HC Deb 09 March 2000 vol 345 cc1237-84
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Representation of the People Act 2000

Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (Amendment of Rules) Act 2000

3.29 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I begin by observing that the Queen works quickly—at least today she has, because we only finished consideration of the Representation of the People Act 2000 in the early hours of this morning. I am glad to know that she has been on the job today early on.

The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) made a very good speech, as he did last year, from the Tory Benches, on sexual orientation equality issues. He is clearly committed to the equality agenda and I congratulate him on what he said. I share much of his view; indeed, my hon. Friends and I always have. I must tell him, however, that I have never thought it right for someone who was elected under one set of colours to adopt another set of colours without the authority of the electorate. I think that a Member who dissents from the view of his or her party—[Interruption.] I have never believed that Members should cross the Floor without obtaining the view of the electorate. It is entirely honourable for those who feel that their party has left them, or they have left their party, to continue to sit as independents. [Interruption.] I am aware of many historical examples, but I am presenting my personal opinion clearly. I have never found it acceptable for Members to cross the Floor from any party to any party, and that includes my party. Whatever views a Member may hold, I think it is always right for that Member to ensure that the electorate also accept that he or she should be more at home in another party.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

Not for the moment.

As the hon. Member for Witney and others have said, the Bill is important. It is important because it touches on important issues mentioned by many speakers today. The right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) gained considerable experience of dealing with these matters when he was a Home Office Minister: I thank him for that service, which he performed extremely well. By telling us, quietly but none the less horrifically, that he continues to receive hate mail regularly, the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) reminded us that we are a long way from a tolerant and accepting society.

The Home Secretary himself made clear how important the Bill was to him. I have no doubt about the Government's commitment, and indeed the Home Secretary's personal commitment, to equality issues. I am relieved that, in relation to issues on which I thought the Government were inadequate and weak at the outset, they have been persuaded, and have been honest enough to say they have been persuaded. That means that the Bill will eventually be much stronger than it was originally.

For my constituents, and for those of many of us who represent multiracial communities, these are day-to-day issues. As the hon. Member for Witney said, they matter hugely to such communities. Twenty-five per cent. of my constituents are black or Asian. It is not just that many experience discrimination, and find—this was referred to earlier—that they have a greater chance of being excluded from school or doing less well there, or of being arrested or detained by the police, or of going to prison, or of being out of work. Nearly every week, people come to my surgery and tell me that they are being racially harassed, simply because of the colour of their skin.

As was graphically represented in a Benetton advertisement a couple of years ago, people are not born with a sense of difference; it is taught and it is caught, and if that happens it is because we as a society are doing something wrong. If we are doing something wrong, we need to put it right quickly, because every harassed individual, every attacked individual and every wrongly imprisoned individual means that society is not doing its job entirely successfully.

Only the other week, we saw another example of that locally. Black youngsters on their way home, for no reason other than the fact that they were black, were assaulted by older white males. That is not acceptable in any United Kingdom constituency: all possible action must be taken to deal with it, by us and others.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

I know that my hon. Friend represents an urban constituency. Is he aware of a report published by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux a year or two ago about racism in the south-west, subtitled "Why don't they go back to Birmingham"? For many people living in rural areas, where there are far fewer black faces, the experience of racism and racial attack can be worse than in urban areas, where there may be a larger concentration. In fact, the view in rural areas is often, "There are very few black people here, so it is not a problem"—but it is often a bigger problem.

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) had personal experience, of which the House is aware, of the invidious position in which members of small minority ethnic communities can find themselves in what are in any case small communities. I visit other constituencies that are much less multicultural than mine, and, when I spot just one or two black or Asian people going about their business, I reflect on how difficult life must often be for them and their families. Indeed, many people have testified to that.

We have had a Home Office-filled agenda this week. I do not know whether it is a record, but we have dealt with three Second Readings of major Home Office Bills in four days. On Monday we dealt with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, which was necessary and, at least in significant parts, good. On Tuesday we dealt with the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill, which was unnecessary and entirely bad. The encouraging thing about today's Bill is that I can tell the Government that we consider it necessary and entirely good, although it does not go far enough. The Government have accepted that, and have undertaken to go further. The Bill will get better, and we welcome the Government's commitment to improve it.

This Bill deals with two issues that are central to the way in which we run our society and our state. One is an issue that we have debated several times this week: what are the rights of the citizen relative to those of the state? The other, which we have not debated this week, is the question of the rights of one individual relative to those of another. The Bill is both a liberty Bill and an equality Bill, which is why we should be particularly careful to support it enthusiastically and ensure that we get it right.

We have come a long way. As has been pointed out, the Race Relations Act 1976, which was ground-breaking legislation, has in many respects stood the test of time, but it is not before time that we now seek to amend it. The life of a generation probably elapses between the act of legislation and the effect of that legislation fully filtering through to the society on whose behalf laws such as this are passed. What we do this year will probably not be entirely effective for 10 or 20 years. We must remember that legislation is only the beginning: it simply provides a backstop, or a framework. Of itself, it is not enough. To their credit, the Government have also promoted the Human Rights Act 1998, which will be implemented this year and which will be another helpful weapon in the armoury.

As the Home Secretary graciously did, I pay tribute to Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has been active in these matters since the 1970s, and who has contributed greatly to the winning of the argument for the Bill's extension and to persuading the Government of how much further we need to go. I also pay tribute to the Lawrence inquiry judge and to his assessors, who eventually produced a controversial but necessary statement—a statement that came from, in a sense, an unexpected quarter. When he was appointed, there was some question about whether Sir William Macpherson would produce proposals that would be seen to take up the concerns of minority communities, but he did, and the way in which the Government have accepted and adopted those proposals is also welcome.

Finally, I pay tribute to the Commission for Racial Equality, which, over the years, has persisted in putting its case effectively. Its outgoing chairman, Sir Herman Ouseley, continued to do that regularly and effectively. We should be grateful to the CRE as a body—it has become more effective over the years—and for all the ways in which it has helped us all. I wish its new chair every success, and hope that he follows in the footsteps of his predecessors.

One of the controversial issues is the extent to which the Bill will make the police feel uncomfortable as they change their practice. There is much good practice in the police. The inquiry's view that the police were institutionally racist should not be taken by police officers as a criticism of each or any of them individually. The report is clear about that. It expressly says in its conclusions that one should not confuse racism of individuals with a finding of institutional racism of the police force as a whole: we do not accept that it was universally the cause of the failure of this investigation, any more than we accept that a finding of institutional racism within the police service means that all police officers are racist … It is incumbent upon every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities. The perception is that we needed the jolt that was provided by the inquiry to move institutions on. Two days ago, I was at the Local Government Association fire conference in Southampton. A recent report has been published about the fire service, which needs to move fundamentally if it is to be no longer a racist service, but an equal opportunities service. Many organisations need that change. We need it here. This institution needs to become less racist. We are not a representative Parliament, and our parties are not representative.

For 25 years, local government has had a duty to tackle racial discrimination and to promote race equality. That has still not been achieved. The Local Government Association's report just last year said: Local government has a worse record than that of the economy as a whole for employing Black, Asian and other ethnic minority people. 25 per cent. of authorities do not have a written policy to provide services fairly to all sections of the community. 51 per cent. of local authorities do not monitor their workforce with respect to equal opportunities. Only 10 per cent. of authorities that monitor their staff have workforces that reflect the local Black, Asian or other ethnic minority population. Black, Asian and other ethnic minority people are under-represented in senior positions in the local government workforce. Only 3 per cent. of councillors are Black, Asian or other ethnic minority people … So even the part of government that has been working on the agenda for a quarter of a century has not yet achieved, or fully delivered. So much worse are we here, and so much more do we need to do. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about the way in which he has addressed those issues in the Home Office. Each Department of Government and each public authority needs to ask itself those questions.

In that context, may I say how welcome it is that the CRE and Operation Black Vote piloted an initiative involving me and several colleagues in the House taking part in a work-shadowing scheme, in which young black or Asian people from other walks of life work with us, as part of trying to build a new generation of people and a more reflective, representative Britain? If the young person who is working with me, Imran Ahmed, a 21-year-old of Pakistani origin, is the same as all his colleagues on the scheme, they have the potential to show how hugely society will benefit from much greater participation by people such as them.

We have at last had the concession from the Government that they will support an amendment to the Bill, so that the Bill's provisions cover not only direct discrimination but indirect discrimination. From our point of view—Lord Lester made the point clearly in the other place—that was always necessary. The legislation could never have been adequate if it did not oblige public authorities to act in a way that was neither directly nor indirectly discriminatory.

I have a question about that. I find it difficult to understand how the Government could have been advised that the Bill complied with the European convention on human rights—it is still on the Bill—when it did not include indirect discrimination. I do not understand how the advice can have led them to that conclusion. I should be grateful if Ministers explained how they started off in that direction, even though they have now been persuaded otherwise.

Because they are important, I want to mention the two definitional things that hon. Members have wanted to make clear in the debate. Indirect discrimination is not the same as unwitting or unintentional discrimination. It is something that people do not necessarily think about at all, but that has the indirect consequence of being discriminatory—for example, the way in which people recruit, advertise or involve people in another activity.

Likewise, institutional racism is not necessarily intended racism. The ideas are not linked. We have to be careful to distinguish them. I hope that, just as the Government have changed their view on that, we will soon receive full-hearted support from the Conservative Benches on the matter, which the Conservative shadow Home Secretary today appeared to withhold. We need individual change and institutional change. Both are needed soon.

On one issue, we need to think beyond the Bill. It could be done in Committee, but, if not, it should be done elsewhere—and soon. I do not argue that there should be separate organisations that specifically concentrate on gender equality issues—the Equal Opportunities Commission has done that—and race equality issues, but there is still a case for something that brings those together and allows common views to be expressed.

My colleagues and I have argued for a long time that some form of overarching equal opportunities commission that respects the different competences would be a good thing. It would serve us well if we as a society did something about that.

Linked to that, we need to go back to the issue of having an independent Police Complaints Authority. We need to work out how the different adjudicating authorities can come together, so that we do not have the CRE exercising certain functions and the PCA exercising others. The point was made earlier and I support it. There is quite a big issue here about how we achieve effective, speedy and patently clear adjudication on issues of racial inequality, racial injustice and racial prejudice, and other discrimination.

As important as any legislation is the process of education. If we do not educate better against discrimination, we are not dealing with the cause of much of the prejudice and the discrimination in our society.

My hon. Friends and I will happily support each and every one of the four major changes that the Government indicate they want to make to the Bill. We have argued for the changes in the other place. I hope that it is not least as a result of our efforts and those of Lord Lester and Lord Dholakia that they have been included: the indirect discrimination provision; the provision to allow for positive action; the provision to ensure that the immigration service is included—that does not mean that people cannot discriminate on the basis of nationality, but it does mean that they cannot discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, or practise other unreasonable discrimination—and the statutory duty to promote equality.

There is a duty on all of us personally, as well as collectively, to promote equality. We will do it only if we think about it all the time. That is why, if police officers have to stop and think before they arrest or search someone: "Am I sure that I am doing it because of the crime and not because of the person and the person's characteristics?" we will make progress. If all of us—all public servants—work in a society where we always ensure that we and others are not acting because of our innate, unacceptable prejudice, we will make progress. The Bill is progress, but it is the beginning of the next chapter, not the end.

3.49 pm
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. There have been some very good speeches, and I am sure that my speech will be entirely inadequate in comparison. I commend especially the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward). After hearing it, I am happy to accept him as my hon. Friend.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that racism is pernicious and evil. Racism distorts the life chances of individuals and of whole communities. It can, and does, lead to minorities living in fear. Worse, it leads to physical assaults and to death, as we have witnessed only too often in the United Kingdom.

Racism also, however, damages its perpetrators, locking them into a cage of hatred and twisted bitterness. However, that cage also locks them out—out of our multicultural society and world, with the opportunities on offer—by distorting their personalities and limiting their humanity. Racism, essentially, is a failure of both intelligence and humanity.

Racism is also a disaster for society. It actively promotes social disharmony. Racism, by freezing the opportunity available to some members of society, limits the possibilities of social development and progress.

The Race Relations Act 1976 was a giant step forward in protecting the rights of Britain's minorities, and in promoting the opportunities open to them. Britain can be proud of that Act and of the protection that it afforded minorities. Such protection does not exist for minorities elsewhere in Europe or in very many other parts of the world.

The 1976 Act itself was a consequence of something that is too easily dismissed—Britain's innate, genuine tolerance. The action that we took in 1976, before 1976 and after 1976—and the action that we shall take today—could succeed only by building on a spirit of good will and tolerance. Such tolerance exists in my city of Bradford, where people are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly making efforts to promote good race relations.

I also have every confidence in my police force, and in its efforts to build good race relations and to tackle racism. It would be a mistake if this debate were to go down the road—which it has not done so far—of attacking police. Police work in the most difficult circumstances and in the most awful situations. Quite often, the errors that they make in race relations occur as a consequence not of racism, but of a lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity. It is essential that, within any race relations programme, cultural sensitivity programmes should be made available to all our public servants, including police.

