Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 128)

TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2006

MR LEE JASPER

  Q120  Mr Streeter: What can we do about educational under-achievement in the black community? Is it the same from borough to borough in London or are there high spots and low spots? What is the main problem here and what can we do to solve it?

  Mr Jasper: There are high spots and low spots. There are some schools in some areas, predominantly in black populated areas, doing some fantastic work, bucking the trend and producing some excellent results, and there are some others, and far too many, almost islands of excellence surrounded by seas of mediocrity would be the analogy I would use, and that best practice from those islands of excellence is not shared, is not pressed by government as a proper educational standard, and so we have a patchy performance. What can be done to achieve it? I think a number of things. If a community does not have hope, then there is no ambition, there is no aspiration. As long as we cannot see black faces in high places, people will continue to believe that that world is not for them and that is not a career that they can aspire to and achieve, so we have got to get more black people into those positions. In particular, we need to get more black people into schools. We have schools which are predominantly black in their pupils, predominantly white in their teaching staff and exclusively white in their governing arrangements. That is not a state of affairs that I think lends to providing aspiration for young, black people. We have also got to tackle the issue of our absent fathers, and here we have to take personal responsibility. There are far too many black fathers with children for whom engagement in day-to-day parental care is a rare, if not non-existent, occurrence. That is not to say, like myself and very many other people, that there are not successful black families. There are, and we want to get that into perspective. I know hundreds, if not thousands, of black men who do take care of their families, and the impression that absent fathers are predominantly black is to be dispelled, but there is a significant minority, whose children are engaged in the kind of activities we are speaking about here today, who routinely fail to look after their young people, and we need to do more as a community to take responsibility for supporting our efforts to get almost a national reconciliation between absent black fathers and their children. The preachers will know well the value of redemption, but even to those that are lost we need as a community to be engaged in some activity that seeks to reconnect them, whatever their past history and their difficulties. The good news is that the Caribbean birth rate is declining; so the phenomenon of teenage pregnancies that we have seen within the black community (and do not forget we have seen these teenage pregnancies for the last 20 or 30 years, we are living with the legacy of teenage pregnancies since the beginning of the eighties within the black communities) means that more responsibility is being accepted by young, black men and women not to have children in anything other than the proper circumstances of joint parents. So, I am hoping we are seeing a declining phenomenon. We are still living with the legacy of it and we need to do more work to address the issues of representation in the classroom, representation in the board rooms and representation by their fathers in too many homes from which they are absent.

  Mrs Cryer: Thank you, Mr Jasper, it has been fascinating. Could I just mention before I go on that none of our black MPs applied to be on this Committee. There was one Asian person who did, and then he was promoted and so he left. Since you are the second person to mention it, I thought I would bring it up. I am a Member of the Committee who puts people on to committees.

  Q121  Mr Winnick: The Mayor of London is a white man.

  Mr Jasper: Maybe a future mayor will not be, sir.

  Q122  Mrs Cryer: The point and purpose of my question is to look at solutions. There is a group of people that we have not talked about much this morning, and that is the law-abiding, peaceful, majority members of the black community who must be protected and, therefore, we need to find these solutions for their sake as much as for anyone else. Is there anything that is not being done at the moment that you feel should be done in order to protect those majority, black, innocent people?

