Oral Answers to Questions — Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 24th February 1999.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:30 pm, 24th February 1999

Madam Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a statement about the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Copies of the inquiry's report and the appendices are available from the Vote Office. I know that hon. Members will want time to read and consider the report, and I can therefore tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has agreed that there should be a full day's debate on the report as soon as possible.

Stephen Lawrence was a bright 18-year-old student with a promising future. He wanted to be an architect and was studying hard for his A-levels. At about 10.30 pm on Thursday, 22 April 1993, Stephen was waiting at a bus stop with his friend Duwayne Brooks in Well Hall road, Eltham, in south-east London. He was set upon in an unprovoked knife attack and was killed. There was only one reason for his murder. Stephen was black.

Any parents faced with the death of their son in such circumstances would have been devastated, but for Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, their sense of despair has been compounded by the failure of our criminal justice system to deliver them justice—to secure the conviction of those responsible.

I think that I can speak for the whole House when I say that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence's campaign for the truth has been pursued by them with huge dignity, courage and determination. I should like to pay my personal tribute to them today.

I first met the family in early 1997, and saw both parents again shortly after becoming Home Secretary in May that year. They persuaded me of the case for a thorough, independent scrutiny of the investigation into their son's murder. In July 1997, I therefore announced to the House that I had appointed the former judge of the High Court, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, to conduct a full judicial inquiry. This was the first such inquiry under the Police Acts since Lord Scarman's into the 1981 Brixton riots.

The terms of reference the new inquiry were as follows: To inquire into the matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April 1993 to date, in order particularly to identify the lessons to be learned for the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes. The inquiry examined the handling of the case in comprehensive detail. It held 69 days of public hearings, heard 88 witnesses and received some 100,000 pages of evidence. I wish to put on the record my deep gratitude to Sir William Macpherson and his three advisers. They were Tom Cook, the former deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire police; the Right Reverend Dr. John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney; and Dr. Richard Stone, chairman of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality. I would also like to thank members of the inquiry team for their commitment and sensitivity in handling this very important inquiry.

The report is divided into two parts. The first part covers the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence; the second part the wider lessons to be learned. The main findings of the first part of the inquiry are as follows: The conclusions to be drawn from all the evidence in connection with the investigation of Stephen Lawrence's racist murder are clear. There is no doubt that there were fundamental errors. The investigation was marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers. A flawed Metropolitan Police review failed to expose these inadequacies. The second investigation could not salvage the faults of the first investigation. The inquiry finds that that first investigation of the murder was "palpably flawed" and deserves severe criticism. The inquiry concludes: there can be no excuses for such a series of errors, failures and lack of direction and control. A review of the case was conducted in autumn 1993 by Detective Chief Superintendent John Barker. The inquiry has found that this review was factually incorrect and inadequate. The inquiry was concerned that no senior officer at any level tested or analysed the review and that Mr. Barker had produced a "flawed and indefensible" report.

In 1994, a second investigation of the case was established and this attempted to salvage the situation. The inquiry makes it clear that the second investigation, led by Detective Superintendent William Mellish, was conducted with great imagination, skill and sensitivity by the officers involved.

The inquiry also identified work by police officers and others at other stages of the investigation which it said was exemplary. Those officers are praised for their unstinting commitment to bring the racist killers to justice, but their efforts, in the view of the inquiry, were not sufficient to overcome the catalogue of errors and basic incompetence in the handling of this investigation.

The report concludes that no collusion or corruption is proved to have infected the investigation of Stephen Lawrence's murder. The Government accept the findings and conclusions of the first part of this inquiry, which relates to the investigation into Stephen's murder.

The House will share my sense of shame that the criminal justice system, and the Metropolitan police in particular, failed the Lawrence family so badly. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Paul Condon, has asked me to tell the House that he shares that sense of shame. He has also asked me to tell the House that, as head of the Metropolitan police service, he fully accepts the findings of the inquiry, including those relating to him.

