Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:13 pm on 29th March 1999.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:13 pm, 29th March 1999

Yes, and we will introduce changes in the code of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to ensure proper recording of individuals' ethnicity. Without effective and accurate recording, we cannot make proper judgments about how the police do the job we expect of them.

Like the inquiry, I strongly believe that the powers of stop and search are important for the prevention and detection of crime. However, I accept that there may be a disproportionate use of those powers against ethnic minority communities and that discrimination is likely to be one of the factors that explains that disproportionate use. We have commissioned research within the Home Office to gather information on current practices within forces to access the practical implications of the inquiry's recommendations. We welcome the five pilot projects in the Metropolitan police service—in Tottenham, Brixton, Hounslow, Plumstead and Kingston—which are developing strategies to use those powers effectively. Following evaluation, we will review the recording of stops and, if necessary, introduce further new arrangements by the end of next year.

The inquiry also made recommendations on education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is taking a number of steps aimed at promoting cultural diversity and preventing racism in our schools. Citizenship education, which will foster an understanding of cultural diversity in Britain, has a prominent place in the revised national curriculum. The Government are determined to prevent pupils being tormented by racist bullying. The Department for Education and Employment will ensure that all schools have effective anti-bullying policies that can 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. The fact that I am joined on the Treasury Bench by my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards indicates the seriousness with which we take the inquiry's recommendations on education.

Recommendation 38 states that consideration should be given to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented. The recommendation says only that the matter should be considered, and the inquiry did not come to a conclusion on its merits. As the inquiry asked me to do, I have asked the Law Commission to consider that recommendation.

In recommendation 39, the inquiry proposed that I, alone, should consider amendment of the law to allow prosecution of offences involving racist language or behaviour, and of offences involving the possession of offensive weapons in the home. I have made it clear that I have serious reservations about going beyond the law as it stands. I well understand the inquiry's concern, which stemmed from the behaviour of the five suspects, to which the report refers in chapter 7. We must balance those concerns with the rights to privacy and family life and to freedom of speech, which are enshrined in the European convention on human rights, as well as with obvious practical considerations. We will reach conclusions by the end of this year.