in the face of two important pieces of evidence. One is what the members of our black communities tell us about police behaviour and the normal language used by the police to them. The other is the findings of an extremely important report commissioned by the Metropolitan police and paid for in part by the Metropolitan police studying in detail policing behaviour, especially their language in matters of race and their behaviour towards black people.
I speak as one who has lived for a long time in the area which I represent. I have many black friends, and I have known over many years that the police do not behave in the way that is often suggested in the House. They are not little angels who always obey every rule and regulation. I read the evidence in the report of the Policy Studies Institute, and I was shocked by the extent and the crudity of the attitudes in the Metropolitan police towards our racial minorities. Anyone who is familiar with the report and who is willing to continue to vote against this amendment is telling the police that they can continue to behave in this disgraceful way.
In view of the strong feeling that this issue seems to have aroused, I shall put before the House some of the evidence contained in the PSI report, and I hope that it will be taken seriously. Those hon. Members who have not bothered to read the report should be made aware of its findings.
It is right to make it clear that the study was conducted on the Metropolitan police and that there has been no similar study of any other police force. However, it would be wrong to suggest that this problem exists only in the 1067 area of the Metropolitan police. The Metropolitan police commissioner is to be congratulated on his courage in commissioning this report, allowing it to be published and allowing us to take its results seriously.
The researchers tell us that the use of racist language is universal in the Metropolitan police, especially within areas with sizeable ethnic minority populations. They give examples of the language that is used. It is crude, and I apologise to the House for reporting it, but it is the language that our police use constantly when talking about black people living in Britain. They describe them as "niggers", "satchies", "sootier", "coons", "spades", "monkeys", and "spooks". These words are used to refer on any normal day-to-day occasion to any black person, be he one giving evidence on behalf of the police or one against whom an offence has been alleged.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
Will the hon. Lady help us by also describing some of the language used by the people mentioned against members of the police force?
§ Ms. Short
I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman make such a point. The police are employed by the public to apply our law equally and without fear or favour to every citizen. The fact that individual black people may on occasions use rude words about the police is not equivalent. To suggest that it is shows a shocking state of mind. It implies that the police should be permitted to behave as badly as any individual black person might behave on one occasion.
These words are used of people of west Indian Afro-Caribbean origin, and not of Asians. We are told that the general term to describe Asians is "Pakis". I stress that these words are used constantly and are not unusual.
We are told that one of the authors of the report, when talking to a woman detective constable, was told that when she joined the force she used to wince when people used such words as "coon", "wog", and "nigger". She had pledged to herself that she would never use such terms. She pointed out that the habitual use of such words was part of police jargon and was uniform throughout the force. She admitted that she herself now said "spade" and "spook" constantly, though she could not explain why.
The researchers go on to tell us that in a police station in London in an area with a large ethnic minority population there is a toilet used only by members of the force. It has racist slogans all over it. They give us two in particular:Fight racism. Smash a nigger in the gob today.The second is:What is the difference between a nigger and a bucket of shit?The answer is,The bucket.It is shocking and it is crude, but the House must face it. The researchers tell us that language of that kind is normal. These are not exceptional incidents which they encountered only once.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Was not the survey conducted several years ago? Many of its conclusions were accepted by the Metropolitan commissioner, and he has instituted measures which have dealt with many of them effectively. The hon. Lady says that this is what is going on today. That is not true.
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Gentleman is right that the research was commissioned some time ago and published 1068 only recently. I agree that the commissioner says that he has taken the report seriously and that all sorts of measures have been adopted to try to tackle the problem, including a change in the training of Metropolitan police officers in an attempt to increase their racial awareness.
I do not know what the judgment of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) is, but my serious judgment is that a problem as deeply and as badly entrenched as this is unlikely to be eliminated overnight by a change in training procedures. I think that it is extremely likely that the problem persists. We also have the problem in other police areas where we have not been lucky enough to see such honest research commissioned.
The researchers also tell us that in conversations that they conducted over a long period alongside members of the Metropolitan police, hostile comments about black people were occasionally related to a race theory and to neo-Facist politics. They tell of an incident where, talking with a couple of policemen, one of whom made a racist remark, one researcher asked him why. He replied:Because they're all thieving, toe-ragging little niggers—the ones we deal with.The second officer said:I think it's because they've only just come over here and it's bred into them.The researcher asked what he meant by that. The answer was:Well, they're used to running round in the jungle, plucking what they want from the trees and off the floor and killing someone for it if necessary. When they get here it's all different. They just don't know how to behave.I cite a further example. The researchers identified a woman constable as being someone who did not have strong racist views and who was unhappy that these attitudes were widespread in the Metropolitan police. She said:I know that PCs call them 'spooks', 'niggers' and 'sooties', but deep down the majority of PCs aren't really against them although there are some who really hate them and will go out of their way to get them. I call them `niggers' myself now but I don't really mean it.'Hon. Members may remember that following the Deptford fire there was a march which ended in some kind of disorder. The researchers refer to a time when the police were discussing this march. They tell us that because there had been that incident there was a heightening of these very crude racist comments. Someone was describing the march as "hundreds of rampaging niggers", and he suggested that it had been a defeat for the police, though, he went on:I managed to hit a nigger in the mouth— holding out his hand to show a small mark.This is where the nigger's teeth went in.Someone else commented:I hope you've had your tetanus jab",to general laughter. The discussion ended with the officers agreeing that they were animals and should be shot.
The police refer to all Asians as "Pakis" from whichever country they may come. The researchers tell us that police racism towards Asians is rather different. Instead of the kind of abuse that I have described so far, the police constantly say about members of our community who originate from the Indian sub-continent thatPakis are devious, sly or unreliable. In particular they never tell the truth. Asians are incapable of telling the truth if it is to their advantage that they lie.There are more examples, but the general racism about people of Afro-Caribbean origin is cruder and more 1069 frequent although when it comes to people of Asian origin it is this type of remark about them being sly, liars and people who never tell the truth that is general.
The report goes on to consider whether those attitudes affect police behaviour. I believe that most decent human beings would think that such attitudes cannot but affect police behaviour. The report, the tone of which is carefully considered, and which is carefully written, states that given those attitudes and the fact that such talk is universal in police stations—we have been told that several police constables who did not like it found themselves engaging in such talk in the end in order to become part of the group — it is surprising how well, on most occasions, the police behave and manage not to use such language when they deal with black people in face-to-face encounters. However, the researchers refer to a series of incidents in which they think that those racist attitudes led to bad policing.
The first example is of an experienced police constable who was thought to be effective. He was invited to give a talk to probationers on how to deal with stop and search. He was talking with several other police constables about what he would say. He decided that he would say:How does an experienced policeman decide who to stop? Well, the one that you stop is often wearing a wooly hat, he is dark in complexion, he has thick lips and he usually has dark fuzzy hair.The second example where the researchers thought that it was clear that police racist attitudes were leading to bad policing was of a young black person who had been knocked over on his bicycle. No one alleged that the young black person had done anything wrong. The policeman who attended the incident, when describing it to the researchers, said that there was a young black lad on a bike and that he presumed that it was stolen. In fact, there was no evidence that the bicycle was stolen. That shows the person's frame of mind, in that he thought that a black person must always be doing something wrong and committing an offence. Later it was shown that that was not so.