Sir Paul Condon took over as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in February 1993. Since coming into office, he has given strong personal leadership to improving the quality of service that the Metropolitan police provides to all sections of the community. A great deal has been achieved. For example, reported crime in London is at its lowest for nine years and Sir Paul is tackling the problems of police corruption with great vigour.

I have asked Sir Paul to continue to lead the Metropolitan police to deliver the programme of work that is now required. He has agreed. He will use the remaining 10 months of his office to take that work forward, including the agenda set by this report. I will support him and his successor in the work that lies ahead.

The central and most important issue for the inquiry was racism and whether and how that affected the handling of the case. The inquiry addresses that matter with care and with sensitivity. On the critical issue of institutional racism, its definition is: Institutional racism consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. The inquiry found that, on that definition, institutional racism exists within … both the Metropolitan Police Service and in other Police Services and other institutions countrywide. The report says that institutional racism was apparent in a number of areas of the police handling of the case. The inquiry emphasised, however, that its findings do not suggest or imply that all police officers are racist or that the Metropolitan police service is racist in its policies. Indeed, the inquiry emphasises that, by the establishment under Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve of the Metropolitan police's racial and violent crime task force, the signs are that the problem is being recognised and tackled. The report then expresses the hope that the catharsis of this Inquiry will lead to constructive action and not to further divisive views and outcomes". That is a new definition of institutional racism, which I accept—and so does the Commissioner. The inquiry's assessment is clear and sensible. In my view, any long-established, white-dominated organisation is liable to have procedures, practices and a culture that tend to exclude or to disadvantage non-white people. The police service, in that respect, is little different from other parts of the criminal justice system—or from Government Departments, including the Home Office—and many other institutions.

The report makes 70 wide-ranging recommendations, and I welcome them all. I am sure that hon. Members will not expect me to go through each of the recommendations in turn today. I will instead lay a detailed response and action plan before the House, before the promised full day's debate on the report. However, I want to use this opportunity to spell out how we are implementing the main recommendations of the report, as part of our major and continuing programme of change for the police service and for the criminal justice system.

First, on the police service, I have ordered an immediate inspection of the Metropolitan police service by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which will include thorough scrutiny of unsolved murders and reviews of such cases. To pick up one of the recommendations of the inquiry, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary already incorporates much of the approach of Ofsted in its inspections of the police service and it will be moving further in that direction.

A new police discipline regime will be introduced from 1 April. I will ensure that that is subject to effective monitoring and I will consider any further changes in the light of that experience. I will make an improvement in the trust and confidence in policing among ethnic minority communities a key ministerial priority for the police. I will use my statutory powers to ensure that every police force sets clear objectives to deal with racist crime better and to establish effective ways of demonstrating fairness in all aspects of policing.

I will set targets for the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority police and civilian staff. I announced last October our plans to ensure that every force reflects the ethnic diversity of the communities that it serves. I will chair a national conference of all chief constables and police authorities on that issue in April.

Stop-and-search powers under current legislation will remain unchanged, as recommended by the inquiry, but I will ensure that those powers are used more effectively and fairly. Londoners will, for the first time, be given a proper say in the running of their police service. From July next year, a police authority for London will sit alongside the new mayor and assembly. Legislation for that is already before the House.

Clear standards of performance will be put in place to ensure more effective police investigations of racist crimes. We have already changed the law to establish new offences of racially motivated crimes and the report makes wider recommendations for the criminal justice system. From next month, new guidelines will enable parties to an inquest to receive advance disclosure of evidence and documents. I have asked the Law Commission to consider the inquiry's proposal that the Court of Appeal be given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented.

As the inquiry proposes, we are already ensuring that victims, victims' families and vulnerable witnesses are treated more sensitively and fairly. The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will extend greater support to vulnerable witnesses, and yesterday I announced a 50 per cent. increase in funding for the victim support scheme. Next week, I shall publish a report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which examines police community relations across the country. It supports and reinforces the messages that have emerged from the inquiry.

