HC Deb 09 March 2000 vol 345 cc1203-37

Order for Second Reading read.

1.13 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is a fundamental part of our programme to achieve racial equality in this country. One of the Government's central aims is to achieve a society where there is respect for all, regardless of their race, colour or creed, and a society that celebrates its cultural richness and ethnic diversity. That is not only inherently right but essential for Britain's economic and social success.

In the world of business, it is increasingly clear that the world-class organisations capable of surviving and adapting in a global marketplace are those that value and embrace diversity. A successful multicultural society is not simply a question of equality for a minority; it is an essential competitive strategy for the UK, benefiting each and every one of us regardless of our religion or the colour of our skin.

All countries have to have an effective system of immigration control. The UK is no exception, but it is worth remembering that in many ways we are a nation of migrants: ours is a history of successive waves of migration, both in and out of this country. Many of the newcomers who have arrived on our shores lawfully have had a very great deal to give. It is on these successive waves of migration that much of our society has been built. For example, Caribbean nurses came in the 1960s, in response to calls made by the then Minister of Health, Enoch Powell, to meet labour shortages in the United Kingdom. Gujeratis came to Lancashire to work in the textile mills, following advertisements placed in India and Pakistan by Lancashire mill owners.

Everyone understands the concern that exists about those who arrive in this country in abuse of our system of control. None the less, there have been moments in our history when anxieties about those who are lawfully present in the United Kingdom have threatened to spill over into divisions that could permanently have scarred us all. In the 1930s, our democracy was threatened by the rise of fascists in this country and their attacks on many groups, but especially the Jewish community.

Race relations reached another low ebb in the late-1950s and early-1960s. Signs outside lodgings reading "No dogs, no Irish, no blacks" were not uncommon. People were refused service in shops and cafes solely on the grounds of their race. It was lawful to be openly racist in electoral campaigns.

Things have changed significantly since then, and we ought to be proud of that, but the sea change in attitudes is no accident. It is in large part due to the three race relations Bills of the past 35 years. Each, I am proud to say, was brought before the House by a Labour Government.

However, there are no grounds for complacency. We know very well that real race equality has not yet been achieved. We know that many people—often the children and grandchildren of immigrants, born and bred in this country, but with a different coloured skin or a different sounding name from the majority—still suffer from discrimination and prejudice for that reason and no other.

The Bill will ensure equality for everyone, regardless of skin colour, surname, or other irrelevant factors. It significantly updates the Race Relations Act 1976, and it is the first piece of legislation to do so for almost 25 years.

The Bill has three main purposes: to extend the Race Relations Act in relation to discrimination and victimisation by public authorities; to make chief officers of police vicariously liable for acts of racial discrimination by police officers; and to amend an exemption under the 1976 Act for acts done for the purpose of safeguarding national security, thus remedying a provision that we believe is incompatible with the European convention on human rights.

Hon. Members are aware that on 27 January I announced to the House that the Government would table amendments in Committee to amend the Bill in relation to indirect discrimination, and to place a positive duty on public authorities to promote race equality.

Today, I shall describe what the Bill does, and explain the effect of the amendments that the Government will seek to make in those important areas.

Let me explain briefly what the 1976 Act does, as the Bill amends that principal Act. The 1976 Act makes it unlawful for anybody to discriminate on racial grounds in relation to employment, training and education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, and in respect of certain other specified activities. It provides for individuals who have been discriminated against to bring proceedings and to claim damages in employment tribunals or designated county courts. The 1976 Act established the Commission for Racial Equality, and gave it independent strategic investigative and enforcement powers.

The 1976 Act applies to discrimination by public authorities in employment, training and education, and the provision of goods, facilities and services. However, it has been found by the courts to apply only when the act in question is at least similar to an act that could be committed by a private person. The legislation does not generally apply to functions that fall outside the specified matters. The precise distinction between functions that are covered and those that are not is unclear, and is clarified in only piecemeal fashion by decisions of the courts.

One of the paradoxes of the legislation is that, in practice, it has had a greater impact on the private sector than on the public sector. There is no extensive regulatory impact assessment for the Bill because the private sector has undertaken to fulfil its responsibilities under the Bill, as it has fulfilled them under the 1976 Act.

The Bill will ensure that legislation properly and comprehensively covers similar functions that can only be carried out by a public authority.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Home Secretary tell the House now, or inform me subsequently in writing, how many prosecutions have been made under the Race Relations Act 1976 and how that figure compares with the number of prosecutions under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975?

Mr. Straw

I regret that I cannot give that figure immediately. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can provide it when he winds up, or a magical piece of paper will appear from those people who have to remain nameless and sit in the box alongside. If that happens, I shall try to provide the answer while I am speaking.

I can tell the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), because I happen to have the figures in my head, that under the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for new offences of racially aggravated harassment, violence and criminal damage, there have been more than 100 prosecutions, according to the latest figures that I have seen. I appreciate that that is not the answer that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but it provides an illustration.

The Bill will implement Government commitments that were made in response to one of the key recommendations of the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. The report recommended that the 1976 Act should be extended to cover the police and that chief officers of police should be made vicariously liable for acts of racial discrimination by police officers.

The Government said when the report was published that we would go further. We are doing that now. We are extending the 1976 Act not only to cover the police, but functions of other public authorities, listed in schedule 1, which are not currently covered. The Bill tackles gaps in coverage of the public sector which were left when the 1976 Act was introduced, or which have subsequently been found through the development of case law.

Clause 1 will extend the 1976 Act with regard to public authorities.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I want to make a point about the definition of public authorities. Schedule 1 lists many public authorities. However, a lot of other legislation, including the Human Rights Act 1998, also lists them. Will the Home Secretary consider whether it would be helpful to consolidate the definitions of public authority? I have examined every dot and comma, and the Bill presents an opportunity for achieving a common definition that would serve for much legislation.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is right, and I shall develop the point. It is fair for hon. Members to point out that the Human Rights Act, which does not schedule public authorities, refers to bodies that exercise a public function. They could be private sector bodies. For example, the provisions could apply to Railtrack's safety functions, but not its private functions as a property developer. They could also apply to water authorities. We believed that it was essential to schedule the public authorities to which the Freedom of Information Bill applies because they have a duty and they must know whether they are public authorities so that they can produce the necessary codes.

I can tell the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and other hon. Members who have raised the matter outside as well as inside the House, that deciding whether our attempts to define public authorities in the Bill are correct has been a matter of fine debate in government—I hope that it can also be a matter of debate in the House.

Some duties in the Bill are prospective; the Human Rights Act is slightly different. I would be interested to hear whether the House believes that it would be sensible to include a schedule that made public authorities aware that they are public authorities. We could also consider whether there should not be a definition equivalent to that in the Human Rights Act, which could take account of private sector bodies that exercise public sector functions. I am happy for that to be considered.

Mr. Hughes

I understand exactly the point that we need certainty so that people understand that they might have a duty or an obligation. Therefore we probably need a schedule containing a list that could be updated by secondary legislation or in other ways. As the Freedom of Information Bill is going through Parliament, is the Home Secretary willing to consider whether, after discussions, we could decide on a common formula that would allow a definition that gave best advice where possible and could be updated annually?

Mr. Straw

Of course. This is a matter of how we achieve a commonly agreed aim.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

Is the Home Secretary saying that there is uncertainty in the very general definition in the Human Rights Act and that groups may not know that it applies to them? If that is not so, why can that definition not be used in this Bill?

Mr. Straw

There is uncertainty because whether the human rights convention applies to a body that exercises public functions has to be a matter for the courts to determine in the jurisprudence of the convention, which we are about to incorporate in United Kingdom law. There is obviously no argument about all the public bodies that exercise public functions, but because the boundary between a public body and a body exercising a public function has shifted markedly over the past 25 years, not least because of privatisation and outsourcing, some bodies and some individuals in the private sector who would be regarded as private in other circumstances—public limited companies, for example—none the less exercise public functions in respect of some of their duties.

I have given Railtrack and the water authorities as examples and one could think of many others. These days, private plcs exercise certain public functions in respect of the custody of prisoners—we had a great and perfectly open debate about that when we considered the Human Rights Act—but the question whether a person or body exercises a public function for the purposes of the convention has to be a matter for the courts.

On those matters and freedom of information, I say to the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) that there is a need for certainty in any event because, in respect of freedom of information in particular, the public bodies have to produce codes. I am working my way through whether, at the same time as providing the maximum degree of certainty in a schedule, we should not also not exclude bodies which, down the track, might be said to exercise a public function after all and therefore should have been encompassed by the Bill. I want to share my consideration with the House, but retrospectively inserting such a provision in a schedule may not be the appropriate way to achieve that.

Sir Peter Lloyd

I am trying to follow the Home Secretary's argument. Is he saying that the 1976 Act, which applies to the private sector, leaves a gap between the public and private sectors that needs to be filled by a list? I thought that he was extending that Act to the public sector so there ought not to be a gap, except where the Bill excludes a particular organisation.

Mr. Straw

I accept the logical neatness of what the right hon. Gentleman says, but that neatness does not apply completely, perhaps because we are discussing this issue before considering the contents of the Bill.

The Bill also introduces a positive duty to promote racial equality, which applies to public bodies but not to the private sector. A different responsibility is placed on the private sector, and in that respect I think the right hon. Gentleman may have a case. I am trying to be helpful to him, not least because of representations that he has made to me. In that respect, we may have to change the precise wording of the Bill, because I want this to be a matter for open discussion.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make some progress I will happily give way to him later, as I always do.