I shall give another example of police inefficiency arising from widespread racist attitudes. A call came through on the radio about two youths who had stolen some money from a milk float. Two police in a car went rushing round to try to find two black youths but could not find them. When they radioed back to check, they were told that no one had suggested that the two youths involved were black. That was an assumption in the minds of the police officers. They had rushed round inefficiently and failed to catch the two youths involved because they assumed, due to the general atmosphere of racism, that anyone who committed an offence in that area must be black.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
Does the hon. Lady agree that she is talking about a small minority of situations and that what we are being subjected to is a typical Opposition attack upon the police, whom they see as the lackeys of the capitalist system and therefore legitimate targets for attack?
§ Ms. Short
In a matter as serious as this to the health of our society, such a comment is beneath contempt. I am referring to a report paid for and commissioned by the Metropolitan police, which was published at the beginning 1070 of the Committee on the Bill. It was embargoed until 18 November 1983. Conservative Members assume that because the report was published a year ago, such attitudes have gone. I am not trying to suggest to anyone in the House that every single policeman or policewoman employed in this country has such attitudes. I told the House at the beginning of my speech that I knew that there was an unfortunate degree of racism in the police force, but I was shocked by the report. I am shocked and I believe that all hon. Members should be.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that even if it is a minority in the Metropolitan police — it may be — one should be horrified and sickened at such a display of racism by those who are responsible for the maintenance of law and order? Would it not be better if Conservative members recognised that this is a serious problem? It may or may not be dealt with effectively by the amendment, but that is a subject for debate later. Surely it would be more appropriate if we took note of what was shown in the report commissioned by the Metropolitan police and showed our condemnation of the fact that such sentiments—even if it is only from a few—are coming from members of the police force. In itself, that is serious enough.
§ Ms. Short
Of course, I agree with that. Conservative Members obviously took an antagonistic view towards the amendment before they came to the Chamber and heard of the research. I am surprised that they are not taking it more seriously, are not more quietened and shocked by it, and are not reconsidering their previous view.
I shall give a couple of other examples to which the report refers. I am simply drawing the report to the attention of the House because it must be taken into account by anyone who votes on the amendment.
§ Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)
Does not the hon. Lady remember saying a moment ago that, in her opinion, there was widespread racism in the police force? If that is the view of the official Opposition, she should say so or she should retract it immediately.
§ Ms. Short
I do not see why I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, as he said nothing new. I have been trying to say and I repeat that this report, commissioned by the Metropolitan police, finds that crude racist attitudes are widespread and that there is universal use of crude racist language in the Metropolitan police, particularly in areas——
§ Ms. Short
I shall not give way. The point is clear. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can listen and understand.
There are further examples of bad policing arising from racist attitudes. An Asian boy complained of being assaulted in school. There was a very long delay in investigating the assault. Policemen made remarks about how difficult it was to deal with the Asian community and how much trouble they had taking evidence from that community. There is another example of a Nigerian family who had bottles thrown through their window on several occasions. The researchers thought that the policing was 1071 not adequate because of the attitude of the policemen who dealt with the incident. Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "At last."] You do not want to hear the truth, do you?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I am always prepared to listen to the truth.
§ Ms. Short
I am glad to hear that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that that quality is shared by all hon. Members.
The very serious incident of the Deptford fire caused enormous conflict and tension in the Metropolitan police. Many members of the black community were convinced that the fire was caused by a racist attack and that the police did not take that line of inquiry seriously. The researchers' view is that, because of the attitudes and tensions in the Metropolitan police, the police made mistakes in how they dealt with that allegation by the black community. Following the fire, the mother of some of the children who died, and in whose house the fire took place, received several racist letters saying things such as, "We are glad they fried. It's just what we wanted."
§ Ms. Short
I am trying briefly to summarise the research. My summary would be briefer if all these unhelpful interventions ceased.
It is the serious view of the researchers that the police were defensive on all public occasions and never gave credence to the serious possibility to which I referred. Therefore, they antagonised the black community in London more and enlarged their fears that a racist attack was the cause of the fire and their belief that the police did not take that problem seriously—[Interruption.] I am referring yet again to the report and its findings.
The report goes on to talk about black members of the police force, how they are treated and whether their experience of being members of the police force is affected by racist attitudes. The researchers refer to two such members of the police force who talked at length about how difficult they found it to work in the Metropolitan police because of the widespread use of racist terms in conversation, over the radio and in all policing events. One was an Asian— tall, a good sportsman, with very little accent, extremely bright and articulate. He was not religious, he ate hamburgers and chips, and so on. Yet he found his training intolerably difficult because of the racist attitude of his trainer and he nearly resigned from the force. At the end of the training, however, the trainer explained that he had given him a hard time because he knew that he would have a hard time later.
§ Ms. Short
No, I will not give way.
The second officer to whom the researcher spoke referred to similar experiences.
The hon. Member for Orpington says that the Metropolitan police have taken the report seriously—more seriously, apparently than most Conservative 1072 Members have taken it—and that they are taking steps to try to change racist attitudes and the regular use of shocking and crudely racist language. We do not know, however, whether such behaviour has actually been eliminated. I do not believe that a bit of training could eliminate such widespread behaviour and the attitudes that go with it. Moreover, we know nothing about the situatton in police forces in other areas with large ethnic minorities.
§ Ms. Short
No. In view of all that evidence, I must ask the Police Federation, through the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, whether it has read the report and if so whether it does not regard this as a serious problem that must be tackled by at least making racially discriminatory behaviour a disciplinary offence. If it has read the report and is unwilling to take such action, it is all the more shocking that, having seen the magnitude of the problem, it is unwilling to support a measure which would at least make a start on correcting it.
It is also constantly argued that one should not pick on the police, because such attitudes may exist elsewhere. If such attitudes exist elsewhere in the public service we should seek to deal with them. We should seek to deal with this problem everywhere. Nevertheless, there is a special problem in relation to the police because special powers are given to them by Parliament—the power to arrest people, to deprive them of their liberty, to question them and to give evidence in court against them. The system relies on our being able to assume that the police normally tell the truth and are objective in their evidence. If any of the evidence that I have cited is correct, we cannot be sure that the police are behaving objectively and fairly towards the black community, and we should be queuing up not just to support the amendment but to demand that steps be taken in every force throughout the land to ensure that a rule is not just implemented but taken seriously and every possible effort is made to eradicate the problem.
I put it very seriously to the House and especially to those hon. Members who may not previously have been aware of the seriousness of the problem that not to support the amendment is to say in code to the police that we are not bothered that the situation is so serious. [Interruption.] There seems to be an extraordinary amount of interest in resisting the amendment. There are more hon. Members here now than for any previous debate and their purpose is entirely negative — to resist an amendment which merely seeks to make racially discriminatory behaviour a specific disciplinary offence. No policeman or policewoman need fear it. Policemen and policewomen are referred to in the report as saying that the situation is disgraceful, that senior officers are doing nothing about it, that they are ashamed of the force for which they work and that it is time that something was done.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The only reference that I shall permit myself to make to the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) is that she is quite wrong to assume that opposition to the amendment on this side of the House, which I believe is growing every minute, stems from indifference to racism. Speaking for myself—no doubt others will add their voices later— I have spent 50 years of active work in politics which began in campaigning on behalf of Jews in this country against Mosley's Fascists in the 1930s. I abhor racialism in all forms, and so do my hon. Friends.