The Macpherson report challenges us all, not just the police service. I want to use the opportunity that it gives us to tackle discrimination wherever it is found. I can announce today that we shall extend the Race Relations Act 1976 not just to cover the police, as the report recommends, but to cover all the public services. That means that in the civil service, the immigration service, and the national health service, for example, the law will back those who have been the subject of discrimination. The new law will allow the Commission for Racial Equality to investigate what is happening within individual police forces and other public services. Companies and other organisations in the private sector have long been subject to this legislation, but so far the Government have failed to keep their own house in order.

The Macpherson inquiry has demonstrated the failings of one very important public institution, the police service. The police have a special responsibility in our society, because day by day they are the immediate guardians of fairness and justice; but we would all be deluding ourselves if we believed that the issues thrown up by the inquiry affect only the police, for the report's implications go much wider. The very process of the inquiry has opened all our eyes to what it is like to be black or Asian in Britain today, and the inquiry process has revealed some fundamental truths about the nature of our society—about our relationships one with another. Some of those truths are uncomfortable, but we must confront them.

I want this report to serve as a watershed in our attitudes to racism. I want it to act as a catalyst for permanent and irrevocable change, not just across our public services but across the whole of our society. The report does not place a responsibility on someone else; it places a responsibility on each of us. We must make racial equality a reality. The vision is clear: we must create a society in which every individual, regardless of colour, creed or race, has the same opportunities and respect as his or her neighbour. In terms of race equality, let us make Britain a beacon to the world.

Many countries already envy our record on race relations, and the race relations legislation of the 1960s and 1970s has made a significant difference to the treatment of black and Asian people in our country; but it has plainly not been enough. Over the coming weeks, the Prime Minister and I will spell out what the Government will be doing to drive home the programme of change. The report must mark the beginning of that process, not the end.

In her evidence to the inquiry, Mrs. Lawrence said: I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young man who had a future. He was well loved and had he been given the chance to survive, maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white". This report was born of the courage and determination of Neville and Doreen Lawrence: of their desire to get to the truth of what happened; of their desire to ensure that their son was never forgotten. The report is a testament to them, and upon the report we must build a lasting testament to Stephen.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Shadow Secretary of State

I welcome the Home Secretary's statement and his promise of an early full day's debate on the report.

The death of Stephen Lawrence was an appalling tragedy. It was a particularly savage and cowardly murder. It was, without doubt, a racist murder. The family have clearly been through a traumatic time. I associate myself entirely with the Macpherson report when it says that the persistence and courage of the family in the face of tragedy and bitter disillusionment have been outstanding. Our aim must be to ensure that, as far as it is in our power, a case such as the Lawrence case never recurs.

Equally, it is totally objectionable that the killers of Stephen Lawrence remain free. That is an affront both to the Lawrence family and to the community. The report makes it clear that the investigation was entirely inadequate. Those responsible for that investigation deserve censure, but we must ensure improvements in the effectiveness of the police to prevent such failures of justice from recurring.

I reassert our opposition to racially prejudiced behaviour. It must have no place in the police. It must have no place in any other organisation, public or private. It must have no place in this country.

There is now an urgent need to build trust in the police where it does not exist, and to rebuild it where it has been destroyed. There is a massive task and no one should underestimate what is needed.

As it happens, I have, over a number of years, studied the police not only in this country, but in other European countries such as France, Holland and Germany, as well as looked at the position in the United States. In my judgment and, even more important, in the judgment of those overseas, the reputation of the police here among the public generally is higher than probably anywhere else in Europe and, arguably, the world.

That is not remotely an excuse for doing nothing—doing nothing is not an option—but it is an argument for recognising that there is a foundation of public trust on which we can build. Many people in this country look on the police as friends, not enemies. We must extend that feeling. Many people see the police as a service to which they can turn when in trouble. We must extend that perception. The police must be there to serve equally all our citizens, but let us for our part recognise that they often have to operate in very dangerous and very difficult situations.

In that respect, I am concerned about the use of the phrase "institutional racism"; I am concerned not about the way in which it is used in the report, but that it should not be used as a generalised condemnation of the whole of the service. I do not accept that and nor does Sir William Macpherson. As the Home Secretary said, he is talking of the failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. No chief constable would deny that there have been serious failures of that kind, as there have been in other organisations, including, as Macpherson says, the criminal justice system itself.

