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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in countries where freedom of information legislation applies to the investigation of crime, it is often used by victims; and that in many cases--for example, in south Australia--victims' being able to give information to the police has led to successful prosecutions? Does he not think that more powerful freedom of information legislation might help in this country?

Sir Norman Fowler: I was not arguing against freedom of information. I must confess that, in the past two years, I have become a strong convert to the cause, because getting information out of the current Government is enough to tax any Opposition. I say, as gently as possible, that if we are to have freedom of information, I want it to apply not only to the police and the other public services but to the Home Secretary. We look forward to the Home Secretary's draft Bill on that subject, but I must admit that a Home Secretary who has just introduced an injunction on the whole of the British media would not necessarily be my first choice to introduce a freedom of information Bill.

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There is a great deal in the report with which hon. Members from all parties can agree. No doubt there will be some who try to exploit the criticism of the police, and others--including, I suspect, one or two lawyers--who will never be satisfied. However, in my view, most people in this country will support a policy of constructive reform and, to an overwhelming extent, policemen and women will support it as well. That does not mean that each and every one of the proposals will receive support, but there is no doubt about the general support that the report commands.

For our part, the Opposition will support sensible measures to combat racism in this country; sensible measures to promote trust between the police and ethnic minorities; and sensible measures to work to eliminate racial discrimination, which clearly offends any concept of equality of opportunity in this country. We shall not support generalised attacks on the police or measures that unnecessarily harm the morale of the service; nor shall we support the making of bad law, however well-intentioned it is, or measures that infringe other rights. It is a question not only of condemning racism--although that is important--but of finding the right measures to fight racism. That second task will be far more difficult than the first, but we shall certainly do our utmost to help.

6.17 pm

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for having established the public inquiry, and to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence for their tireless campaign.

Our debate is about the sort of society we want for ourselves and, most important, for our children. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence have said on numerous occasions that they want Stephen to be remembered for bringing an end to racial division in our society. No other parent should have to go through what they have been through. During the inquiry, Mrs. Lawrence said that she wished that Stephen had had the chance to bridge the divide between black and white. At the end of the inquiry, Neville Lawrence said:

Those are the sentiments of two parents who have been subjected to the most outrageous injustice. They are calling for change for the better and it is in that spirit that we should follow their lead. We live in a multiracial, multi-ethnic society and it is time we started to educate it and police it as such.

The report has had a dramatic effect on the community that I represent. There can be no doubt that the people who have suffered the greatest injustice are Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, their family and, most of all, Stephen himself. However, the injustice done to many of the people named in the report has changed their lives. Some of them were only schoolchildren at the time when they gave evidence to the police, repeating hearsay thatthey had heard on the street or in the playground. They were too young to understand the importance of what they were saying, let alone that it might be published in a blaze of publicity six years later. Others were people who wanted to help the police to solve a terrible crime, or who came forward in response to an appeal for witnesses from

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Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence have expressed their concern for all those people, some of whom were given no idea that their names had been made public at the inquiry and would be published in the body, not merely in the appendices, of the report. Regardless of who is to blame for the publication of the appendices, too little regard was given to those people in this affair--until it was too late.

I am grateful to the Home Office, the police and the London borough of Greenwich for the support that they have given my constituents. However, my constituents should never have been put in such a situation in the first place. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should set out clear guidelines so that no error of this nature can again have such a devastating effect on the lives of innocent bystanders. We should never have to hold an inquiry of such magnitude again--lessons must be learned and procedures set out so that those mistakes can never be repeated.

Throughout the inquiry, I was forced to defend my constituents from the excesses of the media. On the morning following the publication of the report, I began the day by defending my constituents because they were being portrayed as racists who had not assisted the police in their investigation. Later that day, the report itself was being attacked over the release of the names of dozens of people who had come forward with information. People in my community are angry that they are being denigrated as racists because they have an Eltham postcode. The report states categorically that the police did not meet with a wall of silence when they appealed to the local community for information following Stephen's murder.

I thank my right hon. Friend for taking the time to visit Eltham to meet members of the local community and parents of the children from the estate that has recently featured in the media, and for expressing his concern over the way in which they have been treated. To suggest that racist violence is peculiar to Eltham is to suggest that problems do not exist elsewhere. That is to undermine the report.

Racism exists in our society today; it permeates every section and every institution. It is the responsibility of all of us--the decent-minded majority--to confront racism in all its forms, to provide education where there is ignorance and guidance where there is prejudice, and to be intolerant of those who place themselves beyond the bounds of human decency. It cannot be solved by this report alone; the process is on-going. I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that he will personally lead the steering group to co-ordinate and monitor the implementation of the recommendations.

In contrast to the response to the recommendations of the Scarman report, such as they were, which were allowed to gather dust on a Home Office shelf, the Macpherson report is the beginning, not the end, of change. I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence should be part of his steering group. They are responsible for bringing us to this point, and have the right to see the issue through.

In my written submission to the second phase of the inquiry in July, I stated that I believed that the Metropolitan police were institutionally racist. The canteen culture that permeates the police allows the swaggering bigots to dominate in a system that militates against those who would challenge such behaviour if they were given the confidence

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that the police service would back them if they did so. I called for police recruits to be vetted, to weed out as far as practicable those who uphold racist views. Our police force needs to undergo fundamental change.

