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Lord Ahmed: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a great majority of police officers do an extremely good job under very difficult circumstances? Does he further agree that training is required for all officers, particularly at the junior level?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, not for the first time, of course, I pay willing tribute to the quality of most police officers in this country. Training is very important and I take the noble Lord's point. It is not simply training on entry to the police force but continuous training in awareness of difficult matters. We must aim to get more police officers from ethnic minorities, particularly in the context of retaining and promoting them after they have been recruited.
Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, does the Minister accept that my experience as a Member of Parliament for a West London constituency was that the senior officers of the Metropolitan Police concerned with community relations were absolutely first-class and that often the problems arose because some of their more junior colleagues were not as enlightened? Does he agree that that underlines the importance of training not only for recruits but also for those rather older people who still hold positions in the service?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point absolutely. In all walks of life it is important to have continued training. To revert to his specific indication, it is the fact that most complainants from ethnic minorities will have dealt with that category of police officers who are perhaps not as enlightened as they should be. The answer to that is training and monitoring.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, training in race and community relations as they affect the police has been going on for the past 25 years. Will the Minister undertake an independent evaluation to see how effective such training has been? I have in mind the figures cited by my noble friend relating to stop and search. Is he aware that one of his own Home Office senior race and community relations advisers has been stopped by the police on at least 44 occasions and to a great extent is responsible for providing training for police officers?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, these are difficult and continuing problems. It is no good pretending that racially discriminatory views, whether deliberately known or unknown by those who hold them, do not exist. That is a part of our society that we must recognise and deal with. We need more police officers from ethnic minorities. In many areas of authority, power and privilege in this country, it is the fact that ethnic minorities are rather under-represented, not least perhaps in this House.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if they have the will to do so--the Home Secretary has determined that they shall--they can perfectly well cast the net widely, properly and fairly to get first-class probationers from all ethnic groups. We owe that to ethnic minority groups and to our own civilised society.
Lord Knights: My Lords, about 14 to 15 years ago the Association of Chief Police Officers, with the Home Office, established a special unit, which was housed originally at Brunel University, to design courses and develop training in race relations and race awareness matters, not simply for recruits but all ranks in the service. Can the Minister inform the House whether that unit still exists? If not, can he say why it was discontinued and where responsibility for such work now lies? More importantly perhaps, can he also say who is responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of this training particularly in the light of the comment by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary to a Select Committee of another place in December of 1998:
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, to deal first with the latter question, I believe that the noble Lord refers to the 1997 report. I am sure he will be pleased to learn that the author of that report will revisit his conclusions to see what, if anything, has changed. As he rightly says, the specific unit to which the noble Lord refers was set up in 1983 at Brunel. That contract expired in 1988. A further contract was granted in 1989, which expired in December 1998. A new contract was granted in January of this year to Ionann Consultancy. We recognised one of the defects to be that the older schemes trained trainers who then went back to their own forces. It was felt, rightly I believe, that the services should be delivered directly to individual forces. I am sure that the noble Lord will, in light of his own experience, bear in mind that that is a significant advance.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, we are committed to the introduction of a national minimum standard for local authority concessionary fare schemes in England. This would entail half-fares rather than free fares for pensioners on buses on the purchase of a £5 bus pass. Local authorities would remain free to offer wider or more generous schemes if they so wished. Implementation of the minimum standard will require primary legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has also announced that he expects local authorities to provide the proposed minimum standard from April 1999. The aim is to move to free fares for pensioners in Wales over the next two to three years.
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that if Wales is anything to go by concessionary travel is ludicrously piecemeal? When will the Government honour their commitment to establish nationally a minimum half-fare scheme for pensioners and the disabled? Is it not time that we caught up with the Republic of Ireland, where free transport for these groups is available on road and rail?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I indicated, the situation in Wales is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has reached agreement with the Welsh authorities that a minimum scheme covering Wales will be in place by April of next year. He would hope, with statutory powers, to move to a free bus pass system in Wales subsequently. The situation in the Republic of Ireland, as in Northern Ireland, is somewhat different, but in Wales substantial progress is being made. I hope
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the Government take into account that some physically disabled people cannot use buses and find railway stations very difficult, and that, for them, public transport is not an option? Does the Minister agree that, instead, they need access for their Motability cars or other vehicles in which they are able to travel as passengers?
Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as far as concerns able-bodied people, there is a danger of creating the impression that once people reach pensionable age they become automatically dependent on the state and must look to the state even for assistance with transport?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not accept the point that is put in those terms. It is reasonable to recognise that many pensioners rely on public transport more than the population as a whole and that therefore they are entitled to provision at both local authority and national level to ensure that they have access to public transport. That has been recognised by local authorities of all political persuasions up and down the land.
Lord Addington: My Lords, if it is accepted that in two months' time we will have a scheme that allows concessionary fares, can the Government confirm that it will cost only £25 million to introduce? Can the Government provide an approximate date on which they intend to extend that scheme to the disabled? As it is such a small increase in cost, surely it would not cost very much more to extend it to the disabled.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I should correct the noble Lord on two matters. First, the reference to April 1999 relates to the voluntary scheme in Wales. We shall require statutory provision to introduce a mandatory minimum scheme in England, and in Wales if it applied there. Secondly, the £25 million cost is related to the intended introduction of the concessionary half-fare scheme in England. Clearly, any widening of the scope of the scheme will involve greater cost, but local authorities have the right to extend the scope as well as the generosity of their provision.
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