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Dr. Gibson: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the phenomenon of scientific and medical racism which purports to show that there are several species--for example, homo africanus and homo europi? One is of fair complexion, sanguine temperament, brawny form and gentle manners and is acute in judgment. The other is of black complexion, phlegmatic temperament and relaxed fibre and is crafty, indolent and careless. That appears in books in establishments throughout the country, from schools to universities. What is the right hon. Gentleman's opinion of that view?

Mr. Beith: I never encountered it in any serious book that I read in the course of my school or university life. Crazy and bogus medical views of a racist character have been found around the world for a long time. Thankfully, they are vigorously and effectively challenged. I should be surprised to find a book advancing the view that the hon. Gentleman has described in use as a text in any course in any reputable institution. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I shall move through some of the wider recommendations. Disclosures in inquest proceedings that are related to deaths in custody constitute an important recommendation which the Government have accepted, and we welcome that. However, we are very concerned to be sure that the Government's view about legal aid will be the same as that of the report, which is that, "in appropriate cases", there should be legal aid for families in inquest cases such as the Lawrence case. The Government talk about "exceptional" cases. We are rather suspicious of those slight shifts of words.

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There are important recommendations about education. I would stress that there is a need for good home-school liaison to help the parents of ethnic minority pupils feel that they are engaged in school activities. I stress also the need, as in the police force, to recruit to the teaching profession more people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The issue of opposing racism should be in the planned citizenship component of the national curriculum.

There are many wider issues for society as a whole. Understandably, some police officers make the point that it would be to misread the report to assume that all its recommendations are directed at the police service. The recommendations are directed much more widely, and some of them go to the heart of the position of ethnic minorities in our society as a whole.

Racism and discrimination exist in all parts of society. Statistics show that discrimination. Unemployment rates are twice as high as the average for ethnic minority communities. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are three to four times more likely to be unemployed as white adults. The number of exclusions from schools is rising and the rate for Afro-Caribbean boys is five times higher than that for white boys. In some local education authorities, the rate is much higher. The report refers to wider problems in society, which we must all address.

Ms Abbott: One of the wider issues on which the House might with profit reflect is that all political parties in the House should be doing more to ensure that the House is more representative of the society in which we live.

Mr. Beith: Quite right. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) addressed some strong comments to the Liberal Democratic party and to the community as a whole in a speech a few weeks ago in London. We have sought in every way that we can to find ways of making our own party a more effective route for people from ethnic communities to enter the House. It is a problem that has faced all three political parties. The welcome presence of the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) is a reminder that, in all parties, we still have not achieved as much as we should in that respect.

That is a fitting note on which to conclude: in political parties, as in every other aspect of society, we have major battles to win.

6.50 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at this stage of the debate, not least because I am the only young black person in the country elected to Parliament. I do not know whether it is true, but someone told me that I am the only young black person--that is, someone under the age of 30 at the election--elected to a Parliament in the whole of Europe. That might suggest an institutional bias that faces young black people. We must deal with the parallel universes that black and white people seem to inhabit. I say that as someone with a black father and a white mother. The existence of those parallel universes was brought home to me by my childhood experience. My white family would always say, "Now, Oona, if you get lost, what you have to do is find a nice policeman, and he will look after you--he will take care of you."

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The attitude on my father's side of the family was the exact opposite. Their attitude was, more or less, that if you are black, a white policeman can seriously damage your health. That was not just their own irrational prejudice and bias; it was their own experience. Indeed, my father is still exiled from the country that he came from because of institutional racism there and because he asked to be treated the same as a white man.

I was brought up with those two attitudes, so I understand my white family thinking that the policeman is the best person whom I could go to, but that was not my experience as a child. The very first contact that I ever had with a policeman was in Swiss Cottage. I was sitting on a fence, and a policeman came up to me and said--I hope hon. Members will excuse the unparliamentary language--"Oi, you black bitch, get down off that fence."

Those were the first words that a policeman said to me. I implore Opposition Members and people around the country to accept that that must inevitably diminish my respect for the police force. When the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) says that the police are one of the most respected institutions in the country, I must ask him: respected by whom? It is not the case that the police are respected by the black community. That is a great shame, because it undermines our democracy. That cuts to the core of what it is to be British, and what we hope for in a democratic society.

The parallel universes are further illustrated by a comment made by the editor of a middle England newspaper who wrote after the Lawrence inquiry:

I am, frankly, disgusted by those remarks, but disgust, outrage, hyperbole and hysteria do not help us to come to an understanding, so I try to steer clear of that as much as I can.

The problem that the police faced was the fact that they were institutionally racist, institutionally incompetent and institutionally corrupt. Corruption is the twin brother of racism, and it affects us all. That is why the debate and the Lawrence inquiry are so important, for white people as well as for black people.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Is the hon. Lady really telling the House that the police suffer from institutionalised corruption? Leaving aside that outrageous claim, does she not realise that by blaming an institution collectively, by assuming that there is some unconscious collective guilt, she is letting off the hook the officers who are certainly guilty of those charges, as they hide behind the collective allegations that she makes?

Ms King: If we can look at the issue that you raise by taking another "ism" and another institution, to see whether the point that you make is correct or not--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Lady must use the correct parliamentary language.

Ms King: You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suffer from an inability to get that into my mind, even after two years in the House.

Perhaps the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) will consider another example--another "ism" and another institution. Let us take sexism

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and Parliament--the House of Commons. Let us look across the Benches. When the Home Secretary rose to speak, there was one woman on the Opposition Benches--and 26 men. Surely you would not deny that that shows that Parliament as an institution is biased against women? Would the hon. Gentleman deny that? I presume that he would not. [Hon. Members: "I would."] You would say--I am sorry, hon. Gentlemen--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must think carefully before she chooses her words.

Ms King: You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Gentlemen just said that they would deny that there was discrimination against women, yet there are now just two women Members sitting on the Opposition Benches. That defies credibility and contravenes the facts.

I believe that there is institutional sexism. However, I also believe that all Members on both sides of the House are not individually guilty of being sexist. I do not believe that Conservative Members, for example, get up each morning and say, "Today we are going to deny women the right to be represented in Parliament." Of course they do not. That would be an absurd proposition.

What the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is saying is that we cannot apportion the guilt where it lies--in the institution, rather than in the individual.

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