Playing the race card—shouting "racist" when it is not appropriate to do so—to avoid the consequences of one's own crimes or actions is as bad as institutional racism, direct racism or indirect racism. I hope that people who play the card will realise that, in doing so, they are doing a disservice to themselves and to their communities. We have all heard of the shepherd who cried wolf too often. False alarms detract from the progress on race relations that we are making generally.

I am not saying that we have tackled the problem of racism. Although we have made great progress, we have not tackled the problem. Racism is very real, it is a very real threat, and we have constantly to be vigilant in dealing with it. That is why I have always supported calls by the Commission for Racial Equality and other bodies for strengthening the 1976 Act, and why I wholeheartedly welcome the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill.

Race relations legislation is not about policing thoughts, but about changing behaviour. It is about putting down in statute the markers distinguishing between acceptable and entirely unacceptable behaviour. I welcome the Home Secretary's decision to heed the calls to include indirect discrimination within the Bill's ambit.

The Bill advances race relations legislation in several important spheres. It extends the provisions of the 1976 Act to cover a wide range of public authorities, including police, that currently are not covered by those provisions. The Bill also makes chief police officers vicariously liable for the acts of discrimination committed by their officers. It also imposes an enforceable, positive duty on public bodies to promote racial equality. That is an exremely important step.

I have a few questions to ask the Minister. Although some of the questions have already been asked by hon. Members, I should like to reinforce the points that they make. How do the Government plan to include indirect discrimination in the Bill? That issue has not been addressed. Although we have been told that an amendment to that effect will be tabled, we have not been told what it will provide.

What is the definition of public authorities? Which public authorities will be covered by the Bill? Although some authorities have been included in the schedule, what mechanism will be used to add other authorities to the schedule or to another list? Have the Government excluded the immigration and nationality directorate from the Bill's ambit?

Have Ministers given any thought to the important issue—which does not fall within the scope of this legislation—of religious discrimination, which is a growing concern among my constituents, especially my Muslim constituents, who perceive discrimination directed at them not because of their colour, but because of their religion?

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman—who, like me, is a member of the Home Affairs Committee—for giving way. Could he be more specific in describing the discrimination that he says that Muslims are suffering? I should be very interested to hear what he has to say about it.

Mr. Singh

Indeed I can. Currently, it is perfectly legal for an employer to put up a sign outside his factory gate or shop saying, "Muslims need not apply". It would be very difficult to do anything about that under the provisions of the 1976 Act. Muslims in my constituency believe that there is discrimination against them because of their religious identity. That perception comes from stories in the media demonstrating growing Islamophobia within society.

Mr. Howarth

May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his constituents should not perceive an anti-Muslim phobia in this country? The United Kingdom has, for example, a growing number of mosques. During the Gulf war, when I was doing television interviews, I had to go past the Saddam Hussein mosque, in Birmingham. No Muslim thought to cover up the mosque's "Saddam Hussein" sign, which was pretty offensive to those of us who felt that our troops were engaged in a fight against Saddam Hussein. I believe that there has been much tolerance towards Muslims in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Singh

There has been a lot of tolerance towards all minorities in this country for a long time, along with the intolerance of people with extreme racist views. One problem with religious discrimination is that, while people of the Jewish and Sikh faiths are protected by the 1976 Act because they are regarded as ethnic groups, Muslims, who are not an ethnic group because Islam is a universal religion, are not protected. Muslims want to know why they are not protected.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East)

My hon. Friend is talking about Islamophobia. The study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation demonstrated clearly for the first time with ample evidence that Islamophobia was emerging. More work needs to be done on that. Does my hon. Friend recall that study?

Mr. Singh

I do recall that study now that my hon. Friend has reminded me of it. I recommend it to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), my colleague on the Home Affairs Committee, because it will probably illuminate him far more than I can on the subject.

Sir Peter Lloyd

I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about notices in his constituency saying "No Muslims need apply". As such a notice would have a disproportionate effect on a particular ethnic group, I would have thought it quite likely that it would be possible to prosecute such employers. Has the hon. Gentleman thought of doing so? Has he advised those affected to seek such a prosecution?

Mr. Singh

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. The notice was in a neighbouring town, not in my constituency. What he suggests is feasible, but the fact remains that religion is not included in the 1976 Act, and yet two religious groups—Jews and Sikhs—are covered by virtue of their ethnic origin.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

My hon. Friend was talking about research on Islamophobia. He will be aware that the Government have commissioned Derby university to undertake some research on religious discrimination. An interim report has been published and we hope to publish a report later in the year.

Mr. Singh

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for those remarks.

The Bill is another giant step forward for race equality in this country. Discrimination exists and we have to tackle it. The Bill will tackle it by including public authorities. Some contributions to the debate about racism and ethnic minorities assume that all members of ethnic minorities are victims and all suffer from the same problems. That is not true. Many ethnic minority groups are succeeding. That is a tribute to our society. We need to look more specifically at the problems that particular ethnic minority groups face. We do nobody a service by lumping everybody together and asserting that ethnic minorities are all poor and disadvantaged. Many have moved forward in our society and are making huge contributions in industry, the economy, art, literature, television and, dare I say in the case of one or two of us, in politics.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been the subject of much criticism in recent weeks, not least concerning the case of General Pinocchio. However, he and his team deserve great credit for their real achievements on race equality. That needs to be put on record. That is not a sycophantic comment. Anyone who knows me well knows that I may be many things, some good and some bad, but I am not a sycophant. There have been some positive speeches from Conservative Members and I hate to bring a partisan tone to the debate, but I have to say that, while the Tories have reverted to extremist type by playing the race card over asylum and immigration once again, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has quietly and professionally made progress. He and his team abolished the discriminatory primary purpose rule that the Tories brought in and have threatened to bring in again.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has suggested that the Conservatives—were they ever to be re-elected—might consider reintroducing the primary purpose rule?

Mr. Singh

I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks. I heard about that today in the Chamber in a contribution by another hon. Friend. The world outside should know that and I hope that the message goes out from the Chamber. If the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on the Conservative Front Bench is willing to intervene and say that the story is not true, I should be happy to accept his word.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

To satisfy the eager anticipation of several Labour Members, I should make it clear that we shall look at a number of options on what to do about the problem of bogus marriages. I think that Ministers accept that there is a problem, just as we do. However, we have not committed ourselves to any particular policy or course of action that we might include in a future manifesto.

Mr. Singh

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that explanation. My constituents will read his remarks with care. They will worry that measures against bogus marriages may mean that genuine marriages will not be accepted if the Conservatives come to power again and that there is a real possibility of the primary purpose rule being reintroduced. It was discriminatory from the outset, as was proved in practice. It divided families—man from wife and mothers or fathers from children—for years.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being generous in giving way to me again. I remind him that the option of a new primary purpose rule, which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) wants to keep open, was described by the Conservative candidate for mayor of London as "enormously offensive", "disgusting" and "immoral". The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) seems to want to keep open the option of returning to such a policy.

Mr. Singh

In that case, I am not surprised that the Conservative candidate for mayor of London is rapidly distancing himself from his party. Perhaps he will shortly announce that he is standing as an independent.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has brought back the right of appeal on visitor's visas—a right that the Tories took away. He has introduced a criminal offence of racially aggravated violence, while the Tories turned a blind eye to racial harassment, racial assaults and racial killings on the streets of Britain. My right hon. Friend launched the Lawrence inquiry, which the Tories refused to do, because they did not care about the deaths of young black people on the streets of Britain.

With this Bill, the Home Secretary has launched a crusade against racism in public life, while the Tories pander to prejudice on the basis of emotions. The Home Secretary's and the Government's record on racism is one to be proud of. Labour's vision of a modern and fair Britain in which racism and discrimination have no part is one that I am happy to share and be proud of.

4.10 pm
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) felt obliged to conclude with a rather partisan coda that spoiled the effect of his speech. Until a few moments before he sat down, I thought that I would be able to say that I agreed with almost every word that he had said. So I shall draw a veil over what I thought was a rather ill-judged closing passage and focus on the larger part of his speech with which I agreed, in particular the proposition that he advanced that, not just on both sides of the House, but more importantly in all our constituencies, there is a broad-based commitment to openness, decency and the desire for a successful multi-racial society. He was right to say that. He was also right to say that it is our obligation to ensure that that commitment by our constituents is converted into law to provide an administrative framework that delivers the objective that the overwhelming majority of them share.

Anyone who knows anything about the political history of Britain over the past 30 years will recognise that, despite the decency to which the hon. Gentleman rightly referred, race relations is a sensitive subject. Because of that, I have always thought that it should be approached against the background of a clear statement of the principles on which we seek to construct our policy.

This afternoon, hon. Members on both sides of the House have sought to examine the pragmatic consequences of policy. Of course, as practical people we must do that, but if a policy is to be successful it must be firmly rooted in principle. I want to focus my remarks on the two principles that are firmly embedded in the Bill and that I wholly endorse. Because I endorse them, I am pleased to welcome the Bill.

The first principle should, in the modern world, be wholly unarguable. Indeed, both principles should be wholly unarguable, but the first should never have been controversial. It is that any law that imposes standards of behaviour on private citizens ought to apply equally to public authorities. If we stand for nothing else, surely to goodness we stand for the principle of freedom under law, and if that phrase means anything, it means that the law must apply to every section of the community and should not provide a let-out for the public sector from principles that legislators seek to apply to the private sector.

I regard that principle as the bedrock of good law. It is of course the polar opposite to another principle that we have endorsed in this Chamber in large parts in the past century—the principle of Crown immunity, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) accurately described as the principle that public officials do not need to be constrained by law because they are motivated by such high principles. He described that principle in language so flowery that it reduced it to the absurdity that it is. It is clearly wholly wrong.

Let me detain the House for a moment with an example that is way outside race relations, but illustrates the absurdity of Crown immunity in practice. When I was a health Minister, I discovered that the national health service, the nation's principal public health institution, was exempt from waste disposal regulations. As a result, in the disposal of clinical waste, the NHS was one of the major polluters of the environment in Britain. The law on waste disposal did not apply to the NHS as it was part of the public sector and therefore could claim Crown immunity. Exactly the same principle lay behind the Race Relations Act 1976, which sought to apply a framework of law to private citizens and corporations, but to exempt the public sector. The law is flawed in practice.

The second objection to Crown immunity is that it is not just wrong in practice and in the practical consequences that flow from it, but that it is fundamentally wrong in principle. Indeed, if the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) were here, the debate might inspire him to make the speech that many of us have heard him make about the consequences of the English revolution and the importance of the King and the Government working within a framework of law. We ought to be committed to the principle that the public sector and the private sector should live by the same legal framework, and to the extent that the Bill gives effect to that important principle, it is long overdue and most welcome.

I said that two principles lay behind the Bill. The first is the abolition of Crown immunity and the application to the public sector of the principles of law that have applied to the private sector for a generation.

The second principle used to be somewhat more controversial, at least in the tabloid press. I am pleased to say that it is now much less controversial, but in my view it was right all along. I am a strong supporter of the principle that the law should prevent discrimination on grounds of race, colour or creed. It is important to be clear about what we say on that subject.

It is sometimes said that the framework of race relations legislation is a manifestation of the nanny state. I cannot count the number of times that I have been told that we cannot change human nature. Of course that is true, but legislators can define acceptable standards of behaviour. I do not believe that it is acceptable behaviour in a civilised society to discriminate between one citizen and another on the ground that one citizen is Jewish and another is not, one citizen is Muslim and another is not or one citizen is Afro-Caribbean and another is not. I believe that action, not motivation, is the key. The hon. Member for Bradford, West was absolutely right about that. Queen Elizabeth I said: We do not seek a window on men's souls. It is not the motivation that matters, but the action, and race relations legislation seeks to confine the action within acceptable standards of public behaviour.

There should no longer be any doubt about the commitment of this House to a framework of law that outlaws discrimination between one citizen and another on grounds of race, religion or ethnicity.

Those are the two principles on which race relations should be built and they are embedded in the Bill. They are the reasons why I am strongly in favour of it, but I wish now to examine some of its detail, because one or two of its aspects and the history of its presentation leave me slightly uneasy. If we start from the point of view of principle, as I have sought to do, it is odd how cautious some of its text has turned out to be.

The proposed section 19B started off, as several hon. Members have pointed out, by outlawing direct discrimination in the public sector but would have continued to allow indirect discrimination. I am delighted that the Government have changed their mind, but I do not think that it is churlish to say that—given the principles that I have just expounded—there should never have been any doubt about it. It should have been axiomatic from the beginning.

The same caution that led the Government to exclude indirect discrimination from the Bill lies behind the trouble that the Home Secretary got into when he was called upon to define the public authorities to which the provisions of the Bill will apply. The Bill, as drafted, does not impose duties on public authorities. It merely requires them to obey the law that, as private citizens, all the rest of us have had to obey since 1976. I can understand that the Government would need a schedule containing a definition of public authorities if the Bill imposed a new duty on public authorities that will not apply to private individuals, but the Bill will simply extend the ban on discrimination that currently applies in the private sector to the public sector. However, the Government then seek to say that the principle applies only to the public authorities listed in new schedule Al. That prompts the obvious question—which public authorities are not included in that schedule and why? To put that point more emotively, which public authority believes that its capacity to deliver its objectives demands that it maintains the freedom to discriminate against the Jews? That is the effect of the Bill as it applies to any public authority that is not in the schedule.

