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7.48 pm

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham): I welcome the debate. Surprisingly, I agreed with many hon. Members who have spoken. The speech of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was full of bonhomie, and his tones were so dulcet that I was lulled into a false sense of security, until I remembered that he was a member of a Government who refused to have an inquiry into the Lawrence case. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) criticised the Macpherson report, but he was a Home Office Minister in the Government who refused an inquiry into the Lawrence case. It is useful for us to remember that.

I am deeply indebted to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his fortitude in getting the inquiry and the debate under way, and for all the steps that he has taken so far. I am also grateful to the inquiry team for its steadfastness in sticking to the issues.

I have some criticisms of the Macpherson report. For instance, it does not place any onus or responsibility on the community, unlike the Scarman report, which set up police committees and talked about the need to get the communities involved. The Macpherson report talks about institutions, which is all well and good, but people work and live in communities. We need to get the black and ethnic minority community behind us.

I find it quite astonishing that the inquiry could not find any individual racism in the Metropolitan police. Anyone who saw the drama-documentaries on television will have seen the individual racism, arrogance and lack of accountability displayed by the officers who were questioned.

My biggest problem is with the new definition of institutional racism. I am especially concerned with the use of the word "unwittingly", because it lets people off the hook. If we say that an institution discriminates, but that the people involved do not know that they are discriminating, we are letting them off the hook. When St. George's medical school was found by the Commission for Racial Equality to be institutionally discriminating against black and ethnic minority applicants, it was found that someone had programmed the computer to reject people with foreign-sounding names. That was not unwitting: it was done deliberately.

I do not want Sir William Macpherson to try to tell me that institutionalised racism is unwitting. It is not. When the Ford motor company changed the faces of people in its advertisement--they changed a Sikh and a black man into white men--before it sent it to eastern Europe, that was not unwitting. Someone took the decision.

When, two years ago, Sir Paul Condon talked about 80 per cent. of young black people being guilty of mugging, so whenever police officers saw a black youth in the street, they automatically assumed that he was

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a mugger, that was institutionalised racism. It was not unwitting. I thoroughly disagree with that definition in the report.

The investigation of Stephen Lawrence's death has some similarities with a case in my constituency. A few weeks ago, a young man, Roger Sylvester, died in police custody. The Essex police are investigating the case, and we await their findings, so we are not exactly clear about the circumstances, but we know that he was about 30 years old and was taken naked from outside his house in Tottenham. Again, we have a black victim who has been set up by the police.

The police went on a rampage of misinformation. They said that Roger Sylvester was big, black and violent, and that is totally untrue. I have had letters from white pensioners saying that he was a kind man who went shopping for them and took them across the street, but the police, to cover themselves, said that he was a big, black, violent man who had something to do with drugs, so immediately this person, who was a victim, becomes a problem in the minds of the general public. When the police started to investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence, they tried to make out that he was involved with a gang, which again shows the ability of the police to give misinformation and try to cloud the issue.

There are other similarities in the way in which the families have been dealt with. There was liaison between the police and the family of Roger Sylvester, and they had several meetings, but the police decided to set up their own consultative group, without any agreement with the family. They pulled in a few worthy community leaders and used that forum as the method of consulting the family.

Family liaison is extremely important, and I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend is paying particular attention to it. I do not care how much it costs to set up the systems. It is definitely worth it, because it is about bringing trust back into the community and establishing a relationship with the police.

Nothing was done when Sir Paul Condon talked about black youths and mugging. He is the head of the Metropolitan police, who were severely criticised in the Macpherson report, yet no one in official circles is calling for his resignation. I have called for him to go because the black community feels that he should.

Let me draw an analogy. When it was found that there was corruption, everyone, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, said that Jacques Santer, the head of the European Commission, had to accept responsibility, even though he protested his innocence and said that he was whiter than white. Sir Paul Condon is the head of the Metropolitan police, who have been condemned by the report, yet people are saying that he has to stay. I find that extraordinary. It is about time that people who are responsible for the officers under their command accepted responsibility for those officers' actions.

