§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]5.13 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
When I published the report of the inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence on 24 February, I spelt out the Government's determination to take action. Last week, I published, as promised, a detailed action plan to set out our response to the report's 70 recommendations.
The action plan provides a framework for a major programme to deliver significant improvements in all key services. Much of that programme of work has already started; most of the inquiry's recommendations should be implemented by the end of this year, and the rest should be in place within three years.
I am taking personal responsibility for the delivery of the programme set out in the Macpherson report. I shall chair a steering group to oversee and monitor progress. The group will include members from the Race Relations Forum, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Black Police Association, the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents Association, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, the Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
I know that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are considering carefully the report's implications for the criminal justice system and for policing in those parts of the United Kingdom.
As most hon. Members—particularly those participating in the debate—will, I hope, have had the opportunity of reading the action plan, I shall not go through it line by line. I should like, however, to say something about the plan's main elements.
Restoring confidence in the police among all sections of the community and increasing the openness and accountability of the police service are crucial. Only through mutual trust will our police service be able to work effectively for all sections of the community. We have to remember that, as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said in his response to the Lawrence report, although it contains serious criticisms and a clear agenda for improvement of the police service—about which no one is being complacent—our police service is different from, and I suggest is significantly better than, the police services of most countries of the world, as it is founded on the essential element of trust and confidence between the community and the police service.
The new ministerial priority to improve trust and confidence in policing among ethnic minority communities will ensure that issues of central concern to those communities are given proper attention. Police performance in that sphere must improve and will systematically be assessed, as it will be in other spheres. Progress of police activities will also be assessed.
As recommended by the Macpherson report, Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary will be conducting a full inspection of the Metropolitan police 761 service to review its community and race relations strategy. The inspection will also involve a focused examination of unsolved murder investigations. No inspection of that size and complexity has been undertaken before. Nevertheless, I am able to tell the House that the preparatory work for that inspection is well under way, and that, next month, inspection teams will begin their work.
New police discipline arrangements—another issue raised in the Macpherson report—take effect from Thursday, 1 April 1999. Key changes include introducing the civil standard of proof, a fast-track procedure to deal swiftly with officers caught committing various criminal offences and, for the first time, separate formal procedures for dealing with unsatisfactory performance.
One of the inquiry's recommendations was that I should consider the establishment of a fully independent complaints system.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
I know that the Home Secretary will agree that, while we in no way wish to condemn the entire police force for the ineffective or recalcitrant conduct of a part of it, it is crucial that police conduct should not only be fair but be seen to be fair. In considering the proposal on a fully independent complaints procedure, will he accept that many people feel that it is fundamentally unjust that complaints against the police should continue to be investigated by current and former police officers?
§ Mr. Straw
I accept the hon. Gentleman's comment. Moreover, when he says that many people believe that that practice is unjust, these days, that also includes police officers. It is a matter of record that the Police Federation and, I believe, the Police Superintendents Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers accept the need for there to be an independent investigation of serious complaints, but not for less serious ones.
Currently, serious complaints are investigated by police services other than the one to which the relevant officers belong. In my experience, those investigations are extremely thorough and independent. None the less, the fact remains that they may not have the appearance of independence, which is why I am pleased that there is such widespread support for some changes.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
My right hon. Friend will know that, some months ago, one of my constituents, Janet Alder, saw him about her brother, who died, almost a year ago, in police custody in Hull. Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the problems in that type of case is that delays on the part of the Police Complaints Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service in making decisions cause considerable anxieties and concerns—that young lad is still not buried—and that we really must expedite decisions in such cases?
§ Mr. Straw
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not expect me to go into detail on that case, but I accept that the time that some investigations take—particularly investigations into the circumstances of a death—can cause great anxiety to relatives, although it is difficult to see how they would be conducted any quicker under an independent system.
762 In its report last year on police complaints and discipline, the Select Committee on Home Affairs also made recommendations for the establishment of a fully independent complaints system. Work is already under way on that proposal. A detailed feasibility study is being carried out and will be completed by April next year. I shall inform the House of the conclusions of that study.
The Macpherson inquiry raised concerns about the accountability of the Metropolitan police in comparison with other police forces. The establishment of the Metropolitan Police Authority will profoundly change the accountability of the Metropolitan police service to the communities that it serves. The Greater London Authority Bill, which is due to finish its Committee stage tomorrow, will establish an authority with virtually the same structure, functions and powers as police authorities outside London. The differences are explained entirely by the fact that the Met will continue to have national and international functions. It is important that the Home Secretary continues to play a role in the running of the service in respect of those functions.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the Home Secretary recognise that the national and international functions have diminished somewhat with the creation of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service? The Home Secretary's insistence on taking such an active part in the selection of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner is at variance with the Macpherson report's recommendations.
§ Mr. Straw
I accept that the establishment of NCIS and the National Crime Squad has changed the circumstances a little, but the Metropolitan police service still has major national and international functions relating to national security. It has functions relating to the capital that transcend the interests of some of the local communities in London and it has important international functions, as well as functions such as the protection of royalty. It is important that the Home Secretary should take an interest.
With the establishment of the proposed Metropolitan Police Authority, I do not believe that there will be any significant difference between the Home Secretary's involvement in the appointment of the Commissioner—taking account of the national and international functions—and his involvement with police services outside London. The Home Secretary has a veto over who may be included in the short list for every police force, in London or outside. That is when the crucial input into determinations is made. That point may have been missed in the debate. The Commissioner will be a Crown appointment. The other difference is that one member of the 23 on the Metropolitan Police Authority will be nominated by the Home Secretary in respect of the national and international functions of that police service. I do not believe that that is unreasonable.
§ Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North)
On the subject of police forces outside London, does my right hon. Friend have any comment on the report in Tribune this week that, according to Home Office figures, one third of the small ethnic community in Norfolk have been arrested by the police?
§ Mr. Straw
I am afraid that I have not read my copy of Tribune this week, but I normally do and I look forward 763 to it. I shall refer to stop-and-search powers in a moment, if my hon. Friend can await my remarks, without commenting specifically on the figures that he has given. I should be surprised if one third of the ethnic community had been arrested, but it is possible that at least one third of them have been subject to stop and search. I shall look at the figures carefully.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
As the Home Secretary knows, we welcome the creation of the Greater London authority and the transfer of policing functions to a more democratic body. As someone who lives in south London when he is in London, he will know that the pressure on the police caused by racism and serious crime in recent years has been horrendous. When those two factors are combined, the pressure has been awful. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, if the inspectorate's report makes it clear that the police in London need more resources to investigate unsolved murders, to deal with serious crime and to combat racism, the Home Office will not restrict the GLA from raising the money needed for London policing?
§ Mr. Straw
I shall not get into a debate about the budget of the Metropolitan Police Authority two years before it is established. We have properly funded the Metropolitan police service for this year, and I shall set the budget for next year after the usual consultation. I am sure that the new Metropolitan Police Authority, when it sets a budget for 2001, will fully take into account the needs of the Metropolitan police service.
I do not subscribe to the adjectives that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) used about the Metropolitan police service. Of course there have been pressures on the police, but I believe that the Metropolitan police service has shown great skill in dealing with crime in London. That is reflected in its output. Speaking from memory, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that burglary is now down to an 18-year low in London, and street robbery is down to a nine-year low. There is a major agenda for the investigation of serious crime, but if the hon. Gentleman is talking about that, I refer him to the point that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) just made. These days, a significant part of the investigation of serious crime, which by its nature takes place in the capital, is undertaken not by the Metropolitan police service directly but by NCIS and the National Crime Squad, which are separately funded.
I am conscious of the time, given the previous debate, so I shall move on to deal with the issue of freedom of information. Openness has a very important role to play in restoring public confidence in the police service and in increasing public confidence in other public services. I hope to publish a draft Bill and consultation paper on freedom of information in May. Under our proposals, all aspects of policing will be covered by freedom of information legislation.
We have made no secret of the fact that our proposals include two specific categories of information—information relating to informers and information relating to an investigation or prosecution—which will be exempt from disclosure under the legislation. There will be no statutory right of access to such information under the freedom of information legislation, but it is important to 764 point out that, under separate legislation already passed, information relating to an investigation or prosecution is already disclosed to a defendant—and self-evidently has to be—when a case comes to court. However, information relating to the conduct of any such investigation—for example, how many officers are on the case, whether a computer system is being used, or what training and experience officers have in relation to similar investigations—will be disclosable subject to the appropriate harm test.
There is much more to freedom of information than legislation itself. I accept that there is a substantial amount of work to be done to ensure that there is a real cultural change towards greater openness in all public services—and that includes the police.
§ Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
I am sorry that I missed the beginning of my right hon. Friend's speech, but I was late arriving in the Chamber because I was delayed at another meeting. He may have dealt with this point, but will he give us an assurance that the reports of Police Complaints Authority investigations will be published in full? It is now almost 18 months on, and we have yet to receive the full publication of the report into the investigation of the case of my constituent Ricky Reel.
§ Mr. Straw
I cannot give the precise guarantee that my hon. Friend seeks, particularly in the case of Ricky Reel. I know that he has been very concerned about that case, as I have. He and I have had many discussions, and I have met Ricky Reel's family. We are seeking to ensure that Police Complaints Authority investigation reports can be published, provided that it is safe to do so. As my hon. Friend will be aware, sometimes it may not be safe to do so if it would prejudice a successful prosecution or compromise other investigations. Subject to that, we want as much openness as possible.
Effective race equality training is another crucial issue that we have to deal with if the police are to be equipped to operate fairly and effectively in today's society. I agree with the inquiry that all police staff, including CID and support staff, need such training. Ethnic minorities themselves must be involved in the development and delivery of the training.
§ Ms Tess Kingham (Gloucester)
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any training about the needs of ethnic minorities and racism in the police does not leave out Romany gypsies and gypsies in general, who are given protection under current legislation but who are often forgotten in training? They tend to be regarded as an open target for racism.
§ Mr. Straw
I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's point is taken on board when the training is developed.
National Police Training is already working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to develop a comprehensive programme to deal with the training issues highlighted by the inquiry. The programme involves review and revision of existing provision, setting clear standards for the design and delivery of training and identifying the best delivery methods.
The Home Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into the whole matter of police training and is expected to report to the House shortly. Her Majesty's inspectorate 765 of constabulary has meanwhile been conducting a thematic review of police training. Once I have received and considered both reports I will announce further measures of reform.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
Will my right hon. Friend ensure in his discussions that the important issue of independent validation of training carried out both by National Police Training and by the individual forces is right at the top of the agenda? It is one thing for officers in the Met or elsewhere to be given training, but it is another thing entirely to validate the impact and effect of that training in the carrying out of their day-to-day duties.
§ Mr. Straw
I accept entirely that external validation of all training that involves public money is absolutely essential. That applies to the police service as it does to any other public service.
There is widespread agreement in the House and throughout the country that we must have a police service which fully reflects the racial diversity of the communities that it serves. I have already announced that I will set targets for forces on the recruitment and retention, and promotion, of ethnic minority officers. The targets themselves will be published next month and forces will be required to report on progress. I will be chairing a national police conference in mid-April to develop and spread good practice in this area.
Operationally, we know that there has been significant under-recording of racist incidents and a lack of understanding by some police officers of what such an incident is. One reason is that the police are used to gathering evidence to put before a court, so they apply an evidential test before deciding whether to record an incident as racist. Recording racist incidents is not about only that: it is about monitoring the level of perceived racist activity in society.
I hope that we can tackle the problem by accepting the inquiry's simplified definition of what constitutes a racist incident. The definition recommended by Macpherson is not in substance a new one. It is a simplified revision of one recommended by ACPO. As the inspectorate says in "Winning the Race, Revisited",in essence, an incident has a racial element if anyone says it has.
Some have criticised that definition on the grounds of its subjectivity, but it is a definition for the reporting and recording of such crimes, as the starting point of any investigation. Whether such crimes are the subject of a subsequent conviction is of course a matter for the judgment of the court on objective tests. The House will be aware that, to assist the courts, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we have established new offences of racially aggravated crimes.
We accept the need identified by the inquiry for a co-ordinated response by the police and other agencies at a local level to racist incidents. The Racist Incidents Standing Committee, chaired by the Home Office, has published a good practice guide on effective multi-agency working.
766 Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, crime and disorder partnerships come formally into force this Thursday. They can play—and have already been playing—a major role in dealing with racist crime.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recruitment of black and ethnic minority police officers is one thing, but retention is an even more difficult issue? I know that he has met, as I have, the Black Police Association on several occasions. Will he give the House an undertaking that he will pay attention to the retention of black police officers and the circumstances in which they have to function?
§ Mr. Straw
I fully accept my hon. Friend's point. It is no good recruiting large numbers of black and Asian officers then to find that they leave the force because they are discontented with the environment in which they are expected to work. Therefore, retaining officers—and ensuring that they have similar opportunities for promotion and are promoted—is a central part of our agenda.
§ Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham)
As my right hon. Friend will probably be aware, my borough of Southwark has only 4 per cent. ethnic minority police officers, but 30 per cent. of the population is from the ethnic minorities. I welcomed what he said a moment ago about setting targets. Can he tell us when we in Southwark will be able to make progress on narrowing and eventually closing that gap, to ensure that the police are properly representative of and sensitive to the community that they serve?
§ Mr. Straw
As I said a moment ago, I intend to publish targets next month for all forces, including the Metropolitan police service. They will not be broken down borough by borough, but that will be a matter for discussion between borough commanders, the Commissioner and—once it is established—the Metropolitan Police Authority. For all the criticism, we should remember that the Metropolitan police service has made the greatest progress in the recruitment and retention of black and Asian officers in the past few years. Their number now stands at 873, and that figure has increased by 42 per cent. since 1993. That progress provides us with some grounds for optimism that we can increase the pace in the near future.
§ Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)
Has my right hon. Friend considered the recording of a person's ethnicity, either of those involved in racist attacks or of those who are arrested and charged? When I looked into the stop-and-search figures, I found that the recording of people's ethnicity varied around the country. Will he pay some attention to that issue?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, and we will introduce changes in the code of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to ensure proper recording of individuals' ethnicity. Without effective and accurate recording, we cannot make proper judgments about how the police do the job we expect of them.
Like the inquiry, I strongly believe that the powers of stop and search are important for the prevention and detection of crime. However, I accept that there may be a 767 disproportionate use of those powers against ethnic minority communities and that discrimination is likely to be one of the factors that explains that disproportionate use. We have commissioned research within the Home Office to gather information on current practices within forces to access the practical implications of the inquiry's recommendations. We welcome the five pilot projects in the Metropolitan police service—in Tottenham, Brixton, Hounslow, Plumstead and Kingston—which are developing strategies to use those powers effectively. Following evaluation, we will review the recording of stops and, if necessary, introduce further new arrangements by the end of next year.
The inquiry also made recommendations on education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is taking a number of steps aimed at promoting cultural diversity and preventing racism in our schools. Citizenship education, which will foster an understanding of cultural diversity in Britain, has a prominent place in the revised national curriculum. The Government are determined to prevent pupils being tormented by racist bullying. The Department for Education and Employment will ensure that all schools have effective anti-bullying policies that can deal effectively with incidents of racial harassment. Further steps will be taken to ensure that all racist incidents are recorded and that parents and governors are informed of the nature of the incident and the action taken to deal with it. The fact that I am joined on the Treasury Bench by my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards indicates the seriousness with which we take the inquiry's recommendations on education.
Recommendation 38 states that consideration should be given topermit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented.The recommendation says only that the matter should be considered, and the inquiry did not come to a conclusion on its merits. As the inquiry asked me to do, I have asked the Law Commission to consider that recommendation.
In recommendation 39, the inquiry proposed that I, alone, should consideramendment of the law to allow prosecution of offences involving racist language or behaviour, and of offences involving the possession of offensive weaponsin the home. I have made it clear that I have serious reservations about going beyond the law as it stands. I well understand the inquiry's concern, which stemmed from the behaviour of the five suspects, to which the report refers in chapter 7. We must balance those concerns with the rights to privacy and family life and to freedom of speech, which are enshrined in the European convention on human rights, as well as with obvious practical considerations. We will reach conclusions by the end of this year.
§ Mr. Straw
Would my hon. Friend allow me to continue? I have already taken getting on for 25 minutes, and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to take part in this truncated debate.
All that I have outlined represents a significant agenda for change. We must work together to build a Britain of which we can all be proud and in which racial equality is 768 a reality. I do not want this to be a partisan agenda. I am grateful to the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield and for Berwick-upon-Tweed for their active support for the agenda set out in the report, to which they assented when I made my initial statement on 24 February.
The publication of the inquiry's report on that date was overshadowed by events to which I will refer briefly. First, there was the leaking of the report the weekend before publication. I have explained to the House my reasons for seeking an injunction to try to preserve the confidentiality of the report before it was presented to the House. I shall in due course publish the conclusions of the leak inquiry to the House.
Secondly, on the evening of publication of the report, the memorial plaque at the place where Stephen Lawrence died was vandalised. That appalling event shows how far we still have to go to tackle racism in our society. I visited the plaque with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence to lay flowers on the day after the report's publication, and I want to pay tribute to them again for their continued dignity and courage through all these events.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State explained to the House on 26 February the circumstances surrounding the dreadful publication of the unamended—so-called unredacted—version of appendix 11 of the inquiry's report. As I have said, both in and out of the House, I am very sorry indeed that the error occurred. The Metropolitan police have been working hard to make sure that every measure is taken to ensure the safety of the witnesses named. I thank the police officers and civilian staff concerned for the way in which they have responded in this matter.
I visited Eltham with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) on 18 March and spoke to residents about their concerns. I want to record my appreciation and that of the local residents for all the work done by my hon. Friend in the lead-up to the report. He has represented the interests of his constituents, including the Lawrence family, and he has done a huge amount of work subsequently in the light of all the problems that arose following publication of the unredacted version of appendix 11.
The Government are determined—as I hope is the House—that events such as those must not distract us from our determination to take forward the agenda to implement the recommendations of the inquiry. Our vision is of an inclusive society, in which people are treated equally regardless of race, in which equality of opportunity for all is key and in which we, as a society, celebrate diversity in our lives and our communities. Our country—our Britishness—has been shaped by many different peoples over the centuries, broadening our languages and customs.
Britain was the host nation for a new labour force that we desperately needed—we sought it in the Caribbean and in Asia—and welcomed in the 1950s. Some groups came here and prospered, but the welcome was not wholehearted for many of them, despite the fact that we had invited them to emigrate here. While our record of race relations is better than that of many nations, there can be no room for complacency.
The Stephen Lawrence inquiry recommended that the Government should extend the Race Relations Act 1976 to the police. We agree, and as I told the House on 24 February, we will go further. The Act will be extended 769 to cover all public services. It is time for the public service to put its own house in order on race equality. As employers, our track record could be very much better. To pick up a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), it is not only the police service that has much to do on the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority staff. That applies across the piece in public services.
I am sorry to say that most public services lag significantly behind the best in the private sector. I am setting targets for all services in my Department for the recruitment and progression of ethnic minority staff. I expect all my ministerial colleagues to do the same for their services. We have to remove all the barriers that prevent our young, and older, ethnic minority people from achieving their full potential.