The principle that the House should demand be applied is that anybody who wishes to be free to discriminate on grounds of ethnicity or race should have to justify that highly questionable proposition. One of the groups that seeks an exemption from the overall provisions of the Bill is Ministers in the exercise of their immigration and nationality law responsibilities. That is definitely a questionable proposition. I accept, of course, that those who deal with immigration law have to be able to discriminate on grounds of nationality, but it is difficult to understand in what circumstances they might wish to discriminate between one individual and another on the ground of ethnic origin.

The Home Secretary referred to the example of refugees from Kosovo. Surely the whole point about refugees from Kosovo is that it is their Government who discriminate on grounds of ethnicity: our immigration law should consider the risk that an individual would face outside this country. That is what we should use as the basis for discrimination, not ethnicity or racial background. When will a Minister need to be able to distinguish one application from another on grounds of ethnic or national origin? Why are Ministers preserving for themselves an exemption from the provisions of the Bill?

The new section 19D that will be written into the Race Relations Act 1976 states that the prosecution authorities should be free to decide not to prosecute on the grounds of racial discrimination. The justification for that offered in the explanatory notes is: This exemption will prevent it being possible for a claimant to use the Act to discover the reasons for a decision not to prosecute, preserving the role of the criminal courts as the sole forum for determining guilt. I understand the desirability of that, but—set against the principles that I outlined—it is a large derogation of principle to say that the race relations legislation should not apply to a prosecutor making a decision not to prosecute a citizen. That will put the prosecutor outside this key framework of law.

The questions that arise from the Bill for me are not connected with its principles, because every hon. Member should embrace them. My question to Ministers is why they have felt the need to be so cautious and to maintain for themselves potentially large derogations from those important issues of principle. I hope that when the Minister winds up or in Committee, he will be able to respond to those concerns and to demonstrate that the Government share—as I believe they do—a commitment to ensure that our race relations legislation is built on the two key principles that I started with. First, the same law must apply to the public and private sector, and secondly, for both public and private sector, discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity is no longer—and never has been—acceptable behaviour.

4.28 pm
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I especially welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) about the strength, vitality and importance of the ethnic minority communities in this country. People sometimes express surprise about the relative lack of ethnic minority communities in my constituency, but I would dispute that. People fail to understand the nature of English history if they do not recognise the great strengths that the waves of immigration have brought to the United Kingdom.

I also wish to contribute to the debate because in recent years, to my deep regret, the city of Lancaster has very publicly become associated with an appalling example of racist abuse and harassment. I know all about that problem and wish to ensure that we can move on to a positive future.

This is an excellent Bill and it should be welcomed wholeheartedly by every hon. Member. My speech will be the shortest this afternoon, because I do not want to say much about the Bill, except to welcome the restatement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of his intention to introduce an amendment to enshrine the principle that public bodies should have a positive duty to promote equality. That is a profoundly important proposal. If it is properly enforced, it should cement the profound and irreversible change that our society needs if it is to enjoy and gain from the welcome fact that we are a multicultural and multi-racial society.

I hope that the consultation on how the principle will be developed will give public bodies a positive power to intervene in race relations issues, and the certainty that they will be called to account if they do not use the powers properly.

I have held elected office for the past 13 years. I have dealt with issues, as a ward councillor, concerning people who remain my neighbours and who are my constituents and who became the victims of racial abuse and intolerance. In that situation, public bodies were almost powerless to intervene. I do not intend to rake over the coals of all that, because the new positive duty can help us move for the future and can help Lancaster city council build upon the progress. The test of the new power for public bodies will be whether Lancaster city council and other public bodies in the city are able to build on the progress and resolve the problems.

The most striking aspect of the Macpherson report was the clear definition that a racist incident is any incident perceived to be racist by the victim or by any other person. We must understand and appreciate how significant that is. We need to understand how racism is perceived by people on the receiving end. As a councillor, I worked with many people who were embroiled in a terrible dispute. I tried to understand why people held some of their attitudes, and tried to make them appreciate the significance of a thoughtless remark or careless gesture to the person on the receiving end.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I have been agreeing with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I am worried by the element of subjectivity that he has introduced with his point about how an incident is perceived. I am Jewish and, from time to time, people involve me in incidents that I do not like. It would not do the Jewish community any good at all if I always assumed that those people were motivated by anti-semitism. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think again about perception by the victim.

Mr. Dawson

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, as he helps me to take my argument further. Recently in Lancaster, a great friend and colleague of mine—the leader of the city council—became the victim of campaign of abuse and vilification. He is Jewish, and he takes his religion seriously. All of us in politics are there to be shot at and we must take the flak that follows unpopular decisions. However, that campaign was so concerted that the impact it had on that individual was probably disproportionate to the impact that it would have had on someone from a different racial background. I do not suggest in any way that the campaign was motivated by anti-semitism or racism, but I am trying to say that we should be more aware of the possible impact of our words.

If for thousands of years—and in the recent past especially—the history of one's race has been one of scapegoating and victimisation, someone's hurtful words might have an impact that was never intended by that person.

Dr. Kumar

Surely we should look at the victim's feelings about how he or she has been treated. The same situation used to apply in terms of domestic violence until the definition was changed. If a victim feels that an attack was racist or anti-semitic, we should look at their definition, and at whether the incidents are systematic and there is ample evidence. That would answer the point made by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Mr. Dawson

I agree with my hon. Friend that this is about appreciating the views of victims and understanding the impact of racist actions and abuse and thoughtless action.

I hope that the new power will be dynamic and creative and will encourage and enable councils such as my own to invest in communities and deal with the issues of racial equality, and with difficult situations. I hope that public authorities will support the proposal by holding events to celebrate different races and cultures. We must give local authorities a clear role in disseminating information and bringing communities together. That will help to build coalitions. So much of my work as a councillor was in trying to build coalitions of like-minded people, and to bring people together in understanding, tolerance and harmony. That is an essential part of what we need to do.

I hope that the new duty on public authorities can spread the message to all parts of the country—not just places such as Bermondsey, where 25 per cent. of the community comes from ethnic minorities. I hope that the message spreads to those communities that are under the illusion that they do not need to get involved in race relations issues because they have no significant ethnic minority communities. We must spread the message that one of the great advantages of this country is the fact that ours is a multi-racial and multicultural society.

4.40 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will accept that my Ulster Unionist party colleagues and other hon. Members from Northern Ireland are unable to attend this debate because the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is sitting elsewhere in the building to consider the Northern Ireland appropriation order. I trust that the House will understand if I leave once I have delivered my brief comments. However, I hope to return before the debate is wound up.

We welcome the Home Secretary's decision to include indirect discrimination in the race relations legislation. The Commission for Racial Equality has conducted three reviews of the Race Relations Act 1976 and, in light of the Macpherson report and the on-going debate in Parliament, it seems clear that change, via the legislation, is long overdue.

Given the findings of the Macpherson report, and the serious instances of institutional racial discrimination that it uncovered, it is paramount for the protection of ethnic minorities that the public sector become as accountable for its policies and practices as the private sector. To exclude areas of the public sector from the legislation—such as the police force, the Prison Service or the immigration service—and from the requirement to combat and pull out the roots of institutionalised racism would render the Bill fruitless.

At a time when the United Kingdom has never been more ethnically cosmopolitan, such an omission would serve only to alienate further those ethnic communities who often feel themselves pushed toward the periphery of society by institutionalised racism. Public bodies must be obliged to deal with this institutionalised problem. Ministers, their Departments and other statutory bodies must be held to account for both direct and indirect discrimination in their sectors. That will enable all communities to feel that they truly have equal opportunities, rights and respect, regardless of their race or religion, and to see structural prejudice and injustice as things of the past.

However, the Bill needs to define clearly not only what indirect discrimination means, and to whom it applies, but which groups are an ethnic minority or a religious minority. The present legislation falls short on such details. It leaves the United Kingdom's 1 million Muslims in limbo, because they are not a collective ethnic or national group and so are unprotected from unfair indirect discrimination. Religious minorities, like ethnic communities, must be protected from structural prejudice—as they are in Northern Ireland.

Clause 1(19)(c) of the Bill states: Section 19B does not make it unlawful for a relevant person to discriminate against another person on grounds of nationality or ethnic or national origin in carrying out immigration and nationality functions. For example, that enables immigration officers to rule in respect of individuals on grounds of ethno-national origin as well as nationality, as long as they are acting within the immigration or nationality laws, or the confines of ministerial orders. That leaves the door wide open for indirect and direct discrimination against ethnic communities, and against refugees who may be seeking humanitarian aid in this country.

The Commission for Racial Equality and the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities argue that that omission in the legislation leaves open the possibility of unchecked discrimination, by immigration officials, on the grounds of nationality or ethnic origin. The Ulster Unionist party endorses the CRE's proposal that the clause should be amended and that national, ethnic or religious origin should be considered only in cases of humanitarian concern.

The recent hijacking crisis at Stansted airport highlights the problem. It has emerged in the press that many of the Afghan passengers, who had just been held hostage for days on end, perceived that they were treated with contempt by immigration officials, who encouraged them not to seek asylum in Britain. Before being sent back to Afghanistan, many of those held hostage complained to their translators of intimidation and coercion by immigration officials keen to remove them from British soil. However, the correct balance must be found: the United Kingdom must not be seen by economic migrants as an easy opportunity for illegal entry.

Furthermore, clause 1(19)(d) excludes from challenge as unlawful discrimination acts leading up to a decision not to institute criminal proceedings against suspected criminals. In other words, acts taking place between the police response to a suspected crime and the decision not to prosecute are excluded. The CRE has rightly pointed out that the provision inhibits the ability of individuals to appeal against direct or indirect discrimination by the police or Crown Prosecution Service after they have been arrested.

That brings us to address the growing need for a statutory duty to promote racial equality, as we have had in Northern Ireland since the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The significance of a positive legal duty is that it will oblige public authorities to act to prevent discrimination before it happens. That is much better than using the law for redress, as it will pre-empt discrimination and nip it in the bud, while at the same time saving huge sums of taxpayers' money.

In Northern Ireland, a number of racial discrimination cases are pending, whereas before the 1998 Act there were none. We hope to see the number fall in coming years as the statutory order takes effect and institutionalises equality of opportunity across Northern Ireland's communities.

We in Northern Ireland have welcomed all those who have chosen to settle with us and who have enriched our society. Many nationalities are represented—for example, Chinese, Pakistani and Indian—as are people from the Irish traveller communities. Together, they constitute about 1.5 per cent. of the total population.

Although these communities are small by comparison with ethnic minorities in other parts of the United Kingdom, the problems that they encounter are the same, and their struggle against direct and indirect discrimination in this country is just as difficult. The Ulster Unionist party fully supports and endorses their appeals for such structural discrimination to be firmly dealt with in this Bill.

Northern Ireland's ethnic communities are represented by bodies such as the Chinese Welfare Association and the Indian Community Association. The leaders of those bodies, and NICEM executive director Mr. Patric Yu, have described the difficulties of indirect discrimination that ethnic minorities face in many public sector areas, especially with regard to immigration control and employment opportunities.

However, we are aware of the Home Secretary's fears that the Bill will prevent the police from doing their job properly and that they will be hampered in tackling crime in areas where there are large ethnic minorities. We are well aware of the difficult and delicate work that the police have to undertake, and the problems that that might provoke in police stop-and-search operations, for example. We, however, believe that once institutional racism is eradicated from private and public bodies, people from ethnic minorities will feel more comfortable joining public services such as the police, and will respond positively to any such structural change.

As for the argument that the Bill will introduce an atmosphere of racial tension that does not already exist, we believe that, on the contrary, it will simply deal with the existing problem. The ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland have no means of redress against claims of racism. The bodies that are facing claims from individuals within ethnic minority communities in Northern Ireland are having to reassess their policies and attitudes from the top down. The Home Secretary should learn from this example, and bring the legislation up to date.

Furthermore, with regard to the Government's concern that fresh new policies face delay and disruption from challenges of indirect discrimination, we believe that the solution is for the Departments to get it right first time. Institutionalised anti-discrimination should become a thing of the future, as it is in Northern Ireland, and institutionalised racism a thing of the past.

4.50 pm
Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. I welcome the fact that the Government have the opportunity, after all those wasted years since the late-1970s, to widen the scope of the race relations legislation.

It seems extraordinary that in 1976 Parliament thought that it was not necessary to extend the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976 to public bodies. In a way, that was understandable, if we consider the context in which racism existed at that time. It was very well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), who said that there were many occasions on which he would go into a pub and be refused service. He would be asked to leave and subjected to the most appalling abusive language, simply because of the colour of his skin.

At that time, it was not unusual for boarding houses to have in their window signs saying, "No blacks, Irish or dogs". I suppose that it is hardly surprising that the scope of the legislation did not go quite as far as we would have liked. The problem was so pervasive, and incited people to hatred.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) referred in his thoughtful speech to the Tory party's indifference to this issue when it was in Government from 1979 to 1997. When Norman Tebbit was a Minister, he came to the House and said that he would present the report of the Commission for Racial Equality to Parliament in the way a head waiter would serve a bottle of coca-cola. That probably says it all.

