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House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Morris of Castle Morris be appointed a member of the Select Committee in the place of the late Lord Dean of Beswick.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

3.38 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn rose to move, That this House take note of the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Cm 4262).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when my right honourable friend the Home Secretary published the report of the inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence on 24th February, he promised to publish a detailed action plan. He fulfilled that promise on 23rd March. He set out in detail the Government's response to all 70 recommendations. I am glad that we have the opportunity today to debate this vital report. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will remember that he raised a question on the issue. I believe that it was generally agreed by all sides of the House that we should have as prompt a debate as possible. Perhaps I may say on a personal basis how much I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, whose interest in and care and scruple about these matters is well known to all of us.

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Home Secretary's Action Plan provides a framework for a major programme to bring about significant and long overdue improvements. Much of the programme of work has already begun. Most of the recommendations should be in place by the end of this year, and the remainder within three years.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is taking personal responsibility for the delivery of that programme. He will chair a steering group to oversee and monitor progress. The group will include members from the Race Relations Forum, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Black Police Association, the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police

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Officers, the Police Federation, the Superintendents' Association, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

I know that my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland are themselves considering carefully the implications of the report for those parts of the UK.

I hope that your Lordships have had the opportunity to look through the action plan. I do not believe that it would be a useful exercise to go through it line by line. I shall deal with the main elements of the plan. First, openness, accountability and the restoration of confidence. Restoring confidence in the police among all sections of the community and increasing openness and accountability--those concepts are not separate--are crucial. It is only through mutual trust that our Police Service will be able to work effectively for our community in all its aspects. The ministerial priority to improve trust and confidence in policing among ethnic minority communities will ensure that issues of central concern to those communities are given proper attention. Police performance in this context must improve and will be systematically assessed, as in other areas of their work.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary will be conducting a full inspection of the Metropolitan Police to review their community and race relations strategy. It will also involve a focused examination of unsolved murder investigations. It is right to note that nothing of this size and complexity has been undertaken before. The preparatory work is well underway and the inspection teams will start their work later in the month.

New police discipline arrangements took effect from 1st April. Key elements of change include introducing the civil standard of proof (referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholokia, on a number of occasions in this House), a fast track procedure which will deal swiftly with officers caught committing various criminal offences and, for the first time and long overdue, separate formal procedures for dealing with unsatisfactory performance.

We have accepted the inquiry's recommendation to consider an independent complaints system. Work in fact was already underway on this following the Home Affairs Select Committee report. A detailed feasibility study is being carried out and will be completed by April next year.

The inquiry raised concerns about the accountability of the Metropolitan Police in comparison with other police forces. The establishment of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) will profoundly change the accountability of the Metropolitan Police to the communities it serves. The Greater London Authority Bill, which recently passed its Committee stage in another place, will establish the MPA with virtually the same structure, functions and powers as police authorities outside London. The differences are legitimately explained on the basis that the Metropolitan Police will continue to have national and international functions.

I turn to freedom of information. Openness has a very important role to play in restoring public confidence. We hope to publish a draft Bill and consultation paper on freedom of information in May. Under our proposals all aspects of policing will be covered by freedom of

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information legislation. We propose that there will be two specific categories--information relating to informers and information relating to an investigation or prosecution--where information will be exempt from disclosure. There will be no statutory right of access to such information, although information relating to an investigation or prosecution is, of course, disclosed to a defendant when a case comes to court. However, information relating to the conduct of any such investigation--for example, how many officers are on the case, whether a computer system is being used, or what training and experience officers have--would be disclosable subject to the appropriate harm test.

There is much more, I readily recognise, to freedom of information than legislation. There is a substantial amount of work to be done to ensure that there is real change towards greater openness in all public services, including, but by no means limited to, the police.

Effective race equality training is another crucial issue. The Government agree with the recommendation that all police staff, including CID and support staff, need such training. Ethnic minorities must be involved in the development and delivery of this training, otherwise we shall have no acceptable appropriate or workable systems.

The National Police Training organisation is already working with ACPO to develop a comprehensive programme which addresses the training issues highlighted by the inquiry. It involves review and revision of existing provision; setting clear standards for the design and delivery of training; and identifying the best delivery methods. The House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs is conducting an inquiry into the whole area of police training and is expected to report soon. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has meanwhile been conducting a thematic review of police training. Once my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has received and considered both reports he will announce further measures of reform.

We all want a police service which fully reflects the racial diversity of the communities it serves. We still have a long way to go. As your Lordships will have noted, yesterday the Home Secretary chaired a national conference attended by all chief constables and police authorities to tackle the issue of recruitment. The issue of recruitment is too simplistic a measure for us to rely on. Apart from recruitment, we must put our minds seriously, consistently and deliberately to retention and proper promotion. That issue is not limited to the Police Service; it obtains similarly in the Prison Service and the Probation Service, for which I have personal responsibility.

The Home Secretary set targets to increase the recruitment of minority ethnic officers and to improve their career progression. Those targets are challenging but achievable and forces will be required to report on progress. What came out most powerfully from the conference is that the Police Service, when it fails to recruit a fair and proper share of young black and Asian people, is itself the loser because it misses out on the considerable talent which is available to be tapped.