As I was saying, clause 1 will extend the Race Relations Act 1976 in respect of public authorities by inserting new sections 19B, 19C and 19D in part III. Amendments tabled in Committee will also include section 1(1)(b) of the Act, which deals with indirect discrimination. New section 19B will make it unlawful for a public authority to discriminate directly against a person, or to victimise a person, on racial grounds in carrying out any of its functions. The provision applies to all functions that are not already covered by the existing provisions of the Act.

The provision will have a wide application. For the purposes of the new section, "public authorities" will include bodies, or classes of body, listed in a new schedule. The schedule lists the main central Government and local government bodies, including the police, Ministers of the Crown, Government officials and law enforcers. It includes Scottish public bodies and authorities, as equal opportunities are a matter reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. Although the Scottish Parliament's consent to the Bill is therefore not required, under the arrangements set out by Lord Sewel in another place on 21 July 1998 there has been contact at both official and ministerial level on the Bill's application to devolved Scottish public bodies.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I will give way to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) first, because I said that I would.

Mr. Howarth

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. He is always courteous in this regard.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the authorities mentioned in schedule 1 to which the Bill will extend coverage. There is a specific exclusion in respect of security, and GCHQ is specifically mentioned. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the case, and explain why GCHQ has been excluded?

Mr. Straw

National security is not entirely excluded, and the agencies referred to are not excluded in terms of employment practice. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will deal with that part of the Bill when I reach it in my speech.

Dr. Lewis

Would it be regarded as de facto evidence of discrimination if members of one ethnic or religious group were over-represented in prison in proportion to their strength in the population, or would each case of discrimination be viewed on an individual basis? It might be argued that some groups are over-represented at Oxford and Cambridge because a disproportionate number of their members pass the entrance examinations.

Mr. Straw

That arises acutely in the context of indirect discrimination. I shall return to that when I reach the appropriate point in my speech; if I have not answered the hon. Gentleman's point, I shall happily give way to him again.

There are some exceptions and omissions from the list of public authorities in the schedule, and I want to reassure the House about them. In most instances, omissions have been made for one of three reasons. First, the functions of some bodies are already clearly covered in the existing Race Relations Act: education bodies are an obvious example. Secondly, the schedule does not currently include non-departmental public bodies—quangos. We intend, where it is established in consultation with such bodies that they have functions not already covered by the Act, to add them to the list of public authorities by order. Thirdly, as I have explained, the schedule does not include private bodies carrying out public functions. One way or another, we intend such bodies to be covered by the Act in respect of their public functions.

That provision represents an important extension of the existing legal protection against racial discrimination. The Government will seek to strengthen the provision further in Committee by making it unlawful for a public authority to discriminate indirectly as well as directly, in line with my announcement to the House on 27 January.

The distinction between those two types of discrimination is this. Direct discrimination is where one person treats another less favourably than he treats, or would treat, other people. Indirect discrimination occurs when a requirement or condition which, though applied equally to people of different racial groups, has the effect that the proportion of one racial group that can comply is considerably smaller than the proportion of another racial group, but—to respond to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis)—such a requirement or condition is unlawful only if it cannot be justified irrespective of racial group and if it is detrimental to the claimant who cannot comply.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's point directly, if it turned out that one racial group were markedly over-represented in the prison population, inquiries could be made about why that was. If it turned out that the reason was that courts, magistrates, juries, sentencers all had a down on that particular racial group, it would be very difficult to justify that proportion of people being in the prison population. On the other hand, if it turned out that the reason why they were over-represented was that they were committing more crimes, it would be entirely justified.

There is considerable case law on the subject, not in respect of that particular area, because it has not been the subject of the law, but in respect, for example, of employment practices—people from one racial group have complained about employment practices—and other areas. In one quite well-known case, someone from abroad complained that he was being indirectly discriminated against because one of the conditions for going on a Manpower Services Commission course was that he should have had work experience in this country. He said that he could not have had such experience because he had not been here.

The courts held that the commission was justified in its approach because it had nothing to do with people's racial origin: it was essential for the course that people had such experience. It might be said parenthetically that there would come a moment when that person could have had that experience. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

May I make some more progress? Then of course I will give way.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Government have given very careful thought to the decision to extend indirect discrimination provisions to the Bill. I say openly that there was anxiety across government about how exactly that would fall. There was concern to ensure that such a provision would be effective without leaving public bodies open to routine and unnecessary legal challenge in circumstances where their policies were entirely proper and justified.

Since the Bill's publication last December, I have listened carefully to the arguments about the issue, as did my colleagues in government. We concluded that, on balance, the risk of spurious challenge was outweighed by the principle of including indirect discrimination in respect of public sector functions in the Bill.

I put it on record that I am grateful to the many right hon. and hon. Members who made representations to me about the measure. I am also grateful to their lordships for their contribution.

Mr. Simon Hughes

All of us, I think, are grateful to the Government for having recognised the strength of the case and reasonably said that they would table amendments to deal with the indirect discrimination point. I wonder whether the Home Secretary can tell us at this stage whether he has reached a conclusion about whether to take the proposed easy route, which is simply to take two lines out of the Bill—which was put to him by the outgoing chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and others, including some in the other place—or whether that is still up for debate. If the right hon. Gentleman were able to give a simple answer and support the simple proposition, it might get simple reward from hon. Members on both sides of the House this afternoon.

Mr. Straw

My intention was to take the simple route. Some people sometimes think that I take the complicated route, but I am not up for that. If my memory is failing me, I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman.

It would be appropriate to place on record not only my thanks, but the thanks of a huge number of people, for the work of Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who over the years has made probably a greater, more singular, contribution to the development of race relations legislation than anyone else in this country. It was he who—behind Roy Jenkins—was the architect of the Race Relations Act 1965, the Race Relations Act 1968 and the Race Relations Act 1976. I have no hesitation in saying that I have listened very carefully to the advice that he has offered.

The Government also intend—I have made it clear—to table in Committee an amendment to place a statutory duty on public authorities to promote race equality. The Government regard the promotion of equality as a positive way of eliminating unjustifiable indirect discrimination and, distinct from that, what the Stephen Lawrence inquiry called "institutional racism". Our setting of targets for ethnic minority recruitment, retention and promotion and our guidelines for mainstreaming race equality into policy development and implementation offer concrete examples of how race equality can be promoted.

The Government's commitment to placing the promotion of equality by public bodies generally on a statutory footing was announced in our equality statement, on 30 November 1999. We have since said that we shall reinforce that commitment by tabling a Government amendment to enshrine the principle in the Bill, leaving room for consultation on how the duty will operate in practice.

Both those amendments will considerably strengthen the Bill and help to create the right legislative framework to bring about the step change in race equality that the Government are seeking to achieve.

I should like now to describe the special provisions relating to immigration, asylum and nationality, in new section 19C.

The extension in the Bill of the Race Relations Act 1976 will cover the work of immigration staff. That includes all staff working in the Home Office immigration and nationality directorate and the immigration service in the United Kingdom, and—I make this clear—entry clearance officers based overseas.

The Bill provides various consequential measures to secure a proper alignment between the various statutory provisions covering race relations and those governing immigration, asylum and nationality. Those are necessary to allow our immigration laws to continue to be administered as Parliament intended, and to support the Government's policy of reforming and accelerating the immigration and asylum appeals system.

The House will be familiar with the measures in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to produce a new one-stop procedure for appeals. Those measures, once implemented, are aimed to support the achievement of our target that, by April 2001, the majority of asylum applications will be resolved within an average of two months, and appeals against a refusal within a further four months.

The operation of an effective and rational immigration system, however, necessarily and legitimately requires a distinction to be made between individuals on the basis of their nationality and, occasionally, their ethnic or national origin. For example—this may be stating the obvious, but it is quite important that it should be stated—the operation of our immigration control at ports must distinguish between our own citizens, who are free from immigration control, and other nationalities, who are not. There are different rules for those who enjoy free movement rights under European law and those who do not. The immigration rules therefore make distinct provisions for nationals who require a visa to travel to the United Kingdom and for those who do not. Some rules and policies apply only to Commonwealth countries or to specified nationalities.

The safeguards in the Race Relations Act 1976 covering acts of discrimination done in pursuance of other statutory provisions, as interpreted by case law, are—within the context of the Bill—insufficient to allow the immigration system to operate as it should. If consequential provisions were not made, Ministers would, for example, be unable to authorise special compassionate exercises when necessary for particular ethnic or national groups—as we did last year, when we had the special exercise to evacuate and provide protection to Kosovan Albanians—and immigration staff would be unable to perform their duties in accordance with ministerial instructions.

The powers in the Bill will be subject to very close safeguards. It will be unlawful for immigration staff to discriminate on grounds of race or colour or, in the case of nationality and ethnic and national origins, go beyond what is specified in immigration and nationality law or expressly authorised by Ministers. We are also considering making further changes to the Bill to provide independent oversight of the operation of those provisions. I hope to make further proposals on those changes in Committee.

New section 19D seeks to preserve the role of the criminal courts as the sole forum for determining guilt by exempting from the Bill's provisions decisions not to prosecute. The importance of that principle was recognised both by the White Paper on freedom of information and also by the Phillips royal commission, in 1981, which said:

publicly calling into question a decision not to prosecute could amount to a trial of the suspect without the safeguards which criminal proceedings are designed to provide. Clause 2 relates to appointments made on the recommendation or approval of Ministers and Departments, but not by them. It brings such appointments more in line with existing arrangements for other public appointments.