As the report says, accepting that definition of institutional racism does not entail accepting that all policemen and policewomen in London are racist—which is an entirely unjustified charge. It also does not entail accepting that the policies of the Metropolitan police are racist.

The aim of the report's 70 proposals is to increase trust and confidence in policing among ethnic communities. We support that aim, and the important proposals intended to improve, for example, training of police, provision of family liaison officers and handling of victims and witnesses.

I have questions, however, on several issues. I believe that one of the most fundamental proposals is that there should be an increase in the number of men and women recruited into police from ethnic minorities. I was a member of a Select Committee of the House that proposed such an increase 25 years ago. Progress since then has been painfully slow, and we must improve it.

The Home Secretary said that he wants to have recruitment targets—to which, as it happens, I am not opposed in principle. However, it would be difficult to have targets in one sphere and for the Home Secretary simultaneously to say that overall police strength has absolutely nothing to do with him. We are talking about police effectiveness for all our people. The Home Secretary should note that most people in the United Kingdom want more police, not fewer, which perhaps indicates how the service is generally regarded.

On race relations legislation, I welcome the Home Secretary's recognition that race relations is an issue not only for police but for all other public services, such as the civil service and the health service. The private sector has long been subject to current legislation, and it is difficult to appreciate the case in principle for exempting the public sector from it. However, will he say more about his plans and the evidence on the issue, including when he plans to introduce such legislation?

On double jeopardy, the report proposes that consideration should be given to permitting prosecution after acquittal when fresh evidence is presented. I believe that we should be cautious with the recommendation, and welcome the fact that he is referring it to the Law Commission. It is by no means certain that such a change would have helped in the Stephen Lawrence case. Before we make such a change, we should consider all the implications of doing so. I fear that there are too many examples of Governments—of either complexions—legislating in anger but living to regret it.

The crucial issue now is to take forward the process of reform. There have, regrettably, been some efforts to undermine the position of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis; I deplore such efforts. I welcome unreservedly the Home Secretary's comments on the Commissioner's position. I believe that it would have been a disaster for the service if he had gone, and there seems to me to be nothing in the report that would have justified that action. I believe that he is the right man to start the process of reform—as I am sure that he will.

I agree with Sir William Macpherson that a new atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence must be created. The onus of beginning the process lies with police. Every individual must be treated with respect. However, that goes both ways. Although we unreservedly condemn racist language, we must not use language against police that is almost as extreme.

The best action that we can take is to do everything in our power to ensure that the events surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the investigation into it do not recur. Reform is necessary, and reform should be pursued. I emphasise that the Opposition will do everything to help in the reform process. What we will not do, however, is to support any generalised attack on police, who, in my view, remain one of the best services we have in this country, not one of the worst.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Gentleman sincerely for his support for Sir William Macpherson's report, and for his measured response. I agree entirely with his remarks about the definition used in the report of "institutional racism". It is important to draw public attention to the fact that this definition is very carefully crafted, and—not least because of that—I am glad that it is one that the Commissioner is happy to accept.

The most important point made by the right hon. Gentleman was that the report is not saying that, because it finds institutional racism within the Metropolitan police service, other police services and other institutions, it is therefore saying that all police officers are racist. We know that, in almost every case, the reverse is true. However, the reverse can be true, but we can still have an institution that is displaying characteristics of institutional racism. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to targets. We can, I suggest, debate at a different time questions of the strength of the police service. Whatever the strength of the service, there are bound to be retirements taking place—and, therefore, opportunities for recruitment. The Metropolitan police service is anticipating larger levels of retirement because of the bulge of recruits in the 1970s and early 1980s. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the Metropolitan police and other forces to give a real emphasis to the recruitment, retention and promotion of black and Asian officers.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman put on record his support for my outline proposals on race relations legislation, and he asked when we can bring that forward. He knows what Leaders of the House are like as well as I do, but the intention is to do so as quickly as possible. However, in all seriousness, if cross-party co-operation were offered in both Houses, we could propose such legislation much more quickly.