We want to raise standards by attracting good recruits. Yesterday the Home Secretary published Home Office research on the career progression of ethnic minority

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police officers. Key findings showed the following results: ethnic minority applicants are less likely than white applicants to be offered an interview, receive a formal offer of employment or to be appointed on probation; retention figures for ethnic minority officers have deteriorated over the past four years, while those for white officers have improved; ethnic minority officers are twice as likely as white officers to resign from the service; and the rate of dismissal for ethnic minority officers is two to three times higher than that for white officers. Therefore, if there ever were the instinctive response that Sir William Macpherson's language was over-vigorous, I would suggest to your Lordships that that immediate response was misplaced.

We know from the findings of the research that, on average, the progress of ethnic minority officers through the promotion process is slower than that of their white colleagues. That is why we include targets for retention and progression as well as for recruitment. We need to show those in the ethnic minority communities that joining the Police Service is a very worthwhile career and that their service, loyalty and commitment will be valued in future.

I suggest that only two rational alternative conclusions can be drawn from those figures: first, that our friends and colleagues from the ethnic minority communities simply lack talent; and, secondly, that they are discriminated against. I believe that the latter is undoubtedly the case.

I turn to racial incidents and crime. We know that there has been significant under-recording of racist incidents and a lack of understanding by some police officers of what such an incident is. One reason is that the police are used to gathering evidence to put before a court, so they apply an evidential test before deciding whether or not to record an incident as racist. Recording racist incidents is not only about that; it is about monitoring the level of perceived racist activity in society. In accepting the inquiry's simplified definition that a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person, I hope that we can tackle that. This definition is not in substance a new one; it is a simplified revision of one recommended by ACPO, as Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary stated in Winning the Race:

    "In essence, an incident has a racial element if anyone says it has".

Some have criticised the definition on the grounds of its subjectivity. But this is a definition for the reporting and recording of such crimes as the starting-point of any investigation. Whether any such alleged crimes are to be the subject of conviction is a matter for the court's objective judgment. Noble Lords will remember that under the Crime and Disorder Act, with general support from all corners of this House, we established new offences of racially aggravated crime.

We accept the need which Sir William Macpherson identified for a co-ordinated response to racist incidents. The Racist Incidents Standing Committee, chaired by the Home Office, has published a good practice guide on effective multi-agency working.

Crime and disorder partnerships--a key aspect of the new Act--can also play a major role in addressing racist crime. The Home Office guidance to such partnerships emphasises the great importance that we attach to

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involving minority ethnic groups in the formulation, implementation and monitoring strategies to reduce crime and disorder. We intend to ask the Audit Commission and the Inspectorate of Constabulary to consider in particular how well partnerships have dealt with the issues raised by the inquiry.

On the issue of stop and search, we strongly believe that the powers of stop and search are important for the prevention and detection of crime in appropriate circumstances. We accept that there may be a disproportionate use of both powers against ethnic minority communities and that therefore discrimination on racial grounds is likely to be one of the factors. We have commissioned research within the Home Office to gather information on current practices within different forces to assess the practical implications of the inquiry's recommendations. I welcome the five pilot projects in the Metropolitan Police--Tottenham, Brixton, Hounslow, Plumstead and Kingston--which are developing strategies to use these powers effectively. Following evaluation, we will review the recording of such stops and, if necessary, introduce new arrangements by the end of next year.

I turn to prevention and the role of education. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Blunkett, is taking a number of steps to promote cultural diversity and to prevent racism in our schools. Citizenship education, which will foster an understanding of cultural diversity in Britain (from which we all benefit and have done historically) has a prominent place in the revised national curriculum.

We are determined to prevent children being tormented by racist bullying. The DfEE will ensure that all schools have effective anti-bullying policies to deal effectively with incidents of racial harassment. Further steps will be taken to ensure that all racist incidents are recorded and that parents and governors are informed of the nature of the incident and the action taken to deal with it.

There were other recommendations to which I turn. We accept the recommendation that consideration should be given to permitting prosecution after acquittal where fresh viable evidence is presented. I stress that the recommendation was only to consider that; that is all that has been accepted; and we have asked the Law commission to consider this recommendation. I suggest that that is the proper way to look at such a fundamental change: to put it to an expert body which is not swayed by partisan opinion or public agitation.

We will accept the recommendation to consider amending the law to allow prosecution of offences involving racist language or behaviour and offences involving the possession of offensive weapons in the home.

The Home Secretary has made it perfectly plain that we have serious reservations in this context about going beyond the law as it stands. Nobody who has seen the videos recently could fail to have concern, but we need to balance what the law can do and what it is capable of bringing about; and to bear in mind the right to privacy in family life, particularly for those whose conduct we detest and despise. We hope to come to conclusions on that matter by the end of this year.

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As regards race equality in Britain, we look to an inclusive society where people are treated equally, regardless of race; where equality of opportunity is key; and where, as a society, we celebrate diversity. The nature of our country--to use a phrase which I still respect, our Britishness--has been shaped by many different peoples over the centuries who have broadened our languages, our customs and our culture. I do not say that the Norman invasion was immediately welcomed in Wales, but we have managed to adapt and adopt, and I dare say that everyone who pauses for a moment and looks at what a great country ours is and could better become, recognises that there is no one stream that contributes to the diversity, quality and value of our life here.

The inquiry recommended that the Government should extend the Race Relations Act to the police. We agree, but we will go further and extend that Act to all public services.

It is time for the public service to put its own house in order on race equality, something which is long overdue. As employers, our track record in the Home Office could be much better. Therefore, Jack Straw is setting targets in the Home Office and its services for recruitment and progression of ethnic minority staff. We expect colleagues in other departments to do just that.

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