Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I used original sin only as an analogy. I did not say that it was original sin, but that it was like original sin.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. That is the point with which I disagree with him. I said that I disagreed with his analogy of original sin. However, I do not want to turn this into a debate on theology because I am quite sure that the right reverend Prelate will do much better than I can in that respect.

We are also concerned about the definition of a "racist incident". The Minister said that the proposals in the report were a simplified version. My concern is that perhaps we are making it too simple and not just clearer. The report says that it should be simple and clearer. This

15 Apr 1999 : Column 899

is an area that must be closely monitored by the Home Office to ensure that incidents that are not necessarily racist in nature do not become so classified just in case they may be racist. That certainly would not help either the collection of statistics or the police in dealing with such circumstances.

Education was mentioned by a number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Education on this is important and is part of the Home Secretary's recommendations, which we welcome. If we start such education at an early age, we can do a lot to combat racism in this country.

I believe that noble Lords should also pay a tribute to Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I believe that his force does a very good job. As has been claimed by some, particularly in another place, it is not a force that is institutionally corrupt or incompetent. I believe that the majority of officers in the Metropolitan Police do their very best to serve society in very difficult circumstances. We must pay tribute to Sir Paul Condon's commitment to pushing through the recommendations and to bringing his force up to the standards that he wishes to achieve.

There were major failures of the police in the investigation of this murder. Those failures were compounded the more senior the officers who became involved in the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis said, it got worse the higher up one got. One senior officer behaved in an extraordinary way, suggesting that his officers should sue the Lawrence family for racism. By any standards, it was an extraordinary saga.

Lessons have been learnt by the police. We welcome the fact that the Police Federation, the Superintendents Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers accept the need for independent investigation of serious complaints. We also welcome the improvement in training on race matters, and improvements with regard to building trust in the community and relationships with ethnic minorities, together with an increase in the availability of family liaison officers. But this must mean an increase in budget. The response paper provided by the Home Secretary states that money must be provided but it is somewhat opaque as to how that is related to current Home Office spending.

We must support the Home Secretary's plan to recruit an additional 8,000 officers from ethnic communities. I agree with the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the setting of targets. However, if this is to be delivered within the three years announced by the Home Secretary, how is the money to be provided? Will the Treasury provide the money to the police? If not, it will perhaps become an increasing burden on the police service. Local authorities may also be put under pressure.

I return to one particular recommendation: the confiscation of pension in whole or in part. This matter was raised by several noble Lords. It must be treated with great care and caution. One aspect of the Police Service that I always found particularly strange was the fact that policemen under investigation could escape any form of sanction by retiring on the grounds of ill health.

15 Apr 1999 : Column 900

It was almost a scam. No one else had that unique ability to escape the investigation of improper or perhaps illegal behaviour. I welcome the fact that that is no longer the case and that the police are treated on the same basis as everyone else in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, favoured the abolition of the right of silence for police officers as for any other member of the public. I shall listen with interest to what the Minister says about that. Allowing the police to be placed in a worse position regarding their pension rights than is any other civil servant seems rather bizarre. As one noble Lord said, its only effect will be to make police officers seek private pensions.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was concerned about the television programme and the fact that a fair trial might not be possible. I believe that that view is shared by many in this country. However, we should not look solely at television coverage. I believe that television and the press as a whole must consider their behaviour and the effect of, frankly, inflammatory headlines on all the families involved. Did they help or, as I suspect, prejudice the possibility of a fair trial?

The noble and learned Lord was also concerned about the inquiry into the leak. So are we. Leaks are always serious. However, what makes the matter more serious in this case is that it was not a casual leak but an attempt to effect acceptance of the report by Parliament and the public. I look forward to the Minister telling the House when we can expect the Statement on the leak that the Home Secretary has promised.

I should also like to ask the Minister about the witnesses who gave evidence and whose details were, extraordinarily, included in the annex to the inquiry. How many families have had to move? Will they be able to return to the areas from which they originally came? What help are they being given now and in the future? The Government must not lose sight of people who came forward in difficult circumstances to give evidence and who are now forced to leave their community.

As my noble friend Lord Cope said at the beginning of this debate, we must all strive to build mutual trust between the ethnic communities in this country and the Police Service. However, we are not concerned solely with the Police Service. It is a matter of building confidence in the institutions of government in this country. The attitudes of the police reflect those that are prevalent in other institutions of government, central or local, whether local services, social services, the Ministry of Defence, the National Health Service or perhaps institutions that include membership of the Church. We must use this not only to improve the police and policing in this country, but to get rid of racism in any of the institutions that everybody in this country has a right to trust.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this has been a good debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, on his contribution. The last time we

15 Apr 1999 : Column 901

appeared together in a public place was in a debate at Durham University not too long ago. I note that he has lost none of the skill that I admired on that occasion.

