HC Deb 04 November 1998 vol 318 cc807-30

11 am

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

A great deal has happened since our annual debate on the Metropolitan police: notably, the Lawrence inquiry and the Government's response last month concerning ethnic minority balance in the police. It is extremely important for Parliament to have an opportunity to review the issues. The fact that we are having this debate reveals the lack of suitable accountability for police matters, especially in London. I hope that that will be remedied in due course by the new structure of London government.

Events surrounding the Lawrence inquiry are in many ways the starting point. We await the findings, but what has already happened has been immensely powerful. Those of us who attended the inquiry found it very moving and influential. There was an enormous emotional impact on the audience and on the police. I congratulate the Home Office on moving quickly, but, unfortunately, other cases, such as the Menson case, are now coming into view.

The issue of racism and the police has been around for a long time—the Scarman inquiry occurred nearly two decades ago—and there is a danger of our relapsing into weary cynicism and saying that the problems will always be with us. Racially motivated whites and more cynical blacks will say that nothing can or will be done, but that is quite wrong.

It is important that we note how much the context has changed. Anyone from an ethnic minority or with a racially mixed family background will know that there has been a big change over the past two decades. There was a tremendous climate of fear in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the Powell speeches, the marches and their aftermath. There was a fear of riots after every Notting Hill carnival, but the atmosphere at the carnival has now changed: there is great self-restraint on the part of the police and the participants, and the management is much more professional. Many people from ethnic minorities are doing well in the education system and the professions. But we also now have a second or third generation of people who will not in any circumstances accept second-class treatment, humiliation, discrimination and insult. The police, too, have moved on, but not as fast. Many who joined the police two decades ago did so in an environment with a different culture and much lower expectations.

The police are criticised for sins of omission and of commission. Sins of omission include the failure adequately to understand the extent to which ethnic minorities are victims of racially motivated crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), who is my party's spokesman on these issues, will develop the subject in more detail, but it is worth while sketching the key point that Home Office statistics show that, in any one year in Britain, 4 per cent. of black people, 8 per cent. of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and only 0.5 per cent. of white people are likely to have been victims racially motivated attacks.

Those may seem low figures, but over 10 years they mean that roughly half the ethnic minority population will have been on the receiving end of a racially motivated attack. I have been trying through parliamentary questions to establish the underlying trend. I had a helpful answer from the Home Office in April, suggesting that racially motivated incidents—which are not the same as assaults, but comparable—have increased by about 40 per cent. in the past five years. That may be partly because of improved recording or greater openness about disclosure, but it suggests a worrying rising trend. Surprisingly, the increase in incidents is most marked not in inner cities—apart from the east end of London—but in outer suburbs, such as the one that I represent. Black and Asian people in London feel that they are the victims of racial attacks and that the police are not sufficiently sensitive, aware or willing to react quickly. That is the origin of the Lawrence and Menson cases.

Bias is one of the sins of commission of which the police are accused. The statistic that is always cited is that young black Londoners are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. I know that that is a headline figure, that glosses could be put on it, that academic research shows that the story is complex and that the police are monitoring the situation carefully, but it is a striking figure.

Most of us will have heard from friends or constituents about the experiences of perfectly law-abiding black and Asian members of the community. One often sees black drivers of flash cars surrounded by police who have stopped them to look at their particulars. My noble Friend Lord Dholakia has a rather generously endowed saloon car. He reports being stopped on several occasions, culminating in being stopped by the police when he was on his way to address chief constables at a conference on the police and race. After several hours of embarrassment, he had to be given a motor cycle outrider escort to get him there in reasonable time. The police themselves are increasingly aware of such problems, but those problems continue to create enormous discord and resentment.

The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and other chief constables have had to consider whether they should acknowledge a phenomenon known as institutional racism. I have thought about the matter at some length, and I do not think that it is merely a semantic quibble. I think that the Commissioner is right not to go down the route, followed by the chief constable of Manchester, of accepting that institutional racism is endemic in the police. He is right to acknowledge that there are severe shortcomings, but to admit institutional racism is to send a signal that all police are racist, which cannot be helpful either for the integrity and morale of the police or for public confidence; nor is it correct.

The police have acknowledged that there are unacceptable practices. One of those is stereotyping, which not only is bad in itself, as a manifestation of prejudice, but leads to serious misjudgments. One of the clear lessons that has already emerged from the Lawrence inquiry is that the police were completely thrown when confronted with a middle-class black family with professional aspirations and a son who was academically gifted and wanted to go to university. They made all the wrong assumptions when initiating their inquiry.

The police must also acknowledge, and stop, the practice of supervising officers turning a blind eye to racist language, expressions of prejudice and the so-called canteen culture. It is widely known to exist in the police force as it does in all sections of the community, but supervising officers must ensure that it is not tolerated. Whether it is called institutional racism or something else is not central to the issue, but it is important that the deficiencies are acknowledged and dealt with.

I shall deal now with solutions and the way forward. There is clearly a time and a place for retrospective inquiry, but the key test is what is now done. The first issue to address is whether any advantage is served by demanding that senior heads roll in the police force. Some people argue that it would help to alleviate the present situation if the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis were to step down. As in the case of institutional racism, I do not believe that such a token gesture would be appropriate. I do not know the gentleman concerned well enough to judge his professional abilities, but a token PR gesture would not be helpful. The Lawrence inquiry will produce recommendations as to who is ultimately responsible, but resignation is not the way forward. The Commissioner has made some significant improvements in police practice and should be given an opportunity to see them through.

The key to the problem is recruitment, and the Government have recently made a strong statement on that matter. We start from a striking disparity, certainly in London, between the ethnic minority population, of some 20 per cent., and its representation in the police, which is about 3 per cent. The situation is changing at the margin, because some 6 per cent. of recruits are from ethnic minorities, which is a sign of improvement. It is right that the number of ethnic minority policemen should not mechanically reflect their share of the population, but it should approximate to it and be seen to do so. The ethnic minorities should also be represented at all levels in the police, although I recognise that the issue is not a straightforward numbers game. It is important that ethnic minority police officers are seen to be promoted on grounds of ability and merit, and not simply for token reasons.

It is also important that we consider the context in which police recruitment takes place. I get a sense from talking to police officers and the Police Federation in London that the police face a severe recruitment crisis. The problems surrounding pay and conditions, especially housing, greatly affect the context in which recruitment takes place. It matters whether ethnic minority policemen are recruited into a force with high morale and where there is competition for places, or into a force that is demoralised and relatively easy to enter. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that the context is correct.

