Race Relations (Inner Cities)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 12:00, 7 May 1981

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with the Commission for Racial Equality about race relations in inner city areas.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

This topic was among the matters raised when my hon. Friend the Minister of State met the chairman and deputy chairman of the Commission on 15 April to discuss the disturbances in Brixton.

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West

Were the relationships between the Metropolitan Police and the black community specifically discussed? While thanking the Home Secretary for changing the officer investigating the Brixton disturbances for the Scarman inquiry, is he aware that that inquiry will have to take place with much more sensitivity than the New Cross inquiry if the Scarman inquiry is to be conducted with the trust between the police and the black community which everyone hopes for? What measures is the right hon. Gentleman taking to increase the number of black policemen?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

The relationships between the Metropolitan Police and the black community were discussed. I believe that the House has great faith in Lord Scarman. I hope that all those concerned will co-operate with him because it is extremely important that they do so. I hope that they will be encouraged to do so by everyone. As for relationships, it is important for the maximum encouragement to be given by all local leaders to the improvement of relations between the police and the local communities. Many do, but there have been instances when the opposite tactic has been used. That does much harm because the police need to be supported in the proper exercise of their duty and encouraged in their work in the community.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem in several inner city areas is not race relations but public order, which we have preserved for centuries? Does he agree that public order must be maintained, whatever races or peoples are involved?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Yes. That has been made clear on many occasions, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for stressing it again. The police have a duty to ensure that all law-abiding citizens are properly protected. It is also important for them to establish the best possible relations with the community, remembering that successful policing must be based on good relations and understanding.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Was the substantial reduction in funds for inner city areas discussed at the meeting? Has it struck the right hon. Gentleman that, by cutting off funds to inner city areas, the Government have increased deprivation and, consequently, discontent and discrimination? Would it not help race relations to restore inner city programmes?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am told that the matter was not discussed. It should be remembered that the Government have given money to the borough of Lambeth and have done a great deal for the area.

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most hon. Members endorse his remarks about supporting the police and admire the way in which they carry out their difficult task, but that there is no ground for complacency? Does he accept that in the discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality everything should be done to improve the standard of police work in immigrant communities? Is he further aware that recently in my constituency, when the mosque was broken into and defiled, the proper and sensitive reaction of the Local police greatly contributed to race relations?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am most anxious to encourage good community work by the police. I have seen many examples of such work when visiting various police forces. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said.

Let me remedy my omission in my reply to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is anxious to recruit more coloured policeman, as are other chief constables. The problem is that not enough coloured people are coming forward to join the police. It would help greatly if community leaders could encourage them.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Wandsworth Tooting

Is the Home Secretary aware that, tragically, in many communities the relationship with the police is fragile and that rebuilding it must be a priority? Before he reacts to demands to introduce tear gas and water cannons, will he note the great success of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall in community policing., which is where the future should lie?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

The relationship between the police and the community is important, but it is a two-way traffic. The police must make a positive effort in the community and community leaders must make a positive effort towards the police. I hope that both will continue to be forthcoming, because without a positive approach we shall not succeed. Although the hon. Gentleman is right about the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, similar methods are practised by the Metropolitan Police and many other forces, and they are important. At my meeting last Friday with chief constables, members of the Superintendents Association and members of the Police Federation, we were unanimous that we should stick to traditional methods of policing. I reinforce that view today.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Coloured immigrants claim that they are unable to obtain jobs, but does my right hon. Friend agree that because of their violence and riotous behaviour in some areas employers will naturally be reluctant to employ them?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Those problems and others make what has happened in Brixton tragic for all who live in the area.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Is the Home Secretary aware that in reply to my question on inner city programmes he dealt only with Lambeth? Would it not be a tragedy if the Government's obsession with Lambeth prejudiced the inner city programme?