  Mr Jasper: If you have crime and disorder partnerships—. We are forever saying to crime and disorder partnerships in London: "Have you done a race audit of the impact of crime on your local black communities?" Some have, some have not. "Have you done the prioritised issue of gun crime for local black communities?" What do we get told? "The PSAs are about how many bicycle thefts we suffer, so what gets measured gets done. Black deaths are not measured in that way, there is not a national target for reduction, and therefore they are not a priority for this partnership", and what we continually see at local, borough level is a failure to identify the impact of crime on black communities. If they did so, they would find in areas where you have got strong black communities a disproportionate level of crime victimisation taking place, but that fact is then not reflected in the allocation of resources designed to bring crime reduction measures and community safety in those areas. It is the failure of those partnerships to prioritise their work within the context of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act that is leading to an acute failure to recognise the absolutely overwhelming number of black people in this country who are victims of crime and who need crime reduction initiatives, who need community safety measures, who need confidence in a criminal justice system that is dealing with the offender. I say to this, look at the level of black people incarcerated, young, black people in London in particular, and then look at the consequent level of black community or voluntary sector organisations or faith groups that are given resources to deter, prevent or rehabilitate those offenders. It is miniscule. It is nowhere near reflecting the size of the constituency that we are dealing with. So, we are overwhelmingly the victims of crime, we overwhelmingly suffer disproportionate emphasis in policing and we are underwhelmed by the available resource priority attached by crime and disorder partnerships or, indeed, government itself in relation to tackling crime in black communities. So, where could more be done? We could do more by bringing on a whole range of organisations, faith groups and voluntary organisations, to intercede into the criminal justice process as a last chance saloon for those offenders who are going to jail. We need much more in terms of youth clubs and youth facilities. I am a great believer that the biggest mistake this Government and previous governments have made is failing to ensure that statutory provision for youth services remains statutory, because we have been dealing with the effects of anti-social behaviour and serious other criminality of young people on an unprecedented scale ever since all those youth clubs have disappeared. They have had lack of access to cultural services, lack of access to youth services, multi-million pound drug markets situated in the same places as high unemployment and poverty, overwhelming focus on police activity because of the perceived level of criminality and not enough representation in the criminal justice system or the allocation of resources from the Government to enable and empower the vast majority of our communities, who are law-abiding, to do what their citizenship compels them to do, which is to try and make a difference, but they are asked, if you like, to do so with both hands tied behind their back because of the failure of statutory services to recognise how overwhelmingly we are represented in the victims of crime figures.

  Q123  Chairman: Mr Jasper, we will return to the exchange you had with Mr Streeter in a slightly different way. You say, and the Mayor says in his evidence, that he wants us to make recommendations to increase the number of black workers within the criminal justice system. What is it that you think should be done that would increase the number of black people in the criminal justice system which you say is not being done at the moment? Outside of the Committee we can have a look at what the evidence says about that?

  Mr Jasper: I think there is some great work going on. I chair Operation Black Vote, with my other hat on. There is great work being done by the Department for Constitutional Affairs about recruiting more black magistrates and when we have our black magistrate shadowing scheme, what we find is overwhelming numbers of applicants. We usually have about 30 places. We regularly have on a yearly basis over 600 applicants for every one of those places—this is evidence of the overwhelming desire of people to become involved—and, of those people we put on those courses, 80% then go on to be magistrates. We can feed them through if there is a capacity there for the DCA and the magistracy to accept them. More of that needs to be done right across the board, but solving the issue of the representation of black people within the criminal justice system is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for attacking black youth criminality.

  Q124  Chairman: I want you to look specifically at that issue. You said in your evidence that you want us to make recommendations, you urge us to make recommendations, to increase the number of black workers within the criminal justice system.

  Mr Jasper: I think you need a period of positive action. I think you need to say, and the agencies need to say, in order to address the areas of disproportionate representation for the next five years we are going to ask the Secretary of State, or the Home Secretary, or the Attorney General that we can engage in positive action, such as they do in Northern Ireland to tackle the underrepresentation of Catholics in the police services and others, so that we can focus on recruitment exclusively in these communities so that we can get that balance right.

  Q125  Mr Winnick: You highlight in the Mayor's evidence and also today, Mr Jasper, the difficulties that many black people face of poverty, unemployment, and you also mention (and you have done so in your oral evidence earlier on) disruptive family life, to which you put a good deal of emphasis. How far do you believe that many of these problems need to be resolved within the black community and how far is it a matter for government?