Eighteen years ago, the House was discussing how to take forward Lord Scarman's recommendations following the Brixton riots. Much was set in hand after that report. Getting on for two decades after Scarman, why are we confronted with the findings of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, so many of which appear to replicate those of Scarman? Part of the problem was that the focus after Scarman was on policing issues alone. I believe that the crucial failing was that the implementation of the Scarman agenda treated race and the whole issue of community relations as a bolt-on extra to the police's work. That is why, in my judgment, the changes required by the Lawrence inquiry will work only if they are systemic—embraced by the culture of the police force as well as in its practice. That must mean that they are implemented in the mainstream of the service at every level and do not become an add-on extra.
Providing a police service in which all sections of our multiracial, multicultural society can have trust and confidence is not peripheral to policing but its core task. I am determined that we will not be distracted from that task as perhaps we were 18 years ago after Scarman. We will take all the recommendations forward as a package. For each area covered by the recommendations, the action plan sets out the main programme of work, who will have lead responsibility for taking it forward, the milestones for progress and how we intend to review and assess its outcomes. My steering group to oversee implementation of the programme as a whole will meet for the first time in early May.
I am determined that the momentum should be kept up. I thank the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) for his suggestion that there should be an annual report on progress and an annual debate in the House. I can announce today that, in the light of his suggestion, we will publish an annual report on progress. I shall discuss an annual debate with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
I have set out the comprehensive programme of action that the Government have set in hand in response to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. It is the first stage in building non-racist public services—the first step towards a fairer, more just and much more equal society. I am determined to build a society where everyone, regardless of colour, race or religion, has an equal opportunity to succeed. I want the public services to lead the way as a diverse work force, and to lead the way in setting the best standards of service to the public. As I have already said, 770 there is much that we can learn about that from the best of business, and we need to work together. Our public services need the most able and enthusiastic recruits from all communities, people who want to make a difference. The difference will be a fairer, stronger society that is better for us all. As I said on 24 February, it is that which will be a true testament to the memory of Stephen Lawrence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, (Sir N. Fowler), I remind the House of Madam Speaker's decision that there will be a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
§ Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
In view of the time constraints, I will seek to be short.
Beyond any doubt, the Macpherson report is important and should not be allowed to gather dust. There are parts with which I disagree, and I have other criticisms of the way in which it has been handled. However, I make it clear at the outset that I in no way challenge the central messages of the report.
The death of Stephen Lawrence was a cruel and unnecessary tragedy. It was a racist murder, and there is no question but that the investigation that followed was deeply flawed. It is an affront to our sense of justice that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence remain at liberty. I am also in no doubt that the murder and the events surrounding it symbolise the challenge that we face in this country. That challenge is not remotely confined to the police: it is a challenge to us all. Our common aim must be to prevent racial discrimination in this country, and I reassert our total opposition to racially prejudiced behaviour of whatever kind. That entails not just uttering the right words but acting in the right way to prevent such discrimination.
I also recognise that the police must do more to win greater trust among ethnic minority communities. The Macpherson report levels criticism in that area, but it is important to emphasise that it does not seek to paint policemen and women serving today—often under difficult conditions—as racist. The report does not justify launching a general attack on the police. Police feel a vast amount of good will for the cause of improving relations. We should recognise that fact and not allow under any circumstances the present difficulties to be exploited by those who are antagonistic towards the police service.
I do not wish to avoid the challenge of the Macpherson report; nor do I wish to hide behind the currently fashionable criticism that it is badly written. It may be, but, if we are to ignore reports on those grounds, all kinds of official documents will bite the dust. The Home Secretary might even be able to make another tasteless joke about my books rather than being guided by my message. I believe that the Macpherson report sets down a fundamental challenge—and doing nothing is not an option.
I shall deal chronologically with the events surrounding the publication of the report. It is a great pity—the Home Secretary touched on this point towards the end of his speech—that the handling of the report has not matched the importance of its message. The House can judge such matters. The House can judge whether action could and 771 should have been taken earlier to prevent witnesses from being put in danger. I think that that was possible and that such action should have been taken.
The House can also judge whether the Home Secretary was correct in seeking an injunction against the whole of the British media because The Sunday Telegraph quoted in advance three or four paragraphs of a report that was to be published in a few days' time in any event. Personally—the House knows my interest as a journalist and as chairman of a newspaper company—I believe that that was both wrong and an overreaction. Even more crucially, the distinguished legal commentator David Pannick said that, according to legal principles, the injunctionshould not have been sought and it should not have been granted.
For the purposes of this debate, the central issue of pre-publication is as follows. We know that the Macpherson report was leaked deliberately and we know also—or at least strongly suspect—that the aim was to influence opinion in advance of publication. That is important for this reason: the purpose of the leak appeared to be to implant a message that was very hostile to the police and to the Commissioner. I have a copy of the first edition of The Sunday Telegraph, which was later withdrawn. I was given it in a BBC studio during an interview about the incident. The article has "Censored by the State" written on it. More seriously, the report states that the position of the Commissioner was highly vulnerable, and continues:Home Office officials have told the Sunday Telegraph that his position will be untenable if he does not accept the stinging personal criticism levelled at him by the report and that ministers would have no option but to demand his resignation.
Someone among the small group of people who had access to the report deliberately leaked its contents in order to send a particular message. I believe the public have a right to know what happened and who was trying to exert that influence. For the purposes of this debate, I give notice to the Government that we do not intend to allow the matter to drop. An injunction against the media is, by any standards, an important step, and an injunction that follows a leak from the Home Office or the inquiry team raises some very important questions.
I have no intention of moving through all 70 recommendations in the Macpherson report. I will concentrate instead on what I regard as the most important. It seems to me that the first and most fundamental recommendation is that a ministerial priority should be established for the policeto increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities".That proposal is fundamental, but contains nothing new in principle. Since the formation of police forces in Britain, the police have had to win the public's trust. It has never been enough for the police in this country to say, "My uniform is my authority." From the start, the service has had to win respect from a public sceptical about the idea of an organised police force. As it happens, I believe the police have been astoundingly successful in that regard. However, no one doubts that much more must be done to improve relations with and trust within ethnic communities.
Macpherson sets out a range of proposals for achieving that objective. I suppose the most attention has centred on the proposal to make the police subject to race relations 772 legislation generally. Subject to one proviso—which I shall come to later—I do not dispute that principle. It would be strange if the private sector were subject to race relations legislation but not the public sector, including the health service, the civil service and the police.
However, I have a different point about improving relations. I suspect that the proposals in Macpherson that will make the difference are not those that hit the headlines but the less dramatic recommendations, such as better training and the introduction of family liaison officers. For example, the report suggests that training courses designed to establish that good community relations are essential to good policing can achieve a great deal.
I think that that kind of approach will work because every opinion poll conducted in this country shows that the police service generally is one of the most respected services in this country. It remains a generally unarmed service. Relations between the community and the police are better in the United Kingdom than in any overseas country. Most people still regard the police as friends and believe that they can turn to the police service for help. The foundation of general public support exists already and can be built on and extended.
The general complaint about the police in Britain is not that they act officiously or are insensitive or inefficient but that there are not enough of them to meet the demands that the public legitimately place on them. The people want—this is also the message of the Macpherson report—an extension of community policing to every area. We should recognise that good community policing cannot be achieved by a police force that simply responds to emergencies, waits for 999 calls or patrols predominantly in cars. That is not what the public want.
Macpherson does not touch upon the strength of the police, but that fundamental requirement flows from the report's argument: we cannot achieve all that the report seeks to achieve if police forces are declining in strength. In international terms, the British police service is already small. In New York, there are 40,000 police. In London—which has the same population—there are 26,000 police, and that number is decreasing. If we are to be serious about joined-up Government policies, the issue of police strength must be tackled.
I strongly endorse one proposal in that area—there is nothing between me and the report on this point. It would benefit everyone if more policemen and women from ethnic minority backgrounds not only served in the police force but were retained by that force. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott); it is not enough merely to recruit. It is also necessary to ensure that there is progress so that every recruit is given the opportunity to rise to the highest ranks in the police service. That must be the aim of any recruitment and retention policy.
What is my proviso about the proposals for the police? My concern is not that each of the different recommendations cannot be justified, but that, when all the recommendations are taken together, they might appear to add up to an onerous set of new obligations for serving policemen and women. We need to be careful about that. In their anxiety to do good and to change attitudes, the Government must guard against being too officious by introducing too many rules and giving the police the impression that they are constantly under 773 investigation—under race relations legislation, by the inspectors of constabulary armed with new powers, by organisations such as the Audit Commission and, of course, under the complaints procedure.
A range of changes are in prospect for the complaints procedure and the disciplinary code—a new code with a new burden of proof. As the Home Secretary mentioned, there is the prospect of a new body to carry out investigations. As a result of the Macpherson report, there is now the prospect that a disciplinary offence—not a criminal offence—can hang over a policeman for up to five years after he has left the service. I have serious doubts about that, and even more serious doubts about another issue that the Home Secretary has added to that list: that he intends to consider whether legislation should be introduced to enable police pensions to be forfeited for serious disciplinary offences.
When my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and I raised that matter at Home Office questions on 15 February, we were told by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) that we had been badly briefed and that powers already existed. It is now clear that the hon. Lady was badly briefed and that, as my hon. Friend and I suggested, powers for disciplinary offences do not exist—and, in my view, nor should they. A pension cannot simply be confiscated: both the Labour Government and the previous Conservative Government have said that a pension belongs to the individual. I fear that the proposal will take us back to the days of grace-and-favour pensions and will be regarded as offensive in the police service.
§ Mr. Straw
I think the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) will confirm that it is already the case that, when a police officer has, for example, been convicted of a serious criminal offence and the Secretary of State signs a certificate stating that that conviction brings the police service concerned into serious disrepute, that police officer may forfeit up to 75 per cent. of his pension. That is the portion of the pension that was contributed by the state; the remaining 25 per cent. is never subject to forfeit because that amount is assumed for these purposes to have been contributed by the individual.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
That is a rather dodgy argument, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying so; it could apply to any other pension scheme. The fact is that ownership passes. I do not dispute the fact that what the right hon. Gentleman describes is true for serious criminal offences, but he is not confining his proposal to such cases. He is saying that such considerations should be taken into account in respect of disciplinary offences. I am questioning that proposal.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
If the Home Secretary is considering the removal of the part of a police officer's pension that he is entitled to remove for serious disciplinary offences—possibly including racist offences or racist language—and as the Macpherson report has indicated that most of our institutions are also in need of reform, surely such a proposal should extend to health service workers and the whole of government and the civil service? Police officers would think that it 774 was unfair for their pensions to be removed for certain offences while civil servants and others did not have their pensions removed if they committed similar offences.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
I hope that our debate will be constructive, so I would say that the Government need to think carefully and deeply about that matter and any precedents that it might set. I understand the point made by my right hon. Friend; as he is aware, I was involved with pension policy, so perhaps I have a greater interest in the subject than most people.
The general message sent out by that kind of proposal is even more important than its specifics. I believe that most police officers are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the case for reform, but in that process of reform it is essential that the Government take the police service with them. It will be in no one's interests to have a demoralised service reacting defensively; everyone should be aiming at having a police service that positively embraces and supports reform.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
It is self-evident, Mr. Deputy Speaker: I give way first to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).
§ Ms Abbott
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I have listened carefully to his arguments about the onerous burdens that are being placed on the police. Does he accept that the police are in a different position from members of other public services? They alone have power over people's liberty—almost the power of life and death. It is not unreasonable that higher standards should be expected of them even than of people in other parts of the public sector. Does the right hon. Gentleman also realise the great concern among people—black or white, living in London or outside it—that serious allegations may be made against policemen and that they can walk away from those accusations simply by resigning and continuing to draw their pension? That does not apply only in the Lawrence case, but to a series of deaths in custody.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
I accept that there is a case to be explored and answered. I certainly accept that there must be the highest possible checks on the police. However, I advise the Government that it would not be right or sensible—nor would there be public support—if a set of proposals that were seen to be unjust were imposed on the police. That would be wrong.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
If the Home Secretary will allow me, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and then I shall give way to him.
§ Mr. Rowe
I share my right hon. Friend's anxieties about the proposed pension arrangements. Is it not likely 775 that some of the older members of the police force might find it hardest to adapt to the new requirements—however necessary they might be—and that, in order to ease that problem, such officers might be expected to retire early? However, if, at the same time, their pensions were put at risk because of the behaviour that had caused the demand for their retirement, would that not be unfair?
§ Sir Norman Fowler
What would be unfair would be the imposition of a serious disciplinary offence that was considered unjust by the service and by the public. Rather than that we should all take entrenched positions, I urge that we should give these matters careful thought and consider whether it is sensible to proceed down that road.
§ Mr. Straw
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He said that the matter needs to be explored, and that is true. However, it is crucial that what we do is fair not only to members of the public but to police officers; I have made that point on many occasions, in the House and outside it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, the police do an extraordinary job. It is precisely because they do such an extraordinary job that that fact needs to be recognised in their terms and conditions of service.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
I think that that was a concession and that we are coming together. If the Home Secretary is agreeing with me, I shall move on, with that in my pocket. I genuinely believe that it is sensible to try to reach agreement on these matters.
We can also take it from the Home Secretary's published response to the Macpherson report that two other proposals are destined for the legal knacker's yard. The proposal in respect of double jeopardy—prosecution after acquittal—is set down as accepted by the Home Secretary, but what he means is that he is content for it to be considered by the Law Commission, and the word "consideration" is there in italics. Although I agree that it might be considered, I would be amazed if the Law Commission did not reject it. Similarly, the Government are right to be wary of changing the law in respect of racist language used in private places, such as a house. I do not think the Home Secretary mentioned this matter—
§ Sir Norman Fowler
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon.
Whatever our views, we have to pass law that is enforceable by the police and the courts and that does not infringe other rights. Therefore, I believe that that proposal should be rejected. I should add that, if anyone wants confirmation of the sort of people we are up against, they should read appendix 10 to the report, which contains an account of the language used by some of the suspects in the case.
There is one further point to be made. Although the focus of the report is better community relations, some of the recommendations have a general application, as they relate to far more than one service. Take freedom of information. The Home Secretary mentioned that the report proposes that a freedom of information Act should apply to all areas of policing. However, proposals such as 776 freedom of information cannot be considered in isolation, or as always applying to someone else; Government Departments have to apply them to themselves. In the topical case of the inquiry into the leak of the Macpherson report, the Home Secretary has personally blocked every sensible piece of information that is capable of being blocked. To give but one example, I asked, not for the individual identity of those being questioned, but whether, as a class, Ministers, officials, or ministerial advisers would be questioned. I was told by the Home Secretary:It would not be in the interests of the leak investigation now under way to give these details."— [Official Report, 4 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 855.]
§ Sir Norman Fowler
I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) will support any restriction—
§ Sir Norman Fowler
Oh, it was the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. In that case, I am amazed. In all seriousness, we should avoid imposing obligations on the police that we are not prepared to accept ourselves.
Another proposal that has general application and commands agreement on both sides of the House concerns victims of crime. Macpherson criticises the police for dealing with the Lawrence family in a patronising manner. I can think of few things more hurtful than that and I hope that the wider use of family liaison officers will help to address that problem. However, the principle goes far wider, because, even now, we do not look after the victims of crime well enough. We appear to believe that, after a certain period, people automatically come to terms with their loss, but that is not necessarily true; as I learned at the initial meeting of Victims Voice last year, the loss continues and we should do more generally to help crime victims.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in countries where freedom of information legislation applies to the investigation of crime, it is often used by victims; and that in many cases—for example, in south Australia—victims' being able to give information to the police has led to successful prosecutions? Does he not think that more powerful freedom of information legislation might help in this country?
§ Sir Norman Fowler
I was not arguing against freedom of information. I must confess that, in the past two years, I have become a strong convert to the cause, because getting information out of the current Government is enough to tax any Opposition. I say, as gently as possible, that if we are to have freedom of information, I want it to apply not only to the police and the other public services but to the Home Secretary. We look forward to the Home Secretary's draft Bill on that subject, but I must admit that a Home Secretary who has just introduced an injunction on the whole of the British media would not necessarily be my first choice to introduce a freedom of information Bill.
777 There is a great deal in the report with which hon. Members from all parties can agree. No doubt there will be some who try to exploit the criticism of the police, and others—including, I suspect, one or two lawyers—who will never be satisfied. However, in my view, most people in this country will support a policy of constructive reform and, to an overwhelming extent, policemen and women will support it as well. That does not mean that each and every one of the proposals will receive support, but there is no doubt about the general support that the report commands.
For our part, the Opposition will support sensible measures to combat racism in this country; sensible measures to promote trust between the police and ethnic minorities; and sensible measures to work to eliminate racial discrimination, which clearly offends any concept of equality of opportunity in this country. We shall not support generalised attacks on the police or measures that unnecessarily harm the morale of the service; nor shall we support the making of bad law, however well-intentioned it is, or measures that infringe other rights. It is a question not only of condemning racism—although that is important—but of finding the right measures to fight racism. That second task will be far more difficult than the first, but we shall certainly do our utmost to help.
§ Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)
First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for having established the public inquiry, and to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence for their tireless campaign.
Our debate is about the sort of society we want for ourselves and, most important, for our children. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence have said on numerous occasions that they want Stephen to be remembered for bringing an end to racial division in our society. No other parent should have to go through what they have been through. During the inquiry, Mrs. Lawrence said that she wished that Stephen had had the chance to bridge the divide between black and white. At the end of the inquiry, Neville Lawrence said:This is a very small place, this world of ours, we have to live together and now we have to say; let us put the past behind us, join hands and go forward.Those are the sentiments of two parents who have been subjected to the most outrageous injustice. They are calling for change for the better and it is in that spirit that we should follow their lead. We live in a multiracial, multi-ethnic society and it is time we started to educate it and police it as such.
The report has had a dramatic effect on the community that I represent. There can be no doubt that the people who have suffered the greatest injustice are Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, their family and, most of all, Stephen himself. However, the injustice done to many of the people named in the report has changed their lives. Some of them were only schoolchildren at the time when they gave evidence to the police, repeating hearsay that they had heard on the street or in the playground. They were too young to understand the importance of what they were saying, let alone that it might be published in a blaze of publicity six years later. Others were people who wanted to help the police to solve a terrible crime, or who came forward in response to an appeal for witnesses from 778 Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence have expressed their concern for all those people, some of whom were given no idea that their names had been made public at the inquiry and would be published in the body, not merely in the appendices, of the report. Regardless of who is to blame for the publication of the appendices, too little regard was given to those people in this affair—until it was too late.
I am grateful to the Home Office, the police and the London borough of Greenwich for the support that they have given my constituents. However, my constituents should never have been put in such a situation in the first place. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should set out clear guidelines so that no error of this nature can again have such a devastating effect on the lives of innocent bystanders. We should never have to hold an inquiry of such magnitude again—lessons must be learned and procedures set out so that those mistakes can never be repeated.
Throughout the inquiry, I was forced to defend my constituents from the excesses of the media. On the morning following the publication of the report, I began the day by defending my constituents because they were being portrayed as racists who had not assisted the police in their investigation. Later that day, the report itself was being attacked over the release of the names of dozens of people who had come forward with information. People in my community are angry that they are being denigrated as racists because they have an Eltham postcode. The report states categorically that the police did not meet with a wall of silence when they appealed to the local community for information following Stephen's murder.
I thank my right hon. Friend for taking the time to visit Eltham to meet members of the local community and parents of the children from the estate that has recently featured in the media, and for expressing his concern over the way in which they have been treated. To suggest that racist violence is peculiar to Eltham is to suggest that problems do not exist elsewhere. That is to undermine the report.
