|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Peston: The intervention of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, was cogent. We can all agree with his comments. I do not normally address noble Lords on topics of this kind. However, I do so today not because I have any legal expertise, but as a matter of moral obligation. The moral dimension has not been mentioned, but I feel a strong sense of what may be called the immorality of what permeates our society in this area. The main element that has prompted me to speak is my reading of the Macpherson report. I do not have the literary skills to express the horror I felt as I read what was being described in page after page of that report.
While I accept entirely that this issue does not concern only the Metropolitan Police--I shall return to exactly what it does concern--a central feature of the report was the behaviour of some Metropolitan policemen and no one has sought to deny the general proposition that more of that kind of behaviour occurred than that attributed to a tiny minority in the report. I do not accuse the police in general. But no one reading the report could assume that what occurred was an oddity. Rather, the report describes a
However, I do not wish to single out the Metropolitan Police. I believe that the phenomenon we are discussing permeates the whole of our society. I believe that institutional racism exists in all kinds of places. One is ashamed to have to admit that that is the case. As an academic, I have to say that I believe strongly that institutional racism exists in our universities. Equally, discrimination of a religious and sexual nature exists widely; is not limited to the police. Listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who mentioned the NHS, I remembered that when I was a young man the Jewish boys at my school had to change their names in order even to secure an interview at a medical school. You simply could not even get to the starting point of applying to medical school with a Jewish name. Boys who were called Cohen changed their names to Conn while those named Levi became Lefford. That was religious rather than race discrimination. But that is merely to argue a technicality. For that reason, any idea that, first, discrimination is new, or, secondly, that it is limited, is wrong. Equally, today we are not discussing sex discrimination. But the scale of sex discrimination in our society still appals me.
The essence of this issue is indirect discrimination. That is why my noble friend and his colleagues at the Home Office have got it completely wrong. No one says, "We are not going to hire any blacks", or "Jews need not apply", although I might add that at one time that was exactly what was said. However, indirect discrimination is central to the matter and institutional racism informs the culture of many places. Years ago I carried out some work on the economics of immigration in a book that became quite important in its day. In my research I found many firms who did not employ black people. However, when asked, they did not respond that they had a policy of not employing black people. Rather, they said, "But these are our criteria and it just happens that no blacks have ever met them." That illustrates exactly the problem we face; namely, indirect discrimination.
The lack of promotion of women in universities does not mean that anyone says, "We are not going to promote women here". Instead, it is said that, "These are our criteria and it is rotten luck that rather few women meet them." So my point reflects precisely that made by my noble friend Lady Lockwood and many other speakers today; namely, that, with respect to the Minister, not unusually the Home Office has got it exactly wrong. It claims to be outlawing the practice of direct discrimination. That does not need to be specifically outlawed because the case is obvious. The precise problem is indirect discrimination and how to
I am led to the same conclusion as that of many speakers today. The Minister must think again and return with something better than what we are being asked to accept today. It is always with a heavy heart that I utter any word of criticism of my noble friends on the Front Bench. However, in this case I believe that we all have a moral obligation to say that this will not do.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: It has become clear over the past hour and a half that this amendment epitomizes the important and widespread criticism of the Bill both within this Chamber and by those bodies outside who have studied the Bill. The case for the amendment was clearly made not only by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, but also by all those who have spoken in the course of the debate. The Government have argued that to extend the Bill to cover indirect discrimination might interfere both with policy making and policy execution. As regards policy making, as others have already pointed out, any policy that has a proper validity for helping those who are disadvantaged in some way--the unemployed; the young; ethnic minorities and so forth--would not fall foul of this legislation because, for example, there were more ethnic minority people in a particular geographic area, or whatever criteria were chosen on which to base the policy. I do not believe that to be a strong argument.
Those of us who have represented constituencies or who have been elected to local authorities know that, when fielding complaints from the public at Saturday morning surgeries, some people jump to conclusions as to why, from their point of view, a wrong decision has been taken or a wrong conclusion reached by an authority. For example, in planning matters it was an absolutely normal experience for people to say that the council had ignored what they said. Those people did not mean that, because the council may have studied their representations extremely thoroughly. What they meant was that the council did not agree with them. If the council happened to change its mind, there was always someone on the other side. All kinds of conspiracies are attached to a wrong decision on someone's part. However, that is not sufficient justification for saying that the Bill should not cover policy-making. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said, the greater difficulty lies in the implementation of the policy.
There has been particular reflection on the police. The whole Bill stems in part from the Lawrence case and the Macpherson inquiry. I welcomed the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. The debate might otherwise have tended to give the wrong impression of the Committee's view of police behaviour. I do not know whether we shall hear any reminiscences from the Minister regarding any brushes that he may have had with the police force at an earlier stage in his life. I do not propose to go down that road myself.
The Metropolitan Police, and particularly its leadership, are doing a great deal to tackle the issue of stop-and-search. No one wants to make it more difficult for them. For those who want to look into the matter in more detail I recommend the report published yesterday by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary on, among other matters, race and stop-and-search in the Metropolitan Police. The report points out the difficulties with the figures--flowing in part from the fact that the population of the streets of London is not the same as the residents of London. There are a large number of visitors. That distorts the figures and makes them difficult to read. The report makes clear the efforts of the Metropolitan Police and the ways in which they are attempting to tackle the problem and, indeed, succeeding to a considerable degree, with the assistance of the Commission for Racial Equality, which has been involved in a Metropolitan Police working party on the subject for five years or more, and other bodies. No one wants the police to become less effective against crime.
One of the worrying points emerging from the report is that some police are now not using the power to stop and search at all for fear of disciplinary action and the possible consequences. That is partly to do with changes in the disciplinary code, which have made it slightly easier for those involved to lose their jobs. That point must be borne in mind.
To return to the main point of the amendment, indirect discrimination is covered by the European Convention on Human Rights, the common law, and the United Nations conventions referred to by the noble Viscount. So in a way the only questions being decided by the amendment are: which judicial forum will be the relevant one to decide these matters; and on what basis? Is it to be decided within the United Kingdom by Ministers answerable to Parliament in the traditional way; or is it to be decided by United Kingdom judges applying the legal process?
Whichever of those two routes is chosen in the United Kingdom in regard to indirect discrimination, the ECHR and the United Nations conventions will still apply. So judicial processes overseas will follow in any case. That is the nub of the choice that the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, are asking us to make. This has been a most interesting debate. My conclusion is that if the Government want to persevere with the clause in its present form, they must make a much better case than they have so far.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page