Clause 4 makes further provision on the public prosecution function to ensure balance between the rights of individuals who have been discriminated against and the Government's commitments on the criminal justice system as a whole. Striking that balance means that civil proceedings for discrimination may have to wait until related criminal proceedings have been finalised. Stays to civil proceedings will defer, but not prevent, the resolution of a claim for discrimination.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Has the Home Secretary made any calculation of the number of cases likely to be brought? As he said, the Bill will clog up the legal system, even if the charge against someone who complains of discrimination is heard before the complaint.

Mr. Straw

Unusually, the hon. Gentleman misheard me. I did not say that the system would be clogged up. I said that it could get clogged up if we did not take action in the Bill, but we are taking that action, with the approval of the House, so the legal system will not be any more clogged up than it is with the delays about which we heard on Tuesday. If I may make a partisan point in an otherwise non-partisan debate, on Tuesday the hon. Gentleman voted against a measure that will ease pressures on the courts.

There are some details about the costs towards the end of the explanatory notes to the Bill, on page 13. We do not anticipate significant costs arising. We have given our best estimates. However, a very large cost will hit public authorities and society as a whole if we do not legislate. The first cost that we should be concerned about is the moral cost, but there would also be a financial cost. If people feel resentful that they have been treated unfairly and unequally, they will not give of their best. Happily, the incorporation of the European convention on human rights is not a matter of dissension between the parties, but people would seek other, less effective routes round the race relations legislation to get their rights.

Clause 5 contains a further consequential measure, providing that claims of unlawful racial discrimination from individuals subject to immigration control that relate specifically to a decision in an individual immigration or asylum case will be heard by the independent appellate authority as part of the one-stop procedure on appeals. That is consistent with our policy that all outstanding matters in immigration and asylum appeals should be considered by the appellate authority at one time. We have sought to ensure that there is one appeal for anything related to immigration and asylum. As well as immigration claims, that covers those who decide to develop a subsequent asylum application and appeal and then to put in an appeal against deportation. That is what happens now.

We want all three appeals to be heard in one go. In addition, we have arranged that if people suddenly have a genuine—or perhaps more often not so genuine—case under the European convention on human rights, they must bring that forward at the time. Once someone has been through that process and made all their claims in one go, they cannot then make a previously forgotten claim for racial discrimination as a result of the decision, which would then have to go before a separate tribunal, which could take months or years, suspending their removal. A claimant who substantiates their claim of discrimination within the immigration appellate system will then be able to apply to a county court, or to a sheriff court in Scotland, for damages. Those claimants not subject to immigration control who allege discrimination in other respects and have no direct recourse to the immigration appeal system—such as British citizens who feel that they have been the subject of discrimination by our immigration and nationality directorate—will be able to take their case direct to the county or sheriff court.

The second main purpose of the Bill is to increase the accountability of chief officers of police in race discrimination cases by making them vicariously liable for the racially discriminatory acts of individual police officers. This is achieved by clause 3.

In the existing Act, employers are held vicariously liable for the discriminatory acts of their employees, but police officers are office holders, not employees. Although the Police Act 1996 and the equivalent Act in Scotland make general provision for the vicarious liability of a chief officer of police, the courts' construction of the Race Relations Act has meant that that general provision does not apply to the Act.

That anomaly needs to be addressed, to bring the police into line both with other organisations and with its own general practice.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When chief constables appeared before the Home Affairs Committee regarding race relations legislation—arising of course from the terrible murder of Stephen Lawrence—I asked them the following question: when police officers made racist remarks, was disciplinary action taken? I do not have real confidence that effective disciplinary action was taken when such remarks were made. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we really should say that there is no room for racists anywhere in the police force and that if people have racist views they should leave the police force—and the sooner the better.

Mr. Straw

Of course I accept my hon. Friend's comment at the end of his intervention. That view is shared by all chief police officers and the overwhelming majority in the police service. Let me place on record my thanks to the police associations for what they have done in respect of the Lawrence inquiry report. I single out in particular Mr. Fred Broughton for his considerable leadership of the police service and his support for the Macpherson recommendations. It is now a disciplinary offence to be racially discriminatory within the police service.

As my hon. Friend will know as a longstanding member of the Select Committee, we have changed the arrangements for police discipline to include a civil standard of proof and a criminal standard of proof. No one can ever be sure that what happened in the terrible Lawrence case could not happen again, but I am certain that the risk has been greatly reduced.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Yet again I thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy. Does he agree that there is a severe downside to branding the police as a racist institution? That was brought home to me when one of our own police constables in the Palace of Westminster said that one of the reasons why he had finally decided to retire was that he considered that he had been smeared as a racist by the report.

Mr. Straw

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but I do not agree. The Macpherson report made it clear that there is institutional racism not only in the police service but in a large number of other public authorities and some private bodies. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I was about to conclude, but I shall detain the House for a moment while I deal with it.

The Bill would not be necessary if there were not institutional racism in a wide variety of public bodies. Let me say to the House what I have said outside on a number of occasions. There has been institutional racism in the Home Office—and that is not to say that I have ever met a senior manager or a Minister in this Government or the previous Government who could be described as openly racist or harbouring racist beliefs. Everybody in the Home Office and in the police was perfectly well-meaning towards black and Asian staff: they looked at the promotion arrangements and, on the odd occasion when black and Asian staff complained that they seemed to be less well-represented higher up, they were patted on the head and told that the arrangements were perfectly straightforward and open and that anyone could apply for promotion. The implication was that the fact that black and Asian applicants were not getting through must be something to do with the quality of those applicants, rather than any fault of the system.

Shortly after we took office and I became Home Secretary, we started work in the Home Office looking at the attitudes of black and Asian staff. We tried to find out what they really felt and what problems lay behind their gross under-representation at any level above administrative assistant, which is the bottom administrative grade. The work was done by external consultants, so staff did not have to own up to their managers, and we did a similar exercise in the Prison Service.

What emerged was, first, that black and Asian staff were cross that they were not getting a fair crack of the whip. Secondly, they could point to many aspects of the promotion system that were benign in intent, but discriminatory in effect. For example, people had to fill in a form to apply for promotion, and it was usual for them to receive some encouragement to do so. That encouragement was, on the whole, dished out in the pub after work. Fewer women than men go to the pub after work, but no Asian women go to the pub at all. So Asian women were outside the net and were not coming forward for promotion.

We followed up the conclusions and we have changed the system. The hon. Gentleman surely knows of some classic research in which job applications were submitted containing exactly the same qualifications and background, but with one difference—one was in the name of Mr. or Mrs. Smith and the other bore a long, foreign-sounding name. The latter was always the subject of discrimination. We have tried to make changes in the Home Office to combat that. If people apply for a job, they will get an interview. There will be no shortlisting, so it does not matter what their name is. We have also increased mentoring.

Our efforts are now working and securing changes. The situation is by no means perfect, but staff in the Home Office have set up a network of black and Asian staff. In fact, I attended one of the most uplifting meetings that I have been to in the past three years, which saw 800 of our staff coming together voluntarily to work better with us to improve employment opportunities. We are seeing dramatic changes.

On the subject of the police, which the hon. Gentleman raised, the vast majority of the police—as Macpherson said—do not have a racist thought in their heads. Some have, and they should be drummed out of the police service—and the sooner the better. Like the police, the overwhelming majority of staff at every level in the Home Office do not have a racist intention in their bones. However, an institution can, because of its practices, work in a discriminatory way. That was what Macpherson said, and that is why he was right to say of the police, and all those other public authorities, that they were institutionally racist and that we needed to take action to deal with that. That is one of the reasons why I am so delighted that we are including indirect discrimination provisions in the Bill.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I confirm that what the Home Secretary has discovered in the Home Office was known in the Department of Employment in 1986, when the race relations employment advisory service produced a report. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the encouragement that he is giving to the Association of Black Police Officers to remove what some have seen as a concrete ceiling. Others have also been encouraged to do what they know is right. I suggest that those who doubt these things read an article in the British Medical Journal last week in which an Asian consultant wrote about having been told inadvertently that some jobs were for Indians and others were for whites.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman, who brings great commitment and experience to the subject, is right: it is still going on, and it will go on for as long as we are blind to the fact that it is going on or take the view of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis)—I say this with respect to him—that there is an exact similarity between the way institutions behave and the way in which individuals in that institution think they behave. We ought to know enough about institutional culture to know that that is not the case.

I shall deal briefly with national security. The Bill amends the national security provisions in the Race Relations Act, and that is achieved by clauses 6 and 7. For anyone who is worried about that, it is to bring the provisions into line with the European convention on human rights—not to detach it. The intelligence and security agencies are covered in terms of employment, and we thought that those agencies were quite keen on the provision. We considered whether they could be included in the Bill as a whole, but we did not find a way in which it would be possible for people to put in section 65 requests for information and to have those compatible with the basic purposes of the intelligence and security agencies and their need for secrecy.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I have answered the hon. Gentleman.

In conclusion, the House will be aware that, as Home Secretary, I am responsible for a significant number of the Bills that are being considered during this parliamentary Session. None, however, gives me more personal satisfaction than this one. The Bill comes out of a personal tragedy—the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence, which brought to the attention of the white majority what it is like to be a member of a black or Asian community in Britain today.

The report into the death of Stephen Lawrence led the Opposition to welcome my announcement on 24 February 1999 of the Government's intention to carry out the first major update of the Race Relations Act since 1976.

