Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:17 pm on 29th March 1999.

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Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking 9:17 pm, 29th March 1999

I shall be brief.

When I hear it said by politicians that our Metropolitan police are institutionally corrupt, institutionally racist and institutionally incompetent, I think that the world has sometimes gone completely mad. I also believe that the reverse is the truth. There are some bad apples in our Metropolitan police, but there are some bad apples in every part of society. The truth—which is not said enough—is that our Metropolitan police are an outstandingly good force of devoted men and women, ably led by a man who has introduced much innovation and done a great deal of good.

We are lucky in our metropolis to be policed by that force. It is also high time that politicians began talking up police, rather than talking them down. They have no voice in the Chamber to speak for themselves, so let us do it.

I admit straight away that we must approach this important debate in a measured manner. It would be wrong to deny that there are some problems. It is important to stress that there must be more trust between police and ethnic minority communities. Yes, all of that is necessary. Much can and should be done.

We need more people from ethnic minority communities in our police force. I do not like the idea of quotas, but I do like the idea of having more young men and women from those communities in the police force. I should be very glad to see more leaders of the ethnic minority communities encouraging some of their youngsters to join the police force, rather than, I am sad to say, so often talking down a career in the police. I therefore accept the need to recruit and retain more people in the police force from ethnic minority communities.

I am on all fours with one aspect of the Macpherson report. My career in the law over many years has convinced me that we need to look carefully at the use of the stop-and-search powers. There is no doubt that there is a feeling among a lot of black young men in the metropolis that those powers are operated unfairly and to their detriment. Any fair-minded person will accept that there is a case to be considered. I am pleased that the Metropolitan police—with Government backing, I think—are considering pilot studies to see where improvements can be made. It is important that young people should feel fairly treated on the streets.

However, there is a lot in the Macpherson report that is silly and sinister and could suitably be consigned to the dustbin. The abolition of the double jeopardy rule would be a great mistake. I hope that all those in authority share that view. The prosecution of offences involving racist language in a private home would also be a great mistake. Certain offences already exist under public order legislation and the defences in relation to private homes should remain.

This is awkward, because I am trying to convert a 15-minute speech into about four and a half minutes. We have to be very careful about how we approach the issue in education and our schools. I am worried to see recommendations that the national curriculum should be amended to include lessons on how not to be racist in order better to effect the needs of a diverse society. I am also terribly troubled by the absurd recommendation that schools should record all racist incidents, that all recorded incidents should be reported to the governors, the guardians and the local education authority and that the numbers should be published. We are creating too much trouble for ourselves, particularly when a racist incident is defined as any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person. The recommendation goes on to say that the term 'racist incident' must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes"— very significant words— in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment. One wonders who will do the reporting, the recording and the investigating and with what commitment. Is that not political correctness gone mad?

We are in severe danger of doing too much. As a result we shall create more resentment and tension where not so much exists at the moment. We should not take action that results in more problems and more tension. Let us move slowly rather than quickly and let us carry the consent of the whole population with us. The Macpherson report is another example of 5 per cent. of the population making 95 per cent. of the noise.