A further area for change must be training. It is an old issue, which was raised by Scarman, but not much has happened since. I am told that training in London has been subject to economy cuts. Indeed, one of the most shocking facts to emerge from the Lawrence inquiry is that senior police officers did not get training in ethnic minority issues or even in murder inquiries. Corners have been cut in training, and that is causing considerable damage. I notice that the guidelines recently issued on training in the magistracy are sophisticated, useful and more advanced than those for the police. Perhaps lessons could be learned from that.

Changes are needed in disciplinary proceedings. Over past decades, there have been arguments about where the balance should lie in police complaints and disciplinary action. In the past, the assumption has always been that one should lean in the direction of the police officer who faces an accusation because of the double jeopardy problem, but the present context, especially in London, means that a different approach is required. Indeed, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has already demonstrated a willingness to take a much tougher and more open approach to complaints and subsequent disciplinary action.

My final point brings us back to the role of Parliament and the difficulties of establishing proper political accountability for the police, especially in London. It is striking that the Metropolitan Police Committee, which was established as a watchdog for the Metropolitan police, has been silent during the recent controversy. We have not heard a peep from it. Why does it exist? It should be acting as a shock absorber between the Metropolitan police and the public and politicians. Until the new structure of London government is established, that committee should undertake a much more active and politically aware role.

I thank the House for its indulgence and I look forward to the contributions of other hon. Members and the Minister's reply.

11.14 am
Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on initiating this debate and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue, although we will need a more detailed discussion once the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence and its aftermath has published its report. As hon. Members are aware, I represent the constituency in which Rohit Dugahl and Stephen Lawrence were murdered. I was not the local Member of Parliament at the time, but I was a resident and represented the council ward where the murders took place.

It is fitting to start by paying tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, who have conducted themselves with exemplary dignity throughout the time since the murder of their son. Many of us, faced with similar circumstances, would not have been able to remain as composed as they have been, especially while being forced to watch the murderers of their son go free.

The effect of the murders on my constituency has been dramatic. In the years that followed Stephen's brutal murder, numerous reports have depicted Eltham as an area where black people exist in constant fear and racial attacks are an everyday occurrence. I would not wish to suggest that there are no racial attacks in Eltham or that no racists live in the community, but much of the criticism was caused by the myth of a wall of silence which thwarted police in their inquiries.

All those involved in the case of Stephen's murder, including those who were well informed, assumed that the investigation failed because of a wall of silence in the local community. That has been proved to be inaccurate and the report of the Police Complaints Authority, published last December, clearly demonstrated that the police were in possession of evidence that should have allowed them to make arrests within the first 24 hours following Stephen's murder. Evidence given to the inquiry—I shall not elaborate on it now, because we will have opportunities to do so once the report is published—also clearly shows that the police could have made arrests in that time. Unfortunately, the media continue to focus on Eltham based on that myth and are no longer interested in the facts.

The effect is to create an image that black people living in other areas do not have a problem with racism. No consideration is given to the effect on black people in Eltham. Many of the problems that they now face arise from the notoriety of the case, and racists in the area even feel empowered by it. Many local people are greatly concerned and I have initiated discussions among community groups to try to tackle the problem and examine the problems that black people face living in a predominantly white community. We must challenge the feeding frenzy that the media has had on race relations in Eltham.

In spite of the encouragement given to the racists by the manner of some of the media reporting, racial incidents are at a relatively low level in my constituency. I hope that this debate will begin to help people to understand that racism must be challenged everywhere, not only in Eltham. We must also recognise the crucial role to be played by the police in that process. We live in a multicultural, multiracial society and we have to strive for more awareness and greater understanding, so that people can appreciate another person's racial background instead of fearing it as a threat. Do we want to live in a society in which every parent fears that his or her children might be isolated and confronted by a group of people who just happen to have a different-coloured skin? Black or white, we all have a duty to address that issue. To fail to do so would be to gloss over the problem. We must accept that the problem is not just in the police, but in the whole of society. The police force merely reflects the community from which serving officers are drawn.

I do not accept Sir Paul Condon's statement that there is no institutional racism in the police. Most black people would say that that accusation can be made accurately against virtually every institution that is almost exclusively white. It would be remarkable if there were no racism in the police. Racism, in whatever form, exists in the police force because it exists in our society. The minority of police officers who are racist harboured those feelings when they went in; it was not a matter of their becoming racist because they had joined the police. Sir Paul Condon should not regard recognition of that fact as a personal failing on his part. Nor should it be seen as an attack on each individual police officer. Only when we recognise the symptoms can we begin to address the problem.

Some may ask whether there is a problem. I believe that there is. The 1997–98 report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis includes figures on the use of police powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, giving the number of people searched and the number arrested as a result. Of the total of 336,692 searches, 41 per cent. were non-white. Non-whites make up 20 per cent. of London's population. Of those searched, 26 per cent. were black and 9 per cent. Asian. The arrest rates do not justify the disproportionate attention paid to those sections of the community. The arrest rate among the white community was 11.26 per cent. Among the black community, it was 11.65 per cent. and among the Asian community, 9.14 per cent.

Similarly, under the powers of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994—an Act used in anticipation of serious violence—a total of 3,992 people and vehicles were searched, of which a staggering 2,681 were Asian, while 653 were black and 554 white. Some 83.52 per cent. of persons arrested in anticipation of serious violent crime were black or Asian. The Metropolitan police were kind enough to try to explain the figures, giving me an area-by-area breakdown. I shall not give the detailed figures, but they pointed to serious problems with policing in specific areas, and to the unjustified use of powers to intimidate one section of the community.

Scotland Yard commissioned a working group, including representatives of the Commission for Racial Equality, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and the Home Office, which concluded that there was wide variation in the application of powers between ethnic minorities. The group concluded that only 10 per cent. of searches resulted in arrests, and that black people were four times more likely than whites to be stopped. Those are national figures; I accept that the hon. Member for Twickenham has figures suggesting that black people are eight times more likely to be stopped in London, but nationally an innocent black person is four times more likely to be stopped by the police than an innocent white person.

A recent report by Statewatch—"Stop and Search and Racism"—strongly supports the allegation that black people are subject to discrimination in the use of those powers. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry has demonstrated the crucial role of the police in race and community relations. It is up to hon. Members, and others, to ensure that institutions such as the police set standards for others to follow. To achieve that, we must have transparency, and complete statistics for effective monitoring.