Racism exists in our society today; it permeates every section and every institution. It is the responsibility of all of us—the decent-minded majority—to confront racism in all its forms, to provide education where there is ignorance and guidance where there is prejudice, and to be intolerant of those who place themselves beyond the bounds of human decency. It cannot be solved by this report alone; the process is on-going. I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that he will personally lead the steering group to co-ordinate and monitor the implementation of the recommendations.
In contrast to the response to the recommendations of the Scarman report, such as they were, which were allowed to gather dust on a Home Office shelf, the Macpherson report is the beginning, not the end, of change. I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence should be part of his steering group. They are responsible for bringing us to this point, and have the right to see the issue through.
In my written submission to the second phase of the inquiry in July, I stated that I believed that the Metropolitan police were institutionally racist. The canteen culture that permeates the police allows the swaggering bigots to dominate in a system that militates against those who would challenge such behaviour if they were given the confidence 779 that the police service would back them if they did so. I called for police recruits to be vetted, to weed out as far as practicable those who uphold racist views. Our police force needs to undergo fundamental change.
Sir John Woodcock, the then chief inspector of constabulary, stated in 1992:What is happening to the police is that a nineteenth century institution is being dragged into the twenty-first century. Despite all the later mythology of Dixon, the police never were the police of the whole people, but a mechanism set up to protect the affluent from what the Victorians described as the dangerous classes.That change is still being resisted. We must not be deceived into believing that there is no resistance today.
I was not one who called for the resignation of Sir Paul Condon on the publication of the report. I took the view that there is no shining white knight—it would be a he, and he would be white—standing in the wings who would do anything different from Sir Paul Condon. On many occasions, he has said that he accepts the inquiry's findings. If he did not mean what he said, and intends to prevaricate over their implementation, he should resign now. Leadership that brings about change is required; it is no longer acceptable to say the right things but achieve nothing.
Scarman rejected the notion that the Metropolitan police were racist. He stated:The direction of policies of the Metropolitan Police Service are not racist. I totally and unequivocally reject the attack made upon the integrity and impartiality of the senior direction of the force".He went on to accept that some officers, particularly those below the level of "senior direction", were guilty ofill considered immature and racially prejudiced actions in their dealings…with young black people".Eighteen years on, we are still having the same arguments. If the police have failed to change, "senior direction", as Scarman put it, has failed to deliver the changes required.
It is clear that the police must come within the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976. We must end the secrecy that surrounds investigation of police activities. It is unacceptable for the police to continue to investigate the police. There should be full disclosure of all areas of policing. Secrecy should be maintained only in the public interest, and not in the interests of those who are being investigated. Public confidence can be restored only if there is full disclosure and effective scrutiny in order to ensure that the system is being applied in the public interest.
Having said that, I must also say that I recognise that the majority of officers, like the residents of Eltham, are angry at being accused of being racist when they feel that they are not.
We must recognise the work that the police are doing to tackle racist crime. Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, who heads the Met's racial and violent crime task force, stated at a recent seminar in Greenwich that one of the police's problems was that they had stopped listening to their most trenchant critics. The police are beginning to understand that "colour-blind policing" is not the way in which to police a multicultural society. They are beginning to consult members of the black community in the investigation and prevention of crime, something that is to be welcomed and encouraged. The police merely reflect the society from which they recruit. That was not accepted at the time of Scarman, but must be accepted now if we are to carry through the report's recommendations for the good of us all.
780 We must view the recommendations as the minimum that we should do to tackle racism in our society. We should view debate around the issues raised in the report as a positive step—even when such issues are controversial. The issue of double jeopardy is to be considered by the Law Commission, and will be the subject of further debate. I shall therefore not dwell on it for too long. There must be a mechanism to allow for a retrial where a significant amount of new evidence has come to light. I accept that that must not be automatic, and that there should be rigorous examination of the evidence before that could be done. Perhaps there should also be an independent re-examination of the original police investigation to determine why such new evidence has suddenly come to light. That may alleviate some people's fear that the police might not put every effort into the original investigation.
The other controversial issue is that of policing racist language in the home. I commend the inquiry for raising the issue. I share the concerns about civil liberties and how law on such a matter could be enforced. We must consider what the inquiry is trying to achieve by such a recommendation. Primarily, it is concerned with the effect that the matter-of-fact use of racist language in the home has on the minds of young people. Schools are attempting to confront young people who use racist language, to get them to understand the reasons why it is wrong. The problem stems from the home where such behaviour is commonplace. At the end of the day, parents who instil such views in their children must be forced to account for their action.
Where a child is constantly using racist language in defiance of every reasonable attempt to educate him to understand why such language is unacceptable, a multi-agency approach is required to engage the parents in the process to deal with the problem. That may be achievable through parental orders under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, as set out in the report's recommendations.
The report recommends that the national curriculum should be amended in a way that isaimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism".Schools already do a great deal, which must not be overlooked, but we must understand that teaching children about other cultures does not constitute anti-racism. Children must be made aware of what damage racism does to the victim.
The final recommendation on the on-going process of building and maintaining harmony in our communities is probably the most demanding—but, potentially, the most rewarding. The report has focused too much on institutions and not enough on challenging community groups and police consultative groups to address its findings. In a predominantly white community, there is often little representation of black individuals, and the problems faced by members of ethnic minorities are often overlooked. We must ensure that the whole community is engaged in seeing through the recommendations.
We must now begin the process of restoring confidence among all sections of the community. In 10 months, Sir Paul Condon will retire as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. That gives us a great deal of time to consider what we can and should expect from the Commissioner. It also gives us a chance to engage a cross-section of the community in that discussion. That could prove to be an 781 enormous gesture to the black community, which could help to restore confidence in the Metropolitan police, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider engaging the community in that debate.
At the time of his murder, Stephen had a split second in which he could have chosen to run. He was an excellent athlete, as well as an excellent student, and it is possible that he would have outrun his attackers, but he did not run. The fact that to run was not Stephen's first instinct is a powerful statement to us all. He had done nothing wrong. He had been brought up to understand the difference between right and wrong. A few moments in the company of his parents would enable anyone to understand why that is the case.
Stephen could not have known that what would happen to him in the next few moments would be fatal, but he knew that he had right on his side, and he did not run. He saw nothing from which he should run, and for that he suffered an enormous injustice that his parents have continued to experience in their campaign. It is up to us now to demonstrate the leadership that will prove right the instinct that Stephen had on that road in April 1993.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
We regard the report as extremely valuable. If it is implemented, it will enable us to move on from the appalling tragedy of Stephen Lawrence's murder and the failures of policing that the report revealed to an active campaign to rid our society of racism. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) has every reason to be as aware as anybody of the magnitude of the task. He spoke effectively and from experience about that.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the disclosure of information about witnesses in the publication of the appendix to the report. I shall clear that point out of the way now, lest it obscure the value of the report. I remain amazed that the inquiry team could have included that material in the appendix and that nobody in the Home Office spotted that fact during the nine days in which it had the report because, in every court in the land, every week, decisions are made to ensure that the names of people giving information do not become known, and I serve on a Committee that has to carry out a similar task in its work. An appalling error was made in both organisations. The formal responsibility lies with the inquiry team and has been accepted by Sir William Macpherson, but it is horrifying that the mistake could have occurred in the inquiry offices and the Home Office.
Without the Lawrence family, this report would not have been produced, because they rightly insisted again and again that a report was needed. We welcome the fact that the Home Secretary agreed to set up such an inquiry and has responded fully to it, although I am anxious about a few of his responses.
The initial police response has also been encouraging. When the report was published, the chairman of the 782 Police Federation, Fred Broughton, said that it made painful but persuasive reading, but it was an opportunity for the police service to makereal and lasting change and put its house in order".He said also thatwe must look to the future and address our own agenda, structure and culture if we are to police with everyone's support.That is a recognition by those whose responsibility it is to represent police officers—including representing them in disciplinary proceedings as well as representing their interests generally—that much work has to be done. That is an encouraging statement.
The investigation and the first inquiry were riddled with instances of amazing incompetence. If one removes the elements of racial stereotyping, it is still difficult to understand why the police behaved so incompetently, and that makes it more likely that racial stereotyping partially explains that incompetence. Frighteningly ignorant racial stereotyping appears to have led police officers to jump to conclusions and dismiss courses of action that they might otherwise have taken. They thought, "If the case involves a black person, he must have been in a fight. A black family would not understand us."
There was, however, real incompetence and a lack of basic attention to duty, to duty of care and to all the considerations that experience has led us to expect from police officers. That made their incompetence genuinely surprising to many people, except, perhaps, those who have found themselves in a situation similar to that of the Lawrence family, in which an unsolved crime has not been subject to the proper professional approach. For each of those people, there are many more who have experienced police officers doing their job properly but, in this instance, there was some of the worst incompetence that it is possible to find in policing.
As well as that lesson about incompetence, the Lawrence inquiry concerns a general policing issue that will be more puzzling to police officers. Any officer in any force reading the report would say, "We would not have done it like that. We would have made a better job of it." However, many police officers would be puzzled by the report's insistence that colour-blind policing is not enough. An understandable and traditional view of police officers is that they treat everybody the same. That is the instinct of fair policing. The police should have no favourites and no friends.
That policy does not work if the police are dealing with substantially disadvantaged and alienated sections of the community whose culture they may not understand and who have already had many adverse experiences of policing and authority. In those circumstances, more subtlety is required. There must be positive appreciation of the problems that a community faces and a positive attempt to overcome one's initial prejudices or instincts. That important point comes out of the report, and it requires an unexpected change of attitude by police officers who probably thought that they were doing right by taking no notice of colour, just as they might try to take no notice of religion or class. Sometimes, one must go beyond that.
The report makes many important detailed recommendations that have been accepted, including the extension of the Race Relations Act 1976 in full to police forces, new rules on the definition and investigation of racist or potentially racist crimes, and improvement of 783 family liaison, the treatment of victims and training. All those are valuable. The monitoring of stop and search powers is essential. In 25 years as a Member of Parliament, I have walked through the streets of London a great deal. On the vast majority of occasions on which I have seen a car stopped by police officers, the car's occupants have been black or Asian. That has always amazed me because the vast majority of people occupying the cars that move past me are not black or Asian. We have not attended properly to that problem.
The report contains recruitment and retention targets for police officers from minorities. Those are very important and must be pursued, but we must remember that the Metropolitan police have a serious recruitment problem to start with. They have difficulty recruiting in sufficient numbers. They have always had to recruit from far beyond London. If they are seeking recruits from somewhere like my constituency, as they often do, they have to go a long way to find members of ethnic minorities to recruit. For years, the Met has had to look to Scotland, Wales and the north of England because it cannot find enough recruits in London. That makes the task set out in the report much harder.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in the Metropolitan police service area in particular, there is great difficulty not only in recruiting but in retaining police officers from ethnic minorities, who often want to go to police forces elsewhere in the country?
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
As I hope my right hon. Friend accepts, and as hon. Members from other parties know, the Met tells us that it is having difficulty in recruiting high-quality officers—not only, but in particular, black and Asian officers—from London who understand the society that they are meant to police. I hope that my right hon. Friend will further accept that one of the best responses to the report would be positively to recruit to the police service good, competent, graduate officers, who will view policing as a worthwhile career. If we did that, there might not be the incompetence that the inquiry revealed.
§ Mr. Beith
I agree very much with my hon. Friend on that point.
I want to mention a couple more policing matters. The first is the issue of discipline, and especially the application of discipline to officers who have retired. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) so readily dismiss the great public concern about the fact that it is possible for officers to retire from the police force, sometimes on the ground of ill-health because of the stress of an inquiry, and escape all disciplinary proceedings as a result. The research of the Select Committee on Home Affairs referred to that. The answer may not lie in tinkering with police pensions, but an answer must be found. We emphasised that issue to the Home Secretary in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster and we do so again in this instance. It is an 784 important issue, about which the public feel deeply. We hope for rapid progress on the independent investigation of complaints when the current discussions are complete.
Perhaps the most general comment that one can make about policing in the light of the Lawrence report is about the need for partnership and consent. Our view as a party about policing is that those approaches are fundamental to the success and acceptability of policing. They are also part of the best tradition of the British police force. The aim is to achieve policing by consent and in partnership with the local community. There has been a manifest failure to achieve that, difficult as it was to do with ethnic minority communities in London and some other parts of the country.
The primary aim is the restoration of partnership policing and policing by consent—in some instances, that will mean the introduction of something that has not been achieved at all. Having enough police officers in the community and the community feeling that it has some input into what the police do and what their priorities are, are all part of policing by consent.
That brings me to a recommendation on which I still maintain that the Government's response is less clear, and that is the role of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Its role will be slightly confused in any event because of the existence of the authority and of the elected mayor, who will have certain defined responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities appear in the Greater London Authority Bill in the section on policing. There are problems in other areas of government in London in determining who is responsible—the elected mayor or the authority—that might be reflected in policing. However, the report clearly recommends that the Metropolitan Police Authority should have powers of appointment and accountability for chief officers on the same basis as other forces. The Government's response is that theSecretary of State will continue to play a more active rolein the appointment of the commissioner and deputy commissioner than applies in other forces.
The Home Secretary played down the difference and said that the situation would not be unlike that in other forces where, effectively, the Home Office has a veto on the shortlist. The position is slightly more complicated than that, but that is a reasonable summary. There is a considerable difference between a veto on the short list and "a more active role", which sounds very much like the Home Secretary putting up the name and telling the police authority that that is the name that it will have, or perhaps choosing from a couple of names that it is suggesting. The wording of the Government's response does not fit with the Home Secretary's indication that the recommendation is accepted and that the outcome will be pretty similar to the situation in other areas.
I take the view that national responsibilities that are still exercised by the Metropolitan police are not the real reason for the Home Secretary's desire to have a more active role. We are talking of a high-profile post and, if things go wrong, the result will be serious. The Home Secretary may feel that he or his successors might take some of the flak. The remaining national responsibilities of the Metropolitan police, important though they are, are not an argument for the rather curious and confused pattern that is summed up in the phrase "a more active role". That seems to be a recipe for not having sufficient accountability.
785 Freedom of information is another area where there is some difference between what the report says and what the Government are saying. The report states that "all areas of policing" should be includedsubject only to the 'substantial harm' test.It is said also that there are no grounds for a class exemption for the police in any area. The Home Secretary immediately comes out with two class exemptions, one for material relating to informers and the other for that to investigations and prosecutions. It would seem that both would be covered in any event by the "substantial harm" test. That is a pretty obvious lesson from what happened over the report itself. If information leaks about informers, substantial harm is done to those people and to the prospect of gaining information in future. However, the report was explicit that a class exemption would not be required for that purpose.
When it comes to the test, the Home Secretary said in his response that there would be an "appropriate harm" test. There is a subtle shift of phrase from the "substantial harm" test. On this point, we shall carefully examine the draft Bill when it emerges.
One of the wider issues that the report raises is that of racist language in private places. It seems that there is a general feeling throughout the House, which is shared by most commentators outside it, that the proposal is not really feasible and is likely to lead to incursions into the general notion that we do not intrude into private property unless there are good grounds to believe that, for example, a serious crime is being planned.
§ Dr. Gibson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the phenomenon of scientific and medical racism which purports to show that there are several species—for example, homo africanus and homo europi? One is of fair complexion, sanguine temperament, brawny form and gentle manners and is acute in judgment. The other is of black complexion, phlegmatic temperament and relaxed fibre and is crafty, indolent and careless. That appears in books in establishments throughout the country, from schools to universities. What is the right hon. Gentleman's opinion of that view?
§ Mr. Beith
I never encountered it in any serious book that I read in the course of my school or university life. Crazy and bogus medical views of a racist character have been found around the world for a long time. Thankfully, they are vigorously and effectively challenged. I should be surprised to find a book advancing the view that the hon. Gentleman has described in use as a text in any course in any reputable institution. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.
I shall move through some of the wider recommendations. Disclosures in inquest proceedings that are related to deaths in custody constitute an important recommendation which the Government have accepted, and we welcome that. However, we are very concerned to be sure that the Government's view about legal aid will be the same as that of the report, which is that, "in appropriate cases", there should be legal aid for families in inquest cases such as the Lawrence case. The Government talk about "exceptional" cases. We are rather suspicious of those slight shifts of words.
786 There are important recommendations about education. I would stress that there is a need for good home-school liaison to help the parents of ethnic minority pupils feel that they are engaged in school activities. I stress also the need, as in the police force, to recruit to the teaching profession more people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The issue of opposing racism should be in the planned citizenship component of the national curriculum.
There are many wider issues for society as a whole. Understandably. some police officers make the point that it would be to misread the report to assume that all its recommendations are directed at the police service. The recommendations are directed much more widely, and some of them go to the heart of the position of ethnic minorities in our society as a whole.
Racism and discrimination exist in all parts of society. Statistics show that discrimination. Unemployment rates are twice as high as the average for ethnic minority communities. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are three to four times more likely to be unemployed as white adults. The number of exclusions from schools is rising and the rate for Afro-Caribbean boys is five times higher than that for white boys. In some local education authorities, the rate is much higher. The report refers to wider problems in society, which we must all address.
§ Mr. Beith
Quite right. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) addressed some strong comments to the Liberal Democratic party and to the community as a whole in a speech a few weeks ago in London. We have sought in every way that we can to find ways of making our own party a more effective route for people from ethnic communities to enter the House. It is a problem that has faced all three political parties. The welcome presence of the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) is a reminder that, in all parties, we still have not achieved as much as we should in that respect.
That is a fitting note on which to conclude: in political parties, as in every other aspect of society, we have major battles to win.
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at this stage of the debate, not least because I am the only young black person in the country elected to Parliament. I do not know whether it is true, but someone told me that I am the only young black person—that is, someone under the age of 30 at the election—elected to a Parliament in the whole of Europe. That might suggest an institutional bias that faces young black people. We must deal with the parallel universes that black and white people seem to inhabit. I say that as someone with a black father and a white mother. The existence of those parallel universes was brought home to me by my childhood experience. My white family would always say, "Now, Oona, if you get lost, what you have to do is find a nice policeman, and he will look after you—he will take care of you."
787 The attitude on my father's side of the family was the exact opposite. Their attitude was, more or less, that if you are black, a white policeman can seriously damage your health. That was not just their own irrational prejudice and bias; it was their own experience. Indeed, my father is still exiled from the country that he came from because of institutional racism there and because he asked to be treated the same as a white man.
I was brought up with those two attitudes, so I understand my white family thinking that the policeman is the best person whom I could go to, but that was not my experience as a child. The very first contact that I ever had with a policeman was in Swiss Cottage. I was sitting on a fence, and a policeman came up to me and said—I hope hon. Members will excuse the unparliamentary language—"Oi, you black bitch, get down off that fence."
Those were the first words that a policeman said to me. I implore Opposition Members and people around the country to accept that that must inevitably diminish my respect for the police force. When the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) says that the police are one of the most respected institutions in the country, I must ask him: respected by whom? It is not the case that the police are respected by the black community. That is a great shame, because it undermines our democracy. That cuts to the core of what it is to be British, and what we hope for in a democratic society.
