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8.43 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I represent a constituency that has a strong ethnic minority presence: nearly 30 per cent. of my electorate come from the ethnic minority community. It is a strong community, which is able to protect itself from racial attacks. In 1979, the community decided to oppose the presence of the National Front, which wanted to hold a meeting in my constituency in Southall. In that campaign 20 years ago, Blair Peach died, but no public inquiry has ever been held into his death. I want to take the opportunity offered by this debate to urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to set up a public inquiry into the death of Blair Peach and the question of who killed him.

I should like to reiterate the sentiments already expressed by other hon. Members today, that the work of Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, to obtain some justice after their son's death has been an example to everyone. I have been impressed and moved by their public appeals over the past six years. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which was brought to an end by the publication of the Macpherson report, is without doubt one of the most important inquiries ever to have taken place in this country.

I should like to present a glossary of the racial hate mail that I regularly receive from within the country and abroad. A letter that I was sent last year stated:


    "but after the British had left, you all realised what a stinking shower you all are, and you all want to come to our lovely country and make it like a pig hole like your own country.

    Go back to your own country and try to make it better, I believe and hope we British will get a new Enoch Powell who will deport all the stinking curry eating wogs out of Britain. Sooner the better. Union Jack."

Last year, I received a Christmas card, which had been posted in Paris. It said on the front:

    "A Heartfelt wish to you and all your Family for Christmas and the New Year",

but inside, it said a different thing altogether. The card was sent by one of the supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front, and said:

    "Get out of my Country you fucking Wogs. Only our Politicians want you over here. We don't!"

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Another such leaflet was sent to me last year, saying:

    "So F. O. back to Africa & India! We the English public didn't want you over here. Ever-only the bloody Politicians did."

That is an example of the hate literature that is sent to us. Even Members of Parliament are not safe from it.

Another letter that was sent to me said:

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. Given the traditions of the House, he might just spare us the odd word or two without detriment to the message that he is trying to put across.

Mr. Khabra: Another letter that was sent to me said:

That is proof that people will even use environmental issues, blaming ethnic minority communities for polluting the environment. Those letters represent the cocktail of abusive racist language to which I am often subjected by people who believe in racial discrimination.

The Macpherson report concluded that "fundamental errors" were made and that the police investigation

Opposition Members have implied strong criticism; they have asked, "What does institutional racism mean?" I am sure that they know that there is such institutional racism in this case. It was founded during the period when this country was an imperial power. Such practice continues; institutions practise institutional racism. We urgently need the trust between the ethnic minorities and the police to be strengthened.

It is unfair to condemn the entire police force because the whole community recognises the good work that the police carry out on our behalf. However, there is no doubt that an improvement in community relations between the police and general public is needed. I stress that the issue does not concern only the police; there are racist attitudes throughout public life.

The police service has recognised that it needs to recruit more police officers from ethnic minority communities. I know from my own experience that, for various reasons, the police have difficulty in attracting young people from black and Asian communities. One reason is that they believe that the police force is still very much a racist institution, and that deters them from serving in the police.

Under new proposals, each force will set individual targets for recruitment that will reflect the cultural diversity of the community that it serves. Barriers to achieving those targets will be tackled by removing discriminatory practices within the service and pursuing a policy of improved community relations. We should note the new police discipline procedures, including a fast-track procedure, with full rights of appeal, to deal swiftly with officers who are caught committing serious criminal offences. Those are steps in the right direction.

I welcome the Government's moves to introduce targets, not quotas, for the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority officers in areas other than the police, such as the Home Office and the fire, immigration, prison and probation services.

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I also welcome the Macpherson report's recommendation that there should be close co-operation between the police service, local government and other agencies, particularly housing and education departments, to ensure that all information about racist incidents and crimes is shared and is readily available to all agencies. I welcome also the recommendation that

Both of those approaches are aimed at tackling racism at the most important level, the grass roots.