Police forces have done a lot to increase racial awareness among officers, and that must be applauded. The racial incident unit at Woolwich police station is an example of best practice. There is great determination in the police to tackle racism, and that must be encouraged. However, those who seek to drag their feet over any of the recommendations of the Lawrence inquiry should know that that will not be tolerated. Action must be taken.

A strategic review of national police training is due to report early next year, and I hope that it will be able to consider the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry before it does so. Can the Minister confirm that it will? Police racial awareness training needs to be thoroughly reviewed so that its effectiveness can be assessed. Vetting of candidates to become police officers also needs to be introduced. I have been unable to find a single example of a police recruit being dismissed by the Metropolitan police because of inappropriate opinions regarding race. We all know that racist police officers exist, and those officers who are determined to serve the whole community have their jobs made more difficult by our failure to protect them from such individuals, and from the canteen culture.

The community has a right to demand that the police exhibit exemplary behaviour and attitudes towards racial awareness. We all grew up in an era in which the police were held in high esteem. A police officer was someone whom young people were encouraged to look up to. Few people would put the police in that category today. We must begin to restore the confidence of the whole community in the police if we are to begin to eradicate racism from our society.

11.24 am
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

The debate has so far been about the Metropolitan police, and I well understand the concentration on the Lawrence inquiry. However, I wish to speak about Leicestershire police. I have just completed the police parliamentary scheme, as has the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). I did mine with the Leicestershire police, and I found it extremely illuminating. The scheme would offer a valuable opportunity for members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to experience what happens in the police—both good and ill. I worked with a large number of officers in Leicestershire, some of whom were Asian or black, although the majority were white. My overriding impression is that they were employed because they were good police officers. They were there on merit.

Recruitment is much remarked on. In Leicestershire, more than 4 per cent. of the force comes from the black or Asian communities. Approximately 9 per cent. of the population of Leicestershire as a whole come from ethnic minorities. The county has, I believe, one of the highest proportions of black and Asian recruits, although this year, sadly, not one ethnic recruit has passed through the training. Some joined, but they did not succeed. I asked the chief constable on Friday what could be done about that. He told me that there was a recruiting department and a recruiting officer who specifically tries to encourage ethnic minorities to join the police force. The officer goes two steps further with ethnic minorities than would be gone with other groups. He promotes the force as a good career, using Asian radio stations, local ethnic minority magazines and visits to colleges. There is a recruiting stand at functions at which there are large gatherings of ethnic minorities, particularly employment fairs. The officer goes as far as he can to encourage people, but he cannot compel them to come in off the highways and byways to join the police.

The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) spoke about a canteen culture which deters good people from ethnic minorities from joining the police. There has certainly been such a culture among the police. I remember working with the Royal Ulster Constabulary 10 years ago, and some of what I heard made my hair stand on end, despite the fact that no one has ever accused me of being lily-livered or liberal. The same was true of the Metropolitan police 12 years ago. I hope that things have changed there, and in the RUC, as they have in Leicestershire.

Let me tell one story about Leicestershire that suggests that there is no canteen culture there to deter good people. In about 1993, the chairman of the police authority in Leicestershire, Baljit Singh—presumably of Sikh extraction—was a Labour councillor. He resigned as chairman and as a councillor. He then joined the Leicestershire police, where he is now a sergeant. From his position as chairman, he certainly did not see a culture that deterred him from joining the force.

I worked with officers at all levels during my four weeks at Leicestershire, and I learned the interesting lesson that racism was not an issue. I worked in Highfields, predominantly an Asian area in which the few white people are the minority. We talked to Rastafarians who had convictions for pushing drugs. There were suspicions that one or two might have been pimps. They had not been convicted for that, but it seemed that way. We talked to whites who were criminals. We dealt with the victims of crime—both Asian and white people. It seemed to me that the police officers made no distinction—they really did not in what I saw of them—between people of different races. Certainly, the Asians with whom I dealt seemed to have total confidence in the police; they turned to the police when they wanted help.

Leicestershire makes great play of community relations. I visited a large school in Leicester called Moat community college, where the white people are the minority ethnic group. The headmistress is an Asian—Freda Hussain. I was very impressed by everything that she said. She certainly was not anti-police. She had her criticisms, but she was very much on the side of the police. The police inspector with whom I went to school was very much on her side, as he tried to run a good relationship with the school and the large number of young people there.

The Leicestershire police are working at race relations. They make a tremendous effort and, from what I saw, their strategy seems to be working. They set up the first—it may still be unique—police advisory group on race issues, or PAGRI. The group includes members of the local Commission for Racial Equality, community leaders and others involved in race relations. A steady and sensible policy has been produced. I pay tribute to all involved in that. Race seems to have been deflated as an issue both among the police and within communities.

I found decent people of whatever colour working as police officers and trying to do the best job that they could in difficult circumstances. Of course there are problems of race relations, as there are in other sectors, but the last thing that Leicestershire or any other force need is a quota. I have to say that targets are very close to being the first cousin of quotas. The hon. Member for Twickenham said much the same thing. He said that we did not want mechanically to reflect the exact make-up of a community. It may be that the proportion of police officers from the ethnic minorities could be higher than that in the community, but that is to be encouraged.

I was disturbed to hear the Home Secretary say that heads would roll if improvements were not made. As the chief constable of the Leicestershire police said to me, what is he to do if he cannot compel people to join the force? Quotas would be insulting to the excellent officers of all ethnic backgrounds. As the hon. Member for Twickenham, with whom I might disagree on one or two things, said, suspicion would inevitably arise that someone had been promoted because of his or her colour. That would be a terrible thing and it would be an insult to the good black and Asian officers in Leicestershire and elsewhere.

What I saw in Leicestershire sets an example to other police forces. Certainly the Met has its problems. I learned something about good race relations, and I congratulate all officers in that force on their sensible and positive attitude.

11.32 am
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on his success in securing today's debate on an extremely important subject. It is timely for me because the Lawrence inquiry is sitting in Bristol this week. One of the purposes of that is to learn from some of the pioneering work that has been done in Bristol to further the interests of community relations in our city, which has a troubled history. The riots that led to the Scarman report happened in Brixton, but also in St. Paul's in Bristol, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey). My constituency of Bristol, East has the highest number of black and Asian residents of any city in the south-west.

