Racial Harassment

– in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 24th April 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench 8:10 pm, 24th April 2001

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to Racial Harassment: Action on the Ground, a report by Gerard Lemos for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and to the proposals for improving services for tackling racist incidents and harassment in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, this excellent report, Racial Harassment: Action on the Ground, is about tackling intolerance and its manifestations in the form of racial attacks and racial harassment. As we all know, racial crimes are on the increase. The research conducted by Lemos and Crane and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is timely and its aims were simple but large. The research gathered all the available guidance issued over the past two decades and looked at whether the action recommended was being implemented and whether it was working. The report also makes some practical and thoughtful proposals.

The research looked at five main topics: multi-agency working, reporting and monitoring, support for victims and witnesses, action against perpetrators and training of the staff involved.

The report concluded that, while compliance has greatly improved since the publication of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report, it is still far from universal. In too many areas, local agencies are merely developing strategies, planning, co-ordinating and liasing without a similar commitment to acting, supporting and enforcing. Since much of the guidance on tackling racial harassment has been around for more than a decade, plans and strategies ought by now to have been made and acted upon. However, the report found a lack of urgency and patchy implementation.

The report also found that in some areas, including some big cities with problems, multi-agency working had still not been established or that it was still struggling to be effective. There are major gaps that need to be filled.

Despite the increase in the reporting of racist crimes, many incidents still go unreported. Victims generally receive minimal support and only in the immediate aftermath of an attack. Little support is available over an extended period. Much of what is described as counselling is in fact advice. No action is taken against most perpetrators and many front-line staff, by their own admission, lack the confidence, knowledge and skills to deal with the problem.

The authors of the report recommend that policy-makers and regulators of the police, local government and social landlords need actively to think about developing their guidance and inspection regimes for tackling racial harassment as part of other emerging policy strands, such as neighbourhood renewal and other crime reduction initiatives, and that the regulatory bodies should set new standards and codes of practice for dealing with racial harassment and ensure that the agencies that they regulate are given clear guidance and performance indicators. The report found that much of what currently exists is simply too old or out of date.

Much more importantly, the report concludes that even if everything that has been recommended was implemented--and it certainly should be--still more needs to be done. The authors highlight three priority areas for action.

First, the report draws attention to the fact that the Macpherson report called for victims of racist attacks, their relatives and witnesses to be able to report incidents 24 hours a day in places other than police stations. On the ground, that is leading to the establishment of what has come to be known as third-party reporting centres, so that incidents can be reported at places such as mosques and community centres. That approach is welcome, not least because it involves a range of local organisations and agencies in the fight against racial crimes. However, many of those interviewed for the research questioned whether that was enough to ensure that victims and witnesses felt confident and safe.

The report recommends the alternative of establishing a national helpline, akin to Childline or the Samaritans and run by an independent agency, to which people could report racist incidents that they and others had experienced. The agency could put victims in touch with relevant agencies in their area, as well as triggering a response from the enforcement agencies. That would also ensure a more rapid, consistent and effective response and allow the Government and others to monitor the true extent of the problem and the effectiveness of the responses.

We know that the real consequences of racial crime are long-term exclusion, fear and isolation, as well as short-term terror. With the exceptions of agencies such as the Monitoring Group in west London and the Alert project in east London, advice services provided by volunteers are currently the best that is available in most areas. In many areas, even that is not available. It is hard to believe that those services effectively and thoroughly address the possible long-term harmful consequences of racial attacks.

With that in mind, the report's second proposal is for a national network of support centres for victims of racial attacks, perhaps connected together like citizens advice bureaux and operating under a single name with common approaches and standards. The report suggests that such centres would work closely with victim support, but their support for victims of racial attacks would be more in-depth, specialist and long term.

As a society, we are becoming good at the rhetoric of not tolerating intolerance, but not so good at inculcating tolerance. If we are serious about creating an inclusive society, we need to make a serious impact on changing the behaviour of perpetrators. That means a much closer understanding of their motives, anxieties and fears. The report rightly appeals for more imaginative, open-minded and courageous responses to work with the perpetrators of crime. The research also revealed some impressive problem-solving approaches to policing in areas such as Nottinghamshire, the evolving approaches to restorative justice in Thames Valley and good practice in some probation areas.

If our long-term goal is an open and tolerant society in which difference is welcomed, such approaches hold more promise than just punishment and coercion. The report therefore urges more research into the motives and behaviour of perpetrators, the effectiveness of current enforcement strategies and the need to go beyond compliance--which is important--to innovation.

