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'2000 c. 21.
Learning and Skills Act 2000.
In Schedule 9, paragraph 10.
The Bill is a major milestone on the road towards race equality. It is the first significant amendment to the Race Relations Act in almost a quarter of a century. It is a necessary and important part of the legislative and administrative framework that the Government are creating to put public authorities where they should be: at the forefront, leading by example on race equality issues.
The Bill has its origins in the murder of the teenager Stephen Lawrence, a tragic and untimely death compounded by the failure of public services to respond to the needs of the victim and his family--a failure to provide a response that most would expect if faced with similar circumstances; indeed, a response most of us can take for granted.
The Stephen Lawrence inquiry report recommended that race relations legislation should apply to the police and that chief officers of police should be made vicariously liable for the actions of their officers. The Government accepted that recommendation and, in doing so, promised to extend the law not only to the police, but to other public authorities. That approach is consistent with the inquiry's finding that the problem of inequality in public authorities and of inequality in their provision of services to the public is not confined to the police. It is a problem in many other public institutions. We as a community and society must address that.
The Bill, which today we will send back to another place, will outlaw discrimination in public functions, with very limited and justifiable exceptions. Moreover, it will place a duty on specified public authorities to promote race equality--to avoid discrimination before it occurs.
The House should be particularly proud of the Bill. In it, we are sending a clear message to public authorities about the standards that we expect of them--standards that are being given the full force of the law as recommended by the inquiry. We are saying that public authorities must treat all British citizens equally, regardless of their race or the colour of their skin. Many ethnic minorities are proud to describe themselves as black British, Asian British, Chinese British or just plain British.
The Government want equal treatment for ethnic minorities to be reflected in employment practices, in policy development and in the implementation and provision of services. We as a nation cannot afford to waste talent. We need all our communities to be able to realise their potential free from bigotry, racial prejudice or
The Bill has been greatly improved during its passage through the House and, indeed, through another place. Government commitments in another place have been delivered in the Commons. We introduced many amendments that have been accepted by the House through constructive and helpful scrutiny. We have included indirect discrimination in the Bill; defined public authorities widely for the purpose of outlawing discrimination; and provided for a positive duty for public authorities to promote race equality.
The contribution of hon. Members throughout the House to the work in Committee deserves particular mention. I want to take the opportunity to pay particular tribute to the constructive approach of the representatives of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. Without tempting fate, I think that we had a model Committee. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for their contributions. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, for his contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig)--the Whip on the Committee--and the members of the Committee themselves, together with those who chaired it.
I do not normally name officials who deal with Bills, particularly controversial Bills--they might not thank me for it--but the Bill has had widespread support in the House. Callton Young and his team of officials deserve special thanks for the tremendous job they have done in preparing the Bill. The benefits of the Bill will be benefits that their efforts have brought about.
The consideration of the Bill by this House means that it should go back to another place in good shape. I, for one, look forward to seeing its effects when we get it into law, ensuring that we create the successful multiracial society that the House wants: then we can all look back and feel proud that we have been associated with the Bill. I commend it to the House.
It is important that, when we consider the Bill's impact, we are prepared to remind ourselves of two things. First, it is not just through Acts of Parliament, legislation, rules and regulations that we will build a successful multiracial society. As I said on Second Reading, legislation has a part to play. As one looks at the current state of the law, it is difficult to argue, if one believes that there should be laws against racial discrimination, that we should have a law that includes the private sector and part of the public sector, but excludes an ill-defined, indeterminate part of the public sector in the way that the 1976 Act does. However, it is in the acts, the decisions, the growing together of individuals, families and communities throughout this country that we will see the creation of a tolerant society that accepts people of different ethnic backgrounds and that appreciates the contribution that people of different ethnic communities bring.
On Second Reading and in Committee we spent a great deal of time debating the Bill's impact on the police. More than once I voiced the concerns that had been expressed to me by serving police officers that the Bill could, albeit unintentionally, inhibit their ability to deal effectively with crime, especially street crime. In London, where many police forces have stopped using their powers to stop and search, there has been a significant rise in street crime in the past 12 months.
During our earlier proceedings, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), repeatedly assured me that there was no reason for responsible police officers to be fearful. The Government's consistent view has been that, provided that a police officer complies with the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and that any deployment of officers or any targeting of particular crimes or particular villains could be justified objectively in terms of preventing or reducing crime, there should be no problems under race relations legislation. I welcome those assurances, and provided that they are borne out in reality once the Bill is on the statute book, I promise the Minister that I will be the first to cheer.
We have a real problem of mistrust of our police among far too many young British blacks and Asians. If the Bill will help to ease that tension and build confidence and trust, it will be welcome. Another real problem is that police officers in London and elsewhere feel that they are under enormous pressure, with near-impossible expectations being laid upon them. I pay tribute to the representative organisations--the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales and the Association of Chief Police Officers--for the way in which they have sought to work with Ministers on the detail of the legislation. They have given a great deal of thought to how they can change and develop best practice within the police service so that they can effectively fight and reduce crime and, at the same time, help to rebuild trust and confidence in their service among young people from ethnic communities, as that is sorely needed.
Earlier in the debate, I expressed my concerns that we should avoid a culture of litigation and compensation and I was grateful for the assurances, particularly from the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, that the Government would consult closely with affected organisations before making specific proposals on the enforcement of the general duty.
Hon. Members from all three parties who have participated in debates on the Bill have found them constructive and good-tempered. There will be occasions when we shall continue to disagree as we approach the subject from different political and philosophical perspectives, but I believe that we are united in our
The Bill was triggered by Sir William Macpherson's report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the appalling failure of the investigation into that crime. In the past two years, there has been a great deal of at times ill-tempered debate about race relations, policing and crime. I was heartened when I saw this week's edition of The Voice. I confess that it is not always my regular reading, nor is it probably a publication that looks for compliments from Conservative spokesmen. However, I felt that the editorial, in accepting that young black men are responsible for a great deal of street robbery in London, just as young white men are responsible for most violence that does not involve robbery and middle-class white men tend to be responsible for most fraud, took the debate about the relationship between race relations, policing and crime onto a different, more mature level, from which together, as a community, we can address the issues seriously.