I am pleased to say that the evidence is that the police force in Avon and Somerset, focused on the central police district and Trinity road police station, which is in my constituency, has learnt some very important lessons arising out of the Scarman report and the challenges of policing a multicultural area.

The establishment of the Lawrence inquiry does great credit to our Home Secretary. Many people like me were utterly appalled that many people in the police forces seemed to be in denial about what had happened. The hon. Member for Twickenham and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) referred to the fact that here was a young man who wanted to be an architect and, on the face of it, had every chance of doing so, who came from a stable, secure, middle-class home, and who was murdered on the street. Apparently, his family were initially treated by the police as "another black family". We have to acknowledge the roots of this terrible conflict and tragedy. That is what I hope and believe that the Lawrence inquiry will do.

Trinity road police station and the central policing district under Superintendent David Warren have produced guidance for the police about policing a multicultural community. They have recently published a booklet. That may sound a small thing, but it is invaluable in training people to deal with those who come from different family and cultural backgrounds. For example, it says that an officer wanting to arrest an Afro-Caribbean man should not lay a hand on his arm in order to do so because, culturally, that is one of the most threatening things that someone can do. It says that, if people do not look you in the eye when they are talking to you, it does not mean that they are shifty, but often means that they come from a cultural background in which to look someone in the eye is disrespectful and rude. If a woman has had an arranged marriage, that does not mean that she is stupid or backward, but that she comes from a different type of family structure. The booklet is full of useful and practical advice for policing in a multicultural area. I have conveyed that advice to my colleagues in the Home Office and I commend it to other police forces in similar areas.

Other hon. Members have referred this morning to institutional racism. It is difficult for any organisation or individual to acknowledge thoughts or actions that betray a feeling or belief that another person is in some way inferior. Institutional racism has a mirror image in institutional sexism, which is also difficult for any organisation to confront.

After 20 years or more of saying that we wanted more women Members of Parliament, the Labour party was brave enough during the previous Parliament to confront the fact that, while the party did not intend to be sexist, many of the things that we did at local and national level discriminated against women in the selection procedure. The evidence is here most days of the week in that we now have more than 100 women Members of Parliament. It is not an easy task to eradicate sexism. I notice that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, is beginning to examine such matters in that party. Similarly, the police cannot escape that process.

Institutional racism does not mean that police officers are plodding the streets with racist thoughts or intentions, but it can mean that a culture has developed within which assumptions that lie behind the way in which an officer deals with people betray a racist attitude. Often, it is not intentional. One of the definitions of discrimination in the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 is indirect discrimination—something that is not intended to discriminate, but in practice does.

There are lots of ways in which institutional racism can work. One of the most obvious is for people to see a 21 year-old black man driving around in a BMW and not to assume that he nicked it—an assumption that can be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) recounted to an audience in the Grand Committee Room several years ago during a lobby on the Asylum Bill how during his first year as a Member of Parliament, he was stopped not far from here by a police officer and called "sonny".

We have to acknowledge that such things happen. It is pointless for people to say that institutional racism means that every single police officer is racist, or, if the chief constable of Greater Manchester police acknowledges that that is a fact, but the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis says that it is not, for one to be set against the other. The best service that we can provide to society is to say that we have to examine the roots of the problem and try to deal with the consequences.

One thing that we have to do is accept the racial nature of certain crimes. That is obviously relevant to the Lawrence case, but all of us who represent multicultural areas can tell of crimes that appeared to be racist in nature, but were not accepted as such. Such cases can reinforce the sense of racism and make the policing of multicultural areas even more difficult. They can also deter recruitment to the police force among ethnic minorities, because people do not want to spend their working lives as "tokens"—there to be the exception to what appears to be a universally accepted rule.

In Bristol, there is an organisation called Support Against Racist Incidents—SARI—whose office is in my constituency and which has been praised by many individuals and organisations. It works closely with the police, as do all the community and voluntary groups in the central Bristol policing district. Through its work, SARI spreads public information about the nature and the effects of racism. In parts of my constituency, there have been the most appalling racist crimes and incidents. At every event or open day—for example, those run by the local housing services—SARI has a display highlighting the sorts of racist graffiti, violence and criminal damage that occur in Bristol.

SARI offers practical support to victims of racist crime and its role now extends beyond Bristol to Yeovil and Devon; however, its ability to provide such a service is at breaking point. I have told Ministers how important it is that SARI's work and that of similar bodies should be centrally funded, not only because local funding puts a great strain on local authority resources, but because such work is needed nationally. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) referred to a similar organisation in Leicester. Such bodies not only command the enthusiasm, support and confidence of the black and Asian communities, but do a great deal to support the work of the police.

We should look for ways in which to eradicate the barriers to the recruitment of black and Asian officers, who could do a great deal to strengthen our police forces and increase public confidence in them. It is in our long-term interests to confront racism and to point out to white people who are racist that they are claiming to be superior to people such as Nelson Mandela or Jessye Norman. I often recall the words of R. H. Tawney, that there will be equality only when high jinks in Mayfair are treated in the same way as drunk and disorderly in the east end of London. We have to take the same attitude toward racism. If a young black man is driving a BMW, perhaps we should assume that it belongs to him.

11.43 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), as our debate has gained from having been extended beyond the Metropolitan police district. It was kind of the hon. Lady to refer to Mayfair, which is in my constituency, in the closing paragraph of her speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on having given us the opportunity to debate this important subject. Finally, I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey); it is happy for us that she is a fellow London Member of Parliament.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), one of my cousins once served in the Met. I should briefly declare a few interests. When I served on Camden council, I was chairman of the Camden committee for community relations. In the aftermath of Lord Scarman's report, police-community consultative groups were set up in the City of Westminster, as elsewhere. There are three groups: one in south Westminster, one in the central and west end area and one in Paddington. In addition, there are two sub-committees: one on homelessness and one on licensing.

I gather that there is a widespread opinion in the Met that those groups work well. That was corroborated when I appeared before Chris Patten's commission on the future of policing in Northern Ireland, which considered the use of community committees there. I met the Patten commission because the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, of which I am Chairman, published a report earlier this year on the recruitment, composition and training of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There are obvious parallels between the question of minority recruitment to the RUC and the issues that we are debating this morning.