On autrefois acquit, I share the view of the right hon. Gentleman that we must be careful. It is not an absolute principle at the moment. Following the recommendations of the 1993 royal commission, the law was changed in 1996 in terms of tampering by a jury. However, the report—in rather short order—proposes much more substantial change, and it is sensible to have that considered first by the Law Commission.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

My right hon. Friend's decision to set up the inquiry has been entirely vindicated by the outcome, and I welcome his robust approach to the recommendations. I agree that this is not a moment to declare open season on the police. However, it is a moment to make sure that some serious lessons are learned: first, that the public are entitled to expect value for the considerable sums of public money invested in the police; secondly, that when mistakes are made, they are owned up to and not covered up; thirdly, that where flagrant misbehaviour by police officers occurs, consequences should follow swiftly; and, finally, that the best way to end the canteen culture is to spend a little more time outside the canteen.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think that that applies to Members of this House as well.

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I pay tribute to his work as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and that of his colleagues. We would not have been able to bring forward the changes in respect of police discipline on 1 April this year without the Committee's important report. We are looking forward to the Committee's report on police training, which should provide an agenda for changing the way in which we train officers, both initially and during their service—not least in the nature of our multiracial society.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) talked about the past. He was right in saying that this country has higher standards of policing than many other European countries, and—as I implied in my statement—we have much higher standards in terms of race relations than some other European countries. However, one of the dangers of that recognition is that we can become complacent. If one looks at police training on race relations in the 1980s—following the Scarman report—one sees that people went through rote learning without understanding that what was required was significant cultural change right through the organisation, and an openness and accountability that the police service did not enjoy at that stage. I hope that all the changes that we are making will help to change the environment in which police officers operate, for their benefit as well as for the benefit of the rest of society.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the report not tell an horrific story of incompetence, bad management and ignorant racial stereotypes, which together ensured that the perpetrators of this murder and of other violent racial attacks have escaped justice? The people who emerge with the most credit and dignity from the report are Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, whose terrible grief was compounded by the dreadful way in which they were treated. Few people can have achieved so much for race relations as that family have by the tremendous qualities that they have shown.

Is it not of great concern that the report concludes that throughout the United Kingdom there is a lack of trust between police and minority ethnic communities? Is not the disproportionate use of stop-and-search powers a clear cause for concern? Does the Home Secretary agree that, although blanket condemnation of the police would be unfair and unproductive, there can be no excuse for the failings outlined in the report? Does he accept that calls for the Commissioner's resignation are a distraction from the real issue? The question for Sir Paul and other chief officers is whether they have, in the words of the report, an unequivocal acceptance of the problems of institutional racism and whether they are going to take decisive steps to deal with it.

Britain has always prided itself on policing by consent, but the report clearly shows a failure to establish that consent in minority communities. Is the Home Secretary aware that we welcome his decision, for which we called, to extend the full force of the Race Relations Act to the police and all other public services? I wonder whether that includes the armed forces.

Will the Home Secretary implement in full other key recommendations in the report that represent a change in Government thinking? Recommendation 6 says that the London police authority should have the full powers available to other police authorities to hold the Metropolitan police accountable. That goes beyond what the Government are proposing. Recommendation 9 says That a Freedom of Information Act should apply to all areas of policing, both operational and administrative, subject only to the `substantial harm' test". Recommendation 58 says that serious complaints against the police should be investigated independently, not by another police force. Does the Home Secretary accept that, throughout society, there should be no compromise on racism and no hesitation in implementing the recommendations of this landmark report?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about the report and, above all, for his comments about the Lawrence family. It is important to point out that the report says that the legislation on stop-and-search powers should not be changed, but goes on to make four recommendations about how the police should use those powers better so that there is not the gratuitous discrimination against black and Asian people that comes through graphically from the statistics. I shall deal with that.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Race Relations Act would be extended to cover the armed forces. The answer is yes. Race relations legislation already applies to public service employees—so it already applies to soldiers—but not to those who receive the services of public institutions. Civilian services such as the police, the immigration service and the national health service are more often in contact with members of the public and British citizens than are the armed forces, although the armed forces also come into contact with the public from time to time.