The Bill is a very important one, and I am very proud to be responsible for it. It meets the commitments that the Government made in response to the Lawrence inquiry. It is an important part of this Government's wider agenda for achieving race equality and promoting the potential of a modern, multicultural society.

The Bill has already benefited from the scrutiny that it received during its passage in another place. I look forward to that scrutiny continuing in this House. I very much hope, given the nature and importance of the Bill, that it will be received warmly on all sides of the House as a major contribution to eliminating racial discrimination, and to achieving race equality.

2.2 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

We on this side of the House remain unreservedly and absolutely opposed to racial discrimination. For that reason, we will support the Second Reading of the Bill today. However, we have some concerns about the implications of various aspects of the Bill, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to those aspects which I shall raise. I hope that there will be a proper opportunity to explore them in detail throughout the Bill's later stages, because we believe that some have serious implications. It is important that the effects should be those intended, rather than those not intended.

Everybody in our society has the right to expect equal treatment from every institution, and that includes the public services. I welcome any sensible and practical measures to assist in the fight to eradicate discrimination from our society. I say "sensible and practical" because while no one would dispute that the intentions behind the Bill are honourable, we are concerned that the practical implementation of certain of the measures contained within it—and, perhaps more importantly, some of the measures that we know will be contained within the Bill when it comes back to the Floor of the House—could serve as a hindrance, rather than a help in the elimination of racial discrimination.

I wish to refer to the police service, which has become subject to intense scrutiny since the publication of the Macpherson report into the aftermath of the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence. The police service is an effective force in the fight against crime in this country. I pay tribute, as would the Home Secretary, to the courage and dedication of the men and women of our police service. They, as individuals, feel that they have been subject to much unwarranted criticism in recent months. They feel that because the service has been branded "institutionally racist" that that rubs off on them. That is a serious consideration.

The Macpherson report says:

We accept that there are dangers in allowing the phrase to be used in order to try to express some overall criticism of the police, or any other organisation, without addressing its meaning. The report goes on to define institutional racism. It says that it is the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. Sir Paul Condon, the former Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, told the inquiry that labelling the police as "institutionally racist" would mean that the public will assume a finding of conscious, wilful or deliberate action or inaction to the detriment of ethnic minority Londoners. They will assume the majority of good men and women who come into policing … go about their daily lives with racism in their minds and in their endeavour. He said that the use of the term "institutional racism" would undermine many of the endeavours to identify and respond to instances of racism which challenge all institutions and particularly the police. No matter how it was conceived, I believe that the way in which the term "institutional racism" has been bandied about has done a great deal of unnecessary and unhelpful damage to the image of the police service in this country. However, I would go further. I ask the Home Secretary to consider whether the very use of that phrase—which effectively absolves individuals from responsibility for racist acts and lays the ultimate blame on the institution—can hamper the fight against racism at a personal level. Might it not also have an adverse effect on the morale and public image of the men and women in the police service, the vast majority of whom do not act with racism in their minds?

We have already witnessed a rise in London crime rates at a time when the number of stop and searches has fallen dramatically. I believe that there is a clear link between those two facts. The August 1999 summary to the interim Fitzgerald report into stop and search noted: This fall in searches is also directly related to a rise in crime over the same period. We have even heard the Prime Minister, in response to the first rise in crime since 1993, personally urge police to step up the use of stop-and-search powers. I am sure that the police would like to carry out as many stop and searches as they deem necessary, but they say that they are reluctant to do so because of the what they consider to be the climate of hostility directed at them. A recent survey found that 71 per cent. of Metropolitan police officers had become more reluctant to use stop-and-search powers since the publication of the Macpherson report.

There can be no dispute that it is right to act swiftly against any police officer intent on conducting his or her duty in a discriminatory manner. However, it is plainly wrong for members of our police service to feel that they cannot carry out their duty solely because their actions could be portrayed as discriminatory, even if that was not in their minds—or even if discrimination had never crossed their minds at all.

I hope that the Home Secretary will reassure the House that the operational effect of the police service, and of other public services, will not in any way be threatened by the interpretations that could be placed on the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Straw

I thank the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. I can give her the assurance that she seeks, but I should like to take this opportunity to make two points. First, the changes in the Bill to make chief officers vicariously liable for the actions of individual officers will greatly help those individual officers, who as a result will not feel isolated, as used to be possible. It was an eccentricity of the courts that treated police officers—for these purposes, if not for any others—as office holders rather than employees. The change proposed in the Bill will help that.

My second point goes wider. In my judgment, the Bill contains nothing that should lead to any diminution in the effectiveness of policing. However, it contains a huge amount that will make the police service more effective. As long as people feel that they are the subject of discrimination—I am not talking about the police service—and that we do not live in a properly equal society, there are problems of disaffection and, ultimately, criminal behaviour. The Bill means that there will be even less excuse for criminal behaviour than there has been in the past.

Miss Widdecombe

I am partly reassured by that, but only partly. I will give the Home Secretary some examples when we look at the way in which the indirect discrimination provisions, when they are included in the Bill, will work. If the operational effectiveness of the police service is to be threatened in any way, we must look minutely at these provisions and think about them carefully.

On investigations into the police by the Commission for Racial Equality, I am not convinced that the CRE is the right body to examine allegations of racism in the police service. Surely it would be more appropriate for a single body to look at all complaints against the police, such as a truly independent Police Complaints Authority. We would then avoid having the PCA look into the operational aspects of a complaint of racism while the CRE was looking at the racial aspects. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at that issue before the Bill is considered in Committee.

I now turn to the inclusion of the indirect discrimination provisions, which the Government intend to include by way of an amendment at a later stage, despite previously expressing their deep reservations about including provisions on such discrimination in the Bill. In another place, Lord Bassam commented that outlawing indirect discrimination would have uncertain and potentially far-reaching effects on the Government's ability to make policy. He went on to argue that there would be too many frequent and counter-productive court challenges, and that indirect discrimination did not fit well with law enforcement. Can the Minister who winds up the debate explain why the Government have made this U-turn in their attitude to indirect discrimination?

The Home Secretary said in a written answer, when he announced the new policy: the risk of spurious challenge is outweighed by the principle of including indirect discrimination in respect of public sector functions in the Bill.—[Official Report, 27 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 247W.] Will he confirm that indirect discrimination will be included in the Bill to improve the practical effectiveness and fairness of our public services, and not simply as a rhetorical gesture to a perceived principle—a gesture that might do more harm than good and would not serve anybody's interests in the long term? I hope that the Home Secretary's change of mind on indirect discrimination will not be quite as disastrous as I believe his change of mind on abolishing the right to jury trial will probably be.

Can the Secretary of State tell us about the exact nature of the public services that might be affected by the inclusion of indirect discrimination provisions? For example, will police beat routes be open to challenge in the courts? The Home Secretary should think about it if he does not understand. How will the national health service be affected? What about the siting of fire stations, police stations and hospitals? Public bodies dealing with transport, including Transport for London, will presumably be covered. Will decisions on bus and rail routes and on timetables be open to challenge? Those are areas which were originally thought could be open to challenge. If we are being told that the Government have found some way of fining the measure so that such challenges will not be made, I would like to hear it. If not, and those things will be open to challenge, I would like to hear what practical effects that might have.

Mr. Straw

The detailed points that the right hon. Lady raises can be answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and in Committee. However, the House may be a little confused: the right hon. Lady says that she supports the principle of the Bill, but it is unclear which part of its contents she supports. I hope that she will not get herself into the position, which I forbore from mentioning, that her predecessor got into in 1965 and 1968 on a similar tack.

As to the right hon. Lady's examples—and I am very happy to provide her with all the information that I considered—the way in which the courts have interpreted section 1(1)(b) of the Race Relations Act 1976, which outlaws racial discrimination that is indirect only if it is unjustified, show that the courts have been very accommodating to the public authorities. I gave the example of the Manpower Services Commission and there is a stream of others. In one of the examples that she gave, it would have to be palpable that a senior police officer was organising the beats in order to be racially discriminatory, which I doubt. If he was doing it to ensure that the area was properly policed and that he was covering the areas of highest crime and highest complaint, there would not be the least argument.

My final point—and I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene—is that I have been perfectly open about the Government's anxieties about whether it was safe to incorporate section 1(1)(b). As a result of continuing discussion inside and outside Government, my colleagues and I were persuaded that it was safe to do so.

Miss Widdecombe

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that response. He asked me about my support for the Bill. We have said that we support the principle, and that the provisions that currently govern the private sector should be extended to all parts of the public sector. There is no argument about our adherence to that principle.

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

Let me finish, because the right hon. Gentleman asked me the question—which he should not have done in an intervention, anyway. We are concerned about the addition, at a late stage, of indirect discrimination provisions. The principle may be fine, but we know well that if we make bad law around noble principles, the consequences are nasty. We are trying to do our duty—to scrutinise the likely consequences and possible effects of this measure.

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to brush aside what I have just said as if it were of no consequence. Why, then, did his Minister, in another place, make exactly these points and say that that was why the Government were not going to include indirect discrimination in the Bill?

Mr. Straw

I was not brushing aside the right hon. Lady's comments as if they were of no consequence—I was giving her an answer.

The right hon. Lady will come to regret her assertion that one is not allowed to ask questions in interventions. I will bear that in mind the next time I have the Floor. Indeed, I will never let her forget it.

The right hon. Lady talks about it being fine to apply to the public sector that which already applies to the private sector. That was the killer argument in respect of indirect discrimination. Section 1(1)(b) already applies to the private sector. Therefore, it becomes very difficult—not impossible, because I tried it—to argue that it should not apply to the public sector as well.