The parallel universes are further illustrated by a comment made by the editor of a middle England newspaper who wrote after the Lawrence inquiry:The problem the police faced was that the poor parents' grief was unassuageable and so they felt the need to blame someone.I am, frankly, disgusted by those remarks, but disgust, outrage, hyperbole and hysteria do not help us to come to an understanding, so I try to steer clear of that as much as I can.
The problem that the police faced was the fact that they were institutionally racist, institutionally incompetent and institutionally corrupt. Corruption is the twin brother of racism, and it affects us all. That is why the debate and the Lawrence inquiry are so important, for white people as well as for black people.
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
Is the hon. Lady really telling the House that the police suffer from institutionalised corruption? Leaving aside that outrageous claim, does she not realise that by blaming an institution collectively, by assuming that there is some unconscious collective guilt, she is letting off the hook the officers who are certainly guilty of those charges, as they hide behind the collective allegations that she makes?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. The hon. Lady must use the correct parliamentary language.
§ Ms King
You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suffer from an inability to get that into my mind, even after two years in the House.
Perhaps the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) will consider another example—another "ism" and another institution. Let us take sexism 788 and Parliament—the House of Commons. Let us look across the Benches. When the Home Secretary rose to speak, there was one woman on the Opposition Benches—and 26 men. Surely you would not deny that that shows that Parliament as an institution is biased against women? Would the hon. Gentleman deny that? I presume that he would not. [HON. MEMBERS: "I would."] You would say—I am sorry, hon. Gentlemen—
§ Ms King
You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Gentlemen just said that they would deny that there was discrimination against women, yet there are now just two women Members sitting on the Opposition Benches. That defies credibility and contravenes the facts.
I believe that there is institutional sexism. However, I also believe that all Members on both sides of the House are not individually guilty of being sexist. I do not believe that Conservative Members, for example, get up each morning and say, "Today we are going to deny women the right to be represented in Parliament." Of course they do not. That would be an absurd proposition.
What the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is saying is that we cannot apportion the guilt where it lies—in the institution, rather than in the individual.
§ Mr. Hayes
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I shall not attempt to punctuate her speech unnecessarily with further interventions. I should like her to develop the theme that she initiated. She is telling the House that those are not matters of choice but unconscious matters; when people act in a prejudiced, unreasonable, unfair or discriminatory way, they are not making a personal choice for which they should be sanctioned but are doing something that is unconscious. She said that we were not aware of our prejudices. I suppose she would say that we are imbued with them.
By saying that, is not the hon. Lady letting people off the hook? One cannot blame individuals if those individuals did not make a conscious choice about their prejudice.
§ Ms King
The hon. Gentleman seems to have failed to understand what I was saying. I am not blaming the individual, I am blaming the institution. However, there is often a failure to blame either. The Lawrence inquiry showed that neither the institutions nor the individuals were blamed.
Let us consider cases in which British juries have found, in actions against the police, that the police have fabricated evidence, maliciously prosecuted people, and assaulted people. British juries have found in favour of the plaintiffs, yet the police are left to walk away scot free. I say that that does not just damage us as members of British society; it damages the police as well. As has been said, the police themselves believe that that needs to change.
The recommendations of the Lawrence inquiry have provoked much debate. In the few minutes remaining, I shall concentrate on some of those recommendations— for example, recommendation 38, which deals with people being tried twice. Originally, I was implacably opposed 789 to that recommendation, but I ask hon. Members to listen, as I did, to one argument that was put to me. Recommendation 38 states thatconsideration should be given to the Court of Appeal being given powerto bring a fresh case where there is "viable evidence". What is viable evidence? It is, for instance, clear DNA evidence that may prove beyond reasonable doubt a person's link with a murder.
We should consider another case—that of Fred West, the serial killer. He appeared before the police many years ago, but they did not have enough evidence to prosecute him at the time. Let us suppose that he has been prosecuted, but that that prosecution has failed because of lack of evidence. Twenty years later, the bodies are dug up from under his house and there is clear proof that he was responsible for those murders, because fresh evidence has come to light. Should not the Court of Appeal be given the right to "consider" putting fresh evidence before a court in such a case? After all, that was done—the other way round—in the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases. If we can allow the Court of Appeal to review a decision when there is a conviction, why cannot we consider allowing it to consider fresh evidence when there is an acquittal? We have to realise that if we fail to do that we will risk encouraging people to take the law into their own hands, which surely cannot be what any of us want.
Recommendation 39 concerns the use of racist language in private. I am still very uneasy about that recommendation, although, as with all arguments that are put before me, I want to give it a fair hearing. There is an anomaly here. Some of the suspects said, "We think that niggers should have their legs cut off; let them swim with their stumps back to their nigger country." If they had been overheard saying that in the community centre on their estate, they could have been arrested and the police could have searched their homes. The police would have uncovered all manner of other evidence to show that something was amiss with that particular family and those particular people. However, if their neighbours hear them saying such things through the walls, nothing can be done.
To me, it seems strange to allow something to be done in one case—many people are under the impression that we are not allowed to act if we hear such language in the community hall, but we are—but not in another. If we allow action to be taken if such language is used in one place, why are we making that distinction if we are trying to prevent racist attacks? Remember, we are looking at prevention and prosecution—those were the terms of reference of the Lawrence inquiry.
I shall conclude because of time constraints. We need a new Race Relations Act—that goes without saying. I have seven further points on which I should like a response. First, what measures will the Home Secretary take to ensure implementation of the Lawrence report? How can it be embedded in the mainstream? Secondly, what measures will he take to bring the minority of criminal elements in the police to justice? Thirdly, given that 50 per cent. of those arrested for racist crime last year were under 16, does he not agree that we need an effective youth service? How will the Home Office tie that into its plans?
Fourthly, I am told that a colour bar apparently operates in the Army. I believe that that should also be the subject of an investigation. Fifthly, will the Home Secretary 790 ensure that the pilots for stop and search take place in all the main concentrations of ethnic minority people? Sixthly, will he consider giving adequate funding to the police? We cannot expect them to implement the recommendations without that money. Seventhly, will he appoint Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence to the proposed steering committee?
Will it not be ironic that, when people say, "What contribution have black people made to British society?" we need look no further than Doreen and Neville Lawrence? They—two black people—have brought us to this stage—we will all benefit from a fairer, less racist, less biased and more competent police service and democracy, which is in all our interests.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
To keep the record straight, I wish to inform the House again that I am pleased to be an adviser to the Police Superintendents Association. I stress that I am an adviser; I am not a spokesman for the association and I do not make speeches in the House on its behalf. I always give my own view. I intend to be brief. The House may not entirely agree with my views, because what I shall say may be regarded as slightly controversial.
Two things immediately stand out when one reads the Macpherson report. The first is that the report is an exceptionally good analysis of the failings of the Metropolitan police murder team investigation of this awful and brutal murder. The second is that a large number of recommendations are not backed up by any supporting evidence. In some ways, I found it a rather schizophrenic report, as though it had been written by two people. Perhaps, in some ways, it was.
Many parts of the report were written by the Sir William Macpherson who is a good casework judge. When presented with this awful Gordian knot of contradictory facts and assertions, he cut through it forensically and reached sensible conclusions on the evidence. He analysed the failings of the murder investigation and one can have no quibble with his conclusions. Then I looked at the parts of the report written by the Sir William Macpherson who recommends that a whole range of things in the country should be changed. It seemed to me that those recommendations were based not on any firm evidence that he received, but on untested and unquestioned assertions. I was surprised; if he had the evidence to justify his recommendations, why was it not cited in his report? I came to the conclusion that a good casework judge Sir William Macpherson may be, but a Lord Scarman he is not. Even less is he a royal commission.
Why has Sir William got parts of his report so wrong? I wonder what was the impact of the initial statements made by Michael Mansfield and other lawyers, which were perhaps designed to frighten him into adopting a more radical agenda, even if there was no evidence for it. The House will remember the remarks by some lawyers, criticising Sir William Macpherson even before he had started his work and saying that he was bound to be unsympathetic to their aims and aspirations because of his background. Did that make him bend over backwards to please? I do not know; we do not know.
An incredible, but disgraceful and highly revealing episode took place when Sir Paul Condon was questioned. A member of Sir William's own inquiry panel, 791 Dr. Richard Stone, urged Sir Paul, "Just say, 'Yes, I accept institutional racism exists.' I think a lot of people here are willing you to say that." That is an extraordinary comment from one of the inquiry team assisting Sir William, who has signed the report. He said that "a lot of people here are willing you to say that." I do not think that that counts as impartial judgment, which we expect from an investigation.
So, on reading the report and on reading that comment from Dr. Richard Stone, it seemed to me that, no matter what the evidence presented, the preconception of institutional racism was the underlying mood and driving force. We have been asked to accept all of Sir William's report and his recommendations as though they were the new ten commandments. I merely say that if any other court of law had run a trial in the way that this inquiry was conducted, I suspect that all its findings would have been overturned quite quickly by a Court of Appeal.
I must tell the House that I am not suggesting for one moment that all of Sir William's recommendations are wrong—merely that a large number have apparently been produced from thin air without any evidence to back them up. The recommendations relating to the conduct of police investigations seem to be perfectly valid, in my experience. The suggestions on training are sensible, as are the suggestions for improvement in family liaison and in respect of family liaison officers, but the Government will need no advice from me when I tell them that the police will require massive extra resources throughout the country to-implement them. Improving family liaison for all the serious categories of crime, where victims will now expect the back-up that Sir William has recommended, will be extremely expensive.
Some of the other recommendations might also be sensible, but we cannot judge that from the report because Sir William has not presented the facts and arguments to justify them. The Home Secretary must be greatly relieved that Sir William inserted the word, "considered" before his wilder recommendations on changes to English criminal law. I merely ask the House to imagine the following: that, at the end of some other criminal trial, a hypothetical judge—perhaps called Harman or Pickles—ended his judgment by stating that all our institutions were intrinsically racist, that double jeopardy should be abolished and that it should be a criminal offence to make racist comments in one's own home. I imagine that the Government and the press would quickly suggest that that judge had lost the plot and his retirement was long overdue. Yet those are the suggestions in the report. Thank goodness that the Home Secretary can, in the nicest possible way, except some of them by "considering" them and then kicking them into the long grass where eventually they will be raked into the compost heap of history.
My difficulty, which is shared by nearly everyone to whom I have spoken in my constituency and elsewhere about the Macpherson report, is this. If Judge Macpherson can get some of the recommendations so badly wrong, and if his judgment is crazy enough that he can suggest that criminal offences should be created for possessing an offensive weapon, having offensive thoughts or uttering offensive language in one's own home, why should we accept that his judgment is perfectly wise on all the other matters in his report?
§ Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)
Has not my right hon. Friend observed that Sir William 792 Macpherson prefaces those particular recommendations by saying that consideration should be given to them? That is not the phraseology that he uses in respect of some other recommendations. He simply says that the matter should not be left alone but should be considered further. Thus he does not make the recommendation in the precise terms that my right hon. Friend described.
§ Mr. Maclean
I accept my hon. Friend's point. On double jeopardy, and on extending the criminal law to deal with offensive weapons and language in one's own home, Sir William used the word, "consider". However, he did not use it for his definition of a racist crime, with which I have problems.
Sir William has discredited parts of his report by failing to produce reasoning and recommendations, and by producing in other parts of the report recommendations that do not stand up. His definition of a racist incident is unenforceable. It says that a racist incident is one if the victim or any other person says that it is.
§ Mr. Maclean
I know that the police service has accepted it. It has been kicked around so much in the past few months that it would believe any hostile propaganda used against it. It is terrified of opposing any political correctness and will accept anything thrown at it. I give way to the hon. Lady.
§ Mr. Maclean
If I continue my speech, I might provoke the hon. Lady into remembering.
I should be happy to be corrected if I have got this little example of a racist incident wrong. Let us suppose that four men are having a drink after work; they come out of the pub and find that their car windscreens have all been smashed. One man is black and says that the smashing of his windscreen is a racist incident. Am I right in understanding that the police would be obliged to record it as such in his case? Even worse: the black man does not complain to the police that the smashing of his windscreen is a racist incident, but others who spot the incident on the news that night or in the local paper the following week go to the police and say that it was a racist incident.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
I can confirm everything that my right hon. Friend says because I have a little booklet that is being issued to every policeman, which says in large letters:Don't forget—if anyone says that it is a racial incident, it is!That will be sufficient.
§ Mr. Maclean
We need more information because we will get to the absurd position where the Government discredit what they are trying to do, which is to deal with the under-reporting of racist incidents. I have no doubt that there is a tremendous under-reporting of racist incidents, but goodness knows what awful contortions of policing priorities will come about if we have a massive over-reporting of racist incidents, which is what will happen with the definition in the report.
793 Let me make it clear once again that I am not suggesting that all of Sir William's recommendations should not one day be implemented. They may be good for this country and our society. However, we do not know; and we do not know from the report, because it does not contain the evidence to justify all the changes that Sir William wishes to bring about. We should not stand this country on its head just because of an inquiry report that has not considered in depth all the wider repercussions of its recommendations.
§ Mr. Maclean
I was not aware of that point—or if I was, it had slipped my memory. It brings me to the point that I wish to make: there is a series of issues that goes much wider than the appalling murder of Stephen Lawrence. The correct approach should have been for the Home Secretary, when he saw Sir William's recommendations and the lack of evidence to back some of them up, to refer the matter to a proper body of experts, which could have considered them in detail. The previous Government set up a royal commission on criminal justice, which was well respected and supported by the then Opposition.
If every institution in this country is racist—if the entire civil service and our education and health services are deeply steeped in institutional racism, and if all the other organisations and individuals, including the BBC and the media, have institutional racism—it requires a much better analysis than that carried out by Sir William and his inquiry team if we are to get to the bottom of that awful problem. If huge and fundamental changes must be made to the way in which everyone in this country thinks, we must build those changes on better foundations than Sir William's flimsy recommendations. Moreover, those foundations must be agreed by the vast majority in this country.
The Government and the Home Secretary have said that they will start to implement all of Macpherson's recommendations—but they will do so without an analysis of some of the real wrongs to be righted. I accept that there are the real wrongs of the murder of an innocent victim and the mistakes of that murder investigation. They must be righted. However, is it right to start to change the curriculum for primary schools in Penrith because of failures that Sir William has found in the Metropolitan police murder squad investigating a particular case?
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence deserve a better investigation of their son's murder, but my constituents deserve an infinitely better investigation of the Macpherson recommendations before they are asked to change their lives. They do not deserve to be branded as institutionally racist just because of a failure by a Metropolitan police murder investigation squad. They deserve to have infinitely better evidence of their wrongdoing if they are to be re-educated Orwell-style. Nothing less than a royal commission will suffice before we take the road down which the Government are now rushing.
794 I believe that the vast majority of people in this country are decent, honest and law abiding; they are not racist—not even unwittingly. They deplore what happened to Stephen Lawrence, just as they deplore any innocent person, irrespective of race, colour, creed or religion, being murdered by vicious thugs.
The Government should not, on the evidence of the Macpherson report alone, accuse the people of this country of being racist reactionaries in need of re-education. Let the Government first establish a proper, authoritative and impartial royal commission. Let them get the facts. Let there be a proper detailed analysis, and let us get to the real truth before the "1984" re-education programme begins.
§ Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
After months of taking and sifting evidence, the Macpherson inquiry came to the inevitable conclusion which the Lawrence family and all those around them had known: that the Metropolitan police investigation into the murder of their son was palpably flawed. A combination of incompetence and racism has allowed brutal racist killers to remain at liberty. As the Macpherson report clearly says, that is an affront both to the Lawrence family and to the community at large.
The inquiry has not only brought the wholly justifiable complaints of Doreen and Neville Lawrence to the attention of the public, but highlighted what Macpherson described as the hitherto underplayed dissatisfaction of minority ethnic communities—not only with the handling of the Lawrence case, but with other cases across the country and with their treatment by police.
Undoubtedly the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) would say that black people's actual experience is not evidence; I believe that it is. We often see references to black people's perception of the police, and to the need to change it—as though their perception is something wrong with those black people. By using the word "perception" we suggest that black people's treatment by the police is something imagined by the black community. I believe that it is time that we recognised that their perceptions are drawn from their experience. Their attitudes are based on reality, not perceptions.
The Macpherson report has identified colossal and unbelievable incompetence on the part of the Metropolitan police. It is a catalogue of mismanagement and failure, which clearly must be dealt with. However, those failings should not deflect our attention from the need to tackle the insidious evil of racism, not only in the Metropolitan police and in police forces across the country but in society as a whole.
Today, it comes as a disappointment to me that the Police Federation's briefing to hon. Members accepts the Metropolitan police's incompetence and mismanagement, but says that the report lacked sufficient balance. Later in that briefing, it declines to accept the report's definition of institutional racism.
I draw it to the attention of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border that an accusation of institutional racism is an accusation not against individuals but against the way in which the system operates.
In response to the comment of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), I say that, yes, we have a conscious choice. When the institution in 795 which we operate is racist, we have a choice consciously to challenge that racism and that discrimination. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) about the press's portrayal of the people of Eltham. In our part of south London, we have had more than our fair share of racist murders and attacks. I live a few hundred yards from the spot on which Rolan Adams was murdered; I used to live a street away from the Lawrences' family home. Rohit Dugal was brutally slain near the spot where Stephen Lawrence died. He was also my constituent.
Those are not problems particular and peculiar to Eltham, Woolwich or Thamesmead—racism is an issue that affects us all. Racism is an issue across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. It is also an issue in Harrogate, Cheltenham, Tunbridge Wells, Sutton Coldfield, Folkestone and Hythe, Ryedale—and, yes, in Penrith. Let us not forget that the Metropolitan police may well recruit officers from the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.
In May 1993, a month after Stephen Lawrence's death, in a debate on racial violence, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and I called for action by the Government. Regrettably, those calls fell on deaf ears. In that debate, I drew the attention of the then Home Secretary to the recommendations of the Commission for Racial Equality, in its review of the Race Relation Act 1976, for an independent review of the law on incitement to racial hatred.
The CRE, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and I had urged the Home Secretary to make racial harassment a specific criminal offence, to make racial harassment a ground for eviction, to place public authorities under a statutory duty to monitor complaints of racial harassment, to establish a separate tort of racial harassment, and specifically to consider criminalising racial violence.
Earlier that year, I had visited the then Minister of State—the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd)—with representatives of the Society of Black Lawyers to discuss draft legislation on those issues that had been submitted to the Home Secretary. All the demands fell on deaf ears. However, since that time, the current Home Secretary has already moved on many of the issues. I hope that publication of the Macpherson report will push the agenda even further forward.
When it became clear that the whole investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence had been flawed, several of my colleagues and I made repeated requests to the Home Secretary of the day—the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—for an inquiry, but we were appealing to a closed mind.
Prior to publication of the Macpherson report, and—in the case of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), today—some Opposition Members attempted to divert attention from the real issue of racism by concentrating on the leak of part of the report to The Sunday Telegraph and on the Home Secretary's handling of that matter. After publication of the report, much of the Opposition's attention was focused not on the report's contents and recommendations, but on inclusion in the appendices of the names and addresses of sensitive witnesses and informants.
796 I made my view on that matter quite clear to the Minister of State when he made his statement, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham also has clearly stated his views on it. But I want to say, here and now, that if it had not been for the courage and determination of the current Home Secretary, we should not have had the report. For years, the Lawrence family and their supporters and several hon. Members had made demands that, as I said, fell on deaf ears and closed minds.