I welcome the action plan, announced by theHome Secretary on 23 March, to take forward the 70 recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. The fact that the Home Secretary has taken personal responsibility for that signals that there is a political will to bring about changes that have been identified as necessary. The inquiry accepted that institutional racism is present in all our major institutions. The Home Secretary has endorsed that finding and restated his commitment to building an anti-racist society, and the proposals for that are still being developed.

I highlight recommendations 12 to 19, which refer to racist incidents. The Home Secretary has agreed to ensure that the definition of a racist incident as

is universally adopted by the police, local government and other relevant agencies.

Recommendation 11 of the Lawrence inquiry report calls for the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 to be extended to the police force. The Home Secretary's unconditional acceptance of that recommendation demonstrates that racial equality is to be taken seriously. The Race Relations Act does not have enough teeth to bite and there is a need to amend and strengthen the law so that racial discrimination can be rooted out from society.

I welcome recommendation 39, that there should be an amendment of the law relating to racist language and behaviour. I welcome also the review of legislation that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to carry out before the end of the year.

During my time as a Member since 1992 and before, when I was a community leader in my constituency, I have always had a good working relationship with the local police. They have always been prepared to listen to my concerns whenever they have arisen. However, there is still a long way to go, not only in the police force but throughout society at large, before we eradicate racial prejudice.

We must accept that many changes have taken place over the past 10 years in terms of racial prejudice. However, I am convinced that the attitude of racial prejudice still persists among a minority of people. Surprisingly, it is my experience that it exists in the party political system. Individuals, without realising it, still behave in a racially discriminatory way. Racial prejudice takes different forms and it is reflected in their attitudes to Members who come from the ethnic minority communities, who are their own colleagues.

The Lawrence family has shown bravery in the face of adversity. It is now up to everyone, including us, to show the same determination and put an end to prejudice.

29 Mar 1999 : Column 816

8.56 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am sure that the entire House deplores the sort of comments that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) has received, no doubt anonymously. If it is any consolation to him, I have been the subject of hate mail. It is not very pleasant for oneself or for one's family. However, I am sure that the House is pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman has a good working relationship with his local police. That is extremely good news, even if it perhaps that somewhat contradicts some of his more generalised points.

I begin by striking a note of agreement, as I am not sure that the House will agree with everything that I have to say. I share the universal sense of outrage at the killing of Stephen Lawrence. I appreciate--even if I do not understand, having not experienced it myself--the grief that his parents have suffered. I also readily appreciate their deep frustration that no one has been successfully brought to book for the murder of their son. Anyone who has read the appalling appendix to the report setting out the conversations that went on inside a flat cannot help but believe that that sort of behaviour and language is completely unacceptable in our country.

First, nothing that I might say is intended to diminish my appreciation or respect for the Lawrences. I hope that my parliamentary pension will not be imperilled. Secondly, I acknowledge the complexity of the task that was faced by the inquiry. I can agree with some of the recommendations, such as the proposal that police procedures at the scene of incidents be reviewed or, as other hon. Members have suggested, that improved services for victims and their families should be provided by the police.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), who unfortunately is no longer in his place. I am sure that we were all moved by his experience. He knows much more about this issue than the rest of us and has had a close relationship with the inquiry. The rest of us have to fathom what we can from the report.

Having started on a note of agreement, I conclude that the report is fundamentally flawed. In the interest of arriving at fair and sensible conclusions, the House must address these issues fearlessly. In my view, the report is driven by a desire to be seen to be politically correct. It is inconsistent and contradictory. In some places it contains fatuous and even dangerous nonsense. At its heart is the contention that not only the police service but all British institutions are endemically infested with racism, which throughout is described as a disease. I regret that in the language of Macpherson, there is only one kind of racism, only one kind of insensitivity--that is, white against black. The report therefore stands accused of being partial.

Furthermore, every allowance is shown towards the Lawrences--quite understandable in the circumstances--but little latitude is afforded to the police, who are subject throughout to the precision weapon of 20:20 hindsight. That is rich, coming from a committee of inquiry that was so incompetent that it overlooked the publication of the names and addresses of vulnerable witnesses. How can members of the committee of inquiry criticise police officers working under pressure, when they themselves were guilty of such an elementary mistake, for which they have not yet apologised?

