HL Deb 25 November 1981 vol 425 cc769-78

3.34 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr. Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement on the report of Lord Scarman's inquiry into the disorders in Brixton in April of this year, which I have published today.

"Lord Scarman's report has, at its centre, the disorders themselves. He describes these as riots—initially spontaneous and, throughout, inexcusable in their violence. He measures the immediate response to that disorder in these words: 'Those who were privileged, as I was, to hear the evidence during the inquiry, will have had many opportunities to marvel at, and be thankful for, the courage and dedication which was displayed by members of the police and emergency services in Brixton over that terrible week-end'.

"The report ranges more widely, and goes on to discuss those factors which, in Lord Scarman's view, led to the disorders. He sees then as stemming from a breakdown in confidence between the police and the coloured community, against a background of urban deprivation, racial disadvantage and a rising level of street crime. The report acknowledges the good work which has been done, and is being done, by the police, and others, to prevent such events recurring but emphasises that all those concerned have important lessons to learn for the future.

"Lord Scarman's detailed recommendations on policing policy and policing arrangements add up to a statement of philosophy and direction for the future which rests on the need for the police to carry out their duty with the consent and support of the community. The report rightly leads discussion away from simple concepts of 'hard' and 'soft' policing, and focuses on issues which reflect the real variety of policing, and the duty of the police to apply the law firmly and sensitively without differing standards. Lord Scarman emphasises that the consent and support of the community depend on good two-way communications between the police and the public. The operational judgment of the police will be informed, and not undermined, by consultation with the community it serves. At the same time, the community has a duty to maintain discussion with the police, and respond to their initiatives. Without consultation of this kind there will not be accountability, and the necessary balance between preserving the peace and enforcing the law will be distorted.

"I accept and endorse this statement of philosophy. It will be my responsibility, and that of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in his area of responsibility, in consultation with all concerned, to see that it is carried into practice.

"In particular, I accept the need to develop formal arrangements in every police force area for consultation between police and community at different levels, and for the involvement of chief officers of police in local social and economic decisions affecting policing. Similarly, I endorse the need for regular and systematic consultation at borough level in the Metropolitan Police district, where Lord Scarman recommends that the Home Secretary should remain police authority. I shall set up early discussions on the arrangements for consultation in Lambeth.

"I accept the need for more effort to be put into training with a new emphasis on the problems of policing a multiracial society, and on the prevention and handling of disorder. We must concentrate on those now in the service as well as on recruits, especially in the area of supervision and management.

"I accept that the procedure for handling complaints against the police must be substantially reformed if it is to command public confidence. I have already given this matter a great deal of consideration, and I shall bring forward proposals to the House as soon as I can.

"Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, the rest of Lord Scarman's report is concerned with racial disadvantage, the law in the field of public order and social and economic conditions. All of these affect the problems of policing in a multiracial inner city environment.

"The report emphasises that despite the efforts of successive Governments, the problems of inner cities persist. Lord Scarman's recommendations point to the need to seek ways in which better co-ordination and better value for money can be achieved. That is this Government's purpose, through the Merseyside task force in particular. Equally, the report—like the study I recently presented into racial attacks—illustrates the consequences of failure fully to understand the ethnically diverse society of our inner cities, and the response it demands. We shall need to pursue that response not only in relation to Lord Scarman's report but also in reply to the valuable report of the Select Committee of this House on Racial Disadvantage.

"The police have a right to look for action by society as a whole; they must not become scapegoats. As far as the Government are concerned, we accept the responsibility, in which we must all share, to make our multi racial society work more justly.

"Mr. Speaker, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House is ready to provide time for a debate in which we can examine this important report more thoroughly than will be possible today. The House, and the country, owe to Lord Scarman a considerable debt. I welcome the report and I thank him for it".

That, my Lords, is my right honourable friend's Statement.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for reading the important Statement made by the Home Secretary on what one can only describe as the historic report from the noble and learned Lord. Lord Scarman, to whom we are indeed greatly indebted, not only on this occasion but on other occasions too, for the public service he renders outside his ordinary judicial duties.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will have noted, I am sure with approval, some of the closing words of the Home Secretary's Statement; namely, As far as the Government are concerned, we accept the responsibility, in which we must all share, to make our multi racial society work more justly". The gist of the statement has been directed, quite properly, to what is involved in the experience of Brixton and in the conclusions of the report for the relationships between the police and the public—a crucial element in the stability of our society. Not only is the report a cold, analytical, dramatic account of the dreadful events of last April, which are deplorable, but it is a pointer to the future.