The London police authority will have the same powers as police authorities outside. I shall set out our view on that in the detailed response that I provide before the full day's debate. That was one of the few recommendations for which I did not entirely understand the factual basis. We intend to give the police authority for London the same powers as other police authorities. The only difference will be that the Home Secretary will have some involvement in the national security functions of the MPS. I do not think that that is unreasonable.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about freedom of information. The White Paper made it clear that the police would be subject to a freedom of information regime with a harm test, save in respect of the investigations of crimes. I ask him to await the publication of the draft Bill to see what we have proposed.

Recommendation 58 proposes an independent investigation of serious complaints, as the Home Affairs Committee proposed last year. I have always been sympathetic to that in principle. I said last year, and it stands, that we will wait to see how the initial changes bed down and consider the costs and consequences of setting up an independent system. Northern Ireland is there already. It will have an independent police ombudsman to investigate serious complaints from April, I believe, and we will take account of the experience there.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the call from Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence for the inquiry to be set up, and I welcome his statement, and especially his commitment to a strategy for implementing the recommendations as soon as possible. I urge him to proceed without delay and enable the House to have a full debate on the issue. Does he agree that the recommendations represent the minimum that we should do to tackle the racism in our society and improve race relations, and that there is now an opportunity for every Member of Parliament to unite, go back to their communities and play a leading role in tackling that racism, in order to create an equal society in which people are not discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We will produce that strategy as soon as possible. A fair amount of work has been done in the past week, since I received the report on Monday, nine days ago. He is right to say that every Member of Parliament has responsibilities. As I said, implementing the report is not somebody else's responsibility; it is the personal responsibility of each of us.

Photo of Mrs Virginia Bottomley Mrs Virginia Bottomley Conservative, South West Surrey

In a world in which all too many countries are blighted by racial tension, we have long been proud of a tolerant attitude which is intermittently shattered. At the time of the Brixton riots 18 years ago, I was chairman of a juvenile court, and I remember the anger, despair and sense of horror at the events, and the anxiety that was spread throughout the country. I thank the Home Secretary for identifying the real progress made as a result of the Scarman report; but, once again, the anger and despair that have arisen from this case have permeated us all. I simply hope that we will be able to emulate the dignity and determination of the Lawrence parents in the search for results: not for a witch hunt and for scapegoats, but for practical change.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for saying that: we do not want scapegoats; we want action and change, and scapegoats will not help us to achieve either.

The interesting thing about the Scarman report, which I recently re-read, is that it was implemented more within the police service than outside, and therefore in something of a cultural vacuum. For that reason, much of the initial impetus behind the change that it should have initiated was lost. I hope that we can achieve a much wider agenda with the new report and that there will be constant monitoring, so that, in a year's time, when other issues have overtaken us, we have not forgotten that we must ensure continued progress if we are to avoid similar trauma in the years ahead.

Photo of Mr Bernie Grant Mr Bernie Grant Labour, Tottenham

First, I want to pay tribute to the Lawrence family, their friends and supporters, for the stalwart nature that they have shown. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on sticking to his promise, made before the general election, that we would have a public inquiry, but may I also warn him about the situation?

We have been here before. I remember being very optimistic in 1981, after the Scarman inquiry. We thought that it was a watershed and that things would change, but 18 years later—I have read both reports—we are back to almost the same recommendations that the Scarman inquiry made. This is a last chance for British society to tackle racism and to push for racial equality. The black community is giving British society a last chance. Although I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that institutional racism occurs throughout society, the police have the power to remove one's freedom and we have to be especially careful about how they operate.

Although I agree with almost everything my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said today, I do not agree with his conclusion on the position of the Metropolitan police Commissioner. The black community does not have trust and confidence in Mr. Condon. I do not say that he should be sacked or that he should resign—I am not a bad-minded person. However, Mr. Condon should take early retirement, because we cannot move into a new phase with the same old faces.