When he was a silk, my brother, who is now a lord justice of appeal, was briefed to appear for the coroner on a rerun of the Deptford inquiry. There had been a motion that the first findings of the coroner's court be quashed and the case heard again. My brother says that it was one of the most difficult cases he ever had to take in court because, although he had to win the case for the coroner, who was his client, and ensure that there was no rerun of the case, he was conscious that the parents of those who died in that infamous fire in Deptford were troubled that they might not have received justice at the earlier stage. He had to tread a very narrow line—to win the case, but to make sure that, by its end, the parents felt that it had been properly conducted and that the circumstances of their children's deaths had been properly explained.

My brother was well chosen for that role by central casting. In the 1960s, he had been unexpectedly recruited by a combination of Lord Denning and Lord Constantine—better known as the electrifying West Indian cricketer Learie Constantine—to improve opportunities for ethnic minorities at the Bar. He has latterly been involved in the arrangements for training judges to deal with ethnic matters.

I did not get hot and bothered when the Commissioner, in publishing the crime statistics not for this year but for a previous one, drew attention to the fact that there were a considerable number of convictions among members of ethnic minorities. The Commissioner's role was descriptive, not evaluative; he was simply indicating one of the issues with which the police have to deal.

Westminster's crime rate is much higher than that of the rest of the Metropolitan police district because of the enormous number of people who come into Westminster every day and who constitute a target for criminals. In my constituency, if I shake the hand of someone on the street during a general election campaign, I have a one in 12 chance of shaking the hand of someone who has the right to vote for me. However, anyone whose handbag or wallet is taken on Oxford street, in Soho, or anywhere in the west end, will be quite clear as to who committed the robbery, so I do not think that Sir Paul Condon erred in drawing attention to that.

I agree with those hon. Members who spoke about the sense of outrage that totally innocent people feel when they are stopped by the police while going about their lawful business. On one occasion when driving around Ashley gardens, where we used to live, looking for a residential parking space, my first wife was stopped by the police. They clearly believed that she was a prostitute cruising for business, and she was spreadeagled against a wall. It is ironic that all this happened in my own constituency. Neither she nor I made any public or private reference to that, but 15 years later, it is worth mentioning the event because such incidents do happen and those to whom they happen feel considerable outrage. I share the sympathy that has been expressed for ethnic minorities.

One of the experiences of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, which in this Parliament has set its face to controversial issues, is that, as soon as we set up an inquiry, the body that we are investigating sets up a matching internal committee, often independently staffed, to consider the same issue. I welcome that, and I am delighted that the Metropolitan police are carrying out their own research, as the hon. Member for Twickenham said.

Other hon. Members have referred to the importance of recruitment. I shall not dwell on the parallels with the Territorial Army, which we have been discussing over the past fortnight, but, because this is a separate debate, I shall record again the statistics for the Royal Green Jackets volunteer arm in London. Twenty per cent. of its members are from ethnic minorities, against 1 per cent. in the Army as a whole. In Mayfair, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol, East, 43 per cent. of the cadets at the Royal Green Jackets' depot and drill hall are from ethnic minorities, and 53 per cent. of the cadet contingent have single parents or are from broken homes. There is a moral there for the police and for the Regular Army, who should learn how it has been possible for the TA to effect that recruitment, which has not been occurring elsewhere.

I hope that an error will not be made about the TA, certainly in central London, but present Members are prone to blaming every ill that occurs in this country on the previous Government. The moment will come when that will no longer be intellectually possible. I am one of the two dozen or so—my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), who is present, is another—who sat in the Chamber for the Conservatives between 1974 and 1979. In that period, in the run-up to the Edmund Davies report, there was a haemorrhage of sergeants from the Met aged 35 and above who got out because of the manner in which police pay was handled.

There was a crisis from the loss of police officers in the period after the Edmund Davies report; the new Government in 1979 were prepared to spend considerable money not only to meet the Davies recommendations on pay, but on further recruitment into the Met, yet there was not sufficient operational middle management of the quality required to train officers. That is a "What if?" question and we cannot tell how the course of history would have been changed if circumstances had been different. The report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the Royal Ulster Constabulary referred to a canteen culture, and there is no question that operational middle management plays a part in that.

I conclude as I began by thanking the hon. Member for Twickenham for initiating the debate. I am delighted to have been able to make a small contribution to it.

11.52 am
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I shall speak briefly, because I know that the national spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), wants to speak. I join in appreciation of all that has been said by other hon. Members in this debate, which has been well initiated and conducted.

I regret only that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), will not be able to take part, but the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), will be able to speak, at least as a Minister. I suspect that she will speak also as a Back Bencher because, in the past, going over Vauxhall bridge to her constituency at night, every person that the police asked to get out of their car was black. That is no longer the case, so some of the apparent wrongdoing, which reflects genuine wrongdoing, is being tackled with determination by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. From the day that he took office, he has been determined to deal with all the problems that the police force faces. He has not been completely successful, as he has said.

There have been references to the Lawrence inquiry. Like the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), I prefer to keep most of my remarks for when the second part of the inquiry has finished and the report has been published. It is worth noting that, within a day and a half of the tragic killing of Stephen Lawrence, newspapers had reported police sources as saying that they knew that he was a good young man from a good family. The detective work went wrong, but it is worth noting also that Superintendent John Philpott responded to the request of the leader of Greenwich council to come to an immediate meeting at Greenwich town hall. That initiative and the exemplary behaviour of Doreen and Neville Lawrence meant that there was no follow-up action on the streets, which could have led to disaster.

I recommended to the Home Secretary in the previous Government that, instead of having an award to commemorate Philip Lawrence, the white headmaster who was tragically killed, it would be a fine tribute to have Lawrence awards to commemorate Stephen, a fine young black man, and Philip, a fine white headmaster. That would have been an inclusive way of marking their loss but also one that represented the decency in our community.

In such a debate, it would be easy to go back over the 23 or so years in which I have served in the House and pick out examples of bad behaviour by the police, and perhaps, on occasion, it would be right to do so. However, it is important to recognise the number of times when the police have behaved well or behaved better. Unless we recognise those changes, we shall not encourage those who are trying to effect change.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) rightly pointed out the importance of middle management. When I had the responsibility for measures to cut drink-driving, the canteen culture in various police services was different because not only chief constables but their sergeants imposed their example and standards.