We can make a new beginning based upon the recommendations of Lord Scarman. It is good to note in the Statement that not only is there support of the philosophy behind the report of Lord Scarman—and supports of philosophy can go here and there; philosophical attitudes can change—but what is significant here is the commitment that the Home Secretary will see to it that the statement of policy will be carried into practice. Its basis, as I understand it, is the greater accountability of the police and greater consultation between the police and the relevant local authorities. The need for consultation between police and community at different levels is emphasised in the report and accepted by the Home Secretary, and he endorses, also, the need for regular and systematic consultation at borough level in the Metropolitan Police district. We are glad to know that there are to be early discussions on the arrangements for consultation in Lambeth.

On the proposals with regard to training, that also is a part of the report which is accepted. How soon does the Minister think that the proposed new procedure for handling complaints against the police will be introduced? The Home Secretary permits himself to refer—and not surprisingly, as there has been almost universal demand for this and indeed a recognition of the need for it by the police themelves at the end of the day—to the need for substantial reform of the procedure for handling complaints against the police.

The most sombre part of Lord Scarman's report is his warning that urgent action is needed if racial disadvantage is not to become: an endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society and that if the police neglect consultation and co-operation with the local community unrest is certain and riot becomes probable". In regard to this aspect of the report I should like to ask the Minister what is the Government's response to Lord Scarman's view that the attack on racial disadvantage must be more direct than it has been and that it must be co-ordinated by central Government who, with local authorities, must ensure that the funds made available are directed to specific areas of racial disadvantage, and he refers particularly to education and employment. Have the Government any proposals in regard to those fields, the source of a great deal of the tragedies of the inner areas of our great city?

The conculsion of Lord Scarman is that the social conditions in Brixton do not provide an excuse for disorder—that is made clear throughout the report—but they cannot be fully understood unless they are seen in the context of complex political, social and economic factors which together create a predisposition towards violent protest. This is a critical moment in our social history. We should respond positively, quickly and actively; and what I detect in this report and the whole attitude of Lord Scarman is not the conclusion of Mr. Enoch Powell—"You have seen nothing yet "—but a firm belief that it is still not too late to repair the fences in our society.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, we also are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for repeating the Statement made in another place. The report which is before your Lordships is in fact a profoundly important document for which Parliament and, indeed, the whole nation must be tremendously grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, who has done his work so thoroughly and so competently in the short span of time that has been available to him since he was asked to undertake this work by the Secretary of State in April, and with that concern for justice and humanity for which the noble and learned Lord is so rightly renowned.

We warmly welcome the Statement by the Secretary of State for what is contains and particularly (if I may mention this) the emphasis on the in-service training of the police which the noble Lord says should be compulsory. May I ask the Minister what steps have to be taken before this recommendation can be implemented? It implies (does it not?) that police officers will have to be taken off their normal duties for the additional training which they will be receiving.

The Government's acceptance of the responsibility to make our society work more justly for the racial minorities is also warmly to be welcomed. I should like to ask the noble Lord what the Government are going to do in their rÔle as employer to see that black people get a fairer deal and, in particular, also whether they have reconsidered their refusal to incorporate equal opportunity clauses in the contracts which they have as a Government. What resources are to be made available by the Government to ensure that deprived black people do get their fair share, particularly, as the noble and learned Lord says, of jobs and education—and also I should add of training and housing, where deprivation is equally important?

There are two matters which the Statement does not mention and I should like to ask the noble Lord to touch on them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, has said that there is evidence of racial prejudice among the police, and indeed of harassment as well. Will the noble Lord make it absolutely clear that this will not be tolerated and that new and vigorous measures will be taken to eradicate any signs of racial prejudice or harassment of minorities by the police?

Finally, would he care to say anything about Lord Scarman's recommendation that there should be amendments to the Public Order Act, first, to require advance notice of processions so that we know when fascists are going to take to the streets, but, more important, to ban racist marches in sensitive areas?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Lord take our questions now or would he rather answer those two speeches first?

3.50 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am advised that I should answer the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and this I will do by first thanking the noble and learned Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for their response to the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman. I should, if I may, like to reinforce the thanks given at the end of my right honourable friend's Statement. This is indeed a remarkable report of very great importance to everyone and we are deeply indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, for it.