Eight police officers from Tottenham police station were involved in the Roger Sylvester case, but the chief superintendent is swanning around and taking no responsibility. He could not care less, presumably, because he is not being held to account. The case of Sir Paul Condon is similar. There have been many deaths in custody and other racist murders that have not been properly investigated.

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Rolan Adams, Wayne Douglas and others in London have died at the hands of the police or in police custody, yet no senior police officer has been held responsible. It is the only profession or job that I know of in which someone can be in charge of something that is not correct and take no responsibility whatever. That has to change.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most disappointing aspects of the whole affair for the black community is that Condon, having been found so thoroughly wanting--and despite claiming that he was taking personal responsibility--has been left in position?

Mr. Grant: I agree with my hon. Friend's comments. The matter should be reconsidered because, since he was given the go-ahead to continue as commissioner, he has appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs and--I understand--said that he does not accept the recommendation that the Race Relations Act 1976 should be extended to the police. We now see even more arrogance from Sir Paul Condon.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grant: I do not have the time to give way, but I am willing to engage in a debate with the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber. [Laughter.] Pistols at dawn!

Recruitment and retention are crucial, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned in an earlier intervention. An experiment that we conducted in Tottenham should be taken up by the Home Office. In conjunction with the Industrial Society and the Metropolitan police, we recruited some 20 young people from minority ethnic groups--Cypriots, Asians and the children of people from the Caribbean and Africa--as a representation of the community. They were recruited en bloc and given physical and academic training to bring them up to the required standard. They entered Hendon police training college and 18 became fully qualified police officers. The scheme was a tremendous success.

I wanted all 18 to be posted to Tottenham police station so that they could support each other in the canteen. The only way to defeat the canteen culture is with a group of people who are very visibly seen to be challenging racism. That would have made a huge difference in Tottenham, because the community would have seen a police force that was representative of the community. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office to consider the issue of cohort recruitment and cohort placement. There is no point in recruiting 20 people and then sending each one to a different police station. They need to be together so that they can support each other.

My final point is about stop and search, and the recording of ethnicity, which I mentioned in an earlier intervention. When I did a survey some years ago of the stop-and-search figures, I found that each police force had its own method for recording ethnicity. Some used the category of Arab and others used the category of oriental. All sorts of definitions of ethnicity were used--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has used up his time.

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8.4 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): An appalling tragedy has taken place, and anybody who fails to grasp the dimensions of what that family tragedy has entailed has only to read the first page of Sir William Macpherson's report into Stephen Lawrence's murder. It catalogues some extraordinary activities by the police and much inaction by the police. The prolonged police investigations were in two phases, but the result is that the murderers of Stephen have not been brought to justice. Apart from Duwayne Brooks, no witness has come forward with firm evidence and there is no other sound evidence. Even the Police Complaints Authority report states that the police investigation was bungled. When, 20 months ago, the Home Secretary set up the inquiry that is the subject of this debate, it found that the first police investigation was "palpably flawed".

The only comfort we can find is that out of that appalling disaster, the publicity has increased the public awareness of the need to fight racism. I know that every hon. Member will join me in saying that one of our priorities is to wipe racism out of our country. If anyone questions that priority, someone who has been a Member of Parliament for an inner-city constituency, as I was in Birmingham, Handsworth, can explain the need to tackle racism and--to coin a phrase--the causes of racism.

My principal comment about the Macpherson report concerns its definition of institutional racism. It is worth revisiting the Scarman report on the subject, as the Macpherson report did. Scarman rejected the allegation that Britain as a society, knowingly and as a matter of policy, discriminated against black people. He wrote:

Those words were written 18 years ago, and my judgment is that matters have improved considerably since then in the Metropolitan police, although I cannot be certain of that.

I accept that when Sir William gave his definition of institutional racism, he went out of his way to say that that did not mean that all Metropolitan police officers were racist. He wrote:

My point is that even though those are Sir William's words, repeated in the recommendations, the public perception is that if an institution is described as institutionally racist, it has racism spread throughout it. I find resentment of that among some of my constituents to whom I have been able to talk, as well as the police in my constituency, because they do not accept that racism is endemic. The report gives the impression that it is. I fear that that public awareness will give comfort to those few people who, for ulterior motives, wish to set the public against our police force.