Much of the discussion of issues such as institutional racism has been clouded by a dispute not just about what is going on, but about what we as a society are trying to achieve. The report reveals that objectives are often far from clear and are frequently matters of dispute. Some organisations, such as campaigning and specialist groups, see racial harassment and racist attacks as evidence of continuing unchallenged discrimination in our society. Their objective, therefore, is to expose and challenge discrimination. They talk of the need to send out anti-racist messages. Social landlords and police services, on the other hand, tend to see their objectives in terms of enforcement--identifying and deterring perpetrators or imposing sanctions. But exclusive focus on enforcement is not the whole answer; it is only part of the answer. We need much more.

We need a different set of objectives, as proposed by this report. Rightly, the first objective must be to make people--that is, the victims and potential victims of these crimes--feel safe. The second objective must be to seek to change, and not only to punish and challenge, attitudes and behaviour of perpetrators of racial attacks. That does not mean excusing unacceptable intolerance and racist behaviour, but stopping unacceptable behaviour.

The overarching objective, to use Isaiah Berlin's formulation, then becomes giving people freedom from racist attacks in order that they may have freedom for secure, active and fulfilling participation in all aspects of our civil society.

Against the background of recent events, the recommendations of this report are even more urgent. There is a need to move from simply compliance to more constructive and imaginative initiatives towards the perpetrators. Therefore, I strongly urge the Government to consider seriously the innovative proposals in the report and to take action.

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour 8:22 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, in the past few weeks the media have exercised our minds on the issue of race. They have begged the question: where are we in the struggle to promote good community relations in our country?

Those of us who have been engaged actively on the ground are often at a loss to answer the questions put to us. What have we achieved? Are race relations better today than they were in the 1950s and 1960s? What impact do people of colour have on the UK? Has their presence really put the identity of the white British in jeopardy? Do the British, who have fought two world wars, feel so threatened by colonisation in reverse? We are talking of only between 4 million and 5 million people of colour.

On current analysis, people of colour are in the main under-represented in the higher echelons of British society. They still suffer in education and in the jobs market; and their potential is under-valued and under-utilised; and they are over-represented in the penal institutions. Their main aims are the same as those of other British people. Therefore, are they really a threat?

It is with those thoughts rumbling in my head that I welcomed the report by Gerard Lemos, Racial Harassment: Action on the Ground. The bringing together of the many initiatives that have been put in place and the careful analysis of their impact is worthy of appreciation. As a worker in the field for many years, I add my congratulations and, I hope, those of the House to Gerard Lemos and his team. I congratulate especially the institutions, both public and private, which have been able to share their ideas for tackling the crime of racial harassment.

Racial harassment is a unique phenomenon. It has its origins in the Aryan myth of white superiority over any other group. It is not teasing; it is not joking; it is not leg-pulling. It is a barbaric act. It has its foundation in hate and has led to murder, to fear of entrapment and to untold crises in all areas of our green and pleasant land. It is not a pastime of hooligans on estates where there are other social needs. It exists in the most salubrious areas of our country. Ask the comedian, Lenny Henry, and his wife what it is like to live in a salubrious area and to go to bed at night with the feeling that one is under siege from persons one has never met. One is unaware why one has offended. It is a frightening and intolerable experience. Excrement is thrown at the door; fire bombs are regularly posted through the letter box; there are abusive letters full of hate; and threats of being beaten up and families being blown up--murdered in their beds because of the colour of their skin. I learned a long time ago that the English feel that their home is their castle. People of colour live "in the castle of their skin".

To be on bad terms with one's neighbour is not a pleasant experience, but to be hated by otherwise very nice people because one is black defies common understanding. Such acts in this country are not only vexatious incidents; they are degrading. They create ghettos and breed the disease that only unreasonable hate can foster. Everyone is affected by it, no matter who they are or where they live.

That is why I urge the House to give thought in the usual way to this report and to encourage action on its findings and recommendations. It is not enough to say, "I am not a racist myself". That can oppose real action. But a subtle, more ingrained resistance is required in recognising the need for reform. In order to correct race hate, we must all admit that it exists. Too often, we try to fortify ourselves against such an admission.

Racism is a complex issue, and racial harassment is an overt form of its manifestation. For reasons that defy human dignity, people of colour have been harassed through being denied the necessary access to improve their status. The UK must be congratulated on the strenuous efforts that it has made to overcome the barriers of racial prejudice. We must now deal with those who, by exhibiting race hate through racial harassment, seek to undermine the good work that is being done. For that reason, I recommend and support the eight policy implications listed in the report. I urge noble Lords to support all its recommendations.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat 8:28 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, it is characteristic of the commitment to equality shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, that she has initiated a debate in such powerful terms on a subject of such pressing public importance. We are grateful to her for giving us the opportunity to find out the Government's response to the Lemos report and to its practical proposals for tackling racist incidents and harassment.