I would not wish to add anything to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has said about the very kernel of the report, which, so far as the policing side is concerned, is to do with accountability and consultation; except perhaps one sentence, which is that I think it is important to take on board that Lord Scarman recommends no change in the basic statutory arrangements in the Police Act 1964, and indeed endorses the position of the Home Secretary as the police authority for the Metropolitan Police district. But, of course, he then goes on to make this very important emphasis about consultation and accountability needing to go even wider and deeper, and it is this which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has gone out of his way to say he accepts without reservation.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the police complaints procedure. The specific question was: How soon will the Home Secretary bring forward recommendations for alterations, which the Statement says is accepted by the Government for the complaints procedure? I am afraid that I am not in a position to give a direct answer to that question today. Consultation will need to go on in the Police Advisory Board, chaired by my right honourable friend, and I apprehend that there will be a meeting of that board fairly soon. But I am at liberty to say today that I know that my right honourable friend will wish to bring forward proposals as speedily as he can.

The noble and learned Lord asked about racial disadvantage, and this question was raised by both noble Lords. The Government have repeatedly emphasised their commitment to eliminating racial discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity. Lord Scarman has emphasised that where special needs exist special measures may be required. We have supported and we do support special programmes. We are urgently studying the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs of another place on racial disadvantage to see what more can be done to combat racial disadvantage.

Finally, the noble and learned Lord spoke about consultation and accountability, and I have answered on that. If I may turn to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, he asks me a specific question about training. The vehicle for changing the arrangements for training is, of course, the Police Training Council, which is chaired by the Home Office, but upon which the representatives of the police and local authority associations are to be found. I would not wish to add to what is said in the Statement, which is in essence that my right honourable friend accepts that there must now be more effort put into training, with a new emphasis on the problems of policing a multiracial society and on the prevention and handling of disorder.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me a second question, about the employment of people from the ethnic minorities, and particularly black people. It was, of course, precisely for this reason that what has been called the Merseyside task force was set up on the recommendation of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Within that there was the effort which was made by my right honourable friend to attract leading financial institutions, to try to bring into Merseyside more money in order to generate more employment; and not only in Merseyside but also in other inner city areas of the country.

3.54 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, we on the SDP Bench welcome the announcement that proposals are to be made about a new procedure for dealing with complaints against the police, and we shall look at those proposals in a constructive spirit when they are available. My Lords, it strikes the eye, even on a short examination, that about three-quarters of Lord Scarman's recommendations are about the social background and what he calls racial disadvantage; whereas, would the Government not confirm, in the Home Secretary's Statement about these recommendations the proportion is the other way round; it is three-quarters about the police and only one-quarter about the social background? Will the Government give at an early opportunity an indication of their approach to the very constructive recommendations on Government policy on the social side towards racial disadvantage contained in the Scarman Report? The Home Secretary having promised an early debate in the House of Commons on this report, can the Government undertake to let us have one here as soon as possible, and if possible before Christmas?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord criticises the balance of my right honourable friend's Statement. The terms of reference which were given to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, were an inquiry into policing as a result of the severe disturbances in Brixton, but deliberately the terms of reference were made wide by my right honourable friend; indeed, it was made clear that Lord Scarman would look into matters which had occurred in other parts of Great Britain in order that we could have the benefit of his advice on problems in inner city areas generally. I think those terms of reference are reflected in the sort of Statement which I have repeated in your Lordships' House today.

So far as a debate is concerned, this is a matter for the usual channels, but I know that my noble friend the Leader of the House will be considering this matter urgently with the Chief Whip.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend a question about consultation, which is something which professional policemen do not happily accept. May I ask my noble friend to give us an assurance that he does intend these consultations to be real? Where they happen in other countries, where they have been in existence since the war, there is considerable disappointment, and in England at present there are virtually none.