  Mr Jasper: I think in relation to family life it is almost entirely a matter for the black community itself. I do not think any amount of lecturing by government or hectoring is going to make a difference. I think there are some things government can do in terms of the extent of income poverty amongst black families, which is a very real and challenging phenomenon: how do we, through our taxes, incentivise people to be looking after families, to be looking after their children, to be engaged in that sort of activity? I think that the particular crisis we face is an historical reality of slavery. We are not talking about the black community generally, we are not talking about African families from the Continent suffering single parent families, we are not talking about African from any other part of Europe. Essentially what we are talking about is a phenomenon that specifically relates to those of Caribbean descent. Those of us of Caribbean descent usually cannot trace our family trees any farther back than our great grandparents because we do not have the historical family connectivity, lineage or history so to do. The children that we are talking about came to this country with a lack of self identity, a lack of familial stability, a lack of familial resources of their wider extended families to rely on in times of trouble, as is the case with exclusively all other families, and, as a consequence of that, we have got young people who are in a very deep crisis. Although government can do a lot in terms of income benefit and tax benefits that can support, there is a very real crisis of a conversation that needs to be had within the black community that says: "How do we understand and cope with 400 years of slavery followed by 200 years of colonialism that has left our family estate, in generational terms, completely bereft of any resources to support our young people today?"

  Q126  Mr Winnick: You would not deny, recognising that slavery was one of the most monstrous crimes committed, that the black community needs to recognise (perhaps you agree or not) that these matters must be resolved if only for the sake of the children and generation to come?

  Mr Jasper: Very much more so. My own belief is that the issue of reparation from government on the matter of slavery is a very real one and needs to be considered as we approach the bicentennial anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, but also there is an intellectual and emotional reparation that need to take place within the black community itself, and that is an intercommunity dialogue that will need to deal with some very difficult and painful issues and uncomfortable truths, but, much like an individual (I suppose the analogy would be) that is abused at the age of four or five has kept those matters entirely to themselves and has a nervous breakdown at 40, it is no good saying to us, "Snap out of it, you are way past that now." Unfortunately the emotional damage, the historical, educational, the wealth, the creative base of our communities has been so fundamentally destroyed as to have a contemporary effect on the way in which our family life is constructed today, and we need to have a conversation within our communities to be able to tackle some of those issues.

  Q127  Mr Winnick: Do you see any comparison say between the systematic mass murder, the extermination of millions of Jews and the effect it has had on individual Jews in future years' generations and what has happened to blacks, or no such comparison?

  Mr Jasper: I see a comparator most definitely. Slavery is a crime unprecedented in human history in terms of its large scale effects, and so on, and we are still living with the contemporary effects. I say to any person round this table who doubts me, let me for a moment wave a magic wand and take away from you the last 400 years of your family history. Let me simply wipe it away, your cultural education, your economic resources, your faith, your literature. Let me take that away. Let me ask you to recreate yourself at the end of the 19th century as a free individual and see to what extent you would prosper. I would say you would have the same difficulties that we have now. That is the monumental effect that slavery has had, a very deep and abiding effect.

  Q128  Margaret Moran: I want to ask you about research, but before I do that can I just perhaps challenge something you have just said. In my area, in Luton, we are finding a lot of what they call black-on-black crime—black Afro-Caribbean versus Asian. Within the Muslim community there is an increase in stop and search, there is an increase in drug crime (drugs for £30 from one of the local gyms), there is an increase in drug culture. Does that not undermine the argument that you have just made that this is predominantly a Caribbean problem and is this the future?

  Mr Jasper: I could give you the same length of responses to the growing alienation of the Muslim community. The focus of your activities is at the Caribbean youth. That is why I have focused in that way. The growing levels of unemployment and educational failure amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims in this country indicates that they have an Afro-Caribbean type future ahead of them if government does not intercede to prevent the growing levels of alienation and descent into criminality that we are now witnessing in the Muslim community.

  Chairman: We are going to have to draw to a close now. Thank you very much indeed.





 
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