As we have heard, those incidents threaten the life, limb and basic security of ethnic and religious minorities everywhere and the reputation of this country as a civilised, liberal society. They are not confined to black and Asian communities, who in particular feel the rub; for example, it is all too common for Jewish students to be harassed and for synagogues to require protection against anti-Semitic threats of violence.

I shall concentrate on an aspect of the problem with which the Lemos report does not deal but which is highly topical. It concerns the responsibility of politicians. The importance of the link between politics and race relations is demonstrated by the findings of the Metropolitan Police, reported in last Sunday's Observer, that provocative speeches on immigration and asylum can trigger an increase in hate crimes and racial harassment.

In 1993, together with my noble friend Lord Tope, I was given the difficult task of co-chairing an inquiry into the conduct of the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats in publishing allegedly racist election literature. We were greatly assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who was appointed, I hasten to emphasise, not as a Liberal Democrat but by the Commission for Racial Equality as an independent member of the inquiry.

Our report was published in December 1993. It is all too relevant today, as we approach another general election. We took pains in our report to set out principles that had guided our inquiry but which had not previously been much written about or thought about by politicians.

We observed that the right to free and unfettered political speech and debate is fundamental to a liberal open society. The electorate are entitled to the free flow of information and to robust and uninhibited opinions about parties' policies and about political controversies of all kinds. In the course of effective political campaigning, there are bound to be statements and leaflets that offend or anger those with opposing political views. No one and no issue can be immune from public debate.

However, if the right to freedom of political speech and public debate is essential, it is not an absolute right without limits. There are other fundamental democratic values that we especially cherish. They include an unequivocal commitment to the principles of racial and religious toleration, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect.

We observed that, because of the vital importance of those principles, political activity must not be allowed to be abused in the competition for the popular vote. Such activity must seek to avoid stirring up prejudice and discrimination, whether blatantly or covertly.

We noted that good intentions are of crucial importance but that they are not enough; there is also a need for sound judgment. Political campaigners have to be sensitive to the likely effects of what they say and do in the pursuit of political goals, and they should acknowledge and learn from mistakes involving carelessness or a lack of sensitivity. On an issue as central as this to democratic values, the outcome of what is done as well as the motive and intent are what really matter.

We also reported that to make such a statement is not to seek to impose some form of rigid self-censorship or "political correctness" on politicians. It is merely to recognise that which should be self-evident; namely, that free speech is not be misused in the name of political freedom, and that race, religion and cultural differences should never be used as political weapons. Noble Lords will know that there are many ways in which politicians can covertly pander to racial prejudice in a way that helps only the BNP and leads to racist prejudice, harassment and violent crime.

In our conclusions we expressed the hope that all three main political parties would endorse those basic principles and introduce effective measures to combat the use of race as a political weapon. That is why the Commission for Racial Equality decided to try to accomplish what we sought to do, and it has attempted to do so ever since. We on these Benches believe--I am sure that this view is shared across the House--that by sticking to a few basic principles, political campaigns can be conducted fairly and without racial hatred and prejudice.

I am sorry to say that when our report was published, the present Home Secretary immediately went on television to denounce it as a "whitewash" without even having read it. That was completely inaccurate and is the kind of politics that we need to avoid when we compete for the popular vote.

I hope that all three political parties will not only say the right thing but do the right thing as we approach the coming election. We recall Sir Edward Heath's principled example as leader of the Conservative Party when he disowned Enoch Powell after his "rivers of blood" speech. That fine example needs to be followed today by everyone who believes in a genuinely liberal and inclusive society and who wishes to combat the insidious social evil of racial violence, which currently disfigures our country.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 8:34 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on putting this Question and on the positive way in which she introduced this important report.

My noble friend Lady Howells graphically described the impact of racial harassment on the person who is the target. We are speaking of the child who is attacked at school, the mother who dare not shop alone, the student who has to telephone his family when he goes out at night, the shopkeeper whose shop is routinely pillaged and the family who live in isolation under threats and petty assaults from their neighbours. Indeed, the effects of this kind of persecution, day in and day out--whether from chance encounters or close neighbours--are felt by tens of thousands of families.

Nearly 48,000 such incidents were reported nationally to the police last year--well over 100 every day. That is bad enough, but the British Crime Survey, which is generally taken as a more accurate record because it deals with under-reporting, gave an estimate of 280,000 incidents in 1999, which is more than six times as many.