Miss Widdecombe

It is all right for the Opposition to ask questions of the Government in interventions. That is what we are supposed to do, because the Government have Executive responsibility. I again ask the Home Secretary the question that he has persistently refused to answer. I will even sit down and let him reply. Why, if this is so obvious and I am being so unreasonable, did his Government take exactly this line until very recently, with Lord Bassam enunciating the sort of arguments that I am making now?

Mr. Straw

I have not, on this occasion, accused the right hon. Lady of being wholly unreasonable. There is no great secret about this. There was a process of discussion and debate about this in Government. The right hon. Lady knows the processes of Government, to some extent better than I do. At least I did not have to argue with my ministerial colleagues in the Home Office.

An initial view was formed about where the balance of argument lay, and that is obvious from the record. I do not think that we should be criticised for having listened to the arguments, not least to the debate in the other place. People cannot have it both ways. It was always a relatively finely balanced argument. Lord Bassam spelt out our anxieties, but I am pleased to say that the more I went into it, the more I could assuage colleagues about where the balance of the argument lay. The point about the provisions already applying to the private sector was very important when it came to weighing that balance.

Miss Widdecombe

I hope that we shall be able to test at length in Committee the concerns that the Government previously held but which they claim to have resolved in a very short time—indeed, a record time, even for a Government of many U-turns.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On the basis that I, too, may ask questions, will the right hon. Lady reflect that while it may have taken the Government a little time to be persuaded by arguments about indirect discrimination—she may not yet be quite persuaded—the time taken has been rather longer in the context of European Union law? EU courts and member states have accepted that a law that did not outlaw indirect discrimination in the customs union would have made that union impossible. The argument has been won in other areas of law, as her party accepted when in Government, even if it has not yet quite been won in this area.

Miss Widdecombe

It will be won only once we have given it thorough discussion and examination. The worries so recently entertained by the Government, which we still hold, must be resolved. A parliamentary process exists for doing so, and I hope that we shall not be as rushed as we were last night. The Home Secretary looks puzzled by that remark, but we were debating one of our own Bills—the Representation of the People Bill—and had 35 minutes in which to discuss 100 Lords amendments. I hope that this Bill will be given the most thorough scrutiny.

I have a question for the Home Secretary. He will say, "No, no, no", but I should like to hear why not. Why will not his plan to introduce a £10,000 bond for those who wish to enter the UK from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—but nowhere else—be in breach of the Government's proposed indirect discrimination legislation? He appears to have no answer to that. Does he?

Mr. Straw

As I recall, the Opposition supported that proposal. It is a bit rich of the right hon. Lady to complain about it. She supported almost all our proposals, including abolition of the white list, opposing only the introduction of severe penalties for truck drivers who bring in clandestine immigrants.

Miss Widdecombe

Is it not discriminatory?

Mr. Straw

No, it will not be discriminatory. We are running a pilot scheme before final decisions come to be made about the bond scheme. Wherever we pilot it, it is not discriminatory because it is a pilot.

Miss Widdecombe

Ah. So if the pilot is successful, the £10,000 bond will become universal? Is that right? Is the Home Secretary saying yes to that?

Mr. Straw

I return to the explanation I offered the House on the amendments on immigration. Immigration and asylum law, by definition, distinguishes between people of different nationalities, and sometimes ethnic origins, so the Bill contains perfectly sensible savings. That is the answer to the right hon. Lady's question.

Miss Widdecombe

So indirect discrimination will apply to individual immigration officers, but not to Government policy. Okay.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

Is the hon. Gentleman speaking for the Government or the Opposition today?

Mr. Hughes

I wish I were in the Government and speaking for them, but that must wait another month or two.

In the interests of trying to resolve an important point, may I say that I have asked myself the question that the right hon. Lady is putting to the Home Secretary, and have concluded that the exemption that allows nationality to be a reason for exemption from indirect and direct discrimination law is the reason why that would be permitted? There may be another issue about whether applying the nationality test might have other indirect consequences, but the white Indian—the Anglo-Saxon Indian—will be discriminated against under the Government's proposals in the same way as an Indian of Asian origin.

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman goes a long way to bail out the Home Secretary, and does so with rather greater clarity than the right hon. Gentleman. However, despite what he has said, I am worried. If the Bill will apply to the immigration and asylum system in general, might it not lead to many appeals on grounds of racial discrimination, causing yet more delays in the system and probably increasing even further the famous backlog of asylum cases? Given the enormous pressures that the immigration and nationality directorate is already under, will such a Bill simply make the system even more ineffective?

It is not impossible to imagine a scenario in which almost every legitimate, reasoned decision taken by the IND would be subjected to the appeals process to delay possible removal from the UK rather than because of rational claims of racial discrimination. If that happened, it would undermine legitimate claims of discrimination, and be grossly unfair to those whose claims for asylum are genuine or who have a valid reason for wanting to enter the UK.

Will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department tell us the estimated increased cost to public authorities and the legal aid budget that will result from the Bill? If he cannot, will he write to me? The Government described the costs as "significant" in the explanatory notes to the Bill, yet they have described calculating any such costs as an "impossible" task. On what basis, therefore, did the Government decide that the costs would be significant, and if that is indeed the case, will departmental budgets be able to cover successfully the significantly increased burden placed on them? Has the Home Secretary undertaken a detailed study of the financial implications of the inclusion of indirect discrimination in the Bill? If he has, may we have the benefit of those calculations?

Working for better race relations does not have to be restricted to acting sternly against our organisations and institutions, and imposing sanctions and prohibitions. It must be a reasoned and responsible partnership that acts in everybody's interests to ensure that all members of society feel they are treated equally and fairly. We will, therefore, support the Bill at this stage, in the hope that it will improve race relations, but we have a responsibility to ensure that our public services remain effective and efficient, that they are not hampered by spurious legal challenges and that any legislation is implemented with those aims in mind.

I look forward—perhaps a trifle optimistically—to a sensible and careful consideration of all elements contained in the Bill, and I hope that effective and meaningful race relations will result.

2.27 pm
Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his comprehensive proposals to address racism. I should like to outline how bad race relations were during the 1960s and early 1970s before the passage of the Race Relations Act 1976. Racial discrimination was entrenched in the minds of people who never hesitated to show their feelings in public. In addition, racial violence against individuals was common. I shall give some examples of the sort of treatment that ethnic minorities received in public places at the hands of racists.

In my constituency, in the mid-1960s, public houses used to refuse drinks to non-white customers. That deliberate and naked racism confronted members of the non-white minority. I once went to a public house with a couple of friends, and I asked at the bar for drinks. We were refused by the management, and we faced a barrage of racist insults and physical threats. The same thing happened in other public houses.

I complained to the Race Relations Board, but it had no power to prosecute publicans. It could only investigate, which was not helpful in any way. I emphasise that I regularly receive racist hate mail, both from within this country and from abroad.

After campaigning and lobbying for a long time, I was happy when the Labour Government passed the Race Relations Act 1976; that was a step in the right direction, although it did not have the teeth to bite. The Commission for Racial Equality and local community relations councils were set up under it. However, despite that legislation and extensive campaigning by the CRE, race equality councils, community organisations, trade unions and the Labour party, the practice of racism by individuals, employers and public authorities never stopped. It is time to give further powers to public authorities under race relations legislation to deal with any form of racism.

I welcome the Bill. It is a considerable improvement on the 1976 Act in several respects. I speak as someone who, as a community leader in Southall, was calling for improved race relations in 1976. I gave evidence as to what was needed to the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration in May 1973. Although we still need to improve outdated legislation, we live in a much more tolerant society than 25 years ago when the 1976 Act was introduced. It is important that new legislation reflect those changes.

The purpose of the Bill is to extend the 1976 Act to a wide range of the functions of public authorities that are not covered by it. I welcome the extension of the Act to all activities of the police and other bodies that involve direct discrimination or victimisation.

I was pleased that, while the Bill was in the House of Lords, the Government announced their decision to extend the indirect discrimination provisions to public service functions. An individual will thus be able to mount a challenge in the courts on those grounds. Ministers, officials, law enforcers and other office holders in public authorities listed in the measure will be subject to that provision.

I welcome especially clauses 1 and 2. Clause 1 introduces new section 19B, which declares unlawful discrimination by public authorities. Subsection (1) makes it unlawful for any public body or office holder to discriminate, in carrying out any of its functions, against another person. Clause 2 amends section 76 of the 1976 Act, which deals with public appointments. It will bring within the Act Crown appointments and those made by Departments and Ministers. At present, those posts are not protected under the employment provisions of the 1976 Act. Where Crown appointments are dependent on ministerial or departmental recommendations or approvals, the Bill provides that there must be no discrimination at any stage of the process.

In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, I am pleased that the Metropolitan police are showing a determined effort to cut out racism in their ranks. That will be greatly helped by the recruitment of ethnic minority policemen and women. I am keen to promote police work as a career for the ethnic minority in my constituency.

However, I am a realist. I know that attitudes do not change overnight and that legislative safeguards are necessary. In the long run, I hope that they will not have to be used in cases of racial discrimination—because there will be no such cases.

I welcome the Government's announcement that the Bill will also lay a positive duty on public authorities to promote racial equality. Its operation in practice and its enforcement will be decided after consultation. I am sure that, during the remaining stages of the Bill, the Government will listen carefully to the CRE's proposals for the operation, monitoring and enforcement of that duty, and that they will also take into account proposals made by other interest groups.