1073 I confess that I intervene with a heavy heart. I have a great deal of respect for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, as well he knows, but on this occasion I found his argument utterly unconvincing.
I should explain that I have an interest in this matter as for 19 years I have acted as parliamentary adviser to the senior police officers of this country—the commanders in the field—the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales. I must tell the House that senior police officers take exactly the same view as the Police Federation—that it is politically wrong, socially unjust and very shortsighted to single out police officers, and no other persons with statutory authority, and to make racially discriminatory behaviour, which we all deplore, a specific disciplinary offence for them.
I do not often speak in the House on police matters. If I do so now, it is because of the deep concern, if not anger, of senior police officers at the slur that would be cast on their profession if the amendment becomes law. The first point I wish to make is that the Lords amendment is entirely unnecessary. We are being driven to the barricades in a totally unnecessary exercise because—and this is the answer to the hon. Member for Ladywood — under the police disciplinary regulations racial discrimination is already a punishable offence. Like all other citizens, the police are bound by the Race Relations Act, and if they fail to apply it or to observe it themselves they can, in a serious case, be charged with a criminal offence. They can also be dealt with under the complaints procedure, which is strengthened by the Bill—we must relate our comments to the Bill as a whole—and can be punished under their own discipline code.
Every new entrant to the police service has to take the following oath when he takes on the office of constable:I solemnly swear that I will well and truly serve … without favour or affection, malice or ill will.He is a citizen armed by the community to protect us all. He joins the relatively thin blue line protecting us now, and is undergoing exceptional strain. Lord Scarman himself, in his historic report on the Brixton disorders, stated in relation to the police:I am satisfied that when racially prejudiced behaviour is found it is stamped on by severe disciplinary action.That was in 1981, not 1984. That report served a good purpose. The whole nation and the House are indebted to Lord Scarman because he caused us all to think seriously about the police and their relations with the public and particularly with our black fellow citizens. However, Lord Scarman is now creating a new offence and he persuaded a majority in the other place to support him. Perhaps Ministers will explain how that majority was arrived at; I understand that there were some ministerial absentees.
The odd thing—my right hon. and learned Friend made no reference to this—is that until a few days ago Ministers were quite clear about the matter. The former Minister of State, speaking on behalf of the Home Secretary in Standing Committee, gave his opinion last March as follows:I do not believe that the best way of dealing with that anxiety is to create a new disciplinary offence of racially prejudiced policing … the disciplinary code is wide and flexible enough to deal with such misconduct." — [Official Report, Standing Committee E; 22 March 1984, c. 1925.]1074 Other Ministers have said much the same. Speaking on this amendment as recently as 19 October, Lord Elton said that he did not think that the amendment was the right way to write out statutes. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was a member of the Standing Committee, and he can tell us in detail what was said at that stage.
What has happened since 19 October to change the Government's view? What soul-searing experience has the nation been through? What dramatic breakdown in the relatinship between the police and the public has taken place in the past few days has deprived of any meaning the words of the Minister of State in another place?
I do not believe that there is any necessity for the amendment. If there is, upon what principle is it based? I listened carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend to ascertain the principle on which this dramatic change is being recommended, but there is no principle. The only principle in this matter is that there shall be no principles. Nothing that my right hon. and learned Friend has said today has demonstrated otherwise. We have witnessed the unedifying spectacle of the Home Secretary standing on his head and calling upon his colleagues to vote for an amendment when everything that was said by Ministers in Committee showed that there was no justification for such an innovation.
Where, pray, in the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, which provided the foundation for the Bill, is such an idea recommended? I argue that to discriminate, as the amendment does, or to make a difference between or distinction against any class or minority is contrary to all previous applications of the English law. That law prides itself on its fairness and the oft stated assertion that all men are equal in its eyes.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Gentleman asks why there should be a separate law or code. What he is saying reminds one of the arguments used initially against the Race Relations Act—an Act which I am sure many hon. Gentlemen oppose to this day. The argument then was that the only effective way to combat racism was to introduce the legislation of the 1960s, which proved quite effective. The same argument holds good in this instance.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that one should discriminate against the police and no one else. He should permit me to develop my argument. If he listens to it, he may understand the situation more clearly by the time he makes his own speech.
The amendment violates the principle of equality in the eyes of the law, and it violates it twice. First, we would segregate the black community from the rest of our citizens, by a sort of legal apartheid, dealing with it differently from the white population.
Secondly, we would be discriminating against the police officer in isolation by selecting him to be subject to possible disciplinary action for racially discriminatory behaviour. No police officer in the land condones such behaviour. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will readily testify to that. The disciplinary code already allows for such behaviour to be dealt with adequately. Such behaviour is an offence, and it is dealt with immediately it is identified.
Let us suppose that an immigrant is stopped at Heathrow airport and questioned by a customs officer, an 1075 immigration officer and a police officer. The police officer might be a member of the Special Branch looking for terrorists and drug pedlars. All three officers are there to safeguard the public; all three are subject to the Race Relations Act which applies to us all. However, if the immigrant later alleged that he had been discriminated against on grounds of race by all three, it would be only the police officer——
§ Sir Bernard Braine
My right hon. and learned Friend must let me finish my sentence. Only the police officer could be accused of a specific new offence.
I fully accept that in 1981 Lord Scarman found serious problems in Brixton and Toxteth. However, he has acknowledged the improvement in relations between the police and the black community since then and the part played in that by the police service. There have been considerable strides in recent years in the selection procedures and in training in attitudes and human awareness to ensure that there is no racially discriminatory behaviour in the service. A race relations centre has been established at Brunel university, and there is racism-awareness training.
The senior police officers whom I represent are adamant that there is no evidence whatsoever for the measure that my right hon. and learned Friend urges that we should pass tonight. There is no loophole which needs to be plugged. The amendment is merely a public relations exercise. It was advocated by Lord Scarman on the ground that no other single step would be more effective in building confidence among black people in their attitude towards the police. I disagree. The best step to take— the right step to take— is to treat all our citizens in the same way, without fear or favour and without discrimination, including not only black people, but police officers.
The Police Federation is receiving resolutions on this matter, particularly from areas where the police are facing difficulties on the miners picket lines. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has received such a message, from the joint branch boards of Nottinghamshire, South Wales, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the Metropolitan police condemning the amendment which they describe asa pious clause to make racist behaviour or conduct an offence under the police discipline code, when any offensive conduct directed towards a member of the public is already covered by police regulations … This singling out of the police is a gratuitous insult to the service.That is what the men in the front line say. The House is being asked for purely cosmetic and tactical reasons to agree to an amendment which was considered by Ministers only a few days ago to be unnecessary.
It is wrong that an unjustifiable, unfair and unnecessary law should be made, merely to ease the Bill's passage through Parliament. That is the real reason why we are being asked to abandon principle and support the Government. If this is bad law—and it is—we must act correctly and reject the Lords amendment. We must restore the balance that the Royal Commission tried to establish between the rights of the individual and police powers. Hitherto the Government have said that that balance is inherent and enshrined in the Bill, which now, at the last moment, they want to turn upside down. I urge my colleagues to reject their advice.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I doubt whether I shall be able to summon the same passion as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). Although I disagree with some of what he said, I do not wish to cast doubt on his statement that he has fought racism throughout his political career.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will support the Government. We should have preferred the Home Secretary to have moved that we accept the Lords amendment on grounds of principle rather than on grounds of pragmatism. Nevertheless, we welcome the Government's stand. The earth-shattering event of 19 October was the Government's defeat in another place and the incorporation of the amendment. We are glad that the Government accept that it would be retrograde to remove it.