Many noble Lords have contributed notably to the debate. It is difficult to select. However, perhaps I may mention the considered and careful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick. I hope, too, that his brothers in the Church of England might study what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham said. A number of noble Lords, among them the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out the extraordinary difference in numbers between the hundreds of noble Lords present on Tuesday to express at some length what some thought might have been a powerful prejudice and the few who have been present today. The noble Earl is right. It is somewhat disappointing and rather a reproach to this House. The noble Earl was not alone in making that point; it is a powerful one.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, put his finger entirely on the point at the beginning of his remarks, with which I entirely agreed. He said that the police in this country, by and large, do a good job--better than most elsewhere. I think that that is a fair summary despite the blemishes that have been disclosed in the report.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is extremely generous, as were other noble Lords, when speaking about the Home Secretary, Jack Straw. Two dates are worth bearing in mind. Stephen Lawrence was murdered on 22nd April 1993 because he was black, and for no other reason. Despite the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, there was no inquiry until July 1997. If Jack Straw does nothing other than this in the whole of his tenure as Home Secretary, he will go down notably in the history of modern times as regards the setting up of the inquiry, the publication of the report and the immediate response of the action plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that the report is a most significant milestone. I entirely agree. I think that it will be more significant than what happened after the Scarman Report. I congratulate Sir William Macpherson. I did so at the first opportunity when we had a brief statement on the report. It is a notable piece of work. Not everyone agrees with all of it, but most people agree with most of it; and that is quite an extraordinary achievement.

Undoubtedly, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence are deeply decent and dignified people. I shared a platform with them recently and it is quite humbling to see how they behave in continuing adversity--not least the mindless stupidity of defacing even the memorial at the place of their son's death.

We have taken some steps already. It has been of continuing concern for me that at inquests, in particular of those who died in circumstances in which the state may have some responsibility, the one class of persons denied advance disclosure of information is those who I believe have the greatest moral claim; namely, the families. That has stopped now. Fortunately, not only do I have oversight of the coroner's system but now the prison system. Therefore since 1st April of this year

15 Apr 1999 : Column 902

families will have advance disclosure of information on those who died in prison custody. By the end of this month, they will also be in a position to have advance disclosure as regards those who died in police custody. That requires no expense of any consequence. All it requires is determination.

I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others said about Jack Straw. As the years pass and as we remain longer in Government, I hope that we shall not lose the decent impulse to respond in a proper way--as opposed to the notoriously defensive way in which the Home Office was previously run, politically, not by the civil servants.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked specifically about the witness protection scheme. There is a witness protection unit. It has worked closely with the Home Office and--I pay tribute to it--the local authority, Greenwich Council, to ensure the safety of those affected. I do not think it is right to go into specific detail. The long-term plans of families who may have had to move, or feel uneasy, I think should be private to them at this stage.

A number of questions were raised about the leak inquiry. There was a leak. I dealt with that on the last occasion. The reason that we did not want leaks was as a matter of decent conduct towards the Lawrences. I should have thought that most people would have come to the conclusion that they have suffered enough and were entitled to first sight of the report. That is water under the bridge now. Whether or not the injunction was rightly applied for, I do not think will assist us on this present occasion. The report was published in full. Sir William Macpherson took full responsibility for that and--I am not putting this in any partisan way--he said in his letter to the Home Secretary at the beginning of the report,


    "I take personal responsibility for all that is set out in the Report". Everyone regrets that material was included which should not have been, but that in no way takes away from the long-term effect of which the report is capable.

In respect of the Kent inquiry, in fairness to the Kent officers, Sir William Macpherson commented that the Kent review was described as thorough, painstaking and fair. So this is not a story of continuing incompetence; and I believe that that needs to be put on record.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked me about the widening of the curricular aspect of anti-racism. I paraphrase. I undertake to be in contact with my noble friend and colleague Lady Blackstone, who is always extremely open minded and receptive when these matters are put to her.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked about the specific targets for reducing the ethnic minority exclusions from schools. I can confirm that that target has been accepted. It follows the social exclusions report on truancy and schools exclusions which was published last May, and we have accepted that.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, also asked about the requirement in law which might put a duty on local authorities to promote equality. One finds that at present in the Race Relations Act 1976. Local authorities are required to discharge their functions to eliminate

15 Apr 1999 : Column 903

unlawful racial discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups. I recognise that the noble Lord may say that that Act has been on the statute book for a while. It is a good reminder that local authorities can perhaps return to those powers and review their internal structures and workings.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, asked about the Scottish Law Commission. We are discussing with the Law Commission here the timescale and terms of reference for its review. But I understand that there is no intention to involve the Law Commission in Scotland because of the role that the Lord Advocate has in the conduct of prosecutions in Scotland. That is my best understanding.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to whom, as always, I am grateful for his approach, asked about training in the Home Office. The new Home Office contract to which the noble Lord, Lord Knights, referred, focuses on the issue of training. The new consultants--Ioanann Management Consultants--are working with individual forces to develop training along those lines. I said in my opening remarks that the Home Office, as with other government departments, has no grand story to tell. We must examine what we do internally. That is what the Home Secretary has promised to do.