I agree with the view expressed by the CRE that the Bill could serve as a tool to expose how racial discrimination by one public authority could lead to discrimination by another. For example, the commission pointed out that, over several years, discriminatory allocation of council housing led to the concentration of ethnic minority tenants on certain sink estates. It would not be surprising to find that, as tenants on such estates, ethnic minority households were also discriminated against by public bodies providing other services, such as education, health or policing.

The Bill would enable such discrimination to be challenged, regardless of whether it occurs directly—on racial grounds—indirectly because of a bad address, or both.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the CRE several times. He obviously knows much about that organisation. Will he enlighten the House as to why it went through a stormy patch when the West Indians and Asians were at loggerheads? The matter was well reported by one of the commissioners, Mrs. Cluff. Does he think that that was a case of discrimination by one group against another, or not?

Mr. Khabra

The CRE was set up in 1976 to address the issue of racism in this country. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's party was not happy that an institution was established to fight racism.

It would not be surprising to find that public bodies providing services such as education, health or policing discriminated against ethnic minority tenants on estates such as I described. In my constituency, where the Tories were in control for 13 years, that happened on many council estates.

The Bill would enable such discrimination to be challenged. I agree with the CRE that a positive duty to promote racial equality would require all the relevant authorities to examine the outcome of their policies and practices and to identify and change those that are discriminatory. Labour Governments have always been at the forefront in combating racial discrimination. The Labour party, the trade unions and many other groups campaigned in that fight for many years despite the fact that the Conservative Government had no intention of introducing legislation to root out racism in this country.

The Labour Government introduced the Race Relations Acts of 1968 and 1976. I am proud to be an ethnic minority Labour MP when a Labour Government are introducing another vital piece of race legislation that will benefit not only many of my constituents, but all ethnic minorities throughout the UK. That is in contrast to the Tories, who in their rule did nothing to ensure that public bodies were subject to the full force of the 1976 Act despite the fact that they were in power for 18 years. They allowed unemployment among the ethnic minorities to grow steadily, which in turn left them feeling totally disillusioned with politics.

I have campaigned for inclusive politics all my political life and from long before I became a Member of Parliament. I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction towards that ultimate goal.

2.40 pm
Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra). He has long personal experience of the issues covered by the Bill, and I am sorry that his involvement in them has led him to be in continuing receipt of hate mail. That is extraordinarily unpleasant.

I shall touch on some things that the hon. Gentleman said in his speech with rather less agreement, but I am glad that the Government have introduced the Bill. However, my welcome for it would have been much more muted, if the Home Secretary had not announced his intention to table amendments to extend it to cover indirect discrimination in the public sector, which is not covered by the Race Relations Act 1976. As the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, have said, it must be wrong that the state, which should protect all its citizens, may discriminate unfairly on the basis of race when private organisations cannot. It has become plain that that anomaly must be removed if ethnic minorities are to feel confident that public institutions give them equal respect and value. I am sorry that that was not done sooner, not least by the Government of whom I was a member.

I return to the points made by the hon. Member for Southall and to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked of the Home Secretary. The anomaly was not removed earlier because it is assumed that Governments are always virtuous and look after everyone, so that the law is not needed. It is assumed that they have loftier purposes than private organisations and may sometimes need to discriminate to achieve these higher ends for everyone. It follows that Governments are such a complex mystery that disgruntled people may not discern their higher purpose or practical necessity and so bring a stream of vexatious actions that undermine or frustrate wise policy and good administration. There is something to be said for those views, and I shall return to the last point in due course. But they go a long way to explaining why the previous Government left matters as they were and why the present Government introduced the Bill in its present form and intended to extend the law to cover only direct discrimination in that part of the public sector not covered by the 1976 Act.

Despite the Macpherson recommendations, the Bill was initially prepared only to make direct discrimination by subordinates unlawful while it would have preserved the immunity of Ministers, senior decision makers and the policy-making process. I am glad that pressure from both sides in the other place caused the Government to think again, and I was happy to hear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald is prepared to be convinced, too.

We all know that the genesis of the Bill was the Macpherson inquiry into the police handling of the appallingly unhappy case of the Stephen Lawrence murder. I declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation as recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. I emphasise that I seek to advise the federation; I do not speak for it and I am not doing so in this debate, except perhaps to say that it has long made genuine and consistent efforts to create an environment in which black and Asian officers feel valued and at home in the police service. I am sure that its chairman, Fred Broughton, will appreciate the Home Secretary's kind and well justified reference to him.

I am sure that it would harm the police's interests if they continued to be outside the full range of the 1976 Act, especially if the rest of the public sector were brought within its scope. Suspicion, from which they already suffer, would continue to multiply without any satisfactory opportunity to put it to the test. Reform would continue to be ignored by a large swathe of public opinion and its effectiveness would be discounted if there were no access to the courts. But it is understandable that the police, like the other parts of the public sector now to be brought under the 1976 Act, should be apprehensive about how the extended law will work and how it will impinge on their operational effectiveness.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

My right hon. Friend is on to an important point. For example, the Kent police are involved in intelligence-led policing and one of the things that they do is keep a close record of the friends of villains. That is one way of extending their net of whom to finger. If institutional changes affect that form of policing, the police are in dire danger of being picked up on the day that they move against someone who happens to be innocent—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is too long.

Sir Peter Lloyd

I hope that my hon. Friend will have a chance to develop that point further. If he is suggesting that the extension of the provisions for indirect discrimination will make it harder for the police to gather and follow up evidence on the contacts of the individuals whom they know to be criminals, I do not think that it will have that effect.

Let us consider the example of stop and search, which has often been referred to, including by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. The fear has been expressed that the possibility of challenges in court will further reduce the police's ability or their confidence to use that necessary power. However, the evidence is that the power has been undermined already by criticism and complaint, and the police are now reported to be reluctant to use it even when they should. I am sure that the only practical remedy is for stop and search procedures to be clearly on all fours with the law, so that their robust and necessary execution stands up in court. The natural response is that that is easily said, but hard to achieve without making stop and search ineffectual. I understand that argument, but the law gives the police the power to stop and search when that is operationally justified. That is a similar point to the one that I made earlier in response to my hon. Friend.

When the powers are challenged, sensible decisions by the courts will give the police more confidence to use them effectively than in the present twilight world of misused statistics, media criticism and their own disciplinary proceedings carried out with an eye on what the newspapers will say. The same is true to a greater or lesser extent of the immigration service, the Prison Service and those who work in health and safety and other parts of the public sector. It is right that people who have been treated unfairly by any part of the public sector because of their race or colour should have a means of remedy. It is socially corrosive when they do not.

Both the complainant and the individual or organisation that is complained about will have to be able to rely on the court's ability to get to the heart of the issue and apply the law with common sense and proportion. The Bill's success will depend on the wisdom and insight demonstrated by the court. By success, I mean creating among every ethnic group the conviction that they are being treated fairly, without creating among officials the belief that they can no longer do their job effectively.

That is made more difficult by the fact, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald also referred, that Macpherson lighted on the phrase "institutional racism" to describe the underlying problem. Unfortunately, it has journalistic panache, and I cannot see any alternative phrase displacing it. Not many people would seriously argue with the report's definition of the phrase, on which the Home Secretary accurately and eloquently expanded in response to an intervention. However, I am afraid that most people do not listen to these debates or read the small print in reports. They absorb headlines, and the phrase, unexplained, powerfully suggests a deliberate, officially sanctioned policy of treating unfairly people from racial minorities. That is not fair to any part of the public sector—not the police, the immigration service or the Prison Service.

If that impression is allowed to continue, other public sector groups, as well as the police, will feel resentment and a sense of injustice at what they presume the public thinks them guilty of. The same process will also lead ethnic minorities and others to believe that their worst suspicions have been justified. We are in danger of finding ourselves in a confrontational situation in which both sides feel unjustly treated and in which it will be harder to achieve the positive attitudes necessary for rooting out the unfair assumptions and practices that are wittingly, or more often unwittingly, manifested in parts of the public sector.

As I said, the Government and their senior advisers are bound to have the added worry that making indirect discrimination in the public sector unlawful will open up official policy and procedures to interminable challenge that they discriminate in their effect on different ethnic groups. That fear is not as real as is often made out. Only 3 per cent. of cases in which the law presently applies are concerned with indirect discrimination, although I can well believe that the proportion will rise among cases in which the public sector is concerned. However, that need not become a matter of acute concern. After all, the law does not ban policies that have a disproportionate effect on different social groups if the policies are justified in their own terms and are applied in a manner that produces the least disproportionate effect possible.

The fears of the immigration service, particularly concerning asylum, which are shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald, were spelled out by the Minister in another place and mentioned by the Home Secretary. Those fears do not take into account the way in which the law is supposed to work. I have no doubt that the Bill will lead to changes in the way in which the public sector manages itself, but there is no reason why it should put well-founded, justifiable policies at risk. It will make the implementation of some of those policies fairer than it is now.

That happy state of affairs will not necessarily be arrived at easily or quickly. Public sector policies and practices are complex and varied. It is easy to see discrimination where none exists, and where it does exist, it is easy to mistake the cause and the remedy, particularly where indirect discrimination is alleged. The wisdom of the courts would be tested if, unaided, they had to resolve every such complaint. We badly need an expert body to investigate complaints of indirect discrimination that has the confidence of the complainants and the respect of the public sector organisations being complained about.