On 24 June 1997, shortly after the general election, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) and I accompanied the Lawrence family and their advisers to see the Home Secretary. The fact that he had assembled the whole of his ministerial team indicated the seriousness with which he viewed the situation. After the meeting, and after having had a discussion with Neville and Doreen Lawrence, the Home Secretary both was deeply moved and welcomed the opportunity of discussing not only the tragic circumstances of their son's death, but broader issues on racially motivated crime and the relationship between police and minority ethnic communities.
The Home Secretary described the legal difficulties in establishing an inquiry. However, that day, as I left the Home Office, I had the feeling—and I sensed that the Lawrences shared it—that, for the first time, someone in a position of authority and someone with the ability to take action had not only listened to the Lawrences, but had actually heard what they said. I only wish that some Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, would listen to and hear what black people are saying, and heed what their real experiences are.
Scarman has been mentioned. Some will say that we have been here before. Some will recall the hopes that were engendered by Lord Scarman's inquiry into the Brixton uprising, in 1981, which were followed by such disillusion.
I believe that there were essentially two problems with Scarman. The first was his total failure to recognise or accept the existence of institutional racism. Without that acceptance, any attempts to tackle racism in our society will fail. Secondly, the Scarman report failed to live up to expectations because there was no comprehensive national co-ordinated programme of action with timetabled outcomes. We are not going to make the same mistake again.
Macpherson has overcome that first failing by providing a very clear definition of institutional racism, to which I hope we can all sign up. Prior to publication of the report, I wrote to the Home Secretary, asking him to reconsider the position of the Commissioner in view of his comments that he did not believe that there was institutional racism in the Met.
The Commissioner has now accepted the report's definition of institutional racism. Although I called for his position to be considered before the report was published, because he has accepted the report's recommendations and the definition, I believe that, at this stage, calls for his resignation would be tokenistic and not particularly productive. However, I reserve the right to review my position on the matter in the light of evidence of Sir Paul Condon's willingness to implement the report's recommendations.
I recognise that the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority will need to be consulted over the appointment of a new Commissioner, but we 797 cannot wait until the current Commissioner retires before we consider his successor. The appointment should be made as early as possible to give him or her some time working in tandem with the current Commissioner on implementing the recommendations.
The Macpherson inquiry also expressed concern about institutional racism in all the agencies that make up the criminal justice system. Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 requires criminal justice agencies to monitor their operations by ethnic group, but the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the Prison Service and the probation service have generally failed to provide the information on which action to eradicate institutional racism depends.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) have mentioned the contentious area of stop-and-search powers. Information on the use of those powers is publicly available under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That information raises many questions, but the experience of black people goes beyond the formal stop-and-search figures recorded under that Act, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has said. People can be stopped under traffic legislation or drugs legislation, as well as by so-called voluntary stops. The inquiry report reaches a clear conclusion that the perception and experience of minority communities is that discrimination is a major element in stop-and-search problems. Black people are more likely to be stopped and searched and to be arrested than their white counterparts. Evidence suggests that, when tried and convicted, black people are more likely to receive a custodial sentence than their white counterparts.
I hope that the pilot projects that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to set up on stop and search can be established speedily and will lead to the full implementation and acceptance of recommendations 61 to 63. I also welcome his acceptance of recommendation 11 to bring the police within the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976 and his decision to go further by bringing all public services within the scope of the Act.
However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, I do not believe that those changes are sufficient. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will bring proposals to the House to strengthen race equality legislation, including the monitoring of practice. I raised the issue in the debate on the Queen's Speech in November 1994. Governments of both parties have recognised the need to monitor employment practices in Northern Ireland and the importance of contract compliance in the legislation against religious discrimination. If that need is recognised for religious discrimination in Northern Ireland, it should be recognised for racial discrimination in this country.
My right hon. Friend made comments about inquests and the information that is made available to the families of the deceased. He also referred to the police ombudsman to be created in Northern Ireland. I should like to draw attention to the prisons ombudsman and the issue of deaths in custody. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the death in Belmarsh prison of my constituent Kenneth Severin. When his family tried to take a complaint to the 798 prisons ombudsman, they were told, "Sorry, I can't accept that complaint. I can only take complaints from prisoners." Of course, the prisoner could not make the complaint because he was dead. The same was true in the cases of Alton Manning and Dennis Stephens. Having met the families of all three, I believe that their experiences were on a par with those of the Lawrence family in their dealings with the police following the death of Stephen Lawrence. Following the meeting that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) and I had last year with the then Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), about those deaths in custody. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will meet a delegation from those families to talk about their experience.
As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, the parliamentary ombudsman has found in favour of the Severin family on all their complaints, including the failure to disclose the contents of the internal investigation and report into Kenneth's death. The parliamentary ombudsman recommended in February that even at this late stage the report should be made available to the family. Why has it still not been made available?
There were many other comments that I wanted to make about education and the role of other organisations in combating racism. In view of the shortness of time, I shall conclude by referring to the comments of Doreen Lawrence, which were also quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham. She said:I would like Stephen Lawrence to be remembered as a young man who had a future—and had he been given the chance to survive, maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white".We owe it to the Lawrence family and to the memory of Stephen to act to ensure that that gap is bridged.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)
The last words in Doreen Lawrence's statement about Stephen were:He saw people as people.We should approach the debate with humility, because many of us were Members of Parliament, councillors or in other positions of authority when things were going wrong.
I should like to acknowledge at least one mistake. Had I known about the attack on Stacey Benefield before the attack on Stephen Lawrence, I would have been able to go to the police within hours of hearing of the attack, which might have led to the police going for the forensic evidence, because some of those involved in the attack on Stacey Benefield were able to destroy the evidence—if they had it.
Many of us know many things about our constituency and our constituents, but there are times when rather greater knowledge would be desirable. The police failed to act on the information that came forward early. The Lawrences were told that people were erecting a wall of silence. That was not true. Many people came forward with information, but when the police began observation they suffered from what might be called a series of bad luck, but could probably be called incompetence. People were allowed to get away and destroy any evidence that they may have had in a bin bag.
799 There are other occasions on which I suspect that I could have gone further. I went with the Minister—as he is now—to the Attorney-General and the Crown Prosecution Service after its decision that the first case had to be dropped. I am not a lawyer. The Minister can say more about that if he wants. I am not competent to speak about the levels of evidence needed or the tests that the CPS has to make.
When the private prosecution came along, it was clear that the jury did not want to accept the judge's instruction to acquit. One should not start saying that judges should not have the power to give directions to juries, but if the judge was ambivalent about whether to give the instruction, perhaps a greater public row might have allowed the issue to have been tested more. I suspect that there is an asymmetry. Juries can acquit when legally they might have convicted, but they should not necessarily be given the chance to find people guilty when legally they ought to acquit. There is injustice and a lack of symmetry that is difficult to accept and understand.
I went to see the Commissioner when there was information about a problem of communication with the family. He told me how the issue was seen by the police and I told him how it was firmly seen by the Lawrence family, Ros Howells, Imran Khan and some of the other responsible people who acted with them. Maybe I did not push hard enough. Maybe I did not know enough to push hard enough.
This is not an easy speech to make. I was with the Lawrences and saw how they controlled what developed. The movement from their home in Llanover road to the Methodist church where Stephen had been part of the youth club was one of the most impressive things with which I have been associated. There were no police in evidence, no protesters and no fear of any street disturbance. I was also impressed by the service and some of the other services that have been held in that church, including that for the Stephen Lawrence memorial window.
There is a simple trust in the Lawrence family. It is a trust with which Stephen grew up. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) said—I agreed with every word of his speech—when Stephen was confronted in Eltham that night, he did not run. That was an important part of the way in which the Lawrences brought up their family.
People should read the appendices to the report, which recount the stories of the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks, the forgotten victim of the crime that night. If more young people were brought up by people like the Lawrences and fewer were brought up by people like the parents of those who have been called the suspects, this country would be transformed. Street behaviour, family behaviour and school achievements would be very different.
Anyone who thinks that we have learned the lessons of the past has not read an article in today's edition of G2, the tabloid section of The Guardian. It describes the work of the Stephen Lawrence memorial trust, which tries to help young black architects to continue their training and to get work. It says that there are 70 black architects in this country, and it describes how difficult it is for them to become known and, if they are qualified, to get employment. I suspect that the same is true in the legal profession and, as has been pointed out, it is difficult for young black people to get elected to the House.
800 There is no room for complacency. We should approach this debate from the point of view of the Lawrence family. That came across remarkably well in the Tricycle production of "The Colour of Justice". If anyone has not had a chance to see that production, I commend it. There is not a word in it that was not said at the inquiry.
I should like to pay tribute to the inquiry and the inquiry staff. What Sir William Macpherson, the staff of the inquiry and those who were sitting with them had to go through was as intense as what the rest of us feel when we watch what is happening in Kosovo. We begin to see an awfulness, and we begin to see why things are happening but we do not know how to stop them and we cannot turn the reel backwards.
The issue could be approached from the point of view of the police, which has been highlighted in one speech—I am sure that others will follow. I do not disagree completely with the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin) about the parliamentary briefing from the Police Federation, and perhaps not everything it says is right, but it was well written—I may be looking at a separate blue sheet—and the police are beginning to learn and to be more open about what is going on.
I want to raise an issue with the Home Office which I do not expect to be addressed today, but I would appreciate the opportunity to meet a Minister to discuss it. I have the agreement of the local Member of Parliament to raise it. In the past few months, there are have been three articles in Private Eye about Sergeant Virdi, who took part in the arrest of two people involved in a racial attack. When he asked whether it had been recorded as a racial attack, he was suspended and faced a year of uncertainty about whether the Crown Prosecution Service intended to prefer a charge against him. He is still suspended a year after the original attack and does not know whether there will be disciplinary proceedings against him.
I tabled a rather delphic question about it to the Home Office, and from the answer that I received it seemed as though it had not heard of the matter. I tabled other questions. I asked how many times the police had argued at the employment tribunal for a postponement of the hearing, and when that series of incidents had come to the attention of the Home Office, which is the police authority for London. The answer from the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), suggested that the relevant information had come from the police relatively recently.
I suggest that Home Office Ministers, as the police authority for London, ask for a detailed explanation of the chronology of events. If they are prepared to see Sergeant Virdi's MP or me, or both of us together, it would be interesting to hear their views.
§ Mr. McDonnell
Mr. Virdi came to see me on Friday at my advice session—it is the neighbouring constituency to his Member's. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter in the debate: I was hoping to raise it later. This case is creating a sense of grievance in the Asian community in west London—I think it will soon 801 spread across the country—that we have never seen before. That community has been one of the strongest supporters of the police service in London.
§ Mr. Bottomley
It would be appropriate for me to say no more about the matter now. I suggest that Ministers read the articles in Private Eye and seek an explanation of the chronology of events. They may then be able to make a statement. We would be willing to table a question so that we can find out what the Home Office, the acting police authority, thinks is going on.
The problems are not only in London. I am currently the Member for Worthing, West, in Sussex. The police wanted to search the home of one of my constituents, who admits that he has not led a perfect life. They were following up a proven case of driving while disqualified. He said that the home they wanted to visit was not the home that he had been living in for the past year or two. He told them where he was living, and during their attendance at his home, in his absence, they used language to his partner that was unjustifiable—that is acknowledged. She made a complaint, but the officers in charge of the investigation of the man's criminal offence were those against whom her complaint had been made.
I am not suggesting that every criminal can get away with it by saying that the police have made racial remarks, but some sensitivity should be used as a result of the Macpherson inquiry. If it turns out that the police have been holding a person's property month after month without any connection to the offence for which the man was arrested, people at a senior level should be asking themselves, "Have we got this right?" It is asking those questions that matters most.
Lastly, I want to refer to expectations, which is slightly beyond the Macpherson inquiry. I first became interested in the idea of professional public service through politics because of my experience as a governor of a school in Vauxhall, which is now closed. It had 1,200 girls, and, in the fifth form, not one of them was allowed to take what were then 0-levels, because the English department decided that that would divide people into those who could take 0-levels and those who took CSEs. If people were seriously interested in getting 0 and A-levels and going on to higher education, they could stay on in the lower sixth. It was not until I helped to get two West Indian mothers on to the governing body that that policy changed. Within three years, the first black girl from the school went on to medical school.
We lived in the area, and I talked to Afro-Caribbeans, the Portuguese and everyone else who had come to England and to London in the past two or three generations—we are all migrants, because the population of London 20,000 years ago was nil, so we must all have come here at some stage, but some came more recently. They asked why it was that the schools in that part of London were much worse than the schools in Jamaica or wherever they had come from. It was not because our teachers were not interested, but because their expectations were low. It required pushy parents like me and others, whatever the colour of their skin or their creed or wherever their grandparents had come from, and that took a lot of effort.
I am glad that the present Government are backing up the calls that people like me have been making. All families deserve the right to bring up their children to trust 802 other people. All parents should be able to bring up their children so they can trust the schools to which they go. Their children should be able to trust a police officer in the street, as half the family of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) advised her.
That is when the colour of people's skin becomes as important as the colour of their eyes or the colour of their hair. We may notice it, but it does not tell us any more about them.
§ Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)
I welcome the debate. Surprisingly, I agreed with many hon. Members who have spoken. The speech of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was full of bonhomie, and his tones were so dulcet that I was lulled into a false sense of security, until I remembered that he was a member of a Government who refused to have an inquiry into the Lawrence case. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) criticised the Macpherson report, but he was a Home Office Minister in the Government who refused an inquiry into the Lawrence case. It is useful for us to remember that.
I am deeply indebted to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his fortitude in getting the inquiry and the debate under way, and for all the steps that he has taken so far. I am also grateful to the inquiry team for its steadfastness in sticking to the issues.
I have some criticisms of the Macpherson report. For instance, it does not place any onus or responsibility on the community, unlike the Scarman report, which set up police committees and talked about the need to get the communities involved. The Macpherson report talks about institutions, which is all well and good, but people work and live in communities. We need to get the black and ethnic minority community behind us.
I find it quite astonishing that the inquiry could not find any individual racism in the Metropolitan police. Anyone who saw the drama-documentaries on television will have seen the individual racism, arrogance and lack of accountability displayed by the officers who were questioned.
My biggest problem is with the new definition of institutional racism. I am especially concerned with the use of the word "unwittingly", because it lets people off the hook. If we say that an institution discriminates, but that the people involved do not know that they are discriminating, we are letting them off the hook. When St. George's medical school was found by the Commission for Racial Equality to be institutionally discriminating against black and ethnic minority applicants, it was found that someone had programmed the computer to reject people with foreign-sounding names. That was not unwitting: it was done deliberately.
I do not want Sir William Macpherson to try to tell me that institutionalised racism is unwitting. It is not. When the Ford motor company changed the faces of people in its advertisement—they changed a Sikh and a black man into white men—before it sent it to eastern Europe, that was not unwitting. Someone took the decision.
When, two years ago, Sir Paul Condon talked about 80 per cent. of young black people being guilty of mugging, so whenever police officers saw a black youth in the street, they automatically assumed that he was 803 a mugger, that was institutionalised racism. It was not unwitting. I thoroughly disagree with that definition in the report.
The investigation of Stephen Lawrence's death has some similarities with a case in my constituency. A few weeks ago, a young man, Roger Sylvester, died in police custody. The Essex police are investigating the case, and we await their findings, so we are not exactly clear about the circumstances, but we know that he was about 30 years old and was taken naked from outside his house in Tottenham. Again, we have a black victim who has been set up by the police.
The police went on a rampage of misinformation. They said that Roger Sylvester was big, black and violent, and that is totally untrue. I have had letters from white pensioners saying that he was a kind man who went shopping for them and took them across the street, but the police, to cover themselves, said that he was a big, black, violent man who had something to do with drugs, so immediately this person, who was a victim, becomes a problem in the minds of the general public. When the police started to investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence, they tried to make out that he was involved with a gang, which again shows the ability of the police to give misinformation and try to cloud the issue.
There are other similarities in the way in which the families have been dealt with. There was liaison between the police and the family of Roger Sylvester, and they had several meetings, but the police decided to set up their own consultative group, without any agreement with the family. They pulled in a few worthy community leaders and used that forum as the method of consulting the family.
Family liaison is extremely important, and I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend is paying particular attention to it. I do not care how much it costs to set up the systems. It is definitely worth it, because it is about bringing trust back into the community and establishing a relationship with the police.
Nothing was done when Sir Paul Condon talked about black youths and mugging. He is the head of the Metropolitan police, who were severely criticised in the Macpherson report, yet no one in official circles is calling for his resignation. I have called for him to go because the black community feels that he should.
Let me draw an analogy. When it was found that there was corruption, everyone, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, said that Jacques Santer, the head of the European Commission, had to accept responsibility, even though he protested his innocence and said that he was whiter than white. Sir Paul Condon is the head of the Metropolitan police, who have been condemned by the report, yet people are saying that he has to stay. I find that extraordinary. It is about time that people who are responsible for the officers under their command accepted responsibility for those officers' actions.
Eight police officers from Tottenham police station were involved in the Roger Sylvester case, but the chief superintendent is swanning around and taking no responsibility. He could not care less, presumably, because he is not being held to account. The case of Sir Paul Condon is similar. There have been many deaths in custody and other racist murders that have not been properly investigated.
804 Rolan Adams, Wayne Douglas and others in London have died at the hands of the police or in police custody, yet no senior police officer has been held responsible. It is the only profession or job that I know of in which someone can be in charge of something that is not correct and take no responsibility whatever. That has to change.
§ Mr. Grant
I agree with my hon. Friend's comments. The matter should be reconsidered because, since he was given the go-ahead to continue as commissioner, he has appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs and—I understand—said that he does not accept the recommendation that the Race Relations Act 1976 should be extended to the police. We now see even more arrogance from Sir Paul Condon.
§ Mr. Grant
I do not have the time to give way, but I am willing to engage in a debate with the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber.[Laughter.] Pistols at dawn!
Recruitment and retention are crucial, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned in an earlier intervention. An experiment that we conducted in Tottenham should be taken up by the Home Office. In conjunction with the Industrial Society and the Metropolitan police, we recruited some 20 young people from minority ethnic groups—Cypriots, Asians and the children of people from the Caribbean and Africa—as a representation of the community. They were recruited en bloc and given physical and academic training to bring them up to the required standard. They entered Hendon police training college and 18 became fully qualified police officers. The scheme was a tremendous success.
I wanted all 18 to be posted to Tottenham police station so that they could support each other in the canteen. The only way to defeat the canteen culture is with a group of people who are very visibly seen to be challenging racism. That would have made a huge difference in Tottenham, because the community would have seen a police force that was representative of the community. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office to consider the issue of cohort recruitment and cohort placement. There is no point in recruiting 20 people and then sending each one to a different police station. They need to be together so that they can support each other.
My final point is about stop and search, and the recording of ethnicity, which I mentioned in an earlier intervention. When I did a survey some years ago of the stop-and-search figures, I found that each police force had its own method for recording ethnicity. Some used the category of Arab and others used the category of oriental. All sorts of definitions of ethnicity were used—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has used up his time.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
An appalling tragedy has taken place, and anybody who fails to grasp the dimensions of what that family tragedy has entailed has only to read the first page of Sir William Macpherson's report into Stephen Lawrence's murder. It catalogues some extraordinary activities by the police and much inaction by the police. The prolonged police investigations were in two phases, but the result is that the murderers of Stephen have not been brought to justice. Apart from Duwayne Brooks, no witness has come forward with firm evidence and there is no other sound evidence. Even the Police Complaints Authority report states that the police investigation was bungled. When, 20 months ago, the Home Secretary set up the inquiry that is the subject of this debate, it found that the first police investigation was "palpably flawed".