Sir John Woodcock, the then chief inspector of constabulary, stated in 1992:

That change is still being resisted. We must not be deceived into believing that there is no resistance today.

I was not one who called for the resignation of Sir Paul Condon on the publication of the report. I took the view that there is no shining white knight--it would be a he, and he would be white--standing in the wings who would do anything different from Sir Paul Condon. On many occasions, he has said that he accepts the inquiry's findings. If he did not mean what he said, and intends to prevaricate over their implementation, he should resign now. Leadership that brings about change is required; it is no longer acceptable to say the right things but achieve nothing.

Scarman rejected the notion that the Metropolitan police were racist. He stated:

He went on to accept that some officers, particularly those below the level of "senior direction", were guilty of

    "ill considered immature and racially prejudiced actions in their dealings . . . with young black people".

Eighteen years on, we are still having the same arguments. If the police have failed to change, "senior direction", as Scarman put it, has failed to deliver the changes required.

It is clear that the police must come within the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976. We must end the secrecy that surrounds investigation of police activities. It is unacceptable for the police to continue to investigate the police. There should be full disclosure of all areas of policing. Secrecy should be maintained only in the public interest, and not in the interests of those who are being investigated. Public confidence can be restored only if there is full disclosure and effective scrutiny in order to ensure that the system is being applied in the public interest.

Having said that, I must also say that I recognise that the majority of officers, like the residents of Eltham, are angry at being accused of being racist when they feel that they are not.

We must recognise the work that the police are doing to tackle racist crime. Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, who heads the Met's racial and violent crime task force, stated at a recent seminar in Greenwich that one of the police's problems was that they had stopped listening to their most trenchant critics. The police are beginning to understand that "colour-blind policing" is not the way in which to police a multicultural society. They are beginning to consult members of the black community in the investigation and prevention of crime, something that is to be welcomed and encouraged. The police merely reflect the society from which they recruit. That was not accepted at the time of Scarman, but must beaccepted now if we are to carry through the report's recommendations for the good of us all.

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We must view the recommendations as the minimum that we should do to tackle racism in our society. We should view debate around the issues raised in the report as a positive step--even when such issues are controversial. The issue of double jeopardy is to be considered by the Law Commission, and will be the subject of further debate. I shall therefore not dwell on it for too long. There must be a mechanism to allow for a retrial where a significant amount of new evidence has come to light. I accept that that must not be automatic, and that there should be rigorous examination of the evidence before that could be done. Perhaps there should also be an independent re-examination of the original police investigation to determine why such new evidence has suddenly come to light. That may alleviate some people's fear that the police might not put every effort into the original investigation.

The other controversial issue is that of policing racist language in the home. I commend the inquiry for raising the issue. I share the concerns about civil liberties and how law on such a matter could be enforced. We must consider what the inquiry is trying to achieve by such a recommendation. Primarily, it is concerned with the effect that the matter-of-fact use of racist language in the home has on the minds of young people. Schools are attempting to confront young people who use racist language, to get them to understand the reasons why it is wrong. The problem stems from the home where such behaviour is commonplace. At the end of the day, parents who instil such views in their children must be forced to account for their action.

Where a child is constantly using racist language in defiance of every reasonable attempt to educate him to understand why such language is unacceptable, a multi-agency approach is required to engage the parents in the process to deal with the problem. That may be achievable through parental orders under the Crimeand Disorder Act 1998, as set out in the report's recommendations.

The report recommends that the national curriculum should be amended in a way that is

Schools already do a great deal, which must not be overlooked, but we must understand that teaching children about other cultures does not constitute anti-racism. Children must be made aware of what damage racism does to the victim.

The final recommendation on the on-going process of building and maintaining harmony in our communities is probably the most demanding--but, potentially, the most rewarding. The report has focused too much on institutions and not enough on challenging community groups and police consultative groups to address its findings. In a predominantly white community, there is often little representation of black individuals, and the problems faced by members of ethnic minorities are often overlooked. We must ensure that the whole community is engaged in seeing through the recommendations.

We must now begin the process of restoring confidence among all sections of the community. In 10 months, Sir Paul Condon will retire as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. That gives us a great deal of time to consider what we can and should expect from the Commissioner. It also gives us a chance to engage a cross-section of the community in that discussion. That could prove to be an

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enormous gesture to the black community, which could help to restore confidence in the Metropolitan police, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider engaging the community in that debate.

At the time of his murder, Stephen had a split second in which he could have chosen to run. He was an excellent athlete, as well as an excellent student, and it is possible that he would have outrun his attackers, but he did not run. The fact that to run was not Stephen's first instinct is a powerful statement to us all. He had done nothing wrong. He had been brought up to understand the difference between right and wrong. A few moments in the company of his parents would enable anyone to understand why that is the case.

Stephen could not have known that what would happen to him in the next few moments would be fatal, but he knew that he had right on his side, and he did not run.He saw nothing from which he should run, and for that he suffered an enormous injustice that his parents have continued to experience in their campaign. It is up to us now to demonstrate the leadership that will prove right the instinct that Stephen had on that road in April 1993.

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