I cannot give a specific date on which the leak inquiry will conclude. Quite a lot of what I read in the newspaper about the leak inquiry is utterly and completely 100 per cent. wrong. It stated that I was carefully cross-examined. That is untrue. It stated that with other colleagues I was under suspicion because I had a copy of the report. That is completely untrue. So yet again, even when your photograph is in the paper, do not believe everything you read.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, spoke about more money. One sees in the action plan that we are already committed to an investment of £1.24 billion over the next three years. Returning to the fundamental point I made earlier, that is not an optional extra. One cannot run an efficient police force except on the basis of trust. One will not have that trust unless one goes towards those targets. Therefore it will be obligatory. It is not an option; it has been an option for far too long.

The Home Secretary has given an undertaking that for the first time the Race Relations Act will apply to all public services. That is extremely important, specific questions having been put to me in particular as to whether the Immigration and Nationality Directorate will be covered. The answer is yes. I can give no wider commitment about the further extension of other legislation relating to equality. The Home Secretary's present conclusion is that it is easy to kick things into the long grass and even if we bring about things imperfectly we ought to do so as immediately as we can.

The Home Office has a departmental race equality action plan. The management board is taking positive steps to address the issue. I believe that we should return to it in this House at regular intervals. That is why the annual report, which is mentioned in the action plan, is so very important. I know that I am waiting for the boomerang to come back, possibly to strike me on the

15 Apr 1999 : Column 904

back of the head, but that is a useful risk to run. I welcome all scrutiny and questions in your Lordships' House because sometimes I am enabled to nudge gently and cajole officials to say that if we do not have a decent story to tell it is I who will be rebuked by your Lordships.

What has happened here is that a British family have been denied justice. Apart from the cruel incident of the murder of their young boy, they have been monstrously let down by the whole system. So, as a conclusion upon which to ponder, we have a British citizen doing nothing wrong, going home of an evening to parents who are waiting, and who is murdered by racist thugs. Incompetence and institutional racism provide them no remedy.

I return to the disparity between the number of Members present the other evening and today. I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence think about that when they look at the figures--but then he was only a black young man! It is a job for everyone. It is worth saying, even if there is dissent from those opposite me, because if we all say that we must examine our own hearts and minds and I ask an uncomfortable question, does that not underline the point that everyone has made, although not perhaps as personally and as disagreeably as some people may find it?

The police are in a very difficult position because they are in constant contact with the public, often in disagreeable circumstances. I am not able to answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, because I had not anticipated it. However, I shall research it and write to him about the Attorney-General's involvement or non-involvement and the question of nolle prosequi. But he and I have both prosecuted and defended over the years. We know perfectly well that the good police officer is in the majority and that he or she is a pearl beyond price in our society. It is a very difficult job. When your house has been burgled, or you are terrified that your house will be attacked, or your relatives have been murdered, the first people you go to are not Members of this House or another place but the police. Terrible damage has been done to the police service and the mutual trust between the public and the police in consequence, first, of the occurrence of Stephen's death, thereafter the incompetence which followed, and thereafter the damning conclusions of this report.

I believe that there is a new tide in our society. I believe that Sir Paul Condon was rightly retained as Metropolitan Commissioner not least because of the work he has done in rooting out racism and corruption in his own force, which is a very difficult and isolated situation to be in. I believe that the Metropolitan Police are learning the lessons. That is not intended simply to be a cosmetic remark. They need assistance, public support and informed constructive criticism. Above all, they need the action report and the detailed, structured plan which has been set out by the Home Secretary.

A number of your Lordships have said that this is nothing simply to do with the police. I absolutely agree. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I touched on a number of other services, including the

15 Apr 1999 : Column 905

Probation and Prison Services. A number of your Lordships spoke about education and national health. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in a powerful speech, said that we find institutional racism in all parts of our society and in all other societies. That is true. I return to the wider community in which reside, or resided, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Sir William Macpherson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and myself. I am not sure what marvellous tale we could tell if there were an inquiry into the various aspects of the legal profession in this country and how it organises itself in its various arcane ways. I do not believe that we would come out of it enormously well and we might come out of it rather badly, to put it at its most neutral.

We have all been saying many of the same things for far too long. We have all been saying that we must do better and how wrong and wicked racism is. That is no good to the Lawrences, no good at all. Therefore, by way of beginning, I believe that setting up the inquiry was a courageous step. Getting on with the action plan and publishing the report within a matter of weeks is absolutely critical. It will be a long journey and I believe that we should focus on the issue year in and year out. Although I can commit no one in terms of the usual channels, perhaps when the annual report is published we should spend some time considering it with perhaps rather more of our colleagues present.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page