We appear never to be able to tackle the supervising officers of the rank and file police men and women. My feedback from the street is that the attitudes of rank and file police officers have changed dramatically, probably because of graduate recruitment and race relations training. However, the attitudes of desk sergeants and those behind them remain the same. Those are the attitudes that permit institutionalised racism. We have to begin to call to account the actions of some of those detectives, superintendents, chief superintendents and police commissioners. I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider that question, because the black community is watching closely what happens to those posts. I shall leave the rest of my observations to the debate.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

May I first say how delighted I am to see my hon. Friend back in his place in the House after a period of illness?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we have to take the chance that we have been given. The difference with 18 years ago and the Scarman report is that many white people thought then that the answer to the problem of racial prejudice and discrimination was to treat everybody the same. The suggestion was that all one had to do was to be colour-blind. We now know that the answer is not about treating everybody the same, but about treating everybody equally, including respect for and recognition of people's diversity and different needs. That is one of the most profound changes that we must introduce.

In some respects, I am optimistic, and I wish to pick up my hon. Friend's point about the change in the attitudes of police officers. In my view, attitudes have changed further in the Metropolitan police than in many provincial forces and that fact will emerge in the report of the inspectorate, which I will publish next Monday. I am sorry, but I disagree with my hon. Friend about the attitudes of officers at more senior levels. These days, many such officers are profoundly committed to an agenda of change and to making their forces anti-racist and agents for driving out racism in our society.

My hon. Friend also raised the position of the Commissioner, and I am sorry to say that I disagree with him on that point, too. I do not believe that it would have been justified or appropriate to ask the Commissioner to resign. He is in a position to take forward the recommendations. He has accepted the findings of the report; its conclusions, including those that relate to him; and the definition of institutional racism, including as it applies to the Metropolitan police. As a result not least of his personal commitment, and of the Lawrence inquiry, huge change has already been made in the Metropolitan police service. That is evident and, as I said in my statement, I believe that he is the man to take the programme forward. He will do so over the 10 months that remain of his normal period of office, which in any event comes to an end early next year.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I urge hon. Members to reserve their comments for the debate that has been announced and that will take place soon? I can call only one or two other hon. Members, as I have the rest of the day's business to safeguard, and I hope that hon. Members will ask brief questions.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

Does the Home Secretary agree that we must be very careful about how we define the terms and phrases that we use? The Oxford English dictionary defines "racism" as a belief in the superiority of a particular race … prejudice based on this belief' and as antagonism towards other races. Yet today, we seem to have moved to a definition of institutional racism that can involve accidental conduct whose consequences are not intended. Does the Home Secretary recognise that difficulty with definitions? Does he agree that, according to the first definition that I gave, 99 per cent. of London's police pass the test with flying colours?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

One of the reasons why we have arranged a full day's debate in due course is to ensure that hon. Members have the time to read the report. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the good debate in chapter 6 of the report, which explains why the Committee came to the view that its definition of institutional racism was the appropriate one.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I, too, pay tribute to the Lawrence family and to the Home Secretary. The report is a shocking document. It reflects tragically on the vulnerability of the black and Asian community, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend expects its recommendations to be implemented in full. I am proud to live in a multiracial country, and to represent a multiracial constituency. However, I am desperately disappointed that our institutions are not multiracial.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals about targets, but I would like them to be extended to the civil service as well. Will he say what he proposes to do with those chief constables and others who refuse to meet those targets?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have not got there yet. I think that they will meet their targets and that there is wide recognition of the importance of improving the number of ethnic minority officers in the police service. I am grateful for the fact that the policy has the backing in principle of Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Members. It enjoys a broad consensus, and I expect and believe that every chief constable—and every police authority member—will take it on. If not, I may have something to say.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I support what the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) said. People in this country who want to approach their Member of Parliament about racism or bad treatment will now know that every hon. Member will act as the hon. Gentleman has acted.