The Commission for Racial Equality was set up to fulfil that role, and it has performed a number of constructive investigations, including in the Ministry of Defence and the NHS. I know better its campaign to get racism out of football, in which it sought to work with football clubs and the football authorities, supporting them in a mostly successful effort to tackle a problem on which the clubs and authorities had not properly focused before.

That approach will be badly needed if the Bill is to work effectively. I am not at all sure whether the CRE is now well enough resourced or whether it has a sufficient range of skills, expertise and experience to do this much more demanding job in the public sector as thoroughly as it should be done.

Statistics showing disproportionality in some aspects of public policy do not prove discrimination, as so many people think. They may be a symptom that should be investigated, but they are not proof. There needs to be an independent body with knowledge of the public sector, capable of looking behind the figures and the complaints, to advise whether there is an issue to be addressed and, if there is, able to help the department concerned to address it so that there is seldom, if ever, any need to come to trial.

I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will be able to tell the House that the Government have thought very hard on that point, because much of the Bill's usefulness, especially the duty that it is placing on public sector organisations to promote racial equality, will, in large measure, depend on it.

2.57 pm
Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

Nobody should doubt the Bill's importance, although the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), said that she is convinced of its importance and then proceeded to make a speech in which it was not clear whether or not the Conservative party supports the Bill at all, in so far as it refers to indirect discrimination. I can only suggest to the right hon. Lady that a little time spent quietly with the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), whose enthusiasm for and commitment to this cause we all appreciate, might be very useful before the Bill goes into Committee.

Nobody should doubt, either, the significance of the Bill being introduced by a Labour Government who are going further than the recommendations of the Macpherson report. The Bill extends the Race Relations Act 1976 not only to the police but to the functions of all public authorities. The Government are right to have signalled their intention to extend the Bill to encompass indirect discrimination.

The Bill is not only needed by those who will be, because of the colour of their skin, protected by it, but it will be good for everyone who lives in Britain, whether black or white. For anyone who does not feel compelled by the Bill's purpose of furthering the cause of equal rights and opportunities, I quote what President Kennedy said in 1963: Who among us would be content to have the colour of his skin changed and stand in his place? Civil rights should be at the heart of any responsible Government. Discrimination, wherever it is found, is a curse. Hon. Members will know from my past in the House that I have always taken the view that wherever we find discrimination, we should root it out, because discrimination in whatever form it takes is abhorrent and repugnant. It is a weapon that enforces division, and there should be no compromise of basic principles.

I regret the fact that the shadow Home Secretary did not take the opportunity this afternoon to state her commitment to ensuring that discrimination will be rooted out not only as it relates to ethnic minorities, but in other facets of our society, such as in matters of gender or sexuality. That should mean that ours is a society in which there is no second-class citizenship for any British man or woman anywhere.

Although we can look back on the strides that we have made towards creating an equal and more just society, no hon. Member should fail to observe how much further we still have to go. There is a choice about the kind of nation we want to be and the direction in which we want to move. We can move in the direction of division, and we can tolerate that division. It is my view that we have tolerated division for far too long. We can also move in a direction which removes division—the direction of one nation.

The division with which we live—the division between white and black, whatever the degree of tolerance that some people would proffer—makes us, in truth, an intolerant society. That intolerance will be fed by fear and hatred, and hatred will breed violence and lawlessness.

The other choice, which is a harder route to pursue, is to live together as one nation—not a nation that subjugates the identity of a minority to that of a majority, but a nation that celebrates its diversity, in which men and women respect one another for their character, not for the colour of their skin. For that, we will need understanding, compassion, wisdom, justice and a sense of doing what is right.

There are still too many in this country and, regrettably, in the House whom we must seek to persuade if we are to change. Our culture must change. Although I shall not focus my remarks today on the issue of immigration, we should not let this moment pass without commenting on the shadow Home Secretary's proposal to bring back the primary purpose rule, which the Government rightly abolished.

It is a dreadful contradiction of the essential decency of this nation that a political party would consider introducing legislation which even the Conservative candidate for London mayor has described as "disgusting and immoral". That pernicious, divisive rule discriminated particularly against people trying to move to Britain from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Does the shadow Home Secretary believe that Britain is a better country for such racist discrimination?

Perhaps the House should not be surprised by the way in which some Tories will use discrimination for short-term political gain. The shadow Cabinet Office Minister recently said that immigration was an issue which … played particularly well in the tabloids, and has more potential to hurt. Such a view should be repugnant to any decent person. It should be condemned, not championed, by the Leader of the Opposition. It beggars belief that anyone could contemplate using the topic of immigration to hurt, or discrimination as a weapon to stir up prejudice and thereby secure votes; yet such prejudices lie deep within some in the Conservative party. That was one of the reasons why I left that party.

The Conservative party will whip its Members to keep discrimination in place on section 28, yet on a day like today it will signal to its Members that the debate is of so little importance that they can attend other business elsewhere. In other words, when discrimination can be used against people, there is a three-line Whip, but when it cannot, Conservatives Members can take the day off.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that that is an unfair point, given that we are not opposing the Second Reading of the Bill?

Mr. Woodward

Some Conservative Members may support the Bill, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, on section 28, for example, his party felt so strongly that it could not allow a vote of conscience. On an issue such as the Bill, it would send a strong signal to the country if the Conservative party had a three-line Whip—if its Members were present and if they were prepared to stand up and say that the Bill mattered. Belonging as they do to a party which for 18 years did nothing to implement the recommendations of the Commission for Racial Equality, perhaps it is not surprising that they are not so prepared.

In March last year, during the debate on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) told the House: 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.—[Official Report, 29 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 819.] What a great excuse for indifference.

Regrettably, the hon. Gentleman is not alone in his indifference. During 18 years of Conservative government, very little legislative progress was made towards better race relations. Twice the Commission for Racial Equality submitted reviews arguing that public bodies should be included in the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976, and twice that recommendation was rejected. Indifference reigned.

Tragically, it has taken the death of Stephen Lawrence and the inquiry into the police investigation following his death to achieve those demands, almost a quarter of a century later.

The House knows that the Conservative Government also refused to set up an inquiry into the police investigation after Stephen's death. That was, rightly, one of the first acts of the present Home Secretary in 1997.

The Bill will ensure that public bodies, the police and the Prison Service will fall within the scope of our laws to beat discrimination. The amendments to bring indirect indiscrimination within the compass of the Bill are crucial, as are those to promote racial equality. Fairness and equality before the law are the only decent course that we can follow, because discrimination is indecent, and the pursuit of decency is a moral quest.

Why has it taken Stephen Lawrence's death and so many other deaths, so many cases of discrimination, to achieve the Bill? Dante wrote: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality. What neutrality and what indifference we have seen—indifference not least from some members of the Opposition.

Only three months ago, on "Newsnight", the then shadow Chancellor, now charged by the Conservative party with responsibility for foreign affairs, said of the Bill: I think people listening to this will think that this will have very little to do with the concerns that they have. What an appalling statement. What an indictment of the role of leadership. Where is the essential decency in such an admission?

Does the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) think that the majority of decent people in Britain are not troubled by the death of Stephen Lawrence and the failure of the police investigation of that death, or about why and how the family was so badly treated afterwards; or about the family of Michael Menson, a young musician with mental health problems, who was stopped by three men in Edmonton outside a telephone box and turned into a human torch; or about Ricky Reel, who left home one day and did not come back, and whose body was found in a river; or about Errol and Jason McGowan, an uncle and nephew who were both found dead within months in highly suspicious circumstances?

Do those on the Conservative Front Bench think that people do not worry about such things? Do they subscribe to the view of the present shadow Foreign Secretary? What does it say if our most senior Opposition politicians will not take a leading role in raising the issue from neutrality and indifference to one of pressing need?

Would those politicians willingly change the colour of their skin? Would they be happy to settle for the barriers to opportunity that still confront the black man or woman in this country, or the same expectations of poor health? Would they exchange their lives for that of the Bangladeshi? There is a terrible culture of contentment, too easily seen among some people, even in the House.

As the hon. Member for Aldershot told the House last year, he regretted that some people 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. He told the House of his fears when he described the threat of indoctrination in our schools to make children "value cultural diversity".—[Official Report, 29 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 819.] His views are not unique; they are shared by noble Lords, such as Lord Tebbit, who fears that multiculturalism will divide our society.

The hon. Member for Aldershot is not alone even in this place. He justifies his views by saying that minorities represent only 6 per cent. of the population. His advice is that they need to be more understanding of us and our centuries-old culture. There we have it: them and us; black versus white; division at the heart of our society and our policy making. That is wrong, wrong, wrong.

How are we to achieve a better society if we accept that corrosive division? How will we improve confidence in our police—or, indeed, life for our police—if we ask them to be the ambassadors of that policy of division? Such divisiveness and the acceptance of the existence of two nations should not be tolerated. I am glad to say that it is not acceptable to the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who is determined to root out such attitudes, not only among the police, but among those who claim to support the police.

Yet some people still tolerate division and a society that is hostile and unequal, separated by a racial chasm. How can it be right for white Britain to continue to ask of its black citizens extra patience and perseverance that white people have never required of themselves?

Dr. Julian Lewis

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am a third generation descendant of an immigrant family. My family recognised that it was incumbent on us to adapt ourselves to some extent to the history and culture of the country to which we were coming. It is not unreasonable to ask that of people who have chosen to make their lives here.