Furthermore, I find it extraordinary that the present Conservative party has had more to say about General Pinochet than about Stephen Lawrence.

Fiona Mactaggart

My hon. Friend mentioned the indifference of the Conservative party. I listened with care to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) and I agreed with his point about discrimination on grounds of ethnicity as well as nationality in immigration cases. However, does my hon. Friend recall that the previous Government, whom the hon. Gentleman supported, introduced a provision whereby British women were separated into two classes? Those who were born here could have their husbands join them here, while those who were not born here could not.

Jean Corston

I do indeed recall that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing it to my attention. Should my daughter, who was born in east Africa, have decided to marry someone from another country, she could well have fallen foul of that provision.

The atmosphere of that time—the advertisements that appeared in windows and on pub doors, the way in which jobs were advertised by word of mouth—shows that direct discrimination can be quite easily categorised and dealt with, although it takes a very long time to achieve success.

The Labour Government of the time took careful note of the United States legislation on discrimination and decided to import into their sex discrimination and race relations legislation the notion of indirect discrimination. That of course covers an organisation or person who applies a condition that is objectively non-discriminatory, but is discriminatory in effect, as in a sign saying, "No blacks, no Irish, no dogs".

Let me give an example, although it has nothing to do with race. When I was a child, it was not possible to be a police officer unless one was 5 foot 6 inches tall. That excluded many women. I do not say that the police necessarily intended to exclude women; it had probably crossed no one's mind that women would ever want to join in large numbers. That requirement has gone, because the police have recognised that it was indirectly discriminatory.

The impetus behind the Bill is the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the shabby, shameful and inadequate way with which it was dealt. Opposition Members and spokespeople clearly find the idea of institutionalised racism difficult. I do not allege that any Conservative Member of Parliament is sexist, or that any one of them would say or think it was inappropriate for women representatives to sit on the Conservative Benches. However, the effect of the way in which the Conservative party works is that few women can reach the House as Conservative Members. That is institutionalised sexism.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The hon. Lady must understand that the selection of Conservative candidates is entirely in the hands of the party. We do not have the kind of apparatchik arrangements of the Labour party. Often, selection committees are made up largely of ladies. If they choose men rather than ladies as their candidates—and a lot of excellent ladies are coming forward—that is their choice. One hopes that the hon. Lady understands that we allow choice.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman are taking us a long way from race relations.

Jean Corston

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) makes my point for me. The Labour party had to deal at local level with the way in which party members selected men as prospective Members of Parliament.

I am pleased by one of the Bill's most important provisions—the positive duty to promote equality. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for that. Contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the impetus behind that provision was not provided only by a few Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. I chair the parliamentary Labour party's civil liberties group, which the Home Secretary told about the Bill last autumn, saying that it would include direct discrimination, of course, and that it might include indirect discrimination. He added, though, that there were limits to that approach, and that the Bill might also have to include a positive duty to promote equality. The idea came from the Home Secretary himself, in conversations with many people as the Bill was prepared.

Existing race relations legislation operates on the provision of goods and services and in employment. As a lawyer who practised in discrimination cases, I can say that the effect of the law and its ambit are almost certainly confined to employment—how people are treated at work. If we had had just direct and indirect discrimination, and left it at that, what on earth would it have done for someone like Mrs. Lawrence? She was not employed by the Metropolitan police; she had no direct employment relationship with the force at all. Suppose she had tried, under the provisions of the Race Relations Act, or even of this Bill in the absence of the positive duty, to go to a public body such as the Commission for Racial Equality and say, "Well, the police were very nice to my neighbour when her cat was stuck in the tree, but they did not treat me very well when my son was murdered." She would not have got very far, because there was no relationship between her and the Metropolitan police, either in relation to the provision of goods and services or in relation to employment.

That is why a positive duty to promote equality is so important—not only for the police but for all public bodies. The job of such bodies is to deal with members of the public; they must clearly be seen to apply equality provisions.

Racism and the failure to promote racial equality go far beyond the ambit of the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney referred to the prison service. In 1996, my hon. Friend the Paymaster General and I visited Dartmoor prison to speak to black constituents who had alleged that they were not being treated well. I also wanted to speak to staff about the death in custody of my constituent Dennis Stevens. On the wall of Dartmoor prison was a finely worded Home Office statement about anti-racism—such as may be found in many prisons. I asked the governor of the prison whose duty it was to enforce that statement. He said, "No one has ever asked me that, and I have never thought about it." With respect to the governor, I thought that it was his duty. The provisions of the Bill will ensure that public bodies take to heart the purpose of the duty to promote equality.

I point out to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench that we need to know how that duty will operate; organisations need to establish appropriate mechanisms. Some are doing marvellous work. As I have mentioned in other debates, at the Trinity road police station in my constituency, the central police district has produced an excellent booklet entitled "Faces of Britain". It provides guidance for police officers on how they should treat members of different ethnic communities. It gives details of religious and social customs and beliefs. It sets out how officers should behave when they enter the homes of people from those communities. It is a splendid example of the way in which police officers can carry out their duties in a multicultural society so that everyone feels respected and equal.

Racism is still pervasive. My hon. Friend the Member for Southall said that he still receives hate mail—so do I. In Bristol, I have readily identified myself as someone who is utterly opposed to racism. It is not unusual for me to receive letters threatening me with nasty and permanent injury because of the stance I have taken.

Such letters are frequently unsigned. I could imagine the tone of voice in one letter that I received—it was clearly from a man. He said, "I fought in the second world war for this country. You keep speaking up for these other people." The King's African Rifles fought in the war, but they were not threatened as I was at the time as a child growing up in Hull. There were no racial boundaries when it came to the support of our cause in the second world war. Even if there had been, they would be irrelevant to the way in which we run modern society.

When I was small, one of my aunts went to see "South Pacific" while she was on honeymoon. She came back, full of that marvellous musical and especially keen on one song, which I learned. However, it was many years before I realised that "South Pacific" was about racism—at the time, it was just a musical with nice songs. The song that she liked so much is particularly instructive. I use it sometimes when talking to children about racism. It goes:

  • You've got to be taught to be afraid
  • Of people whose eyes are oddly made
  • And people whose skin is a different shade.
  • You've got to be carefully taught.
  • You've got to be taught, before it's too late,
  • Before you are six, or seven or eight,
  • To hate all the people your relatives hate.
  • You've got to be carefully taught.
That sums up pretty well the seeds of racism. If schools say, as they do routinely day after day, that children should be brought up to value and respect each other and to treat each other as equals and if we say that that should happen in Parliament and at work, we shall succeed only if everyone, whatever they do, recognises that they have an equal place.

5.5 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I apologise to the House because I had to leave the Chamber earlier. I have two constituency engagements tonight, and I hope that the House will not regard my action as discourteous because no discourtesy is intended. I have been here since 1.15 pm, as the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) will know.

I was interested in what the Home Secretary said at the beginning of his speech. He ascribed good relations in this country since 1976 to the Race Relations Act 1976, which was passed not by a Labour Government, but more specifically by Parliament.

Jean Corston


Mr. Howarth

The 1976 Act was passed by Parliament.

The Home Secretary was wrong to ascribe the success—I think that it has been a success—of the assimilation in this country of a large number of people from many countries around the world and different cultures to an Act of Parliament. We cannot change minds merely by changing the law. We cannot enforce a change of character or a change of view in that way.

The real tribute should be paid to the British people. They have been remarkable in the way that they have adjusted to the changes that have taken place rapidly in some parts of the country. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will know very well what I mean, as will the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), who I am sorry is not present at the moment. At least 50 per cent. of the people in his constituency have origins in the Indian subcontinent. We should pay tribute to the people of Southall. They do not live in grand country houses at the end of long drives surrounded by parkland. They live in terraced houses, cheek by jowl with their neighbours and they—and not the landed gentry—have borne the brunt of the changes in society.

That brings me on to the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), who made a particularly nauseating speech. I warn the House that I recognise that my speech will be rather different in tenor from those that have been made before. I do not apologise for that, because this is the place where we should be able to express our views. I recognise that it is a sensitive subject and I will endeavour to talk about it without inflaming emotions and passions in the House. However, I feel strongly about it, and just as strongly as other hon. Members, albeit in a slightly different way.

As I said, I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Witney was nauseating, in part because he was in charge of the Conservative party's whole campaigning operation. When did he advise Conservative Ministers that they should adopt a different policy on this issue? Where are the letters to suggest that he did? I suspect that they do not exist. He campaigned vigorously for the Conservative party, attacked this Government and then, overnight, switched sides and suddenly found that everything that the Conservatives had done was nauseating and anathema even though he had stood at the last election on the Conservative party's manifesto, much of which he had helped to draft. That smacks to me of gross hypocrisy.

The hon. Gentleman also referred frequently to decency in his speech, which, I thought betrayed his obsession with other areas of discrimination that are not the subject of the debate. I should have thought that he was obsessed with the promotion of indecency rather than that of decency.

Mr. Woodward

On a point of clarification, I had no hand in drafting the 1997 Conservative party election manifesto. I was involved in drafting the 1992 manifesto, and the then Conservative party chairman, Christopher Patten, and I shared with the then leader of the party an absolute abhorrence for any form of discrimination. As a matter of record, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), would very much want to distance himself from the kind of racist observations that I fear may be lurking behind the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman can throw insults at me, if he likes, because frankly they are just water off a duck's back. If he distanced himself from the 1997 manifesto, he had had five years in which he could have told Ministers to take what he thought of as a more robust attitude towards this issue. Suddenly he is sitting on the Government Benches and declaring himself hostile to everything that we stand for, but he kept remarkably silent until he had got his safe seat under his belt.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Don-ell), who explained why he could not stay, is no longer in his place. I oppose the Bill, but he made a point of principle when he said that there is a case for applying to the public sector that which is applied to the private sector, and a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends would agree that that is right in principle. However, my right hon. Friend gave me an opportunity to get myself off that hook by saying that he was nevertheless a pragmatic man, and I think that the Bill has something to do with pragmatism.

I am pleased to share my duties on the Home Affairs Committee with the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh). He is an excellent member of that Committee. We may have our differences, but we get on well together. He made the fair point that ethnic minorities in this country are doing very well, and he was keen to paint a balanced picture.

Since the hon. Gentleman spoke, I have discovered information from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Exeter university which shows that the richest ethnic group is not native Brits—whites, if one likes—but Chinese. In terms of family wealth, native Britons come third after Chinese and Indians. The idea that ethnic minority communities are all in the lower wage bands and among the poorest is not borne out by the facts. I found also a statistic showing that black women earn on average more than white women, at £6.10 an hour to £5.19 an hour. I am told that the figures came from The Guardian, so Labour Members will know that they must be true.

I want to make three key points, and I do not want to detain the House, although I suspect that my contribution will be rather different from the others, so I hope that the House will be indulgent towards me. The Bill clearly has its origins in the Macpherson report, and as I said in the debate on the report a year ago, I regard it as intellectually shoddy and devoid of logic. I advanced that argument because Sir William Macpherson's examination of the behaviour of each and every policeman responsible for the investigation of the awful, tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence revealed that none would have acted in a different way if the victim of that murder had been a white boy.

The only person who was singled out for any criticism was Detective Inspector Bullock, and that was because he was insensitive in referring to Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks as "those two coloured lads". Poor Detective Inspector Bullock was unaware that to use the word "coloured" was a sign of insensitivity.

Having established that there was not a single case in which a single police man or police woman involved in the investigation of that murder had acted in a way that was racist, the committee under Sir William was driven to the conclusion that it would have to find something else, so it came up with the idea of institutional racism. That is a cop-out.

The report and the reaction to it have been severely damaging to police morale throughout the country, but especially among officers of the Metropolitan police force. Officers at all levels, from the top all the way down to those with whom some of us in the House come into contact, feel anger, bewilderment and a sense of having been beaten senseless by the criticism. They see their senior officers beating their breasts and saying "Mea culpa—it is all our fault and we must change", yet the report on which we are invited to base a change in the law could not find that a single police officer had acted dishonourably, save for the one example that I gave, which I do not consider a very serious example.

Fiona Mactaggart

I rise mainly to challenge the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints of the police response. Not long ago I attended a meeting of police of all ranks, members of the Thames Valley police in Slough. At the meeting they considered how they should respond to the Macpherson report, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they found it enhancing and empowering. In my constituency people of all races live together side by side, benefiting from that. The Macpherson report has given my local police force a route map showing how they can improve the quality of their service to the community, and they are pleased to have it.

Mr. Howarth

Of course the police would say that; they cannot say anything else. I at least have the privilege of representing a constituency and having a voice in the House, where I can articulate my views. If a common or garden copper expressed such views, he would be at serious risk of impairing his promotion prospects or possibly of being dismissed from the service. I shall deal in a moment with a man who has been dismissed from the service.

Reference has been made to stop and search. A year ago, in the aftermath of the report, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis told us that in Tottenham, stop and search fell by 48 per cent. and crime went up by 25 per cent.