As the Home Secretary said, the amendment's history goes back to Lord Scarman's recommendation in his report on the Brixton riots. His report was widely acclaimed and his hard work was recognised. He achieved a deep understanding of the problems that prevailed there. It is unhelpful to speculate on the amount of racism that pervades the police force. It would be naive to think that it does not exist. Indeed, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) gave examples of things which, even if they apply to only a small minority of the police force, should worry the House.
Lord Scarman dismissed the allegation that the police were an oppressive arm of a racialist state but said in paragraph 4.63:Such plausibility as this attack has achieved is due, sadly, to the ill-considered, immature and racially prejudiced actions of some officers in their dealings on the streets with young black people. Racial prejudice does manifest itself occasionally in die behaviour of a few officers on the streets. It may be only too easy for some officers, faced with what they must see as the inexorably rising tide of street crime, to lapse into an unthinking assumption that all young black people are potential criminals.Against that background, Lord Scarman moved the amendment in another place, which accepted it. He also said in another place that the police have done much to improve matters in Brixton. The purpose of this amendment is to reinforce those steps. It is important that relations between the police and the community, especially in areas with a large black population, should be improved. The amendment will do much to achieve that.
One of the objections to the amendment is that it makes more specific a complaint that is already dealt with by the police disciplinary code. That has never been a barrier lo being more specific about a problem. When the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 was going through Parliament, vandalism was covered already by the common law offence of malicious mischief. Nevertheless, because of a particular problem that worried the House, it was thought right to identify the problem and recognise the crime of vandalism. Also, paragraph 9(3) of the disciplinary regulations says:Proceedings for the offence of discreditable conduct should be brought sparingly. Wherever possible a more specific charge under one of the other paragraphs of the disciplinary code should be laid. A charge of discreditable conduct should not be added to a charge under another paragraph that is based on facts distinct from those underlying that other charge.1077 The amendment achieves a more specific charge. If a justifiable complaint is made, the more specific charge of racially discriminating behaviour will be available. That is an improvement.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Would the hon. Gentleman support regulations saying that the police should not discriminate on political grounds, sex grounds, or, for example, against homosexuals? Would he support such specific amendments as well?
§ Mr. Wallace
If there were growing anxiety about an issue and such provision would improve relations between the police and the public, so be it. Most worry now centres on the police discriminating on grounds of race.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) asked why one section of the community should appear to be gaining an advantage. Lord Elton used that argument when opposing the amendment on behalf of the Government. It is an absurd argument. The amendment confers no advantage. It is directed at protecting people who, because of their colour, have suffered disadvantage and have been on the receiving end of treatment that has given them cause to complain to the police.
Racism is an evil which, regrettably, probably exists in the police force, as Lord Scarman said in his report. At paragraph 4.64 of that report he said that even the smallest display of racial prejudice can have great consequences and build up resentment and hatred. Anything that the House can do to reduce such hatred and to promote better relations between the police and the community is welcome. With that in mind, I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will support the Government.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
I assure the House that my contribution will be brief. I shall support my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in the Lobby tonight. I hope that many of my hon. Friends will think carefully before deciding to vote against this proposal.
As my right hon. and learned Friend said, the amendment may not be necessary. Racial discrimination may already be able to be dealt with under existing police disciplinary codes. To say that something is unnecessary is not to say that it is objectionable. I find it difficult to accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) suggested. He said that acceptance of the amendment—that an emphatic statement about racial discrimination was in itself a breach of disciplinary duty by a police officer—is insulting to the police force. It is not.
I endorse what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said. Any hon. Member who knows of his record will be aware that he has fought against racial intolerance all his life, and all hon. Members admire him for taking that view. He would agree that racial discrimination of any kind is abhorrent, and that it cannot be accepted or tolerated in the police force.
However, we must face certain realistic facts. There is racial prejudice. It is tragic that it still exists. Rightly or wrongly, there is perceived to be a degree of distrust between many in the coloured community and the police. We must face both the reality and people's perception of these matters. Acceptance of the amendment cannot do any harm to the police or upset the present position.
1078 My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point asked what change there has been since 19 October. One single fact has changed—that the Government were defeated in another place. As a Minister I became aware of how a defeat in the other place can change a Government's attitude. I did not think that I was wrong about school transport, but I had to accept the reality of what happened in the other place and advise the House to accept it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is perfectly entitled to take the same view with this Bill.
It worries me that if we are seen to reject this recommendation, people may ask what we have to hide, and why we are not prepared to say that racial discrimination is abhorrent in all its forms and is a disciplinary offence in itself. If the amendment is rejected, I fear that the wrong message may go out from the House. Although I recognise that Ministers have in the past said that the amendment is unnecessary, my right hon. and learned Friend is right to recommend it to the House now. I hope that hon. Members will accept it.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
I support the amendment, which seeks to make racially discriminatory behaviour a specific disciplinary offence, for which members of police forces found to have committed such offences should be punished bydismissal, requirement to resign, reduction in rank, reduction in rate of pay, fine, reprimand or caution.I agree with right hon. and hon. Members who argue that there is a need for a specific offence to be introduced. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), who argued effectively about the perceived ratio of prejudice which many racial minorities see in the police force.
We have heard much about the report of the Policy Study Institute. It does not do the House a service for hon. Members to quibble about the length of time that the survey took or that the picture which it painted is no longer accurate for Britain in 1984. The report stated:racialist language and racial prejudice were prominent and pervasive. … many individual officers and also whole groups were preoccupied with ethnic differences.Do hon. Members, especially those who have the honour to represent constituencies with large ethnic and racial minorities, believe that the position described in the report does not exist today and is not accurate for a large proportion of policemen and women?
I take exception to the points raised by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) about the need for a specific charge. Both the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers have opposed the amendment and argue that such conduct is already included in the offence of discreditable conduct. I am advised that, although it may be true in theory, no charge is ever known to have been brought on those grounds. I hear muttering from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), the adviser of the Police Federation, who I understand from newspapers is unlikely to represent the Police Federation for much longer. I should be grateful if a more authoritative source than the hon. Gentleman could answer that question. Will the Home Secretary tell the House whether any offence has been brought against a policeman or woman under existing procedures?
There is considerable anxiety among racial minorities about their relationships with the police. That is illustrated 1079 in the increasing numbers of racial attacks and harassment which are committed against many people who are black or Asian.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the present police disciplinary code had been used to punish racial discrimination by police officers.I am satisfied that when racially prejudiced behaviour is found it is stamped on by severe disciplinary action.Those are not my words, but those of Lord Scarman in his report.
§ Mr. Madden
With respect, that does not answer my question, which was whether any charge of racial discrimination has been brought under the existing arrangements against a policeman or woman.
A specific charge will help considerably to rebuild confidence between racial minorities and the police. Hon Members who represent areas where there are large racial minorities know that there is a considerable lack of confidence in the police because of their perceived lack of determination to make inquiries into complaints of racial harassment and attacks, their perceived lack of zeal in apprehending those responsible, and the disappointing rate of convictions against those charged with racial attacks or harassment.
