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12.6 am

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) on her success in securing this debate and on the manner in which she has outlined her case. The House will, I am sure, agree that racism should have no place in the Scotland of today, least of all in the police. We must value the unique contribution made to our society by each individual, regardless of background, race or creed. Any incident with a racist element--wherever or whenever it happens--is a matter for deep regret, and we must do everything in our power to prevent such incidents from occurring. When they do occur, any alleged wrong must be confronted and firm action taken.

The incident concerning my hon. Friend's constituent, Mr. Lawrence Ramadas, took place almost six years ago. The industrial tribunal that considered his case did not suggest that the force as a whole was racist; its conclusion related to the actions of one officer, Superintendent Gordon Macpherson, for whom the force was held responsible.

As soon as the tribunal announced its decision in February 1997, the deputy chief constable commissioned an independent inquiry by Mr. James MacKay, assistant chief constable of Tayside police. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that such prompt action does not suggest any complacency on behalf of the force.

Strathclyde police also decided to appeal against the tribunal's decision, on legal advice, on the basis that given the complexity and length of the evidence presented over 12 days, the industrial tribunal's reasoning did not, in the force's view, support its conclusions. Mr. MacKay's report was completed in May 1997, but no action was taken pending the appeal.

The appeal was rejected in December 1997. Following the outcome of the appeal--and in the light of the recommendations in Mr. MacKay's report--Strathclyde police initiated disciplinary proceedings against Superintendent Macpherson in December 1997, with a hearing being scheduled for February 1998. At that point, however, Superintendent Macpherson began legal proceedings in the Court of Session to prevent the hearing. A judicial review of the deputy chief constable's decision to pursue disciplinary proceedings against Superintendent Macpherson is to be heard in July.

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Subject to the outcome of the judicial review, Strathclyde police have made a provisional arrangement for the disciplinary hearing to take place in September. The deputy chief constable of Strathclyde police has arranged for Queen's Counsel to present the case against Superintendent Macpherson, and the chairman of the disciplinary hearing will be the chief constable of Lothian and Borders police, Mr. Roy Cameron.

As the incident took place several years ago, the discipline case will be taken under the Police (Discipline) (Scotland) Regulations 1967, as amended--the procedure which was current at the time. It will be for the disciplinary hearing under Mr. Cameron to determine whether Superintendent Macpherson was guilty of an offence under the 1967 Regulations. A variety of punishments, ranging from caution to dismissal from the force, may be imposed. The procedure includes a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against the finding and against any punishment imposed as a result of the outcome of the disciplinary hearing. I regret that, in the circumstances, I cannot comment further on the case--to do so could prejudice the role of the Secretary of State in any appeal.

Although I understand my hon. Friend's frustration, I do not think that it would be fair to blame Strathclyde police for the fact that the case has been so protracted. It is important that the proper procedures are followed. I am satisfied that current police disciplinary and conduct arrangements in Scotland are working. A major review of the complaints and discipline system in Scotland was conducted in 1996, resulting in new conduct regulations. The new regulations provide more flexibility in the way in which misconduct by officers can be dealt with and increase the range of disposals available. I am, of course, aware of the recent Home Affairs Committee report on police disciplinary and complaints procedures in England and Wales. I shall consider, in consultation with the police, whether any of its recommendations that we have not already covered need to be introduced in Scotland. My hon. Friend makes a valid point in saying that we should carefully consider any ways in which we can improve procedures.

Having referred to the case of Mr. Ramadas and explained why I cannot comment more fully in the light of the proposed disciplinary hearing, I shall set out in more general terms the approach of the Scottish police service to ensure fair treatment and opportunities for all its officers. I hope that I shall be able to demonstrate to my hon. Friend's satisfaction that significant strides have been taken in the past five years.

I assure my hon. Friend that the police in Scotland are very conscious of their responsibility to avoid racism within the service and to promote equal opportunities. In 1993, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary carried out an inspection of equal opportunities in the Scottish police. The report of the inspection concluded that all forces were taking the issue of equal opportunities very seriously. The inspectorate continues to examine equal opportunities during its regular inspections of police forces. The most recent report on Strathclyde police, which was published only last year, found that the force upheld its commitment to promote equal opportunities throughout its internal procedures.

In 1987, Strathclyde police launched their race relations policy, which was aimed at enhancing the already good relations between black and ethnic communities and the

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force. In July of last year, the chief constable of Strathclyde police published an updated race relations policy. Work on the revised policy took nearly a year to complete; it took account of a number of points of good practice that had been raised by local black and ethnic community representatives, and included consultation with police forces south of the border.

The policy mainly concerned the force's relations with the public. However, it also confirmed the force's commitment to equal opportunities for all its staff. That makes it clear that Strathclyde police are committed to equality in employment and service. Freedom from harassment or victimisation on racial grounds is an important part of the policy. All officers in Strathclyde police are expected to demonstrate their commitment to those equal opportunity principles in their relations with their colleagues at every level. In addition to that strengthened commitment, the force re-emphasised the importance of its programme of racial awareness training for its officers.