I make no apology for quoting again the remarks that I quoted a year ago, made by the chairman of the Police Federation in Hampshire, who said: Law-abiding ethnic communities have never caused problems for the police service, and indeed in Hampshire we have always enjoyed good relations with community leaders … The main concern is in dealing with criminals who just happen to be black or Asian. It is this element which I fear will attempt to capitalise on a well-intentioned report and try to use it to their advantage. The phrase "You have only stopped me because I am black" in light of this report will understandably cause officers concern. It will be exploited by that criminal element who attempt to hide their criminality behind their colour and attempt to thwart proactive policing by falsely alleging persecution on the basis of race rather than the truth. I believe that police officers will be intimidated into being soft on stop and search. The Home Secretary's argument that the Bill will not make the individual police officer liable, but will make the top man vicariously liable does not meet my objections. If a police officer is referred to his superior officer as the subject of a complaint, and the chief police officer is vicariously liable, and if there is a growing list of complaints against a particular officer, of course he will be hauled up before his boss and have questions asked about him. [HON. MEMBERS: "So he should."] If so, the police officer will hold back from enforcing the law equally and impartially for fear of being accused of racism.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, referred to a report that was conducted by Dr. Marian Fitzgerald and commissioned by the Metropolitan police. It found that there was support for stop and search among black youths. I hope that the police are encouraged by that. It was striking that those who had been searched were no less inclined to say that the power was necessary. A black school boy commented that police need to be able to do their job properly and as part of their job they have to stop and search people. I take some encouragement from that. However, the police are nervous about enforcing the law. Far from improving matters, the Bill will make them worse.

Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

I shall not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I do not intend any discourtesy, but I have already spoken for 14 minutes and I do not want to speak for too long.

Let us consider the case of PC Steven Hutt, which was the subject of a big article in The Daily Telegraph the Saturday before last. He was dismissed from the police service because, in a lapse of self-discipline, which he acknowledges, he said to a lad who had been arrested: Sit down, you black bastard. I quote it so that I am not accused of holding back from what the chap said. He knows that what he said was wrong; all hon. Members know that it was wrong. However, it seems wrong for a man of unblemished record and 19 years of service to be drummed out of the police service after he had been provoked by a youth.

The black mother of the youth believes that the sentence is disproportionate, as does the Police Federation. PC Hutt is being made a scapegoat for the Government's policy of trying to instil a rather crude form of political correctness in our police force. The article states: Mr. Hutt has another champion. Jerry—he would not give a surname—is a bouncer at a Fulham pub. The two men became friendly through Mr. Hutt's anti-hooliganism duties. I know all about racism. I have been stabbed for being black, and my personal belief is that everyone is racist to a certain extent," said Jerry, 34. "I am not saying that we are best buddies, but Steve and I are mates and he's a good guy. The country is screaming out for good policemen like him and a severe reprimand would have been enough. But we're talking politics. The Government are playing politics with our police service, and a wholly disproportionate penalty has been given to a man who is widely acknowledged in both communities as an extremely successful policeman. We are considering political correctness gone mad. It is unforgivable to expect police officers to keep up with all the twists and turns of what language offends specific minorities.

I thank the hon. Member for Witney, who did me one service. He saved me from having to repeat some of the points that I made a year ago by quoting extensively from my speech. I hope that he will be pleased to know that I stand by every word, and shall continue to do so.

The Bill springs from an ideological desire for every institution to be a microcosm of society. It will damage the effectiveness of policing in this country. We expect our armed services to defend our country and not act as a crucible for social experimentation. The job of the police is not to act as a microcosm or reflection of society. It is the police service's job to enforce the law, and the job of our armed forces to fight for this country.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

Although the hon. Lady shares a birthday with me, and her father was a great man, I shall not give way to her.

My real fear is that the Bill will be a licence to anyone subjected to stop and search or any other intervention by the police to complain that they have been picked on—discriminated against—because of the colour of their skin. That will result in a tidal wave of complaints. The Home Secretary made it clear that he differentiates between such complaints and charges that the police may level against the individual concerned, but we shall nevertheless find our courts clogged up with a whole load of cases because complainants will not have much to lose. He is living in cloud cuckoo land if he is not prepared to acknowledge that. If the Bill becomes law, it will provide complainants with the means by which to accuse the police of having acted in a racist fashion.

The Bill will have an adverse effect on police morale and recruitment. I do not have the figures for Hendon, but I hope that the Minister will tell us how recruiting is going. I understand that not many recruits are coming forward—certainly not enough to meet the 1,000 shortfall in Metropolitan police numbers in London.

The Macpherson report made one interesting comment with which I agree. On page 316, it says: We must at the same time warn some of those who are most vociferous in their condemnation of police officers that they should guard against their own racism. Not only during our Inquiry but in general there is readiness without justification to assume and to say that because police officers are white they must be acting to the disadvantage of minority ethnic communities. Racist prejudice and stereotyping can work and be evident both ways. Not one Labour Member acknowledged that to be the case.

Mr. Stephen Twigg

It is self-evident.

Mr. Howarth

It is not self-evident, because racism is always perceived to be one way. Before I refer to remarks made by Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, I want to point out that, as well as a flood of claims, a serious cost to the Exchequer will arise from the proposals. The explanatory notes, which the Government have kindly provided, set out a whole series of costs on page 13. There are likely to be additional costs to public authorities in relation to defending cases, settling cases, and paying damages if they lose cases. We can say that again. They continue: It is impossible to calculate what the overall financial effects of the Bill will be for those authorities specified in the Bill. Furthermore, they say: Additional public expenditure on the legal aid budget is also likely to arise from the new provision introduced in clause 1 … In addition, there are likely to be significant costs to the legal aid budget arising from cases starting in the Immigration Appellate Authority … Enormous costs will arise from the Bill—not only financial, but costs in terms of police morale, good race relations and effective policing.

I am not only against the Bill. Personally, I should like all the race relations legislation to be removed from the statute book. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] Hon. Members may say that, but I do not believe that it serves any useful effect, save to stir up trouble. By and large, I believe in a less regulated society. I certainly oppose the measure and I should have been happier if the race relations legislation—

Mr. Woodward

Now we know.

Mr. Howarth

If the hon. Gentleman does not know that he is obviously not very well informed.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman presents himself as a defender of the police, but I suspect that the vast majority of officers—good and decent people who work for us—would be appalled by his views on the race relations legislation. I want to place it on record that I think that they would dissociate themselves from his position.

Mr. Howarth

The Minister is frightfully excited about that. I dare say that some policemen disagree with me, but others may agree. We live in a free society and I am expressing a view. I cannot see anything outrageous in suggesting that we should remove a degree of regulation.

Let me finish by quoting the views of Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality—an organisation that has itself been riven by internal feuding between the West Indian and Asian communities. That organisation, which claims to be able to represent the interests of good race relations, was consumed by such problems for months, if not years.

According to Melanie Philips, in an article in The Sunday Times in December 1998, Sir Herman rejected the validity of a common culture, adding that black children needed to be taught black culture. Melanie Philips believes that this approach spelled disaster for black children in Britain. Without access to English culture, without command of its language, appreciation of its literature or a grasp of the history of its institutions, black children will be unable to play an equal part in a society which assumes such access as a given. I agree with Melanie Philips. I feel that there is an element of racism in Sir Herman Ouseley's comment that black children need to be taught black culture. What about English children being taught English culture? If I said that in the House, I would be accused of being a racist.

I do not believe that the Bill is in the interests of good race relations. I shall not oppose it, because there will be no Division and I have to keep a constituency engagement, but I have made it clear that I do not support it, and if further opportunities arise I shall vote against it.

5.31 pm
Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate)

It is a privilege to speak in the debate.

I am sure that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) had any doubts about the wisdom of crossing the Floor, listening to what we have all just heard has dispelled any that remained. I hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) will take the opportunity to repudiate the remarks of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), and to condemn them as being unacceptable in his party.

The hon. Gentleman painted a scary picture of the possible impact of the Bill, and spoke of cloud cuckoo land. I wanted to point out that he was condemning something that already applies in the private sector and has applied for the past 25 years, but—having not taken my intervention—he answered my point by saying that he did not think it should have applied during that time, and that people should not have such protection in any sector. I think that that view will be widely condemned by his constituents, and by people throughout the country.

Along with speakers in all parts of the House, including Conservatives—particularly the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd)—I welcome the Bill. We face great challenges as a Parliament, and Government face great challenges in building an inclusive society. We must ourselves challenge bigotry, prejudice and discrimination. We must ensure that people's life chances are determined on the basis of their merit rather than their background, the colour of their skin or their ethnic origin.

As others have said today, the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Lawrence family's struggle for justice shine a light for all of us who seek to get the law right. Everyone, I hope, can empathise with the sense of injustice, the suffering and the pain experienced by Neville and Doreen Lawrence. The British people responded positively and constructively to the courage and dignity shown by Mrs. Lawrence, a mother who had lost her son in tragic and terrible circumstances, and Mr. Lawrence, a father who, although his son had been murdered, could not secure justice from the system.

Like many others, my constituency in suburban north London has a rich ethnic and cultural diversity. It contains a long-established and vibrant Jewish community, the largest number of Cypriots—both Greek and Turkish—outside Cyprus, a significant and growing Asian community and many people from African and Caribbean backgrounds. My constituents see that diversity as a source of great strength and opportunity for our local community. Overwhelmingly, there is acceptance and, indeed, celebration of that diversity. It is a community in harmony.

Tragically, however, that harmony sometimes breaks down. Last autumn, Abdul Osman, an 18-year-old black student at Southgate college, was killed in Southgate. Michael Menson was murdered in the neighbouring constituency of Edmonton. I have spoken in the Chamber about events in the Oakwood ward of my constituency, where a small group of white youths conducted a sustained campaign of racist harassment, directed mostly against the Asian community, but also against the local Jewish community. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary took the opportunity of visiting my constituency to meet some of the families and business people who had been affected by that campaign of racist harassment.

That is a good example of where harassment can be tackled. The various local agencies—the police, local authority, local schools, as well as the people themselves in that area—came together through the Enfield racial incidents action group and the Oakwood focus group to examine ways of tackling both the causes of racist crime and the racist crime itself. As a consequence, the latest statistics from that part of my constituency show a significant fall in its incidence.

It is salutary to remember that the full weight of race relations legislation does not apply to the public sector, yet we already see some good examples of excellent practice, as I have described, including in the police. The former Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who in the 1950s and 1960s was a consultant in the House to the Police Federation of England and Wales and, later, the Home Secretary when the race relations legislation was going through, has made the point that has been made by many hon. Members: the police should never have been exempted from the legislation. The Bill is welcome, but it should have been introduced 25 years ago.

As other hon. Members have said, it is worth reminding ourselves of the Britain of the 1960s and 1970s—a Britain in which hotels had signs saying, "No dogs, no Irish, no Blacks", where north London golf clubs regularly excluded Jewish people from membership, and where pubs and shops could and did refuse to serve people simply on the basis of the colour of their skin.

I remember as a 10-year-old in the mid-1970s going with my parents to demonstrate against the National Front as it marched through the streets of multi-racial north London, seeking to spread its message of hate and division. Looking at the debates in Hansard on earlier race relations legislation, I find it shocking to read the arguments that were used. Perhaps it is less shocking when we realise that they are still used today, as we have heard—arguments that, generally, would be regarded as unacceptable in 2000 when considering race, although such language is regularly used in the House of Commons and, more particularly, in the other place when Parliament discusses discrimination on the ground of sexuality.

The Race Relations Act has had a powerful impact in shaping public attitudes. I do not believe that any hon. Member has asserted what was implied by the hon. Member for Aldershot—that changing legislation will in itself change conditions and determine people's attitudes. The process is far more sophisticated and complicated. I believe firmly that legislation can and has made a difference. Progress over the past 25 to 30 years has been real, but we still have a long way to go.

Institutional racism is not a term that was invented by Macpherson. It was not referred to only in the light of the Stephen Lawrence case. There is nothing new about the concept. The report of Lord Scarman's inquiry, which was set up following the disturbances in Brixton almost 20 years ago, addressed institutional racism. It said: If … the suggestion being made is that practices may be adopted by public bodies as well as private individuals which are unwittingly discriminatory against black people, then this is an allegation which deserves serious consideration and, where proved, swift remedy. Two decades later, we finally have the opportunity to provide that swift remedy, which Lord Scarman called for in the early 1980s.

The Bill is too late for the Lawrence family. It is too late for the family of Michael Menson. It is too late for the other families to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Witney referred. I am not saying that, had the Bill been in place 25 years ago, those tragedies would not have happened; they may well still have happened. However, if the Race Relations Acts had covered the public sector from the outset, we might have had the type of sea-change in institutions, such as the police and other public bodies, that we are now starting to witness. The culture of institutional racism could have been challenged, and families such as the Lawrence and Menson families could have been relieved of having to go through the additional burden of having to fight for justice when they were having to cope with bereavement. That is the point of the Bill.

Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I welcome the shift announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to cover indirect as well as direct discrimination. However, I shall not deal at length with that matter, as other hon. Members have done so in full detail. I have no doubt, however, that discrimination today is more subtle and sophisticated than it was 20 or 30 years ago. We are less likely to see the overt differential practice and treatment that various speakers have mentioned, but we are more likely to see requirements created, the outcomes of which in practice disadvantage ethnic minorities. When those requirements cannot be justified, surely it is our duty to make them unlawful. That, I believe, is what indirect discrimination is all about.

