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9.17 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): I shall be brief.

When I hear it said by politicians that our Metropolitan police are institutionally corrupt, institutionally racist and institutionally incompetent, I think that the world has sometimes gone completely mad. I also believe that the reverse is the truth. There are some bad apples in our

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Metropolitan police, but there are some bad apples in every part of society. The truth--which is not said enough--is that our Metropolitan police are an outstandingly good force of devoted men and women, ably led by a man who has introduced much innovation and done a great deal of good.

We are lucky in our metropolis to be policed by that force. It is also high time that politicians began talking up police, rather than talking them down. They have no voice in the Chamber to speak for themselves, so let us do it.

I admit straight away that we must approach this important debate in a measured manner. It would be wrong to deny that there are some problems. It is important to stress that there must be more trust between police and ethnic minority communities. Yes, all of that is necessary. Much can and should be done.

We need more people from ethnic minority communities in our police force. I do not like the idea of quotas, but I do like the idea of having more young men and women from those communities in the police force. I should be very glad to see more leaders of the ethnic minority communities encouraging some of their youngsters to join the police force, rather than, I am sad to say, so often talking down a career in the police. I therefore accept the need to recruit and retain more people in the police force from ethnic minority communities.

I am on all fours with one aspect of the Macpherson report. My career in the law over many years has convinced me that we need to look carefully at the use of the stop-and-search powers. There is no doubt that there is a feeling among a lot of black young men in the metropolis that those powers are operated unfairly and to their detriment. Any fair-minded person will accept that there is a case to be considered. I am pleased that the Metropolitan police--with Government backing, I think--are considering pilot studies to see where improvements can be made. It is important that young people should feel fairly treated on the streets.

However, there is a lot in the Macpherson report that is silly and sinister and could suitably be consigned to the dustbin. The abolition of the double jeopardy rule would be a great mistake. I hope that all those in authority share that view. The prosecution of offences involving racist language in a private home would also be a great mistake. Certain offences already exist under public order legislation and the defences in relation to private homes should remain.

This is awkward, because I am trying to convert a 15-minute speech into about four and a half minutes. We have to be very careful about how we approach the issue in education and our schools. I am worried to see recommendations that the national curriculum should be amended to include lessons on how not to be racist in order better to effect the needs of a diverse society. I am also terribly troubled by the absurd recommendation that schools should record all racist incidents, that all recorded incidents should be reported to the governors, the guardians and the local education authority and that the numbers should be published. We are creating too much trouble for ourselves, particularly when a racist incident is defined as

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    The recommendation goes on to say that

    "the term 'racist incident' must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes"--

very significant words--

    "in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment."

One wonders who will do the reporting, the recording and the investigating and with what commitment. Is that not political correctness gone mad?

We are in severe danger of doing too much. As a result we shall create more resentment and tension where not so much exists at the moment. We should not take action that results in more problems and more tension. Let us move slowly rather than quickly and let us carry the consent of the whole population with us. The Macpherson report is another example of 5 per cent. of the population making 95 per cent. of the noise.

9.23 pm

Mr. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): In view of the time, I shall try to curtail my comments. I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). A boy lies dead. The police bungled the inquiry. The Kent police then handled the investigation incompetently and five racist murderers are still on the loose.

We should compliment my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on having had the courage to launch the inquiry. We should congratulate the authors of the report on their intelligence, wisdom, patience and humanity. We should also commend my right hon. Friend on having had the wit and speed to respond so comprehensively to the Macpherson report.

In my public life, I have represented two very different areas. For 14 years I represented an area in south Leeds with a rich multi-ethnic mix. From 1984, I lived among the community. The relationship between the police and the ethnic minority communities had broken down, and there was a huge chasm of confidence between those communities and the police. I discovered a level and intensity of racial harassment and violence that was frightening to me as a near neighbour and terrifying to the people who were subjected to that violence. Offensive graffiti displayed the Nazi insignia. We were not dealing merely with incipient racism--although that existed--but with organised racism by fascist organisations. There were attacks on property and attacks on the person, both physical and verbal. People lived in fear and were intimidated in their own houses. They were frightened to go out. Frequently, the women, the elderly and the children were unable to leave their homes.

The police had failed to protect that community. I was frequently called out--sometimes almost every night--to witness incidents. Almost invariably I was there before the police arrived: sometimes they took hours to arrive or never came at all in spite of threats to people's physical safety.

An inquiry was launched by the Leeds community relations council, which was chaired by Canon Jim Richardson, then Vicar of Leeds. It found harassment on a large and horrific scale. The police statistics failed to recognise the scale of the phenomenon, which has been reflected in many of our other inner cities.

I want to highlight recommendations 12 to 17 in the Macpherson inquiry report, which will require a more accurate system of reporting racial incidents in the future.

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That will help to create some public confidence, and will reveal for the first time the true extent and character of the problem of racism and fascist organisations in our inner-city areas. It will require the police and other agencies to become race aware in a way that they have not been in the past. It will begin to restore confidence that the suffering of communities is being adequately recognised.

In 1996, I left Leeds and went to the community of Hemsworth, which, according to the 1991 census, is 99 per cent. ethnic white. That gives me a special perspective. I now represent villages which are ethnically white, almost without exception, but where a chasm of confidence opened up between the police and the community as a result of the 1984 miners strike. Now there is great poverty in those communities, as well as large-scale drug dealing and a rising tide of criminality.

Many people in those villages tell me that they have lost confidence in the policing of their communities. I share and understand such fears and lack of confidence when I meet elderly people who fear to go out of their homes. I try to call community meetings and a different police officer comes on each occasion, so there is no continuity. The police say that some communities must raise money to pay for adequate policing. The entire community lacks confidence in the police.

The common theme of the communities that I have represented is lack of confidence. Macpherson is pointing us in the correct direction.

Above all, I want to highlight the recommendation concerning the Police Complaints Authority, which makes it clear that it should become independent. The Home Office is sympathetic to the principle of an independent system of investigation. I want to press the Minister to clarify the sentences in the document that refer to the cost and practical implications of making the Police Complaints Authority independent. In my view, true independence is an absolute imperative. It would be well worth it if some cost were involved, as a means of restoring confidence in policing among communities such as those I have briefly described.

9.30 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): This important debate was bound to generate strong emotions, but generally speaking, it has again demonstrated that there is unity in our revulsion at the appalling and atrocious murder of Stephen Lawrence; in our condemnation of the abysmal and deplorable handling of the police investigation into that crime, as set out in the Macpherson report; and in our sense of outrage at the comprehensive failure of our criminal justice system to bring Stephen's killers to justice.

We want to make our streets safer for all our citizens; to eliminate racism in our society; to make our police service more responsive to the needs and interests of all elements in our communities, and especially minorities identifiable by their ethnic origin; and to address the shortcomings so forcefully outlined in Sir William Macpherson's exhaustive report. Above all, we want the restoration of confidence in our police service, especially in London, among all sections of our multicultural and multiracial community.

We are right to pursue with vigour and determination the process of change and reform that those crucial objectives demand, but we have surely an equal

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responsibility to examine carefully the conclusions and recommendations in the Macpherson report, to test their validity and appropriateness, and to ensure that the changes that we instigate will have the effect that we all want.

We must not allow our abhorrence of Stephen's murder to cloud our judgment of precisely what is wrong, what needs to be done and what will be most effective and necessary action to achieve our objectives. As the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) said, hysteria does not help us to come to an understanding of the problems.

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