Such reports, seen in that way by racial minorities, create the worries that the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South mentioned. There is serious concern, and it is growing. In Bradford, the community relations council recently ceased formal relationships with the police. I shall not mention the details of the immediate cause, but beneath it was a more worrying breakdown in confidence between many ethnic minorities and the police. Unfortunately, the police are perceived to be part of an institution that is enmeshed with a much larger institution —the Government—who are believed to have tightened the screws on immigration and have introduced nationality laws, rules and procedures.
If society wishes to take positive action to build confidence between the police and the ethnic minorities, it must be seen to be taking such action and to be enforcing it against racists of all sorts, whether in the police force or outside it.
The introduction of this specific offence will help, because it will send a message to those ethnic minorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said that opposition to this measure would be seen as a code for the police to say that Parliament does not care about such matters. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) talked equally effectively about the signal that we can give to the racial minorities and ethnic communities that we care, and that we shall do something about their worries.
How can hon. Members know what it is like to be a black or Asian Briton in 1984? How can any of us know what it is like to be settled in a country, or even a citizen of a country, but to suspect—even to know—that one is not really welcome here? How can any of us know what it is like to be a black or Asian Briton who faces discrimination and prejudice in his daily life? How can any of us here know what it is like to be a black or Asian Briton and to believe that the policemen and women who patrol our streets are not his protectors but agents of a Government who are unwelcoming and uncaring and who repress him and his family?
1080 Of course, I join the hon. Member for Castle Point in abhorring racism and anti-Semitism; all hon. Members would do that. But none of us can know what it is like, because none of us comes from a racial minority which senses that daily threat and looks to the police for impartial protection. We do not sense the fear that those supposed protectors are motivated in many cases by the racial prejudice that ethnic minorities must face in every part of their daily lives.
The House owes it to black and Asian British citizens, who look to the House for fair treatment, to regard them as what they are: citizens of Britain who deserve equal treatment from the law, the police and all sections of society. But how can any of us know what it is like when the DHSS official, the hospital official, the policeman, or the official from every other agency with which one comes into contact asks for one's passport, because that is the only way in which one is recognised as being part of society?
I ask the House to support the amendment, which will send a signal to the ethnic minorities that the House of Commons is deeply worried about racism and racial prejudice in our police force. Of course, we are grateful for the official action that is being taken to eradicate racism and racial prejudice, and we hope that the position will improve; but, if we are honest, we must say here and now that the problem is deeply disturbing. I hope that the House will respond by carrying this amendment.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)
I intervene only briefly but with strength of feeling. I fear that I cannot support my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Much comment in the debate has so far been directed at the position of the police, with which I sympathise, and at the position of the black community which may or may not be discriminated against, with which I also sympathise. However, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the position of the general public.
For some time, long before this amendment was passed in another place, I have had a growing concern about the position of the public and the protection that it can expect from the police in upholding the law when the police are required to act in a way which is not equal. On many occasions I have boasted of the racial harmony in my constituency, and I do so again, but I have been concerned about the increasing number of constituents who at ray surgery have claimed that they cannot rely on the law being upheld because the police are reluctant to take action when the persons complained about are coloured. I must point out that these constituents are not members of the national Front or racists. I do not know whether these allegations are correct, but I would not be surprised. At present there are three cases about which I am waiting to hear.
Whether or not those allegations are correct, I know that today the police are continually being inhibited and demoralised by instances such as the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), which was merely a catalogue of anecdotes, and selective anecdotes at that. It made no case whatever.
Unfortunately, the pressure group industry is nowadays a form of continuing pinpricks under which the police must operate, yet these extreme pressure groups are no more representative of the wishes or interests of he black community than the animal lib movement is of real animal lovers or the women's lib movement is of the majority of 1081 women. Indeed, one of the deputations which made the complaints to me about the police which I have described was led by a black complainant. Therefore, the responsible black community is not desirous of this amendment either.
Over the ages, the great cry from the black communities throughout the world has been the cry for equality, not least in South Africa, and for equal rights and equality of opportunity. But this amendment is about inequality, favouritism, and unfairness and infers that the majority of the police are racist. Abundantly that is not the case.
I am not misty-eyed about the police force. I believe that some are sometimes unfair and unjust to black people, just as some are sometimes unfair and unjust to white people. Indeed, I have occasionally had the suspicion that they are biased against women drivers.
§ Mr. Wallace
Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that the point of the amendment is not whether the police are unfair and unjust to black people or to white people, but that they are unfair and unjust to black people because they are black? There is a vital and crucial difference between that and the point which the right hon. Lady is making.
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
If what the hon. Gentleman says is true in a minority of cases, that is already covered by existing law. If we want the police force to uphold the law and to continue with a difficult task, which the overwhelming majority of the police force do magnificently, we cannot ask them to do so with one arm tied behind their backs. Yet that would be the result of the amendment.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
I cannot promise to be as brief as the right hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who introduced a fourth argument on behalf of those Conservative Members who are likely to revolt against their Government tonight.
Three arguments have so far been advanced against this amendment. The first is that the amendment is superfluous because the police do not behave in racially discriminatory ways. I should have thought that the extracts quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) from the PSI report on the Metropolitan police would have knocked that argument on the head. The second argument is that the amendment is superfluous because the offence is already caught by existing provisions in the disciplinary code. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) knocked that argument on the head by quoting from paragraph 9(3) of the police disciplinary code, which makes it clear that the general catch-all offence is not to be used except in very rare circumstances.
The third argument has been advanced by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), and will no doubt be advanced by other hon. Members if they can catch Mr. Speaker's eye. That is the argument that this amendment is a slur and an insult to the police. However, if that is so, what is one to think about, for example, a number of the ten commandments? They can be considered as a slur and insult on all human beings. It cannot be said to be a slur or an insult to forbid someone to do something if they have no intention of doing it. The whole basis of our law would be turned upside down if that were so.
§ Mr. Butterfill
Does the hon. Gentleman know whether the ten commandments apply specifically to policemen?
§ Mr. Deakins
I was making the point—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman got hold of the wrong end of the stick—that to say that a prohibition in any set of rules for any set of people is a slur on the people that it affects is ridiculous and illogical.
The right hon. Member for Gloucester used a fourth argument when she said that the amendment will mean that the police will be required "to act in a way which is not equal." We are in rather an Alice-in-Wonderland world tonight. If the amendment said that the police must act in a discriminatory way the right hon. Lady's words would be true and just, but the amendment says the reverse, so I do not follow the right hon. Lady's logic.
The argument in which we are engaged tonight is a senssitive one. We have heard about the senitiveness of those speaking on behalf of the police force, what about the sensitivities of the ethnic minorities in many large cities, who are adversely affected by racially discriminatory behaviour by the police with whom they are in contact. Surely racialism by anyone, but particularly by those in authority, compounds the natural disadvantages being suffered by ethnic minorities under our present system, in employment, in housing and, to a certain extent, in education.
The police symbolise authority on our streets, and the House, which is the ultimate authority, should make sure that all in authority, whether they be policemen, teachers, social workers or anybody else, do not treat our ethnic minorities in a racially discriminatory manner when they are acting on behalf of our citizens. We need to eradicate racial prejudice and racial discrimination among all in authority, and this amendment is a small step in that direction.