The only comfort we can find is that out of that appalling disaster, the publicity has increased the public awareness of the need to fight racism. I know that every hon. Member will join me in saying that one of our priorities is to wipe racism out of our country. If anyone questions that priority, someone who has been a Member of Parliament for an inner-city constituency, as I was in Birmingham, Handsworth, can explain the need to tackle racism and—to coin a phrase—the causes of racism.
My principal comment about the Macpherson report concerns its definition of institutional racism. It is worth revisiting the Scarman report on the subject, as the Macpherson report did. Scarman rejected the allegation that Britain as a society, knowingly and as a matter of policy, discriminated against black people. He wrote:The direction and policies of the Metropolitan police are not racist. I totally and unequivocally reject the attack made upon the integrity and impartiality of the senior direction of the force. The criticisms lie elsewhere in errors of judgment, in a lack of imagination and flexibility, but not in deliberate bias or prejudice".Those words were written 18 years ago, and my judgment is that matters have improved considerably since then in the Metropolitan police, although I cannot be certain of that.
I accept that when Sir William gave his definition of institutional racism, he went out of his way to say that that did not mean that all Metropolitan police officers were racist. He wrote:We hope and believe that the average police officer and average member of the public will accept that we do not suggest that all police officers are racist and will both understand and accept the distinction we draw between overt individual racism and the pernicious and persistent institutional racism which we have described.Nor do we say that in its policies the MPS is racist. Nor do we share the fear of those who say that in our findings of institutional racism, in the manner in which we have used that concept, there may be a risk that the moral authority of the MPS may be undermined.
My point is that even though those are Sir William's words, repeated in the recommendations, the public perception is that if an institution is described as institutionally racist, it has racism spread throughout it. I find resentment of that among some of my constituents to whom I have been able to talk, as well as the police in my constituency, because they do not accept that racism is endemic. The report gives the impression that it is. I fear that that public awareness will give comfort to those few people who, for ulterior motives, wish to set the public against our police force.
806 I want now to look to the future. If we are to succeed in our fight against racism, we must begin in our schools and our homes. I am horrified by a statistic from recent research in Cardiff. Of all cases of racism reported to the Racial Equality Council, 50 per cent. involved people under 16, and a quarter of those involved children aged six to 10. I am not averse to passing stronger legislation, but whatever laws we pass, we must have leadership, and an example must be set in our schools and our homes.
Recommendation 17 of the inquiry's report states:That there should be close co-operation between Police Services and local Government and other agencies, including in particular Housing and Education Departments, to ensure that all information as to racist incidents and crimes is shared and is readily available to all agencies.That would be an important tool for the authorities.
I am highly doubtful about the idea of prosecuting in respect of remarks made in private. If remarks are heard outwith the home, they are presumably not defined as racist remarks made in private.
When it comes to policing the police, I support calls for a genuinely independent Police Complaints Authority. However, one reason why the police have policed the police for so long is that it is felt that only police officers know how to detect unfair or illegal police behaviour. Whatever independent commission is set up should include at least some people who have experience in a police force.
Currently, about 1,000 complaints are made each year about police irregularities. They vary from, at one end of the spectrum, rudeness, which is not to be tolerated, to, at the other end, deaths in custody. There is a lack of public confidence when a second force investigates a complaint made against another force. I agree, therefore, with recommendation 58.
I am slightly worried about the definition of racist incidents to mean that any allegation of racism must be followed through. All serious allegations must certainly be reported, recorded and investigated. However, there ought to be an escape clause for cases in which the allegation is patently proved to be frivolous.
I very much support the need to develop victim support schemes. I strongly support the idea that the Metropolitan police and other forces should work with victim support schemes set up by lay people on proactive initiatives in minority ethnic communities. I pay tribute to Barnet victim support scheme, which is doing magnificent work; some of its cases involve racism, and I, for one, include anti-semitism as an offence against a race.
Macpherson recommends that consideration of the double jeopardy issue should be referred to the Law Commission. I would go a little further than has my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) on that point. I do not oppose our being able to hold a second trial or to bring charges again after they have been dropped. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations 1996 Act allows a second trial in cases in which defendants have been acquitted because witnesses or jurors have been intimidated. If ever there were a principle, that Act breached it. The Court of Appeal should be allowed, in exceptional and serious cases, to authorise the police to prosecute again.
I am concerned about the readiness of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute unless it feels it has a watertight case. If 50 per cent. or more of the evidence 807 is there, the CPS will go ahead with prosecution, but, across the spectrum and not necessarily in racist cases only, it drops prosecutions too readily.
I must disagree with my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant). I want to put in a good word for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I am glad that he has not resigned. I hope that he will not do so, or retire early. I was perturbed to hear from the Home Secretary that he is due to retire in 10 months in any case.
I want the commissioner to stay longer in his post. He has done a good job in the policing of London, with many initiatives since he was appointed. Burglaries have gone down tremendously, and the Bumblebee and Eagle Eye initiatives took place under him. Recorded crime has gone down 16 per cent. since 1992—more or less since he became commissioner. The number of complaints against the police has also fallen.
One of the main points that worries me, however, is that the last police report recorded that in the Metropolitan police area, the number of reported racist incidents in the last half of last year was 70 per cent. higher than the figure for the equivalent six months in the year before. That is a cause for concern. Whether the figure has risen because people are more willing to make complaints about racial harassment, I do not know. I hope that some research may be done on that point.
Sir Paul Condon was appointed in February 1993, two months before Stephen Lawrence was murdered. He has led from the front, and he has a good track record against racism. Shortly after he was appointed, he said:Racially motivated prejudice is an area where we must be totally intolerant; of racially motivated attacks, of those who indulge in racial abuse and of those who use hatred and violence as the tools of their political expression.He went on:We must be equally intolerant of our own colleagues who fail to reach the required standards.He has acted as he spoke. If he went, it would be a devastating blow to the morale of the Metropolitan police.
Finally, the Metropolitan police has a problem not only of recruiting officers, but of retaining them. Too many go to other forces or retire early. The Government are addressing the latter point, but the former must be addressed too.
Some police officers have clearly failed in their duty, but the vast majority of the Metropolitan police do a decent job in difficult, dangerous and sometimes dirty circumstances. We should pay tribute to that vast majority of the people who police our streets and protect us from crime.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I appeal for forbearance among hon. Members? More wish to speak than will be able to if everyone takes up their full time allotment.
§ Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
I first had the privilege of meeting and working with Doreen and Neville Lawrence when I was a member of Labour's home affairs team. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin) approached me at the start of his campaign in support of their request for a new 808 inquiry into Stephen's murder. Like so many others, I have followed their progress, their heartache, the setbacks and the triumphs, which culminate in this historic debate. It is no exaggeration to say that Stephen's death, his parents' pursuit of justice and the response of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary offer us our best ever hope of recognising and defeating institutional racism.
Both personally, and as a Member of Parliament with a constituency population that is one third black, I want to identify myself with what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, said in opening the debate. The action that he has set out is crucial for justice and race relations. I want to demonstrate how vital those measures are by referring to events that took place in my constituency in 1981, and which remain unresolved. I know that Doreen and Neville Lawrence will understand my reasons for doing so.
Three years ago, I was approached by one of Deptford's remarkable black community leaders, Sybil Phoenix. She asked for my support for raising a permanent memorial to the 14 young black people who died as a result of the New Cross fire of 1981. What was remarkable was not her request but the fact that no memorial had been mounted in the preceding 15 years. I began to take an interest in those tragic events, read the newspaper coverage and heard the testimonies of many involved. If it were not for the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Michael Menson, I would have said that what happened then could not happen today.
Nineteen years ago, a woman who shares my surname, Mrs. Gee Ruddock, was asked by her daughter Yvonne if she could have a party for her 16th birthday the following January. At first, Mrs. Ruddock did not concede, but she eventually decided that it was right to have a party for her daughter. On that fateful Saturday night, the house filled with young elated people.
In the early hours of Sunday 18 January 1981, Mrs. Ruddock ran from her burning house to see her daughter jump to her death from an upstairs window and her son carried out fatally burned. Eleven other young people died. The speed and force of the inferno caused a police officer at the scene to conclude that a petrol bomb had been thrown into the house.
In the short time available, I cannot recount the reported details of the inquiry or the theories of what did or did not happen. Suffice it to say that the forensic evidence presented to the inquest suggested that the fire started in the house and that an inflammable liquid had been spilled on the carpet. Long before the inquest was concluded many events occurred that underlined the institutional racism that we recognise today, not only in the police but throughout our institutions.
It was a tragedy of huge proportions: 13 young people dead at a birthday party. However, there was no message from the Prime Minister to the family and no mention of the incident in Parliament. Ugly rumours with racist overtones spread rapidly and were rehearsed in newspaper coverage. It was the time of Scarman and the Brixton riots. In the black community, there was immense grief, shock and anger and, undoubtedly, a feeling that the majority white population did not identify with its loss. Only six weeks after the fire the National Front announced that it would march past Mrs. Ruddock's house in a demonstration with the theme, "Don't blame the whites for the New Cross fire". The march was banned, but its message was heard.
809 The black community's anger at apparent white indifference to the New Cross deaths was greatly exacerbated by the reactions to a subsequent tragedy in the Republic of Ireland, when 48 people young people were killed in a discotheque fire. Immediate condolences were sent to the bereaved by the Prime Minister and the Queen. On Monday 2 March 1981, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee led a march in central London to draw attention to the deaths and the failure of the police to find the cause. I am told that television coverage attempted to explain the reasons for the march, but the newspapers were hostile. "Rampage of a Mob", said the Daily Express.The Day the Blacks Ran Riot in London",said The Sun.17 Cops Hurt as Thugs Turn Blaze Protest into a Terror Riot",said The Daily Star.
An inquest was being held against that background. It was a total disaster. No one was satisfied with its proceedings or the outcome of an open verdict.
After the event, Parliament took note. In an Adjournment debate, David Mellor remarked:It was extremely unfortunate that the coroner seemed unable to exercise proper control over the proceedings. It was little short of lamentable that throughout the proceedings he did not take a note.
My predecessor, John Silkin, said:The inquiry should have been held in a court …the coroner in this case was out of his league."— [Official Report, 21 May 1981; Vol. 5, c. 457–467.]
Christopher Price, another Lewisham MP, said:The inquest did enormous damage to the processes of justice and to race relations.
That sense of injustice remains raw in our black communities. Much has changed. Great efforts have been made by individuals, community leaders, Lewisham council, Lewisham Commission for Racial Equality and police officers locally, but it is not enough. That is why when Lewisham council erected the memorial to the victims of the New Cross fire in 1997, George Francis, on behalf of the bereaved families, asked me for assistance in getting the 1981 inquest reopened. It was a daunting request, and we have not yet reached its conclusion.
Thanks to Commander Griffiths, who agreed to meet me and the families' group at the Francis's home, a new police investigation was opened in May two years ago. It has applied new forensic techniques to the evidence and attempted to re-interview everyone who survived the fire. I believe that the new inquiry has been pursued vigorously and vigilantly by the officers in charge. I hope that they will soon report that everything that could be done 18 years later has been done, and that they will share the information with the families concerned. That will not make up for the years of torment that Mr. and Mrs. Francis have endured: never knowing why their 17-year-old son Gerry died; never quite knowing what to believe; convinced of a cover-up, but whose cover up; no doubt tormented as parents by the thought, "What if?" Mr. Francis has consistently spoken out on behalf of the families' group. He accepts that the evidence so far does not point to an externally racially motivated crime but more likely to a tragic accident.
810 The new investigation will not make up for the torment of Wayne Hayes, now 35, who managed to escape the fire. In a recent newspaper article he said:This fire changed the whole course of my life—Parents are suffering like crazy and they want to know how their children died—We want the truth.
The search for truth, as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry has revealed, is a tortuous process. It does not progress simply from A to B, and it is fatally handicapped where racial prejudice exists. I cannot know what happened in New Cross in 1981, nor how the police inquiry and the inquest were conducted. Whether or not this was a racially motivated crime—and Mrs. Ruddock has found no reason to change her view that it was—institutional racism stood, and stands, in the way of delivering justice to black people, whether victims or perpetrators.
There is much in the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report which, if implemented, will ensure that tragedies such as the New Cross fire are treated very differently in future. There are very welcome proposals regarding the conduct of the police, inquiry methods, transparency, the building of confidence while conducting investigations and changes in the rules governing inquests. My right hon. Friend knows that I have inquired about whether the New Cross fire can be included in the inspector's review of outstanding deaths and murders. I trust the Minister may be able to tell me something about that today.
Finally, I pay tribute to the police for reopening this investigation and for their willingness to work harder and achieve better liaison with the bereaved families. However, I give notice to my right hon. Friend that, unless the matter is resolved satisfactorily in some other way, I shall press in due course for the inquest to be reopened. Like Stephen Lawrence's parents, the New Cross fire parents seek the truth. Nothing less than the truth can satisfy them and lay to rest the memories of Humphrey Geoffrey Brown, Peter Campbell, Steve Collins, Patrick Cummings, Gerry Paul Francis, Andrew Gooding, Lloyd Hall, Rosaline Henry, Patricia Johnson, Glenton Powell, Yvonne Ruddock, Paul Ruddock and Owen Thompson—all of whom died in the fire—and Anthony Berbeck, who survived but was found dead at the bottom of a tower block 18 months later.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)
I appreciate this opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who gave a moving account of the New Cross fire in 1981. I remember those events clearly because, at the time, I was serving as chairman of the juvenile court in Brixton. I heard the Brixton riot cases and experienced at first hand the enormously charged atmosphere generated by furious parents, outraged children, distressed police, agitated lawyers, social workers who did not know where to turn and vicars who were alienated from their local communities. The Metropolitan police and the young black community were talking entirely different and hostile languages.
I believe that the Scarman report did a great deal to ensure that the police were more enlightened and sensitive and showed greater tact and diplomacy in handling all citizens in the community. In some ways, what flowed from the Scarman report and the riots of that time were 811 mass movements. The upheaval spread to other cities, such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and there was great investment in social policy strategies. Some of the inner-city regeneration work initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was motivated by those tragic events.
The Stephen Lawrence inquiry was about the murder of one boy. The fact that he was a black boy is almost irrelevant to many people because he could be anyone's son. He was a young boy doing his A-levels and hoping to be an architect. The depth of emotion surrounding those events has shown that the community recognises that it is unacceptable for such a case—involving a girl or a boy, black or white—not to be investigated rigorously and properly.
I disagreed with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) when she said that she was the only young black female Member of Parliament. I found her remarks offensive to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I felt for the hon. Lady—who is almost my hon. Friend—and nearly sought to intervene. However the comments of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow about her treatment as a young girl by the police rang true for all London Members of Parliament and those familiar with life in our inner cities.
I served as a magistrate when the father of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), as Lord Chancellor, was busy encouraging more black and ethnic minority magistrates. All black or ethnic minority magistrates or their children had been stopped repeatedly by the police. We were all the same when we were in the retiring room and when we ate lunch. However, when we drove home in our cars, the black or ethnic minority magistrates were much more likely to be stopped.
I have no wish to use the Macpherson report to stir up divisiveness, suspicion or hostility. There is a danger of that because some people have reacted with exaggerated language and taken an extreme position. Regrettably, that provokes a backlash. I have received a large document from a constituent—a white woman—complaining about incidents in which she feels that the white side has not been put fairly and properly. The moderation and the constructive approach with which Members on both Front Benches have been handling the report is most important.
I do not intend to go through each of the recommendations. In my view, some of them are over-ambitious, unenforceable or extremely costly: but no doubt the Home Secretary will be able to fund some of the proposed projects without undue difficulty. I shall speak about the work being done to extend the Race Relations Act 1976 to all parts of the public sector.
It is right that the public sector should be a model for the recruitment, retention and progress of people from black and ethnic minorities. Perhaps as a result of my experience as chairman of the court in Brixton, when I was the Secretary of State for Health I convened a group to talk about the recruitment and retention experiences in the national health service of people from black and ethnic minorities. When the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) made allegations in his speech about St. George's medical school, there was reason behind his comments. I used to meet members of the Overseas Doctors Association frequently—I wish it would stop 812 calling itself the Overseas Doctors Association because many of its members went to the same school, university and medical school as my daughter and they are no more overseas doctors than she is. At those meetings, I heard tragic and deeply emotional accounts of the experiences of nurses, doctors, managers and others in a service that should have been as good as, or better than, any other in the way that black and ethnic minorities were treated. That was especially important because in our health targets we needed to reach out and improve the health of the whole community: the black, Asian and white communities.
In a subtle way, we have moved on from Scarman. Being colour blind is not really the challenge that we face. People of my generation went through a period of thinking that to be enlightened we must not mention whether people were men or women, black or white and we must not mention their age. That was naive and unhelpful. What is important is how we recognise and celebrate diversity.
In 1993, we published an action plan with eight targets which seem as valid today as they were then. I only wish that they had been acted on with the energy that I intended at the time. Those targets covered such matters as the number of G-grade nurses or the length of time that doctors took to complete their specialist training.
Similarly, there are comments in the Macpherson report about education. I worry about the way in which the national curriculum recommendations will be implemented. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I worked in Camberwell, Peckham and Brixton for many years and met many families who had travelled halfway around the world to live in Britain. They were frustrated that there was such a strong focus on ethnic minority education that their children were not learning to read, write, spell and do arithmetic. The last thing that was popular with people in black and ethnic minority communities was the patronising approach that implied that parents in those communities had lower aims and aspirations than those of other parents. My experience was that people who had travelled long distances to be in Britain had aims and aspirations that were often closer to mine than to those of some of the excessively politically correct leaders of the Inner London education authority at that time. That was the concern of the 1985 Swann report, "Education for all", The Swann committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) was a member, concluded that, too often, patronising, paternalistic attitudes arising from misguided philanthropy resulted in a failure to bring out the best in young people. I endorse and applaud the recommendations on education for citizenship contained in the Macpherson report.
The British Council, of which I am vice-chairman along with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), is involved in training police around the world, in Zimbabwe, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda. I met some of the trainers who train police forces to deal with human rights concerns, to work with the community and in methods of combating racism and the tensions that divide communities in almost every country in the world. I do not want the experience of the Macpherson report to be such that we lose confidence that, overall, we have developed an approach of which we should be proud, but there is never room for complacency. The tension that divides communities can be seen in the report and, in its extreme manifestations, results in the horrendous events 813 in Kosovo. It is part of the predicament that faces not only modern communities but communities throughout the centuries. The British Council is also involved in magnificent work that celebrates the diversity of Britain today—the best of British, which includes contemporary dance groups, such as Kokuma; some of the best contemporary Afro-Caribbean musicians, such as J. Life, who played at the Labour party conference, but not at the Conservative party conference; and Benjamin Zephaniah.
In the hope of a constructive message emerging from the Macpherson inquiry, we should all reflect that it was in 1958, at the time of the Notting Hill riots, that Lord Justice Salmon said:Everyone irrespective of the colour of their skin is entitled to walk through the streets free from fear.I hope that that will be true.
§ Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)
I represent a constituency that has a strong ethnic minority presence: nearly 30 per cent. of my electorate come from the ethnic minority community. It is a strong community, which is able to protect itself from racial attacks. In 1979, the community decided to oppose the presence of the National Front, which wanted to hold a meeting in my constituency in Southall. In that campaign 20 years ago, Blair Peach died, but no public inquiry has ever been held into his death. I want to take the opportunity offered by this debate to urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to set up a public inquiry into the death of Blair Peach and the question of who killed him.
I should like to reiterate the sentiments already expressed by other hon. Members today, that the work of Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, to obtain some justice after their son's death has been an example to everyone. I have been impressed and moved by their public appeals over the past six years. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which was brought to an end by the publication of the Macpherson report, is without doubt one of the most important inquiries ever to have taken place in this country.
I should like to present a glossary of the racial hate mail that I regularly receive from within the country and abroad. A letter that I was sent last year stated:when we had a Empire trying to make scum like you better, you did not want us in your country"—India—but after the British had left, you all realised what a stinking shower you all are, and you all want to come to our lovely country and make it like a pig hole like your own country.Go back to your own country and try to make it better, I believe and hope we British will get a new Enoch Powell who will deport all the stinking curry eating wogs out of Britain. Sooner the better. Union Jack.
Last year, I received a Christmas card, which had been posted in Paris. It said on the front:A Heartfelt wish to you and all your Family for Christmas and the New Year",but inside, it said a different thing altogether. The card was sent by one of the supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front, and said:Get out of my Country you fucking Wogs. Only our Politicians want you over here. We don't!
814 Another such leaflet was sent to me last year, saying:So F. O. back to Africa & India! We the English public didn't want you over here. Ever-only the bloody Politicians did.That is an example of the hate literature that is sent to us. Even Members of Parliament are not safe from it.
Another letter that was sent to me said:Mr. Khabra, how you can be proud of your Indian origins and ask Tony Blair a sycophant question on India's 50th independence anniversary my mind boggles because in practice Indians are corrupt and lazy and cannot organise a piss up in a brewery.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. Given the traditions of the House, he might just spare us the odd word or two without detriment to the message that he is trying to put across.
§ Mr. Khabra
Another letter that was sent to me said:Surely at a time when we're aiming to save green space and reduce traffic, we should not be increasing the population, letting thousands of immigrants through.That is proof that people will even use environmental issues, blaming ethnic minority communities for polluting the environment. Those letters represent the cocktail of abusive racist language to which I am often subjected by people who believe in racial discrimination.
The Macpherson report concluded that "fundamental errors" were made and that the police investigationwas marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers.Opposition Members have implied strong criticism; they have asked, "What does institutional racism mean?" I am sure that they know that there is such institutional racism in this case. It was founded during the period when this country was an imperial power. Such practice continues; institutions practice institutional racism. We urgently need the trust between the ethnic minorities and the police to be strengthened.
It is unfair to condemn the entire police force because the whole community recognises the good work that the police carry out on our behalf. However, there is no doubt that an improvement in community relations between the police and general public is needed. I stress that the issue does not concern only the police; there are racist attitudes throughout public life.
The police service has recognised that it needs to recruit more police officers from ethnic minority communities. I know from my own experience that, for various reasons, the police have difficulty in attracting young people from black and Asian communities. One reason is that they believe that the police force is still very much a racist institution, and that deters them from serving in the police.
Under new proposals, each force will set individual targets for recruitment that will reflect the cultural diversity of the community that it serves. Barriers to achieving those targets will be tackled by removing discriminatory practices within the service and pursuing a policy of improved community relations. We should note the new police discipline procedures, including a fast-track procedure, with full rights of appeal, to deal swiftly with officers who are caught committing serious criminal offences. Those are steps in the right direction.
I welcome the Government's moves to introduce targets, not quotas, for the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority officers in areas other than the police, such as the Home Office and the fire, immigration, prison and probation services.
815 I also welcome the Macpherson report's recommendation that there should be close co-operation between the police service, local government and other agencies, particularly housing and education departments, to ensure that all information about racist incidents and crimes is shared and is readily available to all agencies. I welcome also the recommendation thatLocal Education Authorities and School Governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism.Both of those approaches are aimed at tackling racism at the most important level, the grass roots.
I welcome the action plan, announced by the Home Secretary on 23 March, to take forward the 70 recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. The fact that the Home Secretary has taken personal responsibility for that signals that there is a political will to bring about changes that have been identified as necessary. The inquiry accepted that institutional racism is present in all our major institutions. The Home Secretary has endorsed that finding and restated his commitment to building an anti-racist society, and the proposals for that are still being developed.
I highlight recommendations 12 to 19, which refer to racist incidents. The Home Secretary has agreed to ensure that the definition of a racist incident asany incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other personis universally adopted by the police, local government and other relevant agencies.
Recommendation 11 of the Lawrence inquiry report calls for the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 to be extended to the police force. The Home Secretary's unconditional acceptance of that recommendation demonstrates that racial equality is to be taken seriously. The Race Relations Act does not have enough teeth to bite and there is a need to amend and strengthen the law so that racial discrimination can be rooted out from society.
I welcome recommendation 39, that there should be an amendment of the law relating to racist language and behaviour. I welcome also the review of legislation that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to carry out before the end of the year.
During my time as a Member since 1992 and before, when I was a community leader in my constituency, I have always had a good working relationship with the local police. They have always been prepared to listen to my concerns whenever they have arisen. However, there is still a long way to go, not only in the police force but throughout society at large, before we eradicate racial prejudice.
We must accept that many changes have taken place over the past 10 years in terms of racial prejudice. However, I am convinced that the attitude of racial prejudice still persists among a minority of people. Surprisingly, it is my experience that it exists in the party political system. Individuals, without realising it, still behave in a racially discriminatory way. Racial prejudice takes different forms and it is reflected in their attitudes to Members who come from the ethnic minority communities, who are their own colleagues.
The Lawrence family has shown bravery in the face of adversity. It is now up to everyone, including us, to show the same determination and put an end to prejudice.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
I am sure that the entire House deplores the sort of comments that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) has received, no doubt anonymously. If it is any consolation to him, I have been the subject of hate mail. It is not very pleasant for oneself or for one's family. However, I am sure that the House is pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman has a good working relationship with his local police. That is extremely good news, even if it perhaps that somewhat contradicts some of his more generalised points.
I begin by striking a note of agreement, as I am not sure that the House will agree with everything that I have to say. I share the universal sense of outrage at the killing of Stephen Lawrence. I appreciate—even if I do not understand, having not experienced it myself—the grief that his parents have suffered. I also readily appreciate their deep frustration that no one has been successfully brought to book for the murder of their son. Anyone who has read the appalling appendix to the report setting out the conversations that went on inside a flat cannot help but believe that that sort of behaviour and language is completely unacceptable in our country.
First, nothing that I might say is intended to diminish my appreciation or respect for the Lawrences. I hope that my parliamentary pension will not be imperilled. Secondly, I acknowledge the complexity of the task that was faced by the inquiry. I can agree with some of the recommendations, such as the proposal that police procedures at the scene of incidents be reviewed or, as other hon. Members have suggested, that improved services for victims and their families should be provided by the police.
I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), who unfortunately is no longer in his place. I am sure that we were all moved by his experience. He knows much more about this issue than the rest of us and has had a close relationship with the inquiry. The rest of us have to fathom what we can from the report.
Having started on a note of agreement, I conclude that the report is fundamentally flawed. In the interest of arriving at fair and sensible conclusions, the House must address these issues fearlessly. In my view, the report is driven by a desire to be seen to be politically correct. It is inconsistent and contradictory. In some places it contains fatuous and even dangerous nonsense. At its heart is the contention that not only the police service but all British institutions are endemically infested with racism, which throughout is described as a disease. I regret that in the language of Macpherson, there is only one kind of racism, only one kind of insensitivity—that is, white against black. The report therefore stands accused of being partial.
Furthermore, every allowance is shown towards the Lawrences—quite understandable in the circumstances—but little latitude is afforded to the police, who are subject throughout to the precision weapon of 20:20 hindsight. That is rich, coming from a committee of inquiry that was so incompetent that it overlooked the publication of the names and addresses of vulnerable witnesses. How can members of the committee of inquiry criticise police officers working under pressure, when they themselves were guilty of such an elementary mistake, for which they have not yet apologised?
817 However tragic the death of Stephen Lawrence—and it was tragic—the greater tragedy is that his death is but one of many senseless killings. What about Keith Blakelock, the police constable hacked to pieces in October 1985 by a gang of black murderers at Broadwater Farm in Tottenham? What about young Richard Everitt, an English schoolboy brutally killed by a gang of Asian youths just days before Stephen Lawrence's murder? Neither of the killers of those two has been found. It is not just Stephen Lawrence and his parents who have suffered; many other people have suffered as well, and we should be concerned for them all.
It is the out-and-out contradictions that render the report so flawed. For example, at paragraph 5.13 the report states that as regards Stephen Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks,no police officer, at any time, treated him properly as a victim.Yet in the next paragraph, the report states:DC Cooper and other police officers treated Mr Brooks at the Police Station appropriately and professionally.However, at paragraph 5.31 we are told:He simply was not treated professionally and appropriately and according to his needs.What on earth are we to make of such inconsistencies?
I remind the House, uncomfortable though it may be, that Mr. Brooks' response to the police woman who arrived at the murder scene was to ask—in deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not use the exact language—Who called you f…ing c…s anyway, pigs. I only called the f…ing ambulance".I quote from the report. It must require discipline to work calmly against such abuse. We should also remember that, as paragraph 5.25 states, the lawyer, Mr. Khan,never complained to the police on Mr Brooks' behalf about lack of liaison or lack of care or support being given to Mr Brooks.
More generally, the inquiry refused to consider that incompetence alone could account for the failure to catch Stephen's killers—I refer to paragraph 6.44. It exonerates individual police officers of racism, such as Detective Superintendent Crampton, whowas undoubtedly not influenced in our opinion by the fact that the victim was black".I quote from paragraph 13.74. The same was said of Detective Superintendent Weeden, who took over from Mr. Crampton. Paragraph 14.34 states thatthere is no ground for alleging that these failures"—it is acknowledged that there were failures—occurred because the victim of this murder was black or because Mr Weeden was in some way involved in collusion or corruption…We see no basis upon which it can properly be alleged that Mr Weeden acted improperly in his investigative duties because of racist attitudes.
Having failed to make charges of racism stick, the inquiry accuses the police ofthe evil of unwitting racism",which can arise, for example, because ofwell intentioned but patronising words or actions.818 We are offered what I regard as an appalling example at paragraph 15.4, where Detective Inspector Bullock is hauled over the coals and accused of "casually and insensitively" referring to Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks as'the two young coloured lads'. He was oblivious to his own insensitivity in this regard.I regard that as utterly fatuous nonsense. I do not understand how such allegations can be made against a police officer for using that sort of mild language. There was nothing intentionally racist in it, nothing thought to be offensive. Indeed, I imagine that the language was thought to be caring and concerned, yet it has been twisted round and held against the detective. I find it extraordinary that his words should be invested with racism.
There is worse to come. Poor acting Inspector Little was unwittingly infected with racism because he committed the crime of treating the murder of Stephen Lawrence as he would any other murder, of which, I remind the House, there were three outstanding in the area at that time. He had failed to catch up with the times. In the old days, officers had to be colour blind and had to treat everyone the same, otherwise they were prejudiced. The report states:A colour blind approach fails to take account of the nature and needs of the person or the people involved".We cannot go around society working on the fine-tuning of people's sensitivity. We cannot expect police officers, in the execution of their duty, to understand all those changes of nuance in that fashion. It is thoroughly unrealistic that they should be expected to do so.
The examples that I have quoted are not only fatuous, they are dangerous, for they introduce the concept that the police will be chastised if they treat everyone equally before the law. British citizens expect their police service to treat everybody equally before the law, but even my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) suggests that we are all out of touch and must abandon that approach, and must take myriad considerations into account.[Interruption.] The Minister of State shakes his head, but I have quoted from the report; to be colour blind—to treat everybody equally—is not acceptable, apparently. Police officers will, at best, be confused.
§ Mr. Howarth
I will not, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me. Time is short and not many people have had an opportunity to put the kind of argument that I want to put to the House tonight.[Interruption.] Some may say that that is a good thing, but there we are.
The failure of the police to catch and convict the murderers of Stephen Lawrence may owe something to the decision not to arrest the suspects immediately, but to found on that error of judgment a charge that the police were insensitive and racist—and to build on that a vast raft of new, draconian laws and procedures—is unwarranted and wrong. The Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, whom I believe to be an extremely dignified and capable officer, has been pilloried and abused in a manner which would have resulted in charges if meted out by non-blacks. He has expressed reservations about bringing the police within the remit of race relations law, and I believe that he is right to do so.
819 The chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation said:Law-abiding ethnic communities have never caused problems for the police service, and indeed in Hampshire we have always enjoyed good relations with community leaders …The main concern is in dealing with criminals who just happen to be black or Asian.It is this element which I fear will attempt to capitalise on a well-intentioned report and try to use it to their advantage.The phrase 'you have only stopped me because I am black' in light of this report will understandably cause officers concern.It will be exploited by that criminal element who attempt to hide their criminality behind their colour and attempt to thwart proactive policing by falsely alleging persecution on the basis of race rather than the truth.I have already heard officers in this Force express reluctance to become involved with black or Asian youths for fear of allegations being made.That is a very serious charge and the Minister of State has to take it into account.
It is fair to say that some unpalatable truths have to be faced, one of which is the fact that no Government have ever received a mandate to turn the United Kingdom into a multiracial society. Despite the warnings given in the 1960s and 1970s about the inevitable social consequences of large-scale immigration to Britain, successive Governments have ploughed on regardless.
There are those who will use the report to try to advance a cause that I do not believe to be in the interests of good race relations in this country. I regret that some who have come here freely and others who have sought refuge in this country appear no longer content to learn and accept our native customs and traditions, but wish to assert their own. Some of the minority even want to dictate to the majority.
I believe that the report makes chilling reading in places. Not only does it contain the quite frightening suggestion that the thought police should be allowed to invade the home of a free-born Englishman; there is the threat of indoctrination in our schools to make children "value cultural diversity". My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) described that as Orwellian. Although some people welcome cultural diversity, others see it as a threat and there is no point in this House being other than aware of that fact. It strikes some people that the homogeneity of the United Kingdom is somehow under threat.
This country is Britain, and the best service that we can do for all our children is to give them a thorough knowledge of the history and cultural heritage of these islands. As for the police, they deserve far better than this report and the public humiliation to which the Commissioner has been subjected. Britain is a tolerant country. We need to keep working at good race relations, but it is time that those with ethnic minority backgrounds, who represent just 6 per cent. of the population, tried to be more understanding of us and our centuries-old culture.
§ Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this interesting debate. Given the lack of time, my speech will be brief.
It is crucial that, above all else, we learn the key lessons from Stephen's tragic death. We all have a duty, particularly those of us in public life, to examine our 820 conduct and consciences to ensure that we have done so. Are we certain that our actions are consistent with the desire of all right-minded people to build a decent society, free from the discrimination, hatred and prejudice that breeds the attitudes that we all witnessed from the five young white men caught on video tape proclaiming their vile and disgusting opinions?
When I was first elected as a local authority councillor some 13 years' ago, the relationship between my local authority and the Metropolitan police was appalling. The level of mutual distrust bordered on hostility and it was the widely held view of most Labour councillors, including myself, that the Metropolitan police was an organisation riddled with racism, which was to be challenged at all times and treated with contempt and disdain. Any suggestion that a constructive dialogue should take place between our two bodies was regarded almost as tantamount to appeasement with the enemy.
On reflection, I believe that the fault for that near-complete breakdown in trust and communication should be apportioned to everyone involved, including those of us in the Labour party who adopted an inflexible and inappropriate approach. Those who suffered at the time were not the police or the policy makers at the council, but the local communities that we were elected to serve. It has taken more than a decade for us to turn that situation around. We have gone some way to achieving that objective.
Having worked closely with local senior police officers over recent years, I am convinced that they are now genuinely committed to an anti-racist police strategy. In January this year, Chief Superintendent Joe Kaye, who was until recently stationed at Hammersmith police station, accepted an invitation to speak at a local ward meeting. In the 1980s the idea that the Labour party would offer an invitation to a senior police officer to discuss his vision of a community police strategy would have been absurd. We opened up the meeting to residents of a deprived housing estate and the large audience sometimes gave Chief Superintendent Kaye a hard time. However, the fact that he was prepared to listen and respond to the views and criticisms of a local working-class community is further proof of how the relationship has changed in the past decade.
Welcome though the change at the top of the local police structure is, there remains much distrust and suspicion among my constituents about the Metropolitan police. Far too often, my black constituents are the individuals who are stopped for no good reason when driving their cars at night. It is still regular practice in my constituency for young black men to be pulled up and searched when all that they are doing is peacefully walking home. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the black community continues to be resentful and sceptical about the police's commitment to root out the discrimination that has scarred their service for far too many years.
I particularly welcome, therefore, the suggestion in the action plan, which the Home Secretary has drawn up following the Macpherson report, that all stops, including non-statutory ones, be recorded and details given to the individual who is stopped.
It is important, as I said, that we should all examine our own behaviour to ensure that nothing we do could in any way encourage or tolerate the spread of 821 racist attitudes. I am sure that all hon. Members will therefore welcome, as I do, the all-party statement on the principles of good practice for the debate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. The document was signed by all the leaders of parties represented in the House, and calls on all Members of Parliament, all Members of the European Parliament and all councillors to ensure that, in any dealings with the public, no words or actions are used that may stir up racial or religious hatred or lead to prejudice on grounds of race, nationality or religion.
It was therefore a very sad disappointment that, in the very week in which the Immigration and Asylum Bill—the legislation with which that all-party document was drawn up to deal—was published, a leaflet entitled "Fulham Homes For Fulham People" was distributed in some parts of my constituency. The authors of that propaganda are two young white Conservative councillors who were elected to the authority less than a year ago. Currently, one of them is challenging for leadership of the Conservative group in Hammersmith and Fulham.
Among the statements made in the leaflet are that more housing points should be givento those who have a strong link with the local area"—whatever that might mean. It goes on to say that the Labour councilcouldn't care less whether you've lived 5 minutes or 20 years in Fulham.The leaflet also states that the Labour council grants75 bonus points for certain categories of homeless people, including asylum seekers",and ends with the charming expression "Stop the rot".
Those statements are dangerous and completely without foundation. They are also a disgrace. Hon. Members will judge for themselves whether they are consistent with the all-party agreement signed by all the party leaders, including the Leader of the Opposition.
One of the young men involved in publishing the leaflet is the chairman of the new youth wing of the Conservative party—an organisation that I believe is called Conservative Future. I am sure that we shall all be eagerly awaiting the recommendations of the internal investigation into the publication of that leaflet, which was announced yesterday by Conservative central office, after a complaint made by the national Commission for Racial Equality.
Stephen's tragic death has highlighted the prejudice and discrimination faced daily by the United Kingdom's black and ethnic minority communities. It must therefore be incumbent on all of us in public life ruthlessly to stamp out any behaviour that could in any way feed that prejudice. The time for words is over. Only by our actions will we demonstrate our commitment at last to build the fair anti-racist society that the people of the United Kingdom deserve.
§ Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)
I shall be brief.