When a relatively senior detective in the Metropolitan police got into difficulty with the force, it was possible, by agreement with his Member of Parliament, to meet a senior police officer and get the issue at least half resolved, rather than leaving it in the hands of lawyers. When my half-French research assistant was repeatedly stopped and mistreated by the police on his way home from dropping me—for example, at Broadcasting house at midnight—he and I were able to meet a senior police officer and that mistreatment stopped.

I recommend that, if members of the police are concerned about the possible responses of the Lawrence inquiry, they should ensure that, when a police officer has stopped someone to run a check on a vehicle or driver's licence, that incident is recorded. The worst condemnation that I make of the most recent case that I took up is that the police had no record of inquiries about a named person in a car whose registration number was known. That shows that something is going wrong. If, for audit purposes, the police cannot run a retrospective check on who made an inquiry, when they made it and what it concerned, they cannot be accountable because they cannot count, manage or measure. They should insist on such records. Organisations will change only if good middle managers are recruited and remain in the force.

I conclude with a point about the Metropolitan police. There has been a recommendation that the starting rates of pay for police in London should be increased. The people who ought to come into the police service are much in demand, whatever their ethnic background. Within the Government, people are asking whether that recommendation should be implemented. It should. Low or relatively low pay in central London is not an excuse for racial attitudes, but increasing pay may be part of the solution.

In that respect, as in others, the day that we can say that the colour of someone's skin is only as important as the colour of their eyes or of their hair, we shall know that the problem has been solved. We cannot say that yet.

11.58 am
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) managed to secure this debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) for his brevity. I shall try to be equally brief.

I want to highlight the problems faced by ethnic minorities in being the victims of crime. That aspect is often overlooked because there is a focus on the experience of ethnic minorities as the alleged perpetrators of crime and their subsequent treatment by the police and the criminal justice agencies.

Statistics unequivocally show that ethnic minorities are more likely to be the victims of all forms of crime. The British crime surveys of 1988 and 1992 and Home Office research study 154 showed that, statistically speaking, ethnic minorities are significantly more likely than whites to be the victims of both household and personal offences. The findings of the latest crime survey, published in Home Office statistical bulletin 6/98, showed that During 1995, ethnic minorities had a statistically higher risk of victimisation than white people. Of course, there are sub-categories within that grouping. The bulletin continued: In particular, risks of almost all crimes were higher for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

There is variety within the different groupings and there is a risk of treating all people as the same, but every group of people with colour have a statistically higher risk of being victims of all forms of crime.

In addition to that experience of general crime, two important aspects must be considered: racially motivated crime and fear of crime. Racially motivated crime has an especially harmful effect on community relations. The crime surveys showed a high under-reporting of such crime. The 1996 survey recorded that Less than half of all racially motivated crime recorded in the survey was reported to the police", and that Reporting to the police was less common among ethnic minorities than white people. Only 29 per cent. of racist crimes where the victim was an ethnic minority were reported to the police, compared with 55 per cent. where the victim was white. Under-reporting and the feeling that racially motivated crime is not taken seriously may contribute to a lack of confidence in the police in general. We are pleased that improvements are being made in that regard, such as the introduction of legislation on racially aggravated offences, for which we have high hopes, but we believe that there is far more work to be done.

When I was a member of Avon county council, some time ago, I came into contact with Support Against Racist Incidents; like the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), I can testify to its good work. As a part of the community, it talks to people—sometimes literally in their language—and encourages them to report the racially motivated offences that are certainly occurring. I hope that the Government will provide support to enable more similar work to be done.

Fear of crime is markedly higher among ethnic minorities, and can dramatically affect people's quality of life, regardless of their background. The 1996 survey showed that Ethnic minorities scored higher than white people on all the crime survey measures of fear of crime. They perceive themselves to be at greater risk of crime than whites … To a large extent this is a reflection of their actual higher risks of victimisation and harassment.

A figure that stuck out for me from the survey's findings was that 10 per cent. of black people fear going to football matches, as against 3 per cent. of white people. I know that the Commission for Racial Equality is doing much work with its "Let's kick racism out of football" campaign, but plenty remains to be done when significant numbers of citizens fear going to a certain type of event purely because they feel that they may be harassed, or worse.

Under-reporting in general does not appear to be a major problem, in that the figures for reporting of crime are broadly similar for all groups, but there is a high expectation among ethnic minorities that nothing will happen after the crime has been reported. That low expectation of police action is a major problem.

Some major socio-economic factors are outside the scope of the debate. The fact that people who belong to an ethnic minority often live in poverty and deprivation is linked with their experience of crime, quite apart from the additional factor of their ethnicity.

One of the cornerstones of any improvement in police action is the ethnic monitoring of all police activity. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred to the other main issue—recruitment. I say to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that we believe that targets— not quotas—are important, and that firm action is needed to ensure that officers justify their failure to meet targets. There may be a good reason—recruits may not be presenting themselves—but we believe that someone based centrally must ask chief constables what is happening and demand an explanation.

Mr. Robathan

I am very happy with that suggestion. Targets have an important role and of course recruitment should be targeted; I was expressing a fear that heads would roll if the targets are not met.

Mr. Allan

I am grateful for that clarification.

For ethnic monitoring to be undertaken seriously, and subsequent action to be taken, there must be leadership from the top. The Home Office research study into ethnic monitoring, No. 173, picked up some widely differing attitudes to monitoring. Some police officers were using it defensively; they were saying, "We know that the blacks carry out all the crime and we believe that monitoring will help us prove it". Others responded genuinely and appropriately, saying that monitoring was an important tool whose use was in the interests of the police, enabling individual police officers to show that they were not acting in a racially motivated or racist way.

Monitoring, in and of itself, is not the answer. The attitude to monitoring must be right, and senior management must take note of, and act on, the results. If figures for stop and search reveal a problem, senior management must ask throughout the ranks why that is happening and seek solutions.

We believe that the challenge is to bring about the right attitude to monitoring and to take action to combat racism throughout police forces in Britain. I have every confidence in chief constables to show the necessary leadership, but we must make it clear that that is a public priority—a political priority.

I believe that, if we are looking for some good to flow from tragic events such as those that triggered the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, it would be a fitting result for all police forces to place combating racism—in their ranks and in society—high on their agenda. As a Liberal Democrat, working for a tolerant and free society, I believe that there is a moral case for that. I also hope that we shall take seriously the experiences of people from ethnic minorities, in relation to the higher levels of actual crime and fear of crime that they suffer, and their appalling experience of the horrendous effects of racially motivated crime. If that consciousness guides our police priorities, it will single out that aspect as a key area for police action.