If we were not to address indirect discrimination, we would be failing to meet the challenge set by the Macpherson report to extend the full force of race relations legislation. There is also a good case to be made that we would be creating a recipe for legal confusion and unnecessary complexity. The distinctions between direct and indirect discrimination are not always clear or simple—legal experts in the sphere of discrimination themselves often disagree about whether something constitutes direct or indirect discrimination. My fear is that, if we took only the half step forward and extended provisions to cover only direct discrimination by public bodies, we would be failing those members of the public who are seeking a legal remedy to correct a civil wrong.

Like other hon. Members, I very much welcome the proposal to amend the Bill to create a positive duty on public authorities. That follows similar provisions in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and in the legislation creating the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, as well as in the legislation establishing the Greater London Authority. It builds on widespread existing good practice, some of which I have already mentioned, and it has been widely welcomed not only by the Commission for Racial Equality, but by the Confederation of Indian Organisations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Runnymede Trust.

The creation of such a duty is an essential further step if we are truly to root out all the forms of racism that disfigure and divide our country. I very much hope that, in Committee, the Government will ensure that that positive duty is clearly and explicitly enshrined in the Bill.

As other hon. Members have said, the Commission for Racial Equality has made the point to Members of Parliament that the Government should consult on the details of the operation, monitoring and enforcement of those new provisions once the legislation is amended.

Excellent work is already being done in schools and community organisations across the country. The Bill is not imposing something new or alien, but simply building on existing good practice in many parts of the country. I believe that its provisions can go hand in hand with the Government's plans for citizenship education to form part of the national curriculum from 2002. Such education is about celebrating the diversity of modern Britain, not teaching people about only some aspects of our culture. It is about recognising that modern British society is made up of many different forms of culture. I hope that tackling racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia will be an integral part of the new citizenship curriculum.

Late last year, I had the privilege of seeing such good practice in action when I joined a seminar at St. Ignatius school, a local secondary school in Enfield, to discuss the holocaust. The seminar was led by two students, John Prendergast and Joseph Egan, who had joined a Holocaust Educational Trust delegation to Auschwitz and came back to report on their visit and discuss the historical context of the holocaust and its lessons for today. That is a good example of what we should include as part of citizenship in the national curriculum.

By creating a positive duty on public authorities, we can ensure that such good practice is spread throughout the country. The Bill will open the door to real progress towards racial equality. Strengthening race relations legislation is good not just for the minority ethnic communities, but for all of us.

As many have said during the debate, after almost three decades of legislation, there is no room for complacency. We are fast approaching the first anniversary of the appalling London nail bomb attacks in Brixton, Brick lane and Soho. They serve as a potent reminder to the House that racism and bigotry have not gone away. It is only right that we act now to do all that we can to root out racist discrimination in all its forms. We cannot afford to wait another 25 years. I commend the Government for bringing the Bill before us.

5.47 pm
Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

I shall make a very brief contribution from my perspective as a Member whose constituency is not metropolitan, but largely rural. It has a small ethnic minority community and the issue of racism does not assume as much salience as perhaps it should.

It would be wrong to assume that the Bill was not of the utmost relevance to everyone in the United Kingdom, because it has to do with the nature and values of the wider society to which we belong. It would also be wrong to assume that people from all over the country were not profoundly troubled by the death of Stephen Lawrence and the failure of the subsequent police investigation—matters that have spurred on this legislation.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the Bill represents a step change in race relations and that society would have to pay a very heavy price if we did not legislate—a moral cost and a cost of greater disaffection and higher crime rates. Those are matters that affect us all and we have a common interest in ensuring that we have a fair and tolerant society.

I pay tribute to the eloquent comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Mr. Woodward) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), who bore testimony to the issues that we should tackle to create a fairer and more tolerant society. It is high time the Race Relations Act 1976 was updated. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) that, as Lord Callaghan said recently, with the benefit of hindsight, not including the police within the ambit of that Act was a serious omission. I welcome the fact that the Bill will extend the provisions of that Act to the police and all public authorities that are not currently covered.

The Government are entirely right to acknowledge the recommendations of the Macpherson report and to recognise the existence of institutional racism. As a society, we have learned much since 1976. There has been a process of education here and in the wider society about the nature of institutional racism.

I am pleased that the Government are committed to tabling an amendment to outlaw indirect discrimination. I am pleased that the Government are taking such a robust approach. I am also pleased that they are prepared to table an amendment to place a duty on public bodies to promote social equality.

In conclusion, the Bill is part of the Government's wider agenda of promoting equality of opportunity and creating a genuinely tolerant and inclusive society, and I welcome it.

5.51 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) on his speech, which was a model of the bipartisan support for the Bill. I may speak for slightly longer than he did, but I shall attempt not to try the patience of the House, particularly as I have not been able to listen to all the speeches that have been made this afternoon. However, I have heard some good speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

My speech is based partly on my own experience and partly on that of a doctor. I shall relate the doctor's story in the first person as it is better than saying that he or she is Indian. Let us imagine that I came to Britain in the late 1970s with a British passport. I spoke the language fluently, played Bob Dylan rather well on my guitar and had qualifications. I could not have been better equipped, but it has not all been plain sailing. The story does not end in total misery, as I became a consultant. However racism is not behind me—it does not stop when one finally attains a senior position.

I should say in passing that I do not relate this story because the national health service has not been trying to put things right; when my wife was Minister for Health and then Secretary of State for Health, she worked very hard to get the NHS to overcome some of the difficulties that I am about to describe.

I now return to the doctor's story. No one taught me, but criticism was rife when I failed. This is the one characteristic of racism that I find most distressing. My white friends received gentle instruction, but I was largely excluded unless I asked. At every stage in my career I have had to outperform white doctors in order to get a job.

In my senior house officer post there was no in-house teaching of any sort. When I told my boss that I was leaving, he was aghast. He took me aside and, in the presence of his clinical assistant, said, "Do you realise you are resigning from a white job?" I apologised profusely, but left.

I was delighted when I got my first general surgical rotational job. I had a boss who liked me, but a ward sister who did not. No matter how hard I tried, she reported me and took pleasure in disliking me. How can one tell that dislike is racist? Because it is instant and intractable.

The most racist job that I did was as a rotating registrar in surgery in the east midlands. The consultant ignored me from the outset and spoke only to my senior house officer, a white doctor. He taught me nothing. If I could not negotiate the rectosigmoid junction at colonoscopy it was, "tut tut". If the senior house officer could not do it, it was all encouragement and teaching.

I went to the fellowship examinations in London with a white fellow registrar in general surgery. He was asked to describe a cholecystectomy. I was asked rather aggressively to describe a hemilaminectomy, but only after the examiner had determined that I had no experience in the procedure. I failed, he passed. I got antidepressant pills from my general practitioner; he was given a research post.

After four years as a rotating senior house officer and registrar, I received my first summons from the higher surgical training committee. "Do you really think that you will become a general surgeon?", they asked. I was 28, had two fellowships, had written two papers and was completing a recognised registrar rotation in surgery in a teaching hospital. I had encountered no problems with my attitude or capability. "Yes," I replied.

It was at that point that someone else appeared. He sat down and all eyes turned to him. He did not beat about the bush, although I had never worked for him. He told me I was being quite unrealistic. He went on to remind me that I was Indian and he took me through the fate of all the previous Indian registrars in the city I was working in. "So you see, not one has made it," he said. The six other consultants present just sat there studying their pens. The committee had found me unsuitable for further training because I was Indian. I decided to move but to give my love for surgery one last go.

The story continues with an application for a research fellowship and I congratulate the editor of the British Medical Journal on putting it into last week's issue—volume 320, 4 March 2000, for anybody who wishes to read the rest of that personal view.

That story was published in this millennium but it is not so different from what I found when I was a junior Minister in the Department of Employment and I talked to the unions in ACAS—the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. I do not think that they will mind my saying this, because things have moved on since 1985. At that time, I asked the unions why there were no black or Asian field officers in ACAS. I was asked in return, "How do you know that they would be acceptable to all employers?" That attitude has changed.

I listened to the 24 members of the race relations employment advisory service, and I congratulate Sir Michael Quinlan, then the Permanent Secretary at the Department, for agreeing to let two of the people from that service come into the Department. That Department had, in effect, responsibility for equal opportunities on grounds of sex and disability, as well as race, and Sir Michael produced a report to which—I hope—people in Departments still occasionally refer. It showed that even when a Department tried to do the right things as well as advocate them, it can fail, directly and indirectly.

The Bill will make a difference, but not the biggest difference. Law at its best is obeyed, clear and fair. There are plenty of examples of areas in which race relations legislation already bites, but is not always obeyed. I shall not give the details of one example, but I helped a police officer and the Metropolitan police to come to an agreement and settle an employment case for probably a third of the cost of fighting the issue out. Both those who have reason to complain, and those against whom they complain, can often get together to resolve issues and learn from that.

The people who really have to learn are top and middle management. In some parts of the public service, people are determined to make things better, but some are willing to sit at a higher level without ensuring that a regular routine improves matters at a lower level. I shall give an illustrative example. When I asked a slightly complicated question of the Home Office about at what stage and at what cost each claim by a Metropolitan police officer for discrimination on the grounds of race came in, the answer was that it was too expensive to provide the information. I suspect that it was too expensive—or at least would have cost more than £200. However, if there were so many cases that providing the answer would have been too expensive, I would have welcomed an answer that added that more extensive information could be made available reasonably easily.

In my view, the Metropolitan police service is doing much more than it has done before, and in five years it will be able to look back and say that its progress since 2000 has been marked. I also acknowledge the presence of the ethnic teams from the armed forces, at the party given in the Locarno rooms of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday. The people there talked about their work in trying to overcome perceptions of racial inequality in the services. Things are not yet completely right, but I welcome the existence of those teams which can provide the positive action needed to make progress.

I would have liked to make other points, but as I missed part of the debate I shall not trespass on the good will of the House.

I have two final points. First, race and sex are not disabilities, and they should not be a handicap. Secondly, the people who have the responsibility for putting things right are not the victims, but white, middle class men in full-time occupations. They are the ones who have to meet what Richard Stone, a member of the Lawrence inquiry, called our challenge and our responsibility. We are the people who should be able to say to future generations that, in part because of what we did, the colour of our skin is no more important than the colour of our eyes or hair. People may notice it, but it tells them nothing more about us.

6 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)—who said that he would not continue to be in his place—talked of my constituents bearing the brunt of other races in Britain. That phrase provoked me to speak in the debate, as it suggests that the contribution of other races to our community has all been negative. I am confident that many of his constituents enjoy the services of an excellent Chinese restaurant, which is provided by one of those races which has migrated to Britain. I say that in the sure and certain knowledge that probably no constituency in this country does not have such an example.

In my constituency, people have come from Poland, the Punjab and Pontypridd to work, and the children of Slough learn about the richness of all those different cultures and communities as part of their daily experience. It is a question not of bearing the brunt, but of learning about the world of which we are a part and obtaining new and rich experiences.

The hon. Member for Aldershot described the inadvertent racism of a police officer as though the police officer were the victim. He failed to understand why the real victim is not the person in a position of responsibility who can and should learn about the consequences of racial abuse, but the person who cannot learn to change the colour of their skin. That is why having legislative protection against racism is an absolute signal of a civilised society.

Racial violence and abuse work like terrorism. There is not just one victim, but everybody who shares that ethnicity and could be a victim is victimised by it. That is why it is a serious public duty upon us all to protect people who share that kinship with the victim and feel threatened. I am glad that we are moving to bring to an end something that horrified me—the fact that there are communities in this great city who were more afraid of the police than of the criminals who threatened them. The Bill is about putting an end to that kind of society.

The hon. Member for Aldershot talked about people coming from Bangladesh to Britain as though the only reason they did so was to better themselves. Some did, but people now come from Bangladesh to Britain to be with their mums, dads, husbands, wives and children.

Ms Buck

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Bangladeshi catering industry now has a larger turnover than the coal, iron and steel industries combined?

Fiona Mactaggart

Indeed. We must not fail to recognise not just the cultural contributions made by different communities which, from Anglo-Saxon times, have come to Britain, but also their economic contribution to the success of our island.

I was impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs), who has reason to know the consequences of unthinking prejudice on factors over which people have no control. The moves towards equality in Northern Ireland provide a beacon for the process here. In that context, I hope to seek assurances from the Minister on issues which I hope will be looked at in Committee.

First, I am worried about the power in the Bill that allows discrimination on ethnic as well as nationality grounds in the administration of immigration. For example, out of two people with Yugoslav nationality, we might be willing to accept as a refugee only one—not as a result of discrimination on ethnic grounds, but because only that one is a genuine refugee. The Bill evinces a certain muddle-headedness that must be sorted out.

Secondly, I hope that the bond scheme will not be restricted to the Indian subcontinent. If the granny of a constituent of mine from Jamaica were refused a visit to the United Kingdom, why should not my constituent have the right to put up a bond as an insurance that that granny would go home? I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to study that possibility, and not to rule it out.

