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Lord Taylor of Warwick: Today's seed brings tomorrow's harvest and so in principle I welcome this Bill as an extension to the Race Relations Act 1976. I support the intention to make the police and other public authorities liable under the Act. But there is a problem. The Bill gives effect to only part of the recommendations of the Macpherson report on the Stephen Lawrence case. It will cover only direct discrimination and not the more significant indirect form.
The first step to any victory is fully to recognise the enemy. This Bill does not do that. That is why I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Looking back can help us to see the future. Extending the law to tackle indirect discrimination was the great innovation when the 1976 Act was passed. That was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. It reflected the growing recognition that it is the hidden, often unconscious kinds of discrimination which are the most insidious and widespread. By understanding the need to fight indirect discrimination, the Act gave enhanced powers of investigation to the Commission for Racial Equality.
Let us not forget that the focus of the Macpherson report was on the prevalence of institutionalised racism which is more often indirect than direct. The abject failure to bring Stephen Lawrence's killers to justice stemmed from the attitudes and practices in investigating crime. The sadness is that it may well have formed a part in terms of investigating the cases of Michael Menson and Ricky Reel.
I understand it is claimed that some officers are now reluctant to stop and search people from ethnic minorities for fear of being accused of racism. However, the evidence shows that "stop and search" plays a minimal role in detecting crime. The actual rates of arrests--I stress the word "arrests"--of black people resulting from "stop and search" are significantly lower than those for their white counterparts.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I support the police. They have the difficult job of protecting our communities. However, the facts suggest that there is a need for more effective scrutiny of such police powers. There can be no better demonstration of how matters can go wrong than when Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, was recently mistakenly stopped and questioned by the police.
Some say that it is easier to know how the shoe pinches if you wear it. A little while ago I decided to go for a training run at about 8 p.m. in the evening. After a few minutes a car pulled up behind me. As I looked round, all I could see were two headlights glaring in the dark. Then two uniformed police officers got out of the car and demanded to know where I was going. As far as I know it is not yet a criminal offence to go running, even though I was wearing an Aston Villa tracksuit! When I briefly explained that I was Lord Taylor of Warwick their attitude transformed instantly. The hostility and aggression was replaced by a rather flustered and faint apology. I believe that I and the officers concerned in that episode learned some lessons.
The Macpherson report gave the police an opportunity for a new start and a new heart. There is a clear perception in the black and Asian communities that they are not treated fairly. The Bill in its present form will reinforce that feeling. Let us make race relations better, not bitter.
Baroness Prashar: I beg to support the amendment on indirect discrimination moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I strongly support the arguments which he has advanced in support of that amendment.
I was pleased to hear of the Government's decision to extend the scope of the Race Relations Act to public authorities, but was disappointed when I saw a serious flaw: the creation of an exception of indirect racial discrimination by public authorities, including the police.
Given the nature of the function of public authorities, it is vital that they are brought within the full scope of the race discrimination legislation. As someone who has been involved, over a number of years, in trying to tackle institutional discrimination, I believe that the actual concept of discrimination is the
Direct discrimination is relatively easy to identify and deal with, but we all know that practices and procedures which have a disproportionate adverse impact and which cannot be justified are not only difficult to identify but also help to perpetuate institutional discrimination and inequality. If we as a society are resolutely committed to eliminating unjustified discrimination and making equality of opportunity a reality, I believe it is imperative that indirect discrimination by public authorities is brought within the scope of the legislation.
By making public authorities subject to the full force of the legislation, Parliament would do two things. First, it would encourage public authorities to review their practices, procedures and rules which may be discriminatory. Secondly, it would enable the Commission for Racial Equality to use a strategic law enforcement power to tackle indirect discrimination in key public sector functions and to challenge discriminatory institutional practices. That would be an effective illustration of our true commitment to eradicating discrimination.
I have thought long and hard but there does not appear to be a justifiable reason for not bringing public authorities within the full scope of the legislation. Indeed, the reasons put forward, which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, quoted from the letter from the Home Office, are not convincing. It is argued that any policy or practice of a public authority which imposed a requirement or condition on an individual and which had a differential impact on different racial groups could be challenged in the courts and would be unlawful unless it were justified. The key issue is whether a rule or practice can be justified. Currently, as we have heard, the private sector is bound by the legislation. I see no reason why the Government and public bodies should not be under the same duty.
The Earl of Onslow: I also rise in support of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. We have returned to the point of equality for all. As I said in relation to the previous amendment, we cannot expect ethnic minorities to be loyal subjects of the Crown if the Crown is entitled to discriminate against them. To introduce the concept of indirect racial discrimination may be nit-picking, but if we accept that it is necessary to abolish that by statute, it is absolutely pointless to say that British Airways cannot do it but that the police and social services can. It is totally pointless to expect ethnic minorities to be loyal subjects of the Crown if they are not given equal opportunities in the Grenadiers or the Lifeguards. It is as simple as that. I am arguing from the old-fashioned, high-Tory point of view. I believe that the Crown should be subject to the law in the same way as everybody else.
I turn to a point made by my noble friend Lord Taylor, although I am not sure where it takes us. A couple of years ago I was stopped at Aldgate East tube station. Although I had a perfectly valid ticket, there was an argument with a bone-headed ticket inspector,
If on that occasion I had been a black person--my great-great-great-grandmother was--I would immediately have accused those policemen of racial harassment, but they were just being extraordinarily insensitive, ill-mannered and incompetent. I concede that it was an isolated incident, but my main point is that we must support the equality of everybody to carry out non-discriminatory practices. I thought that the matter was first settled by Charles I, and, if not by him, that it was settled in the reign of William III. We should continue with those principles. I say that from a high-Tory point of view.
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