Everyone in this debate has admitted that racial prejudice exists. I think that it is widespread. The police are human beings, and therefore naturally must be expected to have the same defects as the rest of us, including some hon. Members. The PSI report showed clearly that the police, from time to time, can be racially prejudiced in their views, attitude and conduct. If we are effectively to stamp out racialism in our society today, it has to be fought wherever it rears its ugly head. Therefore, while we have the opportunity, it must be fought within our police force because it is, as has often been said, in the front line.
I want to draw the attention of the House to one aspect of racially discriminatory behaviour which has not been brought out. My hon. Friends and the Home Secretary referred to racially discriminatory behaviour as a positive act—abusing people, calling them names, discriminating against them by way of treatment, harassing them, and so on. But I draw the attention of the House to another form of racially discriminatory behaviour by the police which adversely affects many of my constituents from ethnic minorities, particularly from Asian communities — the racially discriminatory behaviour of turning a blind eye to complaints of racial attacks and harassment by members of the public and of refusing to believe that there are such things as racially motivated attacks in the streets of our cities. Many of my constituents have suffered 1083 from such behaviour for a number of years, as indeed have the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) with whom I share a borough boundary.
The remedy is not merely to pass the amendment tonight; it is surely better training. I have had the advantage — I recommend those hon. Members who have not been there to go—of having been on a couple of occasions to the Hendon police training centre for the Metropolitan police. I have been impressed recently by the quality of the training which is given there. It used to be called human awareness training, but it may have changed its title now. Hon. Members will know what is involved. Police authorities and lecturers are doing their best in initial training to eradicate racial prejudice and to convince policemen that they must not engage in racially discriminatory behaviour.
Unfortunately, when policemen and policewomen complete their probationary period and become fully qualified with all the responsibility that that entails they fall in with older members of the police force who have not had the advantage of the modern training at Hendon —if hon. Members will forgive the expression—the old lags in the station canteen, who tell them to forget about all the stuff that they learnt at Hendon and that when they get out on the streets it is "us" and "them".
We have heard examples tonight of police who start out with the best intentions, particularly after leaving the Hendon training school, but who gradually lose their faith in no racial discrimination and begin to adopt the standards of those around them. The remedy is not merely in the amendment but to develop in-service training for policemen and policewomen so that they can be constantly reminded that the House does not want to see racial discrimination.
It is important that we make racially discriminatory behaviour a specific disciplinary offence not merely to combat the pressures on the police in certain inner city areas but, much more importantly, so that people from ethnic minorities may have some confidence that they can complain about racially discriminatory behaviour by the police and have it attended to. At the moment, where there is no specific offence many will say that it is not worth complaining because the complaint is caught by a catch-all disciplinary offence which will not produce the desired results. Therefore, the amendment is important to ethnic minorities.
Even such a complaints procedure and a new disciplinary offence will be no substitute for the proper independent complaints procedure that many of us wish to see. The amendment is one step towards improving relationships between the police and the ethnic minority communities in Britian, particularly in our inner city areas. It is a small step and I welcome it, but it must be seen in the context of a Bill which represents in many of its other provisions a big step backwards. For this small relief I give thanks, but I hope that Conservative Members who are thinking about voting against the amendment will think seriously about the full implications of what they are proposing to do.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
I am conscious that I am supporting an amendment which has caused considerable offence within the police service and is bitterly resisted by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I regret that I am in such a position and that I differ profoundly from the 1084 view expressed by some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braille), for whose experience and judgment I have great respect.
However, the merits of the amendment should attract the support of the House. I wish to put some considerations before hon. Members. I know that not all of those considerations will be welcome to some hon. Members, including some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I hope that they will ponder on them.
The first consideration supports the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). We have to accept that there is some racial prejudice, in conduct and in talk, in the police service. I believe that it is manifested more in talk than in conduct, but sometimes it spills over, and we are blind if we ignore that fact.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
The important aspect of what my hon. Friend is saying is the communication between individual police officers and the community. It is not unusual for the police and other people to refer to Scotsmen, such as myself, as Jocks. Other people are called Tykes, Scouses and so on.
I have never understood why it is considered wrong to describe a black person as a black when it is normal practice to associate people in a clearly descriptive way with the areas from which they come.
§ Mr. Hogg
It often depends on how the recipient of the description receives it. My hon. Friend receives the description of himself in good part, but I can well understand that the citizens of Brixton who are black do not like to be called jungle bunnies, coons or niggers.
There is evidence of racial prejudice in the police service and the House must not ignore it. The PSI report, to which the hon. Member for Ladywood drew attention, said in its general conclusion:we find from our observational research that police officers tend to be hostile to black people in general terms, and certainly indulge in much racialist talk".The report says that officers often have friendly relations in individual cases, but adds:Our first impression after being attached to groups of police officers in areas having a substantial ehnic minority population was that racialist language and racial prejudice were prominent and pervasive and that many individual officers and also whole groups were preoccupied with ethnic differences.
§ Mr. Budgen
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech for the merits of the amendment. If he supports the amendment, he must surely say that he deeply regrets the fact that the Tory party has voted against such an amendment in the past.
§ Mr. Hogg
I will not be trapped by my hon. Friend into making such statements. We are dealing with a specific amendment and we must address ourselves to it. My hon. Friend has been an hon. Member for long enough to know that full well.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I give some evidence from personal experience. For some time I served as a member of the special constabulary attached to the Metropolitan police. I shall not name the police station to which I was attached, because that might be unfair to the officers concerned. I was staggered by the amount of racially derogatory language used about the coloured community. It did spill over into conduct. Certain members of the ethnic community were know as RC3s—meaning race code 3. The practice was that If a car driven by two West Indians was seen going down the 1085 main road from point A to point B a police officer who saw it at point A would tell his colleague at point B over the radio, "There are two RC3s coming down the road. Stop them." That happened frequently.
We must recognise that there is a degree of racial prejudice within the police service. It certainly exists in talk and I believe that it spills over into conduct.
I am deeply concerned at the reaction of the ethnic community to what they perceive to be the police service's attitude. The PSI report is helpful on this matter. The author reports his impressions of what a group, mainly West Indians, have said about their attitude to the police and states in Volume II on page 109:It would be fair to say that a rigid stereotype of the police force has developed among the group which portrays most police officers as condescending and contemptuous, unhelpful and unco-operative, and hostile or brutal in their actions and attitudes towards the black population in this country.The report contains much more along that line.
Not only is there a degree of racial prejudice in the police service, but members of the ethnic minorities appreciate that fact and resent the police as a consequence. We consider the amendment against that background.
The police are probably closer to the ethnic minorities than are any other members of an organised institution in our society. It is upon their proper conduct towards the ethnic minorities and upon the recognition by the ethnic minorities that people will act properly towards them that so much of good race relations depends. That is why the House would be right to single out the police service and not to try to catch every other part of the community at the same time.
I do not accept that the existing laws and regulations are sufficient to deal with the mischief. Let us be clear about the Race Relations Act 1976. That Act was largely designed to correct discrimination in a general sense. It was designed to correct discrimination in employment, in places of leisure and in housing. The amendment that we are discussing is designed to correct a mischief that frequently, indeed usually, arises between two people meeting on the street.