When I hear it said by politicians that our Metropolitan police are institutionally corrupt, institutionally racist and institutionally incompetent, I think that the world has sometimes gone completely mad. I also believe that the reverse is the truth. There are some bad apples in our 822 Metropolitan police, but there are some bad apples in every part of society. The truth—which is not said enough—is that our Metropolitan police are an outstandingly good force of devoted men and women, ably led by a man who has introduced much innovation and done a great deal of good.
We are lucky in our metropolis to be policed by that force. It is also high time that politicians began talking up police, rather than talking them down. They have no voice in the Chamber to speak for themselves, so let us do it.
I admit straight away that we must approach this important debate in a measured manner. It would be wrong to deny that there are some problems. It is important to stress that there must be more trust between police and ethnic minority communities. Yes, all of that is necessary. Much can and should be done.
We need more people from ethnic minority communities in our police force. I do not like the idea of quotas, but I do like the idea of having more young men and women from those communities in the police force. I should be very glad to see more leaders of the ethnic minority communities encouraging some of their youngsters to join the police force, rather than, I am sad to say, so often talking down a career in the police. I therefore accept the need to recruit and retain more people in the police force from ethnic minority communities.
I am on all fours with one aspect of the Macpherson report. My career in the law over many years has convinced me that we need to look carefully at the use of the stop-and-search powers. There is no doubt that there is a feeling among a lot of black young men in the metropolis that those powers are operated unfairly and to their detriment. Any fair-minded person will accept that there is a case to be considered. I am pleased that the Metropolitan police—with Government backing, I think—are considering pilot studies to see where improvements can be made. It is important that young people should feel fairly treated on the streets.
However, there is a lot in the Macpherson report that is silly and sinister and could suitably be consigned to the dustbin. The abolition of the double jeopardy rule would be a great mistake. I hope that all those in authority share that view. The prosecution of offences involving racist language in a private home would also be a great mistake. Certain offences already exist under public order legislation and the defences in relation to private homes should remain.
This is awkward, because I am trying to convert a 15-minute speech into about four and a half minutes. We have to be very careful about how we approach the issue in education and our schools. I am worried to see recommendations that the national curriculum should be amended to include lessons on how not to be racist in order better to effect the needs of a diverse society. I am also terribly troubled by the absurd recommendation that schools should record all racist incidents, that all recorded incidents should be reported to the governors, the guardians and the local education authority and that the numbers should be published. We are creating too much trouble for ourselves, particularly when a racist incident is defined asany incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.823 The recommendation goes on to say thatthe term 'racist incident' must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes"—very significant words—in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment.One wonders who will do the reporting, the recording and the investigating and with what commitment. Is that not political correctness gone mad?
We are in severe danger of doing too much. As a result we shall create more resentment and tension where not so much exists at the moment. We should not take action that results in more problems and more tension. Let us move slowly rather than quickly and let us carry the consent of the whole population with us. The Macpherson report is another example of 5 per cent. of the population making 95 per cent. of the noise.
§ Mr. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)
In view of the time, I shall try to curtail my comments. I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). A boy lies dead. The police bungled the inquiry. The Kent police then handled the investigation incompetently and five racist murderers are still on the loose.
We should compliment my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on having had the courage to launch the inquiry. We should congratulate the authors of the report on their intelligence, wisdom, patience and humanity. We should also commend my right hon. Friend on having had the wit and speed to respond so comprehensively to the Macpherson report.
In my public life, I have represented two very different areas. For 14 years I represented an area in south Leeds with a rich multi-ethnic mix. From 1984, I lived among the community. The relationship between the police and the ethnic minority communities had broken down, and there was a huge chasm of confidence between those communities and the police. I discovered a level and intensity of racial harassment and violence that was frightening to me as a near neighbour and terrifying to the people who were subjected to that violence. Offensive graffiti displayed the Nazi insignia. We were not dealing merely with incipient racism—although that existed—but with organised racism by fascist organisations. There were attacks on property and attacks on the person, both physical and verbal. People lived in fear and were intimidated in their own houses. They were frightened to go out. Frequently, the women, the elderly and the children were unable to leave their homes.
The police had failed to protect that community. I was frequently called out—sometimes almost every night—to witness incidents. Almost invariably I was there before the police arrived: sometimes they took hours to arrive or never came at all in spite of threats to people's physical safety.
An inquiry was launched by the Leeds community relations council, which was chaired by Canon Jim Richardson, then Vicar of Leeds. It found harassment on a large and horrific scale. The police statistics failed to recognise the scale of the phenomenon, which has been reflected in many of our other inner cities.
I want to highlight recommendations 12 to 17 in the Macpherson inquiry report, which will require a more accurate system of reporting racial incidents in the future. 824 That will help to create some public confidence, and will reveal for the first time the true extent and character of the problem of racism and fascist organisations in our inner-city areas. It will require the police and other agencies to become race aware in a way that they have not been in the past. It will begin to restore confidence that the suffering of communities is being adequately recognised.
In 1996, I left Leeds and went to the community of Hemsworth, which, according to the 1991 census, is 99 per cent. ethnic white. That gives me a special perspective. I now represent villages which are ethnically white, almost without exception, but where a chasm of confidence opened up between the police and the community as a result of the 1984 miners strike. Now there is great poverty in those communities, as well as large-scale drug dealing and a rising tide of criminality.
Many people in those villages tell me that they have lost confidence in the policing of their communities. I share and understand such fears and lack of confidence when I meet elderly people who fear to go out of their homes. I try to call community meetings and a different police officer comes on each occasion, so there is no continuity. The police say that some communities must raise money to pay for adequate policing. The entire community lacks confidence in the police.
The common theme of the communities that I have represented is lack of confidence. Macpherson is pointing us in the correct direction.
Above all, I want to highlight the recommendation concerning the Police Complaints Authority, which makes it clear that it should become independent. The Home Office is sympathetic to the principle of an independent system of investigation. I want to press the Minister to clarify the sentences in the document that refer to the cost and practical implications of making the Police Complaints Authority independent. In my view, true independence is an absolute imperative. It would be well worth it if some cost were involved, as a means of restoring confidence in policing among communities such as those I have briefly described.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
This important debate was bound to generate strong emotions, but generally speaking, it has again demonstrated that there is unity in our revulsion at the appalling and atrocious murder of Stephen Lawrence; in our condemnation of the abysmal and deplorable handling of the police investigation into that crime, as set out in the Macpherson report; and in our sense of outrage at the comprehensive failure of our criminal justice system to bring Stephen's killers to justice.
We want to make our streets safer for all our citizens; to eliminate racism in our society; to make our police service more responsive to the needs and interests of all elements in our communities, and especially minorities identifiable by their ethnic origin; and to address the shortcomings so forcefully outlined in Sir William Macpherson's exhaustive report. Above all, we want the restoration of confidence in our police service, especially in London, among all sections of our multicultural and multiracial community.
We are right to pursue with vigour and determination the process of change and reform that those crucial objectives demand, but we have surely an equal 825 responsibility to examine carefully the conclusions and recommendations in the Macpherson report, to test their validity and appropriateness, and to ensure that the changes that we instigate will have the effect that we all want.
We must not allow our abhorrence of Stephen's murder to cloud our judgment of precisely what is wrong, what needs to be done and what will be most effective and necessary action to achieve our objectives. As the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) said, hysteria does not help us to come to an understanding of the problems.
§ Mr. Rowe
Will my hon. Friend do a kindness to the Kent police? At least one speaker today has suggested that the Kent police inquiry was incompetent. In fact, the report said that it was painstaking, thorough and fair. It is only right to put that on the record, especially as the leader of the Kent police inquiry was never asked to give evidence to the Macpherson inquiry.
§ Mr. Greenway
My hon. Friend makes his own point extremely well. There was a thorough Kent inquiry, although some of its conclusions were not shared by Sir William Macpherson.
We should avoid the mistake of thinking that nothing has been done before to tackle the problems. Macpherson may well be a defining moment in police and community relations in our country, but the report and its recommendations are not revolutionary in all respects. Indeed, the report is at its best when building on and developing reforms and processes already under way.
I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee when, in 1994—after Stephen's murder, to which we referred in the very first paragraph of our report—we wrestled with many of the issues tackled in the Macpherson report. Too often, Select Committee reports are prepared, published and then forgotten. They seem to have a very short shelf life.
Many of the issues that Macpherson considered—definition of a racist incident; the scale of racial harassment in our country; the need to reform the law on incitement to racial hatred, to which the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin) referred; the recruitment, retention and advancement of ethnic minority officers; and police training in racial awareness—were central to the Select Committee report. Work has been on-going since those recommendations were made. That was very much the agenda that we have been debating today.
The Opposition will take a constructive approach to Macpherson, with the aim of ensuring that we reach the right conclusions about what went wrong and why; that our analysis is accurate and clear; and that the changes the Government seek to make, with Parliament's approval, will properly address the problems and issues while also securing the right balance of interests, effects and causes.
I shall summarise some of the more important points about which we have genuine concerns. In the main, they relate to the police service. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said, it is crucial that the police's determination to meet the 826 challenge of the Macpherson report is not undermined by low morale arising from falling manpower or over-fussy bureaucracy. While the definition of institutional racism, which gave rise to such controversy and has been mentioned during the debate, is important, it is also important that we again place on record the fact that Sir William himself confirmed that accepting the definition of institutional racism does not entail accepting that all police officers in London are racist, nor that the policies of the Metropolitan police are racist. Once that judgment has been accepted, it is time to move the debate forward and to concentrate on implementing those measures that tackle head on the racist behaviour of the swaggering bigots mentioned by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford).
Given the need to challenge the behaviour of individual police officers, we feel that disciplinary procedural changes are generally to be welcomed. Indeed, Metropolitan police initiatives in that area are already well advanced. However, we share the concerns of the police about the implication of the recommendation that calls for disciplinary action for up to five years after retirement. Discipline in the police service is surely about determining fitness to hold the office of constable or higher rank in the police service. It never was about seeking redress or apportioning blame. If that is what is now required, a different approach may be necessary. We do not believe that an extension of pension forfeiture, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield spoke in some detail, would be a just option.
Disciplinary action, more often than not, arises as a result of internal investigations, but complaints from the public and other bodies are also significant. There would probably be an increase in such complaints if the police service were brought within the terms of the Race Relations Act 1976. We accept the principle, for the reasons my right hon. Friend outlined, but before the primary legislation needed to achieve that is introduced, we need to consider carefully the implications. For example, would complaints under the Act be permissible if they were based not on racial motivation, but on outcome? If so, there would be serious implications for the potential cost of meeting compensation claims. It is unlikely that there would be a ceiling on such claims. Our support for the Race Relations Act extension is also dependent on ensuring that the ability of the police to fight crime effectively and to uphold the rule of law is not undermined.
We welcome the fact that Sir William supports the retention of stop-and-search procedures, but we agree that research needs to be done to establish the extent to which discrimination affects the use of those powers, a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead.
The new disciplinary code restates the tradition of policing with fairness and impartiality, and the police service must be free to meet that requirement without fear or favour. Whether or not, and to what extent, the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 are eventually applied to the police, the most practical solution for improving racial awareness lies in improved training.
There have been many new developments in that area, and the police are ready to take them further in the light of the report. Too often in the past, important training initiatives—in racial awareness, but in many other areas 827 too—have been undermined by demands for greater cost-effectiveness. We look forward to seeing the current report into that matter of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
We accept the fresh definition of racist incidents. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) said, it is likely to lead to a significant increase in recorded figures for racist incidents. We need to be careful in dealing with that.
I have strong views about the need for a significant increase in recruitment and retention of police officers from ethnic backgrounds. Anyone who has experienced policing in some of the major cities of the United States of America cannot escape the contrast between a multiracial, multicultural police force policing a multiracial, multicultural community and what still happens in the United Kingdom. There has been progress, but we need to do more. The biggest increase in ethnic recruitment occurred when recruitment of additional officers was at its height, not in the 1990s, as the Home Secretary said, but in the 1980s.
There is a huge contradiction in Government policy in this area. It is absurd for the Home Secretary to set targets for ethnic recruitment, but to disclaim any possible influence or responsibility on recruitment levels or on the ability of police forces to maintain adequate numbers of officers.
I should refer briefly to the handling of the report, which has also been referred to by the hon. Member for Eltham and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). The hon. Member for Eltham spoke forcefully about the strong sense of outrage and incredulity felt by his constituents, many of them young people, when their names and addresses were published. What adds insult to injury is the clear knowledge that, just when Ministers and officials should have been taking greater care to prevent that grave error, they were busying themselves in blocking publication of what appeared to everyone to be a deliberate leak of the report. Will the Minister of State tell us when he expects the leak inquiry to be published?
§ Mr. Greenway
I will not because I must finish.
The police cannot be expected to deliver this important programme of reform unless proper resources are provided. The acid test of the Government's commitment to reform will be their capacity to provide those resources. The Government's pronouncements, which we have heard again today, must be matched by a willingness to ensure that the police have the resources to do the job that we all expect.
The signs are not encouraging. The Macpherson report has generated huge expectation of change and reform. The blueprint is clear, and it is widely supported. The police service is eager to deliver change and to restore its battered pride. However, I say with all sincerity, that Ministers must recognise that unless they reconsider their stance on resources, the greatest obstacle to success will rest with them.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)
Our race, our culture, our history, in all the richness and diversity now happily represented in this 828 House and reflected in this debate, are very important to each and every one of us in our different ways. However, they do not, and must not, on their own define us, because we are all, each and every one of us, much more than that. Whether in Peckham or in Penrith, we share a common humanity that we must recognise and upon which we must build. In this country, we share something else: a common home and a history of empire and Commonwealth. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) should recognise that, because his past constituents had a role in ensuring that. We must now build on that shared history and humanity.
The great evil, and it was an evil, of what happened to Stephen Lawrence is that all his murderers saw was another black boy. All they saw was another nigger, and they were going to get him. All too many, but not all, the police officers only saw another black boy suspected of being a street fighter, and they treated him as such. They only saw yet another black family with a sense of unjustified grievance, and they treated them as such. That should be a matter of shame to each and every one of us.
What I sensed on both sides of the House today was exemplified by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and, particularly, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) and my hon. Friends. They recognised that, whatever happens, whatever we have said, we all, in our different ways and from our different perspectives, believe that what happened to the Lawrence family must never happen again. No family, no matter what their colour, should have to go through again what the Lawrences have suffered over the past six years. That unites us all, and thank God that it does.
Reference was made in the debate—sometimes, from various perspectives, critical—to the definitions of institutional racism and racist incident suggested by Sir William Macpherson and his team. The Government accept both the report's definitions because we see them as working definitions that have a practical purpose. I am sure that we could all find something in them, or underpinning or underlying them, with which we might take issue to a greater or lesser extent, but I think that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members recognise their value because they enable us to move forward. Institutional racism is defined in such a way as to enable us to identify better and to come together to address a problem that we know exists.
I must stress to right hon. and hon. Members that no black person in this country needed Sir William Macpherson to tell us about the nature of racism. No black person in this country needed to be told about institutional racism in the Metropolitan police or any other police force or in the wider institutions of our society. We recognise that it is there, as do many white people, and we are only too cognisant of the fact, as are many white people, that something must be done about it. We must address that problem if we are to move forward. All of us surely require not breast-beating, semantics, self-flagellation, the donning of sackcloth and ashes, or diversionary quibbling, but change in order to address better the reality and perception of unfairness and injustice. We seek equal not preferential treatment, not for one race but for all. No one is asking for—or wants—any favours. We seek fairness and equal treatment under the law because it is the law that is important. That must be at the forefront of our consciousness when we consider these matters.
829 I well understand—what lawyer would not?—the concern about the definition of a racial incident. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) referred to stop and search from his perspective as a lawyer. All lawyers have a thing about definitions, and the definition of a racial incident might give the lawyers among us pause for thought. It is essentially an entirely subjective definition, and that always starts alarm bells ringing in any lawyer' s ears.
However, the definition has a practical purpose: as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it is a tool that enables us to record better an event that the victim clearly feels displays racial motivation. The Crown Prosecution Service must determine whether the evidence justifies a matter coming before the court. Sir William Macpherson's definition does not require the matter of racist motivation to be accepted by the CPS or to be brought before the court. It is for the court to determine in the ordinary way whether such a motivation is made. No one of our fellow citizens should be left feeling that his or her concern about a racial motive was not at least recorded. It is not unreasonable to ask that of those whose duty it is to record such matters.
We now need not rhetoric or sentiment but practical measures to ensure that this tragedy does not happen again. The action plan seeks to introduce practical measures: it is a task for everyone with benefits for everyone. The action plan must not be viewed as being only for black people. Every victim of a crime and every member of the public, whatever his or her colour, will benefit from the improvements that it sets out. They will benefit in terms of the competencies that are necessary in a murder investigation, because the events that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence murder should never have happened. Those benefits will accrue to everyone in terms of the way in which bereaved families or the families of victims will be treated by the police.
There are resource implications, but, as my right hon. Friend has said, in this instance fairness and justice have no price; we recognise that. Benefits will accrue to everyone from the fact that basic first-aid skills will be improved. Confidence in the police is vital for all black and all white people—whether in Handsworth or Hemsworth—and it must be strengthened and kept in good repair, because the police have special responsibilities. We put particular burdens on the police. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) said, we must not forget the community dimension. He has shown the way ahead for recruitment and retention through the cohort project in Tottenham, which sought to bring people into the police from a diverse range of backgrounds.
There is a community responsibility and there will have to be a community involvement. All of us must be committed to working together to build strong, civic communities in which every member feels that he or she has an equal part to play. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) rightly reminded us of the significance of young people in all that work. We must bring them on board because they must be part of the solution, rather than remaining part of the problem.
830 The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is correct to point out the work done by the Select Committees. The police have been moving to embrace the diversity agenda, but other public services and institutions must do the same. That is why it is important to extend the Race Relations Act 1976 across the public services. We must all recognise our responsibility in these matters.
It is true that there have been many causes for concern in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) mentioned the victims of the New Cross fire. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) referred to the case of Blair Peach. Those campaigns have helped to bring us to the point that we have reached today, but they are part of the past and we must now move forward. We need to move forward on the basis of a greater degree of accountability, and in that context the proposals made in relation to the new Metropolitan Police Authority are most important.
We must also acknowledge the important role that we shall play in this House. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) correctly reminded us of the importance of evaluating what we do, of pushing projects forward and reporting back to the House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that we shall do just that. We must build on the consensus that exists in this House; a consensus acknowledged in the contributions made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin) and for Eltham (Mr. Efford). My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham has had to deal with these matters day in and day out and rightly makes the point that no community deserves to be castigated or written off as racist.
Good people, black and white, are working together to build practical strategies for change. Those strategies need to be taken forward. Yes, existing injustices are a cause for concern. Some of my hon. Friends have asked us for replies on specific matters and the ministerial team will be only too happy to meet them to discuss those matters.
Today, this House is challenged to make a new beginning in which we are united in this country—our country, our home—to build a society that is inclusive and in which people are judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. That is a fitting memorial to Stephen Lawrence. That will make a reality of all that his parents have striven for: not rhetoric, not sentiment, but a positive strategy for change; a strategy for change that will deliver us the sort of society in which we can take genuine pride and that represents the best that this House can stand for. We have seen that reflected here today. Yes, there will be differences, but at least now we can talk about them openly and move forward. That is progress.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.