The Bill's definition of a public body is also a little shaky. That problem was solved in the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Bill should adopt the same approach. Increasingly, organisations such as Group 4 are taking on public responsibilities, and they want to be certain that they are covered in the same way as public bodies. The clear definition of public bodies in the 1998 Act is better than what is proposed in schedule 1.

I was pleased to hear of the research being conducted into Islamophobia in Britain. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that he will consider extending more effective protection to the Muslim communities against the consequences of that phobia in future. I recognise, however, that that cannot be accomplished in this Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier this week that he had not put forward a single Bill that had not been improved in Committee. He has announced already that he is planning to improve this Bill in Committee, and I am glad of that. I hope very much that some of the points made today will be included among the matters being considered by the Committee. I do not want to end up with a Bill that is merely good: I want it to be excellent, and to make it clear that everyone in the country is of equal value, with equal rights and an equal opportunity to be served by the state.

6.8 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Let me begin by stating that I agree wholly with the objectives set out for the Bill by the Home Secretary in his introductory speech. I share his commitment to seek to build a society in which all British citizens, regardless of race, colour or religion, have an equal and honoured place and are encouraged to make the greatest possible use of the talents and energies given to them by God.

Although I shall not agree with everything said by Labour Members, whether Front Benchers or Back Benchers, and although I shall certainly have questions about certain aspects of the Bill, I do not doubt for a moment the personal commitment of Ministers, nor the sincerity of their intentions in bringing this Bill before Parliament today.

There is sometimes a temptation on the part of politicians, whichever party is in power, to place a little too much confidence in the power of the law alone to transform things. We do not change attitudes—certainly not in the short term—simply by passing an Act of Parliament. However, I accept that the law has a part to play here.

I thought that some of the speeches of Labour Members, including that of the Home Secretary, did not make enough mention of the beneficial effect of the traditions of tolerance, respect for diversity and respect for individual freedom that have been characteristic features of British society as it has evolved over recent centuries and which the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) talked of in his contribution. The hon. Gentleman said, and I agree, that what has been achieved has been underestimated in some parts of the House. While we should recognise, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) said, that a great deal still remains to be done, we can take legitimate pride in what Britain has done for racial integration in coming to terms in recent decades with the arrival in this country of a large number of people of various ethnic origins.

Two things are very striking in the debates on immigration and race relations that took place in the 1960s. To some extent, the predictions that a large proportion of the population of British cities would in future be formed from people from ethnic minority communities have been borne out. However, the prophecies that that would result in riots, racial conflict on an unprecedented scale and communal tension that could not be cured have been proved demonstrably false.

The duty that falls on us as legislators and political leaders is to take forward into a new century the success that previous generations have had. We must build on the success that many British blacks and Asians are making of their lives in the United Kingdom, whether in business, sport, art, literature or even politics. I say in passing that I shall regard it as a happy day, which I confidently expect to come after the next election, when there are black and Asian Britons sitting on the Conservative Benches of the House of Commons as well as on the Labour Benches.

The hon. Member for Bradford, West also warned of the risks of creating a cult of victimhood. I think that he was right to say that although the prime responsibility rests with those who are entrusted with positions of authority and leadership, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) also said, the leaders of the ethnic communities also have a responsibility to help to bring about the tolerant and plural society that we wish to see evolve.

Much has been achieved, but we still face great challenges. The Home Secretary, along with the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), talked of how British society has been influenced and shaped over many centuries by successive waves of immigration to these islands. It is also the case that each wave of immigration has been accompanied by conflict, discrimination and resentment on the part of both the host and the incoming communities. Before I was elected, I spent much time studying the minutes of the Privy Council of the 16th century. In, I think, Essex and Suffolk, there were riots and violence because of the arrival in East Anglian villages of groups of Dutch people fleeing Spanish persecution in the Netherlands. The powers of that age had to deal with that problem, just as we must take account both of successes already achieved and the challenges that remain.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Does my hon. Friend agree that when a new community comes to live in a host country, one of the inevitable initial problems is language? Does he agree that, as with my grandfather who could not read or write English properly until the end of his life, what really counts is that children and grandchildren of an immigrant community make the effort to integrate with the English language and the English culture? Does he agree that we must pay due attention to the need for incoming communities to adopt the language of the host community?

Mr. Lidington

We could have a long debate about educational minority support grants and section 11 funding. I agree that fluency in both written and spoken English is an essential passport for many people from new immigrant communities to entering the mainstream of British life. The communities themselves are certainly responsible for that, because they have an interest in taking advantage of opportunities here; but those of us who exercise leadership in politics are responsible for doing all we can to ensure that the opportunity to gain proficiency in the English language is given as soon as possible to those who need help.

Immense problems remain, as hon. Members on both sides have said. We must be honest about the mistrust of our police forces among British blacks and British Asians, particularly among young men from those communities. I saw that mistrust when I was a candidate for an inner-London seat about a decade ago. It is disturbing, and it merits political action on its own terms. However, mistrust also makes the police less effective in fighting crime, because it means that they are denied information and evidence that they need to secure convictions, including the conviction of those who are terrorising members of the ethnic minority communities themselves.

I have no doubt that the problem of mistrust of the police among young British blacks and Asians has been worsened by the mishandling of the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence by the Metropolitan police. However, the roots of the problem go deeper than that. They derive in part from the experience of discrimination—perceived and actual—and from a belief that the police, and the white majority, have not taken racial harassment or racial attacks sufficiently seriously. The hon. Member for Bradford, West was unfair in his strictures on the previous Government, who took some steps towards improving the priority given to this problem.

The matter was brought home to me only just after my election to this place in 1992. On one of the first occasions that I visited the Aylesbury mosque, I saw some extremely offensive racist graffiti that had been painted on a wall nearby. Yes, they were offensive, and if the wall had been plastered with graffiti about the Conservative party, I should probably have complained and grumbled a bit. Indeed, during the previous Parliament, one might have borne that with a certain amount of equanimity—Labour Members may soon have to learn to do the same.

However, when I talked to members of the Muslim community in my constituency, I was struck by how the graffiti had taken on tremendous significance—they felt they showed how they were seen by other people in the town. Although I understand that those responsible for that graffiti were caught and convicted, members of the Muslim community felt—rightly or wrongly—that that act made their acceptance within the community of Aylesbury less secure than it had been or than they wanted it to be. For that reason, I came to the view that we have a duty to ensure not only that we understand that racial harassment and racial attacks are evil in themselves, but that they have a profound social effect because they poison community relations in a town or district.

Sometimes, young people from the ethnic minorities—although not exclusively—receive some brusque treatment from police officers. I shall mention the difficulties of the police later in my speech. However, those of us who make a point of supporting the police also need to bear in mind that the experiences of my noble Friend Lord Taylor of Warwick or the Bishop of Stepney demonstrate that there is a genuine problem, which, to their credit, the police are actively trying to address.

The other half of the problem is that the police themselves feel beleaguered—especially in London and other great cities. They, too, often go in fear of physical attack or threat. We are rightly offended and ashamed by the fact that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence are still free to swagger around the streets of south London. The grief and sense of loss of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence can never be assuaged by anything that we do in this place. However, it is also true that the murderers of Keith Blakelock are walking around free somewhere in north London. The people who maimed Richard Coombes and drove him from the career that he loved are still walking free. Their families' suffering can never be assuaged by Act of Parliament.

The police rightly feel that they have been unfairly traduced in some of the debate consequent on the Macpherson report. A detective constable told me that, on the day the report was published, he had attended Southwark Crown court where he gave evidence as the officer in charge of a case that resulted in a long custodial sentence for a man guilty of racial attacks. The constable said that, even after all the efforts of the Scotland Yard press office, that case merited about two inches somewhere on page 8 of a newspaper. It had taken weeks of painstaking police work and dedication to assemble the evidence to secure that conviction, but that seemed to be of no account in the hurricane of criticism that descended on the force in which he served.

When we talk about labels such as institutional racism, we should be clear about several points. I am not persuaded that the failures of service experienced by the Lawrence family and other people in that case were exclusive to people in the black community. I know of a fair number of white youths who feel that the police treated them roughly and brusquely when they were stopped. There is a wider problem that the label of institutional racism does not accurately describe.

As my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) pointed out, the label of institutional racism—whatever the wording in Sir William Macpherson's report—has led, in practice, to a widespread belief among police officers that they have all been branded as racists. Many people think that that is the charge that has been levelled at the Metropolitan police. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said, the last thing that any of us wants is a state of affairs in which the use of the label aggrieves the police, fuels resentment among ethnic communities and brings about the very state of confrontation that we all want to end.

Mr. Stephen Twigg

I am listening carefully to the balanced approach that the hon. Gentleman is taking—in stark contrast to the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). When I spoke earlier, I suggested that the hon. Gentleman could take the opportunity to repudiate the remarks of the hon. Member for Aldershot. I would be grateful if he would do that.

Mr. Lidington

I was about to say that I do not agree—I have made that clear in what I have said hitherto—with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said. However, the House would be foolish if it ignored the fact that the opinions that he quite legitimately expressed are shared by many of our fellow citizens. It is right that those arguments should be addressed maturely in debate rather than being simply pilloried and branded, which is not the way forward. He expressed his concerns about the Bill's possible impact on stop and search, and those concerns are shared quite widely by many people who would probably share the principled opposition to racism that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate outlined in his speech.

One police superintendent told me that he was under great pressure from ethnic community leaders in his patch to reconsider his stop-and-search practices. He had done so, and he found that his officers had indeed stopped a disproportionately large number of people from a particular ethnic minority. However, he then described the difficulty that he faced. When he examined the papers case by case, he discovered that his officers had stopped frequently a relatively small number of people who had been identified through intelligence-led policing as villains who were involved in the type of street crime that stop-and-search techniques are extremely useful in deterring and in helping to secure convictions for. He asked how he was supposed to reconcile good, intelligence-led policing with what he believed were the demands on him to reduce the number of stops to match the ethnic proportions of the population that he served.

The Home Secretary said—I hope that the Minister will confirm this—that such police officers need not worry because other factors to justify stop-and-search should give them legal protection. However, the officer's question needs to be addressed seriously and we shall have the opportunity to consider it in Committee. It is important to guard against the law of unintended consequences.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) said that it was a great mistake not to have included the whole public sector in the 1976 Act. When I read the Committee proceedings on that Bill, I found it striking that the nature and scope of exclusions from its provisions were barely discussed. It is incumbent on us carefully to consider the detail of the Government's proposals to make sure that we do not end up putting into statute a provision that will have unintended, unwanted consequences.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The whole House would support that point, and I hope that the Standing Committee will do so when it comes to consider the Bill. I underline my hon. Friend's point by stating that four of my middle-aged black friends have been stopped. One, Bill Morris, has not, as far as I know, possibly because he is the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union and has a driver. Bishop John Sentamu, our colleague Lord Taylor, the Liberal peer Lord Dholakia and Neville Lawrence were stopped. I do not know of a single white friend of my age who has been stopped. That is the underlying problem, and an outside audit of what the police do would be helpful to them.

Mr. Lidington

My hon. Friend makes his point well, and I agree with him.

The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) called for legal challenges to housing allocation and education policies, and I will want to explore in Committee exactly what the Bill will entail for services other than policing. Lord Bassam said, during debates in another place, that the Government were concerned that a legal challenge on grounds of indirect discrimination could potentially include any age-based policy because of the different demographic profiles of different racial groups, and also any regional policy because of the different regional spread of different racial groups. He went on to say that challenges could be mounted to those policies that are helping individuals from ethnic minority communities the most.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 1999; Vol. 608, c. 130.] There is a need to explore further the reasons for the Government's change of heart.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the definitions of public bodies and the cost of the proposals. Those, too, are matters that we want to explore. I shall want also to explore further who should carry out investigations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said that if the Bill is to work, our purpose must be not to identify scapegoats but to help and encourage individuals and organisations in the public sector to improve the way in which they apply in practice the commitment to equality of opportunity that already exists on paper and in declared policy.

When I read the Lawrence report, one of the sentences that I found most striking came near the end, and it was made by the coroner at the inquest into Mr. Lawrence's death. In his concluding remarks, following the jury's verdict, he said: We must teach our young, both in the family and in our schools that each individual, regardless of their race, regardless of their colour, regardless of their religion has the right to live peacefully without any fear or intimidation. That is an accurate description of what virtually every Member of the House is committed to.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West, I believe that one of the tests for us is whether in the next two or three generations we see British blacks and Asians in the Cabinet and as High Court judges, chief constables, senior commanders in the armed forces and permanent secretaries of Whitehall Departments, and know that they are there not by extraordinary achievement, but simply as a natural reward for the talent, application and drive of individual British citizens.

I want a society, and I want my children to grow up in a nation, where everybody, no matter what ethnic or cultural group they originally came from, can not only take pride in their history but feel that they are inheritors of the political, cultural and artistic tradition of Britain, and that at the same time they are helping to play their part in and to shape the future of the mainstream of British life. It is against that objective that I look to test the legislation before us.

6.34 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

The Bill fulfils a commitment to early legislation made by the Government in response to the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. It will significantly improve the ability of members of the public to hold to account public authorities that act in a racially discriminatory manner. It will make a difference. I hope that the Stephen Lawrence case will be seen as a watershed in race relations in Britain, from which we can go forward. The Bill is part of that key process.