The 1976 Act is too cumbersome, too slow, frequently does not catch the conduct of which we are now complaining, and would often be far too serious in its consequences for the individual police officer. Curiously, the same applies to the 1977 police discipline regulations. Two regulations could be used to catch racially offensive behaviour. I refer to regulation 9.3 ad paragraph (8) of schedule 2. But to use them would strain the language in those paragraphs to meet circumstances that they were not designed to meet. I prefer a precise charge to a general charge. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, especially those who have practised the law, would agree about precise charges being preferable to the general in the law on conspiracy.
I commend the amendment to the House because I believe that if the House accepts it we will emphasise the importance that we attach to good race relations in Britain. It is a significant step towards encouraging the ethnic minorities to appreciate the importance that society attaches to good race relations.
§ Mr. Maclennan
What a pity that it was not the Home Secretary who made the speech that we heard from the 1086 hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). The hon. Gentleman's force of argument on the merits of the amendment went far beyond that which the Home Secretary felt able to bring himself to deliver. We all recognise the Home Secretary's difficulty in executing a U-turn. It was not possible for him to commend the amendment in principle. He could only say that although the amendment was not necessary, it was not harmful. That has placed a number of Conservative Members in an embarrassing position. They have been persuaded by the Government's argument, used time and again both in this House and in another place, in support of their original position.
The amendment may be unnecessary in the strictly technical terms deployed by the Home Secretary—that under the present police disciplinary regulations it is possible to bring charges against those accused of racist behaviour, and that was admitted by Lord Scarman—but that is not the end of the story. The regulations have existed for some time, but there regrettably remains a pervasive atmosphere of racism which, although not universal and officially condemned by the police force, arouses hostility, lack of co-operation and fear among minority ethnic communities that they will be subject to discimination by the police.
That fact is at least as important as whether it is technically possible to bring charges under the existing disciplinary code. It is important to take seriously the attitude of the police to the amendment and to consider the argument that they have put forward. To some extent, the Home Secretary tried to do that, although he did not find it possible to justify the amendment. The police believe that if the amendment is passed it will be a signal to a number of ethnic minority communities to trump up charges of disciminatory behaviour, which might be both unfair and unreasonable.
I acknowledge that there may be a sharp increase in the number of complaints and that some may be justified and others unjustified. If the police have any confidence in their disciplinary processes, they will distinguish between the false and the true, the justified and the unjustified.
The second complaint of the police, which was voiced by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), is that the amendment will be a slur on them and a gratuitous insult because the provision singles out the police as being different from others who have relations with the public. A number of hon. Members have said that simply to make a provision to deal with a specific problem does not cast aspersions upon the police, either individually or collectively, but recognises that there is widespread concern about the problem.
There is a certain logic in the case that the police put forward, but there are others who come into contact with the public. One thinks of prison officers and some civil servants who may, by an extension of what we have heard today, not least from the hon. Member for Grantham, be subject to the same arguments. There may well be pressure to amend the regulations affecting prison officers, and in logic it would be difficult to resist such pressure.
It would be fair to say to the police that we do not regard them as forming in any sense a separate category but that they are subject to more criticisim than other people who deal with the public. We say that regretfully because there are a number of academic studies—the Metropolitan police study, the PSI study and others—which reinforce each other. They were referred to by the right hon. 1087 Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) as reports of a strident minority of pressure groups, but they are the reports of serious, academic and professional people who have said such things with the full co-operation of the police.
In those circumstances, the House should support the amendment for the simple reason that Lord Scarman gave when moving it in another place when he said that to rely upon existing disciplinary provisions had patently been insufficient to allay the anxieties of those in the ethnic minorities who had felt themselves to be discriminated against in the past — something which clearly is continuing.
I hope that the House will accept the advice of the Home Secretary that the amendment does not change the position and does not damage the police force and that those of his hon. Friends who feel disposed to resent the Government's U-turn will put their resentment behind them and demonstrate that the amendment commands the overwhelming support of the House.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) said that the amendment is one step towards improving relations between the police and the ethnic minorities. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said that there might be a sharp increase in the number of complaints. I cannot see that that will build up good will on either side. I am completely against the amendment. I shall not attempt to elaborate on or contradict the sheer venom of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), who attacked the police from start to finish.
I have always admired my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary —regret that he is not here at present—for the clarity of his argument. I cannot say that tonight. His arguments this evening were convoluted to a degree as he tried to explain why something which was wrong 10 days ago suddenly is right now. We have two Chambers, but it is not always this House which must give way. The other House might also do so, bearing in mind that the Bill has been before this House for nearly two years, and the other place might come to our point of view.
Earlier today my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said during our debate on Lords amendment No. 209 that improprieties should be dealt with by disciplinary means. I suggest that that is exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and others of us are asking on Lords amendment No. 273. The existing police disciplinary code already makes racially prejudiced behaviour an offence and, as Lord Elton said in Committee, it is wide enough and flexible enough to deal with such misconduct.
I find it strange that whereas Lord Scarman said in his report in 1981 that he was satisfied that when racially prejudiced behaviour was found among policemen it was
stamped on by severe disciplinary actionhe suddenly finds it is necessary to enter this province into our legislation. That being the case, I see no justification for Lords amendment No. 273 which, unlike my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, I believe is a slur on the police and singles them out alone among all Government servants for such an innuendo. I cannot support the amendment.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
It will come as no surprise to right hon. and hon. Members to learn that I support the amendment. It was a great pity that the Home 1088 Secretary should not have introduced his support for it with a degree of enthusiasm worthy of a Home Secretary rather than ushering in his support with a half apology. But I make no apologies for supporting it as strongly as possible, and I do so for a number of important reasons.
My first reason is that relations between the police and the black and Asian communities are vitally important to the conduct of affairs and to the maintenance of tranquility and peace. That was the message of the Brixton riots. It was the message of the Scarman report.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) said, how can we expect people to have faith in the police when making complaints if any member of the force is guilty of racial discrimination? I add to that comment. How can a black man or an Asian be expected to join the police—which is what we need—if there is racial discrimination, even if it is practised by only a very small number of police officers?
One of the ways in which we shall solve our problems, especially in such areas as mine, is to have more members of the ethnic minorities members of the police force. One of the features that put them off is the canteen chatter that goes on and the degree of racial discrimination that exists, I hope, among a very small number of policemen, but which is enough to put people off not only making complaints and bringing forward their problems but joining the force.
I move to my second reason for supporting the amendment. I am not a strong believer in endorsements. I do not use a particular tyre because a former Metropolitan commissioner recommends it on television. But if there is one endorsement that I support it is that of Lord Scarman for this amendment to the police disciplinary code. Lord Scarman has moderated the view expressed in his report. In his report on the Brixton riots he recommended that racial discrimination should be a ground for dismissal from the police force. This amendment is a watered-down version of what Lord Scannan suggested in that report.
Lord Scarman had the advantage of seeing what lay behind bad relations between the police in London and elsewhere and the black community, and he had no hesitation in making this recommendation. He has taken a constant interest in such places as Brixton since he wrote his report. He has visited Brixton regularly, not just to do television programmes about it, and has taken an intimate and personal interest in what goes on and the developments which have ensued from his report. Nothing that he has seen since 1981 has lessened his argument for making racial discrimination a disciplinary offence, and he ought to be supported, because no one has more experience of these matters than he.
