Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 29th March 1999.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:31 pm, 29th March 1999

I never encountered it in any serious book that I read in the course of my school or university life. Crazy and bogus medical views of a racist character have been found around the world for a long time. Thankfully, they are vigorously and effectively challenged. I should be surprised to find a book advancing the view that the hon. Gentleman has described in use as a text in any course in any reputable institution. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I shall move through some of the wider recommendations. Disclosures in inquest proceedings that are related to deaths in custody constitute an important recommendation which the Government have accepted, and we welcome that. However, we are very concerned to be sure that the Government's view about legal aid will be the same as that of the report, which is that, "in appropriate cases", there should be legal aid for families in inquest cases such as the Lawrence case. The Government talk about "exceptional" cases. We are rather suspicious of those slight shifts of words.

There are important recommendations about education. I would stress that there is a need for good home-school liaison to help the parents of ethnic minority pupils feel that they are engaged in school activities. I stress also the need, as in the police force, to recruit to the teaching profession more people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The issue of opposing racism should be in the planned citizenship component of the national curriculum.

There are many wider issues for society as a whole. Understandably. some police officers make the point that it would be to misread the report to assume that all its recommendations are directed at the police service. The recommendations are directed much more widely, and some of them go to the heart of the position of ethnic minorities in our society as a whole.

Racism and discrimination exist in all parts of society. Statistics show that discrimination. Unemployment rates are twice as high as the average for ethnic minority communities. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are three to four times more likely to be unemployed as white adults. The number of exclusions from schools is rising and the rate for Afro-Caribbean boys is five times higher than that for white boys. In some local education authorities, the rate is much higher. The report refers to wider problems in society, which we must all address.