Mr. Woodward

It is not unreasonable to ask anybody to adapt to a situation, but there is a difference between adapting and being forced to reject one's entire ethnic culture. The hon. Gentleman's comments lie behind many observations that Conservative Members make.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

During 18 years of Conservative Government, there were at least five people in the Cabinet whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents came to this country with almost nothing. Can we be sure that, in the next two or three generations, the same can be said of those who are black and Asian? That is the test.

Mr. Woodward

That is a perfectly fair point. However, I suspect that it will take a long time.

I ask hon. Members who speak of electoral mandates that have not been sought to create a multi-racial society to consider what the young black man or woman can still feel all too easily in Britain. Anyone listening to this afternoon's debate could be forgiven for believing that there is not much of a problem, that our discussion is an accessory debate that we do not need to hold. What do many black people feel when they watch television commercials that tell them that life is impossible without the latest product, but they have not got a financial prayer of buying it?

As Robert Kennedy once asked, what must these people's frustrations be? Young men and women, who desperately want to be part of our society, find themselves repeatedly excluded. What must they feel when they know that the chances are that they will receive only a second-rate education, that their children are four or five times more likely to be excluded from our schools, that they are unlikely to get a decent job and that they will be confronted by prejudice, direct and indirect?

Some who listen to this afternoon's debate may wonder why we are discussing the definition of institutionalised racism. The shadow Home Secretary clearly does not accept it. I remind the House of the words of the Macpherson report: The term institutional racism should be understood to refer to the way the institution or the organisation may systematically or repeatedly treat … people differentially because of their race. It is not about individuals but about the net effect of the system.

If we consider the net effect of the system in Britain today, a pretty damning picture is revealed. Seventy-five per cent. of ethnic minority people live in metropolitan areas. Too often, they are concentrated in the poorest and worst parts of those cities, and live in run-down and overcrowded housing conditions. They ow that they are more likely to suffer ill health.

How must it feel for young black people to know that they are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed? A black woman—I accept that I am using a general term—knows that her chances of being unemployed are three times greater than if she was white. How must it feel to know that one's pay will be low, that others will get the top jobs, that poor conditions will prevail at work, that one's family will be twice as likely to live below the poverty line?

We must always be conscious of the danger of banding groups together. Nearly 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. of Pakistanis or Bangladeshis live well below the poverty line. What does that tell those people about the opportunities that are available to them, and about their inclusion in—or exclusion from—our society?

What does our system of justice say?

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woodward

In a moment.

We all worry about being victims of crime. However, most crime is random and could happen to anyone. Racist crime is different. The victims know that they were chosen because of the colour of their skin. Black people take extra steps to make their homes secure; they often stay home at night. Victimisation is worse because it is often repeated. Often, it is deadly. As the hon. Member for Aldershot has often reminded the House, ethnic minorities may make up only 6 per cent. of the population, but their members constituted one in-.six of all homicides in the past three years. I give way.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to the hon. turncoat Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), but if the United Kingdom is so bleak after his new party has been in government for three years, why do so many people come to these islands from so many different parts of the world? They come here not because it might be a little better than Bangladesh, but because they have heard that Britain is a fair and prosperous country.

Mr. Woodward

The hon. Gentleman obviously feels self-satisfied when he makes such remarks, which only trivialise the debate. I shall not reply to the nonsense expressed by the hon. Gentleman. It does nothing to recommend his party, and nothing to recommend this country as a decent, civilised society.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woodward

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

While there seems little hope of having crime cleared up for many black people, the chances of black people being suspected as criminals are disproportionate. Black people may constitute only 6 per cent. of our society, but one in six of those stopped and searched are from ethnic minorities.

Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Aldershot, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis believes that that is a serious problem. In one of our recent conversations, I was pleased to note that he did not draw the crude conclusion of the shadow Home Secretary, that there is a simple causal link between the change of policy last year and the exponential rise in crime in the past 12 months.

We all accept that stop and search is a useful tool in the fight against crime, but stopping people simply because their skin is black should have no place in the criminal justice system. Searching people because their skin is black should have no place in the criminal justice system either. Stop and search should be based on facts, not prejudice. Yet the figures demonstrate why black people feel threatened and persecuted. The law should protect everyone; many black people feel that it does not protect them. As a society, we must never accept that police misconduct is an unavoidable price to pay for cracking down on crime. We should not have to choose between them.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the borough police commander in Kensington, who has developed effective intelligence-based policing in respect of stop and search? That has resulted in the number of stops and searches decreasing, the disparity between the number of black and white people who are stopped and searched narrowing and arrests increasing significantly. That proves that intelligence-based policing is progressive in terms of equality and effective as a crimefighting strategy.

Mr. Woodward

I congratulate the police in that area. That example, contrary to what the shadow Home Secretary seems to believe, is being pursued in other parts of the world. In America, for example, Boston community leaders have participated in such schemes. Crime is falling, trust in the police is rising—particularly in minority communities—and that pattern is being repeated in such places as Chicago, San Diego and Houston.

Like any other individuals, black people, like white people, will sometimes be genuine suspects, but that should not deny them the same rights and the same protection in police custody. There is surely no satisfactory explanation for why 29 per cent. of those who die in police custody are black when 6 per cent. of the population are black. It is deeply worrying to all hon. Members—or at least it should be—that only one of the 75 cases of the death of a black person in custody recorded by the Institute of Race Relations resulted in the prosecution of the police, and in only one case has the family of the deceased received compensation.

As Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities too often feel mistreated and, in the past, victimised by police, reports of deaths in police custody increase fear and mistrust, regardless of the cause. We need to understand ethnic minorities' lack of confidence in the investigation of those deaths. I say to the Home Secretary that surely it would be better to have a policy under which every death in police custody would be investigated by a completely independent tribunal. That would go a long way to restoring the confidence of ethnic minorities in our capital city and elsewhere in this country. They need to know how and why those deaths happened—racial bias, poor training or both?

There has to be a problem when such a body as the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported three years ago that it is noted with serious concern that among the victims of deaths in custody are a disproportionate number of members of minority groups. That police brutality appears to affect members of minority groups disproportionately. That allegations of police brutality and harassment are repeatedly not vigorously investigated. And perpetrators, once guilt is established, not appropriately punished. Based on the many inquiries into alleged police brutality, there can be no doubt that they do not provide reasonable explanations—whatever they are—for the numerous accounts of lax or hostile policing reported in the United Kingdom.

The Bill will rightly apply to the Prison Service. It is of course right in certain cases that people who commit crimes go to prison, but what does the knowledge that they are six times more likely to go to prison than a white person say to the young black man or woman? We need to understand more about why they end up in prison. It is simple to condemn them, but very difficult to understand and change the patterns.

The Bill will bring discrimination against ethnic minorities, when in prison, within the compass of civil rights. My goodness, it is needed in prison as much as elsewhere. In 1998, the Prison Service reported 218 incidents of racist violence and abuse in prison, and that from a prison population of almost 20,000 ethnic minority people. A Home Office study of 501 inmates across eight prisons found that more than half the black inmates interviewed had been victimised by staff on the basis of race. What is wrong with our system when the victims of racist attacks in prison do not have the confidence to report them to those who will do something about them? The Bill will go a long way to creating that culture in which those matters are rightly reported.

That is the picture not only for adults. What is true for the young man or woman is also true for the young black child. The House knows that I have been a trustee of Childline for many years. Last year, it produced an excellent study of racism and bullying. We found that black children are far more likely to be bullied at school and far more likely to be bullied persistently. The 1999 National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children report entitled "Protecting Children From Racism and Racial Abuse" concluded: Racism and racial bullying will be commonplace in the life of young people and ethnic minority children especially.

Mr. Rowe

Did the Childline inquiry establish the disturbing fact that bullying in Scottish schools is disproportionately against white English children? If so, can he comment on that, too?

Mr. Woodward

The comment to make on that is extremely simple: wherever bullying is found, it is a very bad thing. If the Conservative party had chosen to listen to the children's charities and talk to the professionals about section 28 and the reasons for its reforms before adopting its three-line Whip, it would have learned that homophobic bullying is a major problem in schools. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take an interest in bullying, I can only suggest that he contact some of those charities before casting his vote on the Local Government Bill.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woodward

I will not, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have time to make his own speech.

This generation and this Parliament did not create most of the conditions and circumstances with which British society lives today, but they have the opportunity and responsibility to deal with them. Millions of people— British people—with different-coloured skins all want to be part of that society and to share its opportunities. Britain is not a nation defined simply by its education system, its incomes, its geography or its borders. It is defined by its shared hopes and shared dreams and the principles and aspirations of all the people who live here and make up this country.

Multiculturalism does not have to be feared; we have to desire it. The question is not one of political mandates, but of doing what is decent and right. If we get that right, we can make one nation of two, but the enemies of that common purpose are not those who are black or even those who are white. They are prejudice, intolerance, fear and indifference. That is why we need the Bill. It may be small, but it has a huge moral question at its heart. We must ask whether it is right to continue to impose a lesser start in life on members of entire ethnic groups and to expect of one part of our country a degree of acceptance and resolution that we would never ask of someone who is white. Shall we be equals or shall we be divided?

Unlike the shadow Foreign Secretary, I think that British people know and care about what we are discussing today. They want an end to the violence and lawlessness. They do not think that discrimination is a good thing. They do not think that it should be tolerated. The vast majority of people in this country, white or black, want to live together harmoniously and with shared goals and hopes. They want justice, whether they be black or white, and the Bill is one more step towards that fairness, that justice and that equality.

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