The argument which is advanced against the amendment is that things were different and that they have changed a great deal since the PSI report. It is suggested that matters have got much better. I know that anecdotal evidence is dangerous, but only recently I overheard a conversation among a number of police officers — I hasten to say not in my own police division. They were talking about "Pakis". They do not seem to understand the difference between someone who adheres to the Islamic faith and another who adheres to the Hindu faith. That seems to be a basic failing. But be that as it may. One of them said, "I have Pakis living next door to me, and sometimes their mail comes to my house by mistake 1089 When it does, I put it straight in the dustbin." There was a titter of laughter and semi-approval from the police officers listening to the conversation.
I overheard that only a few weeks ago. I am afraid that such a remark is not uncommon among, I hope, a minority of police persons. The fact that that is there, and, as the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said, can spill over to professional conduct, is a good enough reason to support the Lords amendment as strongly as possible.
My final reason for supporting the amendment is that at the end of the day I believe it to be in the interests not just of the ethnic minorities and good relations between the police and the community, but of the police themselves. If there is one person who should support the amendment, it is the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). If only 1 per cent., 0.5 per cent. or 0.001 per cent. of the police force are guilty of racial discrimination during the conduct of their work, that casts a slur and reflects badly on the rest of the police force, which is extremely hard worked and has a great deal to do to try to maintain tranquility and law and order. If there is one person who, as well as Lord Scarman, should argue for the amendment, it is the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. He should do so instead of professionally representing the police force — I do not criticise him for that — and opposing the amendment. I argue for and will support as strongly as I can this change in the police disciplinary code, which inures to the benefit of the police and the public alike.
§ Mr. Spencer
On 26 August I attended the Pakistan day celebrations held in my constituency. The chairman of the Leicestershire Pakistan Association, before several hundred people, chose the person who had done most to help community relations in Leicester in the proceeding 12 months. He chose a policeman—Inspector Beasley from Asfordby police station. I believe that in doing so he put his finger on the pre-eminent position of the police to influence community relations. That position is mirrored by no less a person than the chief constable of Leicester. It is not out of the ordinary to go to a social function maintained by the Asian community in the city and find that the chief guest is a senior policeman. At the Divali celebrations last Friday night, attended by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), in whose constituency the celebrations were held, the chief guest was a divisional superintendent. That underlines yet again the importance of the police in maintaining community relations, and that cannot be stated too often or too loudly.
I regret to say that unfortunately there are many mischief-makers with regard to race. I found that to my cost during the general election campaign in Leicester, South. I would rest more peacefully in my bed tonight if it were a clean sheet upon which we were writing, but we are not. Not only have there been some incidents of racial discrimination in the past, but there are mischief-makers who go out of their way to enhance, inflate and give greater effect to such instances as there have been. We have seen several signal examples of that on the Opposition Benches tonight. One could go through my constituency during the general election campaign and hear from several of my Asian constituents stories of 1090 genuine fear that the British Nationality Act would bring about their removal from this country, where some of them have lived for 18 or 20 years, where they are settled in one house and have one job. It was a cruel exploitation of their position, and people in the Labour party were responsible.
My great fear is that if my hon. Friends, who desire in all sincerity—I accept their sincerity—to free the police from unjustified complaints, succeed in defeating the amendment, a weapon of even greater dimensions will be given to the Opposition, and in the next general election campaign it will be brought down very firmly on our backs.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) argued that all citizens should be treated alike by the police. If that were the situation, there would be no problem and no need for the amendment. Unfortunately, however, there is indeed a problem and many members of the black and Asian communities strongly believe that some policemen are prejudiced against them, for no other reason than the colour of their skin. However much Conservative Members criticise, the examples given by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) came from a report into the Metropolitan police commissioned by the force itself. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) gave examples from his personal experience of the type of racial discrimination that continues to exist in the police force.
Some have asked why racial discrimination should be treated separately. As I said when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Castle Point, many of the arguments that we have heard from Conservatives today were used in the 1960s to oppose any form of race relations legislation.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) is brave and honest enough to concede that to this day he opposes any form of legislation on race discrimination. He frankly admits that, but his hon. Friends who have argued against the amendment are not prepared to be so frank.
If it was right, as I believe it was, to introduce a law against race discrimination all those years ago, it is equally right to make it an offence for the police now. It has been argued that there is already a code of discipline in the police force, but no charge has ever been brought against a policeman for racial discrimination. It is clear, therefore, that in practice the code is not applied and does not work.
I was sickened by the examples cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood. Even if only five or 10 policemen in the entire country came out with those sickening forms of racialism, that should be enough to shock us and to make us consider why no action was taken against such offenders.
Personally, I believe that racially motivated members of the police force are a minority—I hope that I am right—although there are certainly more than five or 10 of them.
My next remark may be criticised as characteristic of an Opposition Member, but I do not believe that many Conservative Members were actually shocked or sickened by the quotations given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood. If that is so, it is very unfortunate and it is a reflection on the many Conservative Members who seem to find it difficult to take race discrimination seriously.
1091 I am certainly not arguing that blacks should be treated differently by the police, but it seems that some policemen treat ethnic minorities differently for one reason only—the colour of their skin. I take the view that racialism is a sickness. It should certainly not be tolerated in the police force. If relations between the police and ethnic communities are to improve, it is essential that hostile and prejudiced elements should either leave the force or be subject to disciplinary action on the lines advocated by many of my hon. Friends—as they would be if the amendment were carried.
We want blacks and Asians to have confidence in the police. We want them to be able to feel that, if they take a complaint to a policeman, they will be treated no differently from anyone else. That is what we want, whether in Brixton or anywhere else. Members of ethnic minorities must have confidence that, when they deal with the police, they will not be treated differently simply because they are not white. That is not the case now. If it were, there would, of course, be no need for the amendment.
How far does the House believe that racial discrimination in the police force is a serious matter? That will be determined by the vote tonight. No doubt many Conservative Members will vote against the Government. I wish that they would vote against their Government on other matters which affect a large number of our people. I should like to see a large-scale Conservative rebellion on the cuts in the welfare services and housing benefits. However, only on such a measure as this are we likely to see such a rebellion.
The Opposition have no hesitation in supporting the Government on the amendment. We have always argued against racial discrimination. Indeed, we may have lost votes because we have done so. So be it. It is essential that this sickness should be eliminated from the country and the police force.
§ Mr. Butterfill
I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that we have benefited considerably in the past from amendments tabled in another place which have improved legislation emanating from this House. We have all been delighted to have had the benefit of the wisdom and experience of their Lordships. However, I am afraid that on this occasion we may be disappointed by the contribution of another place.
None of us doubts the sincerity of Lord Scarman or the considerable part that he has played in improving race relations, but the amendment places us in a dilemma similar to that suggested by the phrase, "When did you stop beating your wife?" On the one hand, we have the casing of a slur on the police force. There is no doubt that there is some racialism in the police force—that is a great shame—but the percentage in the police force is only that in the population as a whole. It is even possible —although I hope and pray that it is not the case—that there are some people of racist views in the House.
We must all work to eliminate racism. I have spent all my life opposing it and have founded societies that are dedicated to racial integration. We face a difficult dilemma. If we do not accept the amendment, racial minorities will profoundly misinterpret our decision,—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.