In addition, I welcome the support that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) has given the Home Secretary on the approach to the inquiry. May I ask the Home Secretary to recall that some people involved in the tragedy seldom get remembered? For example, Duwayne Brooks had to suffer the tragedy of watching his friend get stabbed: much of the media coverage devoted to him has been adverse, and quite wrongly so. Moreover, no one has to suffer the loss of a brother to understand what Stephen's brother and sister, Stuart and Georgina, felt when Stephen was killed.

Finally, will the Home Secretary try to resurrect a report for which Sir Michael Quinlan at the then Department of Employment asked in about 1986 from the Race Relations Employment Advisory Service? That report, which attracted little attention outside the Department, examined the cultural and behavioural problems associated with employment, even in Government Departments. That report deserves to be updated, and spread to other Departments.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman was right to point to the many human tragedies that are part of the dreadful story arising from Stephen Lawrence's murder.

As for the report, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tip, and we shall dig out that 1986 Department of Employment report. A good deal of work is going on already, but it is interesting how often Government Departments, like other bodies, tend to reinvent the wheel. It might be worth discovering whether it has been invented already.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

My right hon. Friend will know that his tribute to Doreen and Neville Lawrence is shared by me and by the people of south-east London. Does he accept that there will be a great sense of relief among my constituents—one third of whom are black—that institutional racism in the Metropolitan police has at last been accepted by the House, and that he has undertaken to take positive action as a consequence? I welcome the action that he will taking in putting Her Majesty's inspectors into the Met to examine unsolved deaths and murders, and the reviews of such cases. Can he confirm that the inspection will include the review undertaken at my request into the deaths of 13 young people in the New Cross fire in 1981?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend referred to my acceptance, and that of the House, of the concept of institutional racism as defined by the inquiry. I should make it clear that the definition is also accepted by the Commissioner, who has issued a statement today, saying: The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon has accepted part one of the Macpherson inquiry report and its proposed new and demanding definition of institutional racism for all public institutions. On my hon. Friend's second point, I cannot say without notice whether the inspection of the Metropolitan police will include a review of the 13 young people's case, but I shall write to her on that.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee)

May I refer the Home Secretary to recommendation 58 for a fully independent investigation of complaints against the police? May I remind him that many of those who gave evidence to the Scarman inquiry into the Brixton riots argued strongly for an independent inquiry then? The replacement of the old Police Complaints Board with the Police Complaints Authority, which is semi-independent, has not won sufficient confidence. Does the Home Secretary not believe that the independent investigation of serious complaints should be at the top of the agenda, rather than some way down it, as he has suggested it is?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is right. He might have mentioned that I produced a ten-minute Bill in 1981, which proposed an independent police complaints authority, an idea to which I am still sympathetic. I have made my position clear. We have taken forward many of the recommendations of the Select Committee. This is a piece of unfinished business, and it is important that we get it right. If broad agreement is emerging among the political parties in the House about the future structure of an independent police complaints investigative body, pursuing the policy will be made much easier.

Photo of Ms Jean Corston Ms Jean Corston Labour, Bristol East

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on establishing the inquiry in the first place. Does he agree that the report lays on all of us both a duty and an opportunity to ensure that employment in, contact with or use of our public services should not depend on conformity to a white, male culture? Does he accept that policing in multicultural areas such as my constituency requires the police to take an open attitude, and to be in contact with, and have the confidence of, local groups? May I commend to him the work done at Trinity Road police station, which works with the Bristol race equality council against racist incidents? May I suggest that, as part of their training, every police officer should be required to read "Faces of Britain: A Cultural Guide", a booklet produced by that police station?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office has just given me a quick briefing on the value of the work done at Trinity Road police station, and he will visit it shortly. A great error was committed 15 to 20 years ago when people thought that they had to bother about anti-racist policies only in areas in which black and Asian people lived in any numbers. In fact, we need to bother more about anti-racist policies in areas that are all white. I do not want the police service to get the idea that, just because an area is predominantly white, they do not need to recruit black and Asian officers. Regardless of whether areas are mainly white or not, officers will, in the course of their careers, come in contact with black and Asian people. In any event, we must ensure that officers of the law treat people equally, regardless of the colour of their skin, race or creed.