May I ask him one further question. How is it that when, during debates over about 10 years, a number of us have spoken about police training, about the lack of imagination among many senior officers, about consultation, and about the spread of knowledge of policing among far wider sections of the public, we have at the end of those debates had either no answer at all or the briefest reference, but when all these are put together in one report by Lord Scarman, the Government immediately adopt the lot?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble friend asks me about consultation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State endorses the need for more formal and systematic arrangements. My right honourable friend will want to hear the views of your Lordships and of another place before deciding whether legislation may be desirable. He will consult a full range of national bodies as well as taking account of the reactions of local organisations. To show that my right honourable friend's intentions are absolutely genuine in this matter, so far as the area for which he as the police authority is concerned he is setting up early discussions on the arrangements for consultations in Lambeth.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, while recognising the remarks of Lord Scarman about the need for greater sensitivity on the part of the police in these difficult areas, can we be assured that the Government Will not put financial obstacles in the way of enlarged training of officers? I have in mind the question of sending police officers to the countries of origin of many of the people who are now living in our cities. Is the noble Lord aware that a small group of officers, including a police officer from my previous constituency, which was very cosmopolitan, spent some time in Trinidad, where they were able to see how the carnival worked and were able to get some sense of the culture and feelings of the people in their own country? it seems to me that this is the kind of enlarged police training which would be very valuable, and I hope the Minister can assure us that money will not stand in the way of that kind of programme.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, money must always be a factor in deciding on training programmes. But I would agree with the noble Baroness that there are other factors which are very important. I should like to add two to the ones which the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, has put to the House. I think that one factor is that to prepare in the fields which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, emphasises—public order, community relations, and supervision and management—precise proposals on what is actually taught is something which must be given careful thought, and the Police Training Council is the vehicle for that. Secondly, there is the need to ensure an appropriate balance in training between training in the classroom, as it were, and training on the job, and between training centrally and training at an in-force level. That has got to be looked at as well and it will be looked at urgently in the Police Training Council.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister comment on a point raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury about the Government's role as employer? There have been questions raised about this matter both in your Lordships' House and in the Select Committee report in another place. It would be reassuring to know that the Government were reviewing their own policy as an employer, a matter which has been open to criticism on a number of occasions.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not want to be discourteous to the noble Baroness, but I did reply to a debate which the noble Baroness raised in your Lordships' House and I have nothing to add to what I said on that occasion.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord has nothing to add to his previous remarks. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, correctly, and certainly if I were asking the question, I would be asking the Government whether, as the largest employer of labour in the country, they will be taking steps to ensure that their employment policy is non-discriminatory and whether the Government, as the provider of the largest number of contracts in the country, will take steps to ensure that the people with whom they enter into contracts have employment policies which are non-discriminatory. So far the noble Lord has not answered that particular question, and I hope that he will apply his mind to it.

I should also like to raise two other matters. The question of a debate here is, of course, for the noble Lord's noble friend the Leader of the House and the usual channels. But there are other matters that would need to be debated by this House. Indeed, at this point I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, for his report and congratulate him on the marvellous job that he has done, particularly on the way in which he changed the whole atmosphere of the inquiry through his approach to the matter. As most noble Lords know, before he went to Brixton there was a big campaign to boycott the inquiry. The noble and learned Lord converted everybody and needs to be congratulated for that.

In fact, that is a diversion, although a very important one. What I want to ask the Minister is the following. The noble Lord in speaking about accountability said that it would not work unless it were statutory. I noticed that in anwer to the questions that have been put to the noble Lord so far, there is talk about exploring in discussions the possibility of establishing appropriate machinery in Lambeth. There was voluntary machinery in Lambeth before but it broke down. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, said we need to have statutory—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but perhaps he would he kind enough to put his remarks in the form of a question.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, as the noble Baroness rose I was putting the question. The question which I was putting to the noble Lord was as follows: When are we going to discuss the question of the statutory responsibility for these discussions, because that will need to be discussed by Parliament? That was the point that I wanted to make.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, emphasises that consultation and accountability need to go wider and deeper than consultation between the police and the police authority. He wants the involvement of other community leaders and the community as a whole, and not just locally elected representatives. He wants consultation to take place at a local level below that of the police authority and the police area. Hence his recommendations for formal arrangements for consultation at the borough or police district level in the Metropolitan Police district and for local consultative or liaison committees in the provinces. I want to make it clear without peradventure that my right honourable friend accepts this need for wider and deeper consultations.

Lord Denham

My Lords, before your Lordships resume the debate on my noble friend Lord Kimberley's Motion, in accordance with the advice of the Companion to Standing Orders I have to inform your Lordships that there is now one hour and 50 minutes left until my noble friend Lord Trefgarne is due to begin his reply. I repeat, one hour and 50 minutes and that begins from the moment that the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, rises to his feet.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him to work out the arithmetic of each speech?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I make it six minutes.