HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc18-20
13. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

What steps are being taken to tackle racism in the police. [134170]

15. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

If he will make a statement on the potential role of whistleblowing in tackling alleged racism in police forces. [134172]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety has already made it clear that we believe unequivocally that racism is unacceptable wherever it occurs, but particularly in the police service. That is why we introduced the new recruitment and assessment procedure, which took effect in 13 forces last May and is being rapidly extended across the country. That is why we are working with chief constables to ensure that failure on only one of the seven competences in respect of race and diversity, to which my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety referred earlier, will mean that someone cannot have a job. Above all, we must use the new assessment centre to ensure that those doing the assessment are properly trained.

On Question 15, section 37 of last year's Police Reform Act 2002 gives the necessary protection to police officers and those working in the service to be able to use adequately the right of whistleblowers to tell the truth about what is going on in the service.

Mr. Cunningham

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I appreciate the fact that the police are introducing a new system, based on the seven criteria, for entering the police force. However, since the incidents of the behaviour of police recruits—albeit a minority—have been revealed, what reaction has he had from the ethnic minorities throughout the country?

Mr. Blunkett

Quite understandably, one of sheer horror. I have been working with the National Black Police Association since before the film was shown, having attended its annual conference. First, I want to ensure that attitudes within the service are changed and that the diversity of our communities is respected. Secondly, when evidence is brought forward, I hope that through identification from within the force itself, rather than simply through the media, people will have the wherewithal and the confidence to bring that forward and senior officers will be prepared to take decisive action.

Mr. Llwyd

I am sure that the Home Secretary and every hon. Member will agree that the police do a difficult and dangerous job and need all the support that they can get, and I am sure that we all agree also that racism is a minority interest within police forces. Having said that, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the statutory provision for whistleblowing, but is there not now a case for changing the culture? One of the ingredients of a successful force is the camaraderie, and one ingredient of that is individuals often keeping quiet when they should not when something wrong is picked up. In those circumstances, would it be possible to encourage police authorities and police forces to ensure that any whistleblowing incident can go ahead without any adverse come-back on the individual concerned? We really need to change the culture.

Mr. Blunkett

I would agree that the culture is critically important not simply in terms of people's behaviour towards each other, but in changing hearts and minds. People should not only refrain from using abhorrent language, but actually change their real attitude and actions. That applies to gender as much as to race. We all, to make the hon. Gentleman's point, have an obligation to do so, not just in terms of public services, but in respect of attitudes within political parties and within communities.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of allegations in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday about a detective who is responsible for investigating racially motivated crimes? According to the newspaper, she is married to an active member of the British National party and they have a bust of Adolf Hitler in their living room. Her husband has also made claims about the holocaust being exaggerated. Will my right hon. Friend take any measures that he can to ensure that that person is regarded as an inappropriate officer for doing that job in the police force?

Mr. Blunkett

That description should lead to immediate investigation of the facts and action being taken, which also applies to the eight officers—in the forces to which they have moved as well as the Greater Manchester force—after last Tuesday's broadcast. However, I do not want to rely on revelations by the media, but on proper investigation, proper analysis and action taken by senior managers within the police service to ensure that we do not have such incidents in the future.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

Did the permanent secretary write to the BBC before the showing of the television programme that showed racism in the police force, and was that letter an attempt at censorship?

Mr. Blunkett

The permanent secretary wrote on 12 September to raise a number of issues, not having seen the film footage or the other material, which was not disclosed to the Home Office or Greater Manchester police, despite the fact that Greater Manchester police—on behalf of the chief constable and the Home Office—had requested it three times. He wrote to the director-general of the BBC to make a number of salient points, which in no way undermined the absolutely critical nature of the final broadcast, the material revealed, and the central issue of rooting out racism. One of the points that he raised was that it is critically important that members of the public dealing with the police service should know that the people they are dealing with are bona fide police officers and not members of the BBC staff.