HL Deb 17 March 1981 vol 418 cc655-6

2.48 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government who is conducting the inquiry into racist violence promised by the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, and in what manner they propose to obtain evidence from ethnic minorities of attacks on their members.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, Home Office officials are currently arranging a survey of the incidence of alleged attacks by members of one racial group on another in a number of police areas. They will also be visiting those areas to obtain, at first hand, the views of the ethnic minority communities, as well as those of the police and local authorities.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, while there was a very general welcome for the assurance given by the Secretary of State when he met the Joint Committee against Racialism on 4th February that an immediate study would begin of racist organisations in Britain, and the monitoring of attacks which might have racist motives, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that the credibility of this study will be undermined if it is conducted entirely within the closed walls of the Home Office? Is it not absolutely essential that members of the ethnic minorities should be seen to participate in the inquiry that the Secretary of State is undertaking? Can the Minister give us any idea of how the ethnic minorities will be able to take an active part in the Home Secretary's investigation, apart from just giving evidence to the Home Office officials when they pay visits to the constituencies?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the way in which the Home Secretary has announced how the inquiry will enable the views of all concerned to be gathered effectively and, as I said in my main Answer, it is intended to hold discussions—and they will be two-way discussions—with a wide range of community relations organisations and ethnic minority groups, as well as local authorities and the police. I think that is the most effectively way of proceeding with this inquiry.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while deeply welcoming this investigation, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that many of us are very disturbed by the increasing exhibitions of towards ethnic minorities by other residents in this country? In view of that situation, will the Minister suggest to the Secretary of State that very great care should be taken about the nature of this investigation so that it may have the confidence of the ethnic minorities and not lead to further criticism?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, this inquiry is being conducted into the incidence of racist attacks and of course it follows a visit paid to the Home Secretary by the Joint Committee Against Racial Discrimination. As I said, I think this is an effective and sensible way to proceed and I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that my right honourable friend condemns racist activity anywhere.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister consider suggesting to his right honourable friend that even if black people are not allowed to participate directly in the inquiry—which, as he said, is to be conducted entirely by Home Office officials—at least the views of organisations like the Standing Conference of West Indian Organisations, the Standing Conference of Pakistani Organisations and the Indian Workers' Association, which represent substantial bodies of persons in the ethnic minorities, should be sought during the course of the inquiry?

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I might correct what the noble Lord said at the beginning of that, my Lords. People who are concerned with this will all be involved in it. The discussions will be two-way and they will be conducted at local level. All who are concerned and who feel they are concerned will be welcome to have their say. The answer to the last part of the noble Lord's supplementary is that it is open to any person or organisation to send us their views in writing.

Lord Chitnis

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say whether, among the Home Office officials who will be conducting this inquiry, there will be some members of the ethnic minorities themselves?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have no idea what the answer to that question is. The point is that this is a sensible way of proceeding. I must confess to the noble Lord that it had not occurred to me that I should count the heads of those who actually will be conducting the inquiry.

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