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I want now to look to the future. If we are to succeed in our fight against racism, we must begin in our schools and our homes. I am horrified by a statistic from recent research in Cardiff. Of all cases of racism reported to the Racial Equality Council, 50 per cent. involved people under 16, and a quarter of those involved children aged six to 10. I am not averse to passing stronger legislation, but whatever laws we pass, we must have leadership, and an example must be set in our schools and our homes.

Recommendation 17 of the inquiry's report states:

That would be an important tool for the authorities.

I am highly doubtful about the idea of prosecuting in respect of remarks made in private. If remarks are heard outwith the home, they are presumably not defined as racist remarks made in private.

When it comes to policing the police, I support calls for a genuinely independent Police Complaints Authority. However, one reason why the police have policed the police for so long is that it is felt that only police officers know how to detect unfair or illegal police behaviour. Whatever independent commission is set up should include at least some people who have experience in a police force.

Currently, about 1,000 complaints are made each year about police irregularities. They vary from, at one end of the spectrum, rudeness, which is not to be tolerated, to, at the other end, deaths in custody. There is a lack of public confidence when a second force investigates a complaint made against another force. I agree, therefore, with recommendation 58.

I am slightly worried about the definition of racist incidents to mean that any allegation of racism must be followed through. All serious allegations must certainly be reported, recorded and investigated. However, there ought to be an escape clause for cases in which the allegation is patently proved to be frivolous.

I very much support the need to develop victim support schemes. I strongly support the idea that the Metropolitan police and other forces should work with victim support schemes set up by lay people on proactive initiatives in minority ethnic communities. I pay tribute to Barnet victim support scheme, which is doing magnificent work; some of its cases involve racism, and I, for one, include anti-semitism as an offence against a race.

Macpherson recommends that consideration of the double jeopardy issue should be referred to the Law Commission. I would go a little further than has myright hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) on that point. I do not oppose our being able to hold a second trial or to bring charges again after they have been dropped. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations 1996 Act allows a second trial in cases in which defendants have been acquitted because witnesses or jurors have been intimidated. If ever there were a principle, that Act breached it. The Court of Appeal should be allowed, in exceptional and serious cases, to authorise the police to prosecute again.

I am concerned about the readiness of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute unless it feels it has a watertight case. If 50 per cent. or more of the evidence

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is there, the CPS will go ahead with prosecution, but, across the spectrum and not necessarily in racist cases only, it drops prosecutions too readily.

I must disagree with my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant). I want to put in a good word for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I am glad that he has not resigned. I hope that he will not do so, or retire early. I was perturbed to hear from the Home Secretary that he is due to retire in 10 months in any case.

I want the commissioner to stay longer in his post. He has done a good job in the policing of London, with many initiatives since he was appointed. Burglaries have gone down tremendously, and the Bumblebee and Eagle Eye initiatives took place under him. Recorded crime has gone down 16 per cent. since 1992--more or less since he became commissioner. The number of complaints against the police has also fallen.

One of the main points that worries me, however, is that the last police report recorded that in the Metropolitan police area, the number of reported racist incidents in the last half of last year was 70 per cent. higher than the figure for the equivalent six months in the year before. That is a cause for concern. Whether the figure has risen because people are more willing to make complaints about racial harassment, I do not know. I hope that some research may be done on that point.

Sir Paul Condon was appointed in February 1993, two months before Stephen Lawrence was murdered. He has led from the front, and he has a good track record against racism. Shortly after he was appointed, he said:

He went on:

    "We must be equally intolerant of our own colleagues who fail to reach the required standards."

He has acted as he spoke. If he went, it would be a devastating blow to the morale of the Metropolitan police.

Finally, the Metropolitan police has a problem not only of recruiting officers, but of retaining them. Too many go to other forces or retire early. The Government are addressing the latter point, but the former must be addressed too.

Some police officers have clearly failed in their duty, but the vast majority of the Metropolitan police do a decent job in difficult, dangerous and sometimes dirty circumstances. We should pay tribute to that vast majority of the people who police our streets and protect us from crime.

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