We hope that the new community safety strategies will provide a focus, as they highlight the experience of people from ethnic minorities and allow the police to target resources. I look forward to the development of those community safety strategies, and hope that they will have serious input from all sections of the community. I hope that they result, not in a top-down approach, but in a genuine bottom-up approach, which will allow everyone to talk about their experiences. I look forward to the Minister's response on this important issue.

12.6 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I take the opportunity—the first that I have had—to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), to the Treasury Bench. We are great friends in this place. I suspect that, later today, our minds will turn to a town in Ukraine, because of our support for a certain football club. In the meantime, I am glad to speak with her across the Dispatch Boxes on this important issue.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing the debate. Debate on police issues is always welcome, especially to me. Although the House will, in due course, reflect on the report of the Macpherson inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence tragedy, there are—as the debate has shown—many matters on which we may usefully express a view while we keenly await its publication. I am sure that the House would wish to thank Sir William Macpherson and his team for their work. I am sure that the House will also wish to share in expressing the admiration of the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) for the courageous and temperate way in which Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence have conducted themselves in recent months over that tragic affair.

Central to the deliberations of the Lawrence inquiry has been the question whether there is institutionalised racism in the police service. The debate has shown that the phrase means different things to different people. We need to clarify what we mean—what people are trying to allege— by the phrase "institutionalised racism". If it means that the police service as a whole sets out to target and persecute people from black communities solely on the ground of their ethnic background, I do not believe such an allegation to be remotely true. On the other hand, if the intention is to suggest that there is in the police service a tendency among some officers, as a result of their personal racial prejudice or—as the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) correctly pointed out—all the assumptions that they make, to fail on occasions to treat every incident that might involve people from ethnic backgrounds with equal fairness or single-mindedness, that allegation may well be true. Nevertheless, such tendencies and behaviour cannot be tolerated. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) has just reminded the House, in community and police relations, the problem is more often one of people from ethnic backgrounds being victims of, rather than their indulging in, criminal activity.

A central issue in the Stephen Lawrence incident has been police response to racially motivated violence. Not that many years ago, when I was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, we inquired in depth into the issue of racially motivated attacks. Committee members were struck by the variation in standards of community relations among police forces, even within the Metropolitan police in different parts of London. There is no substitute for strong and good relations between police and communities, and achieving such relations must be an important objective for all police services.

In recent months, with the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we have debated how racially motivated violence should be prosecuted. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) said, it is difficult not to conclude that such argument is essentially irrelevant when dealing with the primary fact that a very fine young man has been murdered.

I have often stated in the House my belief in the need for a multiracial police force. Although only a fool or a racist bigot would argue with the proposition that the United Kingdom's multiracial society needs a multiracial police force, there is still much to do done to build such a force. Only last week, Mr. Fred Broughton of the Police Federation told the Home Affairs Select Committee that, in the fight against crime, "it is essential" to have a far more balanced police force.

I have been able on several occasions to observe the effectiveness of multiracial policing in major cities in the United States, and argue that such policing is a prize that is well worth striving for. The Home Secretary was right to suggest in his recent speech to the Black Police Association that more needs to be done to foster good relations with all sections of our diverse community, and that the police service should reflect the diversity of the community that it serves.

The Government must, nevertheless, do more than merely set targets for recruitment, retention and promotion of black and Asian officers, because targets alone will solve nothing. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) has dealt with the matter of what happens if targets are not met.

The House must ask how chief constables are to increase the number of officers from ethnic communities when, as the Home Secretary knows full well, other demands on police budgets—some of which have been imposed by the Home Office—are forcing many chief constables to freeze recruitment.

The greater flexibility given by the previous Government to chief constables to decide their spending priorities was, and remains, a welcome development. However, it remains Ministers' responsibility to ensure that the demands that they place on the police service are achievable within the resource base that they provide.

The plain fact is that many police forces will find it extremely difficult to recruit additional officers in the next few years, and that some forces are already making reductions. Progress in reaching the important targets for recruitment of more black and Asian police officers can be met only through the natural process of younger officers replacing retiring officers.

It is crucial that more is done by senior officers to improve police culture in dealing with ethnic communities. People from ethnic communities need encouragement to believe that they will be made to feel welcome if they join the police service.

As several hon. Members have said today, people from ethnic communities neither need nor expect positive discrimination in achieving promotion. Many young people from an ethnic background who have been born and brought up in the United Kingdom are highly capable of achieving, entirely on merit, the most senior ranks in our police service.

The task for chief constables and senior officers is to eradicate any racist elements in their forces. To do so, they will require the full support of both the Government and Parliament. The Stephen Lawrence tragedy, and the case of Michael Menson, demonstrate all too clearly the price of failing to achieve that objective.

Some have questioned whether some senior police officers, even the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis himself, should resign. I agree with those who say that such tokenism will not address the culture issue, and that a more significant factor may be whether senior officers have the confidence of their own serving officers. Above all, training and internal personnel initiatives are most likely to be effective in addressing the issue. The hon. Member for Bristol, East made telling points on the need for the police service to have a far greater understanding of different cultures, and on the fact that behaviour regarded as unusual by some may be thought of as perfectly normal by others.

There must be change not only in police culture. As Mr. Broughton told the Select Committee last week, police morale has taken an absolute battering over recent allegations of racism in the service. Although I do not have time to quote at length Mr. Broughton's evidence to the Committee, that evidence will be available to hon. Members. I should say that he mentioned the tremendous anger of police officers. As he said—it is confirmed by my own experience—the fact is that the vast majority of police officers are not racist, corrupt or dishonest. They are doing a difficult job. The House has always taken every opportunity to praise the excellent job done by the vast majority of serving policemen and policewomen in the United Kingdom, and we do so again today.

I have no doubt that the most pressing need is to address the loss of faith in our police service, which has been generated by recent events, among residents in many communities, particularly in London. However, the situation is not entirely gloomy. Later today, we should be able to see in the Evening Standard a new ICM poll showing that, according to members of ethnic communities, race relations have improved significantly in the past 10 years. We therefore have to view the issue in perspective.

Suspicion of, and lack of confidence in, the police service is the primary barrier to achieving the Government's objective of increasing the number of officers from West Indian, African, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds. Young people from those communities are being actively discouraged from joining the police service. It will take a monumental effort to repair the damage of recent months. A great many people in the police service relish that challenge, but will need to have confidence that corrupt officers and those guilty of blatant racial discrimination will be disciplined.