During the debate we heard a number of strong speeches from both sides of the House. Having heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), I am proud that he has decided to join the Labour party. He is very welcome to the party and spoke enormously well on our behalf today.

There were strong speeches also from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).

We heard good speeches from the Conservative Benches. I thought that in many ways the best speech of the day was that from the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who made an important contribution to the debate. The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) also showed that many in the Conservative party support the creation of a successful multicultural Britain. I welcome that.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) let the Conservative party and the House down, with a speech of monumental littleness and saloon bar prejudice. He posed as a defender of the police against race relations legislation, but as a former parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation and as a Home Office Minister, I know that most police officers in Britain would want to dissociate themselves from the hon. Gentleman's speech and his prejudice. They would have been appalled by it, just as I hope that they would have agreed with the comments of the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, the right hon. Member for Fareham.

I welcome the support for the Bill from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, which was enthusiastic and principled. I welcome, too, the Tory Front-Bench support, which seemed to be carefully worded. It was the classic approach, particularly the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), supporting the objective and endorsing none of the detail, but picking apart some of the substance. At least, that seemed to be the right hon. Lady's approach. I was pleased to note that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who also speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, adopted a far more positive approach to the Bill and to tackling racism in Britain than she did. The hon. Gentleman taught his right hon. Friend some lessons today about how these issues should be addressed.[Interruption.] It is always nice to sow disunity on the other side. I had hoped for a broader approach. It would have been helpful if we had had a more positive response from the right hon. Lady. It would have sent out from the House a good all-party message, not just to ethnic minorities, but to everyone in our society, that we are determined to make sure that we are a success as a multiracial Britain.

Mr. Dawson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the one disappointing aspect of the summing-up by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) was his lack of commitment to the concept of institutional racism? It is crucial that the subtleties of that key concept are well understood in all parts of the House in order to make progress.

Mr. O'Brien

I agree that that is an important concept, and there has been much misunderstanding of its meaning. If we have time, I shall say a little more about how that misunderstanding has produced some of the problems to which the hon. Member for Aylesbury referred. Some police officers seem to have misunderstood the concept and construed it as a personal criticism, whereas we are highlighting the failures of an institution. Many of us, including me, are members of an institution that has many failings, although its policy is positively anti-racist. It is possible for an institution to have failings and an anti-racist policy.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I agree with the Minister that the one sadness of debating such issues is that the Conservative party, inside and outside the House, sends mixed messages. Some Conservatives make clear their commitment to an anti-racist Britain, while others appear to pander to prejudice and bigotry. Until the Conservative party sorts that out internally and adopts the enlightened side of the argument, many people will not accept it as a responsible custodian of a multi-racial, equal Britain.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman is right. We are receiving very mixed messages from the Conservative party. Its mayoral candidate describes as "disgusting" the policy of reintroducing the primary purpose rule that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald retains as an option.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

In a moment. We hear that the right hon. Lady wishes to restore a rule that caused great damage to British families, especially British-Asian families. One of our first actions was to get rid of it. The Conservative mayoral candidate appears to agree with us that its restoration would be a disgrace. Yet the right hon. Lady disowns the views of the mayoral candidate; she wants to keep open the option of reintroducing the primary purpose rule.

I hope that the right hon. Lady will stand at the Dispatch Box and reassure the people of Britain who come from Asian families that they will not face the appalling, prejudicial primary purpose rule that the previous Government used when the right hon. Lady was a Home Office Minister.

Miss Widdecombe

I ask the Minister to be a little franker—I believe that that is a parliamentary word—in his description of what Steve Norris said. When he used the words "immoral", "disgusting" and "disgraceful", he was referring to the Minister's proposal to introduce a £10,000 bond for people from selected countries. Steve Norris confirmed to me that that was the context of his remarks. Even before the newspaper report, he had already made those comments about the Minister's bond.

Mr. O'Brien

I am appalled that the right hon. Lady stood at the Dispatch Box and made no effort to reassure the Asian people of Britain that she would not seek to restore the primary purpose rule. We now know that she wants to reintroduce that appalling rule.

The Conservative mayoral candidate has not repudiated his remarks in The Times. He said that the Conservative party was proposing to bring back a rule that was enormously offensive. He also said that it was disgusting, immoral and missed the point.

Miss Widdecombe

Your bond.

Mr. O'Brien

The report refers to the right hon. Lady's wish to restore the primary purpose rule. She has had every opportunity to deny that wish. I shall give her another. Will she now tell British-Asian families that, if she got the opportunity—I hope she will not—to restore the primary purpose rule, she would not do it?

Miss Widdecombe

I can tell families in all parts of the community in Britain that our policies will seek to promote good race relations and tackle all abuses of our immigration or asylum systems. The policies that we shall introduce to tackle those abuses will be announced in due course at an appropriate time, not in response to newspaper reports or mischief from the Minister, who is ruining what was hitherto a sensible debate.

Mr. O'Brien

Once again, Asian British people will note the right hon. Lady's failure. In The Independent on 25 February, she suggested that it was inconceivable that the Conservative party would not promise at the next election to restore the primary purpose rule. We have given her the opportunity to deny that, but now we know.

Mr. Singh

Does my hon. Friend agree that the right hon. Lady's comments amount to an accusation that legitimate marriages between people living here and in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are abusive?

Mr. O'Brien

My hon. Friend is right that the right hon. Lady appears to be besmirching the name of a large number of British Asian families. Will she now—

Miss Widdecombe

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

In a moment. Will the right hon. Lady give the commitment that she will not seek to restore the primary purpose rule as Conservative party policy? I ask her once again.

Miss Widdecombe

I ask the Minister, very straightforwardly—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer!] No, no. Does he agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) or will he acknowledge that there is some abuse in respect of using marriage as a way into this country? Is there any abuse or not?

Mr. O'Brien

The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well that the rules require that marriages be genuine. The primary purpose rule is not about that; it is an anti-family Tory policy.

Fiona Mactaggart

The provisions to prevent entry through made-up and abusive marriages are powerful, but the primary purpose rule was clearly instituted to prevent genuine marriage in the arranged tradition and therefore discriminated against communities for which that is the way to form families. I urge my hon. Friend to continue to press the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on this matter because it concerns many Asian families in my constituency.

Mr. O'Brien

It is clear that for many black and Asian people in Britain—many of whom were born here, as were their parents—some Members of the House have a very long way to go to understand that we need to create a proper multi-racial Britain which is fair, which treats families equally and which does not discriminate against people whose families are perhaps in another part of the world.

Ethnic minorities in this country all too often have to face disproportionate exclusion from many of the better things in British life. They are often disproportionately victims of bad housing and school exclusion and are twice as likely to be unemployed. Their average pay is lower than that of white people, and we will build up problems for the future unless we address discrimination and racism.

Anti-racism is not about helping black and Asian people; it is about our future—white and black. We all live in a multicultural society and we all have a choice: either we make a success of multicultural Britain or we do not. If we fail to address those issues, our children—white and black—will pay the price of that failure. That is why all of us, white and black, have a vested interest in the Bill and in anti-racism. We must make Britain a success as a multicultural society.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald also asked whether the Government have done a U-turn on indirect discrimination. We have not changed our mind about the desirability of including it in the Bill—we were always in favour of that in principle—but we were concerned about the risks of spurious challenges to Government policy. Having listened carefully to the arguments, we are convinced that the principle of including indirect discrimination outweighs the risks about which we were initially concerned. The Government have been open. We have listened and reflected carefully, which is what the parliamentary process is all about.

Nor have we changed our mind about the need for a positive statutory duty to promote equality. We set out that commitment in our equality statement of 30 November 1999, before the publication of the Bill. What we are doing now is reinforcing that commitment by enshrining the principle in the Bill, leaving room for consultation on how the duty will operate in practice—as promised in our equality statement.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was worried about the police, and in particular about powers to stop and search. I join her in paying tribute to the police, who do a difficult job. When I was an adviser to the Police Federation, I came to understand very well the difficult work that it does. The Bill will not prevent police officers from carrying out their duties, but it will make it unlawful for them to do so in a manner that discriminates directly on grounds of race.

Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 requires officers to have reasonable suspicion that an offence has been or may be committed in order to conduct a stop-and-search operation. Under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, officers must have that reasonable belief. Reasonable grounds for suspicion or belief will depend on the circumstances, but there must be some objective basis. A police officer who goes beyond his powers and stops someone, say, solely on the grounds of race, or otherwise treats someone unfavourably on such grounds, could be challenged on the basis of direct discrimination following the enactment of the Bill.

The Bill will enable discrimination in the use of stop and search to be challenged wherever it is not as a result of the inclusion of indirect discrimination in the Bill. Indirect discrimination is about requirements or conditions with which one racial group is better able to comply than another. In stop and search, no particular requirement or condition is imposed on an individual who is stopped or searched, and, at least, no requirement that cannot be complied with. Indirect discrimination would not apply in that context. The law places the onus on the police officer to have reasonable suspicion or belief to stop and search. Direct discrimination and victimisation, whether witting or unwitting, would apply, and would provide an appropriate remedy.

Probably the best answer to the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald came from the right hon. Member for Fareham, who said that it would be wrong for the state, which should protect all its citizens, to be allowed to discriminate, in the person of its police officers, against those citizens when the private sector could not do so.

The Police Federation has come in for criticism on some of the issues, but I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others in saying that Fred Broughton has sought to overcome some of the cautious approach to race relations that characterised comments by the federation in the past. He wants it to be much more open, and hopes that many future members will be black or Asian. That reflects well on him and on the federation.

The right hon. Member for Fareham said that the police would be harmed if they continued to be outside the Act. I agree: suspicion would continue to multiply. The effectiveness of stop and search, for example, would be discounted when there was no access to the courts if people felt that it was being used inappropriately. I do not think that the extension granted by the Bill will in any way undermine the ability of the police to do their job effectively. Stop and search has already been the subject of criticism.

In my view, the only legitimate route involves sensible court supervision of the way in which things are done. That will help the police to know where they stand with stop and search. As the right hon. Member for Fareham said, it is socially corrosive when individuals have no remedy for a grievance.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that, before stopping and searching a person, a police officer should ask himself, "Am I doing this for a good cause?" I agree, and I do not think that that applies only to the police. All of us who exercise power in one way or another should ask, "Why are we doing this?". Racism, unwitting or otherwise, undermines the fabric of Britain's multicultural society. I think that the police should join the rest of us in coming within the ambit of the laws that are necessary to protect our society.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West said in a perceptive and well-argued speech, problems can sometimes arise not out of deliberate racism by police officers—in my experience, most police officers are strongly anti-racist—but out of a lack of awareness, an insensitivity that may be unwitting or unintended. In those circumstances, it is right that police officers think carefully about what they do. Our police officers do a wonderful job for us, but, like the rest of us, they have to learn the ways in which to build a stronger multicultural Britain.

On institutional racism, I have already said that there has been some misunderstanding, partly as a result of journalistic licence and the way in which the measure has been presented. We must be clear: most police officers are certainly not racist. However, some institutions may have problems in terms of the way in which they recruit, promote and deal with people who are from ethnic minorities. They should address those issues. In the provision of their services, they may have disproportionately disadvantaged those with whom they are dealing. Those issues should be dealt with. I agree with the hon. Member for Worthing, West, who said that the police are going through a period of change. It is difficult, but in five years' time they will be through it and will be a much better police force as a result.

The right hon. Member for Charnwood raised one important point. He asked whether I agreed that there should be the same law for the public and private sectors. I do not. Laws should be appropriate to the role, the sector and the circumstances. The public sector, for example, should have a duty to promote equality that goes beyond that of the private sector. Broad principles are good, but they are guides, and should not be applied in all their detail, because they could provide rigidity that does not make for good law making.

Various questions have been raised in relation to immigration rules and the application of those laws, but I will perhaps be able to deal with those in more detail in Committee.

The bond scheme has strong support from many people in the Asian community, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West. The aim is to deal only with the difficult marginal cases. No one who gets a visa today should have to pay a bond under the scheme that we propose to introduce.

Britain is a multicultural society. We are not yet a success as a multicultural society; the Stephen Lawrence inquiry teaches us that. The Government are determined to make Britain a beacon to the world as a successful multicultural society. That is a tough challenge for all of us, but it is not an unrealistic challenge because we have come a long way in the past 25 years since the race relations legislation. We benefit from the diversity in our culture and the success of our ethnic minorities in the professions, academia, business and, indeed, politics.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West reminded us, many stories of ethnic minorities in this country are stories of great success. Many ethnic minority people have succeeded and contributed enormously to this country. Britain is stronger because it is a multicultural society, but there is no room for complacency.

There are problems to be resolved, but the Stephen Lawrence case shows that we are prepared to face up to our problems as a mature democracy and to tackle them. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury said, we deserve credit for having come a long way since the race relations legislation. Perhaps some need to come a little further. Perhaps we need to pick up the pace in the next few years on many issues, as the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) said. We will pick up the pace and move forward on an agenda to create a multicultural Britain. The Bill is part of that strategy and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).