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However tragic the death of Stephen Lawrence--and it was tragic--the greater tragedy is that his death is but one of many senseless killings. What about Keith Blakelock, the police constable hacked to pieces in October 1985 by a gang of black murderers at Broadwater Farm in Tottenham? What about young Richard Everitt, an English schoolboy brutally killed by a gang of Asian youths just days before Stephen Lawrence's murder? Neither of the killers of those two has been found. It is not just Stephen Lawrence and his parents who have suffered; many other people have suffered as well, and we should be concerned for them all.

It is the out-and-out contradictions that render the report so flawed. For example, at paragraph 5.13 the report states that as regards Stephen Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks,

Yet in the next paragraph, the report states:

    "DC Cooper and other police officers treated Mr Brooks at the Police Station appropriately and professionally."

However, at paragraph 5.31 we are told:

    "He simply was not treated professionally and appropriately and according to his needs."

What on earth are we to make of such inconsistencies?

I remind the House, uncomfortable though it may be, that Mr. Brooks' response to the police woman who arrived at the murder scene was to ask--in deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not use the exact language--

I quote from the report. It must require discipline to work calmly against such abuse. We should also remember that, as paragraph 5.25 states, the lawyer, Mr. Khan,

    "never complained to the police on Mr Brooks' behalf about lack of liaison or lack of care or support being given to Mr Brooks."

More generally, the inquiry refused to consider that incompetence alone could account for the failure to catch Stephen's killers--I refer to paragraph 6.44. It exonerates individual police officers of racism, such as Detective Superintendent Crampton, who

    "was undoubtedly not influenced in our opinion by the fact that the victim was black".

I quote from paragraph 13.74. The same was said of Detective Superintendent Weeden, who took over from Mr. Crampton. Paragraph 14.34 states that

    "there is no ground for alleging that these failures"--

it is acknowledged that there were failures--

    "occurred because the victim of this murder was black or because Mr Weeden was in some way involved in collusion or corruption. . .We see no basis upon which it can properly be alleged that Mr Weeden acted improperly in his investigative duties because of racist attitudes."

Having failed to make charges of racism stick, the inquiry accuses the police of

    "the evil of unwitting racism",

which can arise, for example, because of

    "well intentioned but patronising words or actions."

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    We are offered what I regard as an appalling example at paragraph 15.4, where Detective Inspector Bullock is hauled over the coals and accused of "casually and insensitively" referring to Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks as

    "'the two young coloured lads'. He was oblivious to his own insensitivity in this regard."

I regard that as utterly fatuous nonsense. I do not understand how such allegations can be made against a police officer for using that sort of mild language. There was nothing intentionally racist in it, nothing thought to be offensive. Indeed, I imagine that the language was thought to be caring and concerned, yet it has been twisted round and held against the detective. I find it extraordinary that his words should be invested with racism.

There is worse to come. Poor acting Inspector Little was unwittingly infected with racism because he committed the crime of treating the murder of Stephen Lawrence as he would any other murder, of which, I remind the House, there were three outstanding in the area at that time. He had failed to catch up with the times. In the old days, officers had to be colour blind and had to treat everyone the same, otherwise they were prejudiced. The report states:

We cannot go around society working on the fine-tuning of people's sensitivity. We cannot expect police officers, in the execution of their duty, to understand all those changes of nuance in that fashion. It is thoroughly unrealistic that they should be expected to do so.

The examples that I have quoted are not only fatuous, they are dangerous, for they introduce the concept that the police will be chastised if they treat everyone equally before the law. British citizens expect their police service to treat everybody equally before the law, but even my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) suggests that we are all out of touch and must abandon that approach, and must take myriad considerations into account. [Interruption.] The Minister of State shakes his head, but I have quoted from the report; to be colour blind--to treat everybody equally--is not acceptable, apparently. Police officers will, at best, be confused.

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