Strathclyde police's race relations policy states clearly that the force is opposed to racism. As my hon. Friend said, that is right, and I reinforce her comments. It goes on to say that the force will prepare its officers to provide a quality service to ethnic minority communities. The force records and monitors reports of racially motivated attacks to ensure that they are investigated thoroughly. Strathclyde police are committed to working with ethnic minorities to develop a mutual understanding of concerns. The force seeks to inform minority communities of its commitment to equality of service and encourages them to seek the assistance of the police with confidence. The police also undertake to enhance community safety. Progress in ensuring equality of service is monitored at the highest level in the force, and action will be taken to resolve any difficulties that emerge.

In 1996-97, 206 racial incidents were reported to Strathclyde police; in 1997-98, the number rose alarmingly to 481, an increase of 233 per cent. I believe that, in large part, that reflects the public's increased confidence in the reinforced procedures that the force has adopted.

I do not think that those figures reflect a force that is prepared to tolerate racism in its ranks. To do so would hardly be consistent with the force's overall aim of delivering the highest possible standards of service to the people of Strathclyde. More generally, the force places great emphasis on the quality of its personnel policies. As my hon. Friend said, Strathclyde police force received the prestigious Investors in People award, and was the first police force in Britain to do so.

Strathclyde, like all Scottish forces, is keen for its officers to be drawn from all sections of society and has taken steps to encourage applications to join the force from members of ethnic minorities. In 1994, it was one of the first forces in Britain to develop and implement a strategic framework for action aimed at increasing the number of black and ethnic minority recruits. Specifically, the framework for action provided a target to increase the number of officers from black and ethnic backgrounds from 0.2 to 0.5 per cent. of its strength over a five-year period. By the end of 1996-97, the number of ethnic minority officers in Strathclyde stood at just under 0.5 per cent., with another two years to achieve its five-year target.

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All applicants from ethnic minorities are allowed to sit the entrance test for appointment to the force. Access courses are provided at further education colleges to help ethnic minority candidates to prepare for their application to sit the standard entrance test. The innovative policy implemented by Strathclyde police was recognised by the Commission for Racial Equality and was commented on in the 1996 report on race and equal opportunities in the police service.

Overall, the Scottish police service has a good record in policy and practice on equal opportunities, although, as my hon. Friend says, that is never a matter for complacency. If there can be an improvement in the quality of service given to the community--and, indeed, in internal procedures in the service--that must always be a high priority for the chief constable.

In the Scottish police service, training in racial awareness is provided for all new recruits at the Scottish police college at Tulliallan. It continues both at the college and in forces as officers progress to the senior ranks. Race relations policies are increasingly being developed in consultation with local racial equality councils. Forces also cover race relations policy in their community safety strategies, and throughout Scotland there are various examples of good practice.

I reiterate my and the Government's view that racism cannot be tolerated in the police or elsewhere in society. Strathclyde's chief constable and his seven colleagues in Scotland share that view. While it is impossible to be sure that isolated incidents will never take place, I believe that the Scottish police have made substantial efforts to develop a culture that minimises racial discrimination.

The Government believe that Scotland benefits from being a multicultural society and that we should cherish our ethnic diversity. The Government have a clear commitment to racial equality and to taking steps to ensure that it is at the heart of Government policy.

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We do not underestimate for one minute the problems that racism poses for society, and we are taking steps to address it. One of those steps is the action that we are taking to combat racist crime. The Crime and Disorder Bill, which is in Committee in this House, will introduce a new offence of racially aggravated harassment. It will also require the courts, when sentencing an offender who has committed a racially aggravated crime, to treat that racial aggravation as an aggravating factor when deciding on sentence.

Those measures were decided on following consultation involving many organisations representing victims and possible victims of racist crimes. The measures will improve the protection of the public and reinforce the right of all people in Scotland to live a life free from crime. They will address all levels of racist crimes. In every case where a racist element is proved, the courts must take that into consideration when sentencing. It is important that everyone--victim, police, public and offender--is left in no doubt that racist crimes are wholly unacceptable in Scotland and that perpetrators will be dealt with accordingly.

The Government have given their firm commitment to a fair and just society in which all individuals, whatever their race or ethnic origin, have equal rights. Racial discrimination is manifestly harmful and unjust to its victims and to Britain as a whole. The Government are fully committed to eliminating racial discrimination, whether in the police service or anywhere else.

My hon. Friend will understand my inability to go into further detail about the personal case she has raised, but I wanted to extend my discourse to show that we deplore racism, which is an abhorrence in our society and I repeat that, whether it be in the police or in society, this Government want to stamp it out.

Question put and agreed to.

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