The police service will also need reassurance that Parliament stands ready to provide the support, both moral and material, that it needs. It is my profound wish that the cross-party consensus on the issue that has been so obvious in the debate will encourage the important process of rebuilding and strengthening police and community relations in Britain.

12.19 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)

I thank the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) for his kind words. It is a privilege to respond to my first Adjournment debate on this topic. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), who is sitting on the Front Bench but cannot speak, and I, as the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall, have a great interest in this subject as we both represent the borough of Lambeth.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on his good fortune in securing the debate and on his choice of subject. The issues of racism and community relations in the context of the police are both highly topical and extremely important subjects for the House to consider. His thoughtful and forward-looking remarks set the tone for the whole debate. It is good to see that hon. Members on both sides of the House have wanted to contribute to the debate. As the hon. Member for Ryedale said, that shows the all-party nature of the subject. If we are to tackle racism, we must all work together.

There has been a tendency to regard such debates as primarily about the Metropolitan police, but the speeches by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) and the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), who may think that he is still a London Member—he is not, because my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) is sitting behind me—have shown that the debate has been more wide ranging. Although the Met gets huge publicity because it is such a large force, its problems are replicated in police forces throughout the country.

The Government have made tackling racism a top priority. In the United Kingdom's increasingly diverse society, the police service needs to reflect that priority if it is to continue its tradition of policing by consent. The service relies on the support and active participation of all sections of the community. It must also be seen to be tackling racial and other discrimination so that it can provide a better service to all sections of the community.

We all want a police service that treats all people fairly, regardless of their race or religion. The experience of ethnic minority communities does not meet that aspiration. We must take that on board. To do its job properly, the police service needs the trust and confidence of every citizen. Police and community relations must be brought into the heart of police policy and practice.

Our goal is to create a police service that treats people fairly and equally. Central to that is the need to ensure that racially motivated crime is tackled effectively. Part of the answer is to provide the right legislative tools to tackle racial crime. We have made good progress on that in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, with the introduction of new racially aggravated offences. However, legislation is not enough. The way in which the police respond to racial crime is crucial. It is a key test of whether the police are delivering their services fairly to all sections of the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East mentioned a booklet about the work done under Commander Dave Warren in Bristol. That approach has helped to turn round police-community relations in that area and is to be commended. As the hon. Member for Worthing, West said, much work is being done to improve police performance in that central area. In my time as a Member of Parliament, I have seen changes in my constituency, where some people would hardly talk to the police. That has changed and genuine partnerships now exist.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has produced a good practice guide for police response to racial incidents. A protocol has also been agreed with the Crime Prosecution Service to ensure consistency in identifying cases with a racial motivation. Those are all steps in the right direction, which we intend to build on to ensure that the mistakes of the past are avoided. The Government welcome the racial and violent crime task force, headed by DAC John Grieve, which the Metropolitan police has set up. It has the challenging task of creating a strategy for tackling that key area in the Met.

Reference has been made to the Lawrence inquiry. I wish to add my comments on how the Lawrence family has handled the whole terrible tragedy. Part 2 of the inquiry that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set up last year into the death of Stephen Lawrence is now well under way and is looking into the lessons to be learnt for the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crime. The death of that young man was a tragedy. The challenge will be for the police service to ensure that the results of the inquiry are grasped as an opportunity to make real and lasting changes so that it can gain the confidence of all sections of the community.

How the police use their powers is another key test of how fairly they serve the community. It can have a significant effect on the lives of members of minority ethnic communities: on their perceptions of the police and their willingness to co-operate with the police in tackling crime and disorder. The results of the first full year of ethnic monitoring of police activity, published last December, showed substantial differences in the use the police make of their powers when dealing with different ethnic groups. The statistics showed that police forces consistently stopped, searched and arrested more black people than white or Asian, but were less likely to caution black people. That has been referred to over and again by hon. Members today.

Although many variables make it difficult to interpret the data perfectly, there can be no escaping the message that black people in particular seem to get disproportionate attention from the police. It is vital that the police service takes account of that, and takes effective action to ensure that the substantial powers that police officers hold are used fairly and effectively. Progress is being made. For example, the Metropolitan police service has reviewed its use of stop and search, and developed a plan to manage that tactic fairly and effectively. The Association of Chief Police Officers has set up a project to develop effective use of ethnic monitoring data, which will inform the development of a good practice guide. We all await the results with interest.

Appropriate training for the police in community and race relations is essential to enable them to operate effectively and fairly. The Home Office has, for many years, funded a specialist unit to give expert support to the service in race and community relations training. A new strategy to be implemented from next year will see a shift in how that support is provided: support will be provided directly to individual forces to place community and race relations firmly within operational policing activities.

I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham that the review of national police training is on ice while the Select Committee on Home Affairs conducts an inquiry into police training. However, we intend the results of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry to feed into the review.

We hope that the new force-based approach, which will include extensive consultation with local communities, will provide the right operational and cultural context in which training can take place. As the hon. Member for Twickenham said, corners must not be cut on training.

Membership of the service must now, more than ever, reflect the diversity of society. The Home Secretary has expressed his personal commitment to that, and to the setting of targets for minority ethnic recruitment, retention and promotion in all services for which the Home Office is responsible. I gently advise the hon. Member for Ryedale that we cannot allow resources to be used as an excuse for not recruiting more ethnic minorities in the police service. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for targets, but make it absolutely clear that targets are not the same as quotas. There is a big difference.

The Home Office and the Black Police Association have a close working relationship, to which black police officers are well placed to make an important contribution not only operationally but in terms of understanding what goes on in their own community.

It is the Government's goal to create a society that treats everyone with decency and respect, regardless of their colour. The police service must take a lead in making that vision a reality. The report of the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence's death will have a significant impact on the future of race and community relations within the police service, and the service must rise to that challenge. I remind the House of what Lord Scarman said in his 1981 report: A police force which fails to reflect the ethnic diversity of our society will never succeed in securing the full support of all its sections.

I am confident that there is a strong commitment at all levels of the service to making the necessary changes and that we can move forward and learn from the lessons of the past. I am confident that we shall learn from the Lawrence inquiry and I very much welcome the opportunity to debate the matter this morning, and the interest shown by all hon. Members.