There are significantly more incidents in poorer areas and a significantly greater percentage in rural areas. For instance, in Northumbria one in 12--nearly 8 per cent--of people from ethnic minorities experiences racist incidents. In Devon and Cornwall, the figure is more than 6 per cent. For conurbations, the corresponding figure is less than 2 per cent in the Metropolitan Police area and in Greater Manchester. In areas with a very high ethnic minority population, the figure is lower: less than 1.5 per cent in West Yorkshire and just over 1.5 per cent in the West Midlands.

It seems that the countryside is not a repository of tolerance, respect for difference or even respect for life for all who live there. I should add that the figures for Scotland are too scanty to analyse and that figures about the experience of Roma and gypsy people are not identifiable although, as the Council of Europe's Commission against Racism and Intolerance says, the extent of harassment of Roma asylum seekers in the UK is a cause for concern. Better information needs to be collected. There is no doubt about the widespread extent of racial harassment.

In respect of the legal framework--in the Crime and Disorder Act--the Government have responded well by recognising racial harassment as a serious additional element in offences. The adoption of the definition in the Lawrence inquiry report--it defines a racist incident as one that is so perceived by the victim--has been helpful as a trigger for police investigations. It is, of course, unhelpful to assume that the subjective definition is meant to characterise an incident if investigation shows that it was not racist; and, if newspaper reports are to be relied on, it is unfortunate if a judge perpetuates that misunderstanding. But legal powers, as the report says, are not enough on their own to change attitudes.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, pointed out, the report emphasises that not enough is known about those who are responsible for racial harassment. For that reason the Runnymede Trust, of which I am a trustee, is developing a new research project on the motivation of perpetrators and on effective ways in which to deal with them. I hope that more work will be done.

I strongly agree with the endorsement by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, of the report's call for a national helpline that is locally available. Is it not odd that we have a national childline for children to complain of abuse and refuges from domestic violence but nothing for the very widespread dangers of racial harassment? Less than one-third of the areas surveyed in the report had a 24-hour helpline even to give advice. I mention my own council, Camden, whose racial harassment task group has such a helpline, offering nine languages to the caller. I ask the Minister what national arrangements of that sort can be put in place?

Perhaps he can also say something about further action for Internet Watch in relation to complaints about racial harassment on the Internet? And what is the Community Legal Service able to offer? I tried to call it up on the Internet and I could not see racial harassment on the list of crimes to ask advice about. Can my noble friend assure me that the Community Legal Service will specify race crimes in its advice service?

The UK makes a regular report to the Committee of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The committee commented on the latest UK report in August of last year, expressing concern over racial harassment and saying that there should be an interdepartmental strategy to combat racial discrimination. It said, as it has before, that the UK has not yet given full effect to all the convention provisions and that UK citizens still do not have the right to refer racist incidents to the committee. One demonstration of the Government's intentions to combat racial harassment would be the extension of this ordinary right to its citizens, to give confidence that all should be able to enjoy the very ordinary kinds of safety that we expect: freedom from fear in going about the business of day-to-day living--going to school, to shop, to work, to worship, to go out in the evening, to stay in in the evening without turning our homes into fortresses.

If we get the system right, people will feel safe in the knowledge that their reporting will be taken seriously, action will follow, and the community will support them. I think that these conclusions of the Lemos report are the irreducible minimum at which we should aim.

Finally, this is not a problem for minorities but for us all. It is not really satisfactory to be a citizen in a country which cannot take effective national action against the intimidation of people because of their race. I look forward to hearing what the Government are doing and enabling others to do to respond to the Lemos report.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat 8:43 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for instigating this debate. It is both necessary and timely. My participation stems from my involvement in policing. For a number of years now, police forces have been inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary on police community and race relations. As the chair of a police authority and also as a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities--the APA--I felt it would be of some interest to your Lordships if I were able to tell the House what we are doing both locally in our force areas and nationally to develop policies on diversity and race relations issues.

The Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence was a watershed for those of us who are closely involved with policing and everyone in our society. In order to respond effectively to its findings, some three years ago the APA set up a diversity group which leads on the development of policies to tackle race relations issues, including racial harassment, and disseminates that work to all police authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The recommendations of the report also led to the development of a national code of practice on the reporting and recording of racist incidents. The APA contributed to that work, and I am pleased to tell your Lordships that all police authorities have been encouraged to engage with local partner agencies to tackle issues such as helplines and third-party recordings because it is critical that all of us--in the police, in local authorities and in the voluntary and private sectors--work together in partnership to tackle that issue which blights so many lives.

For the past two years, all police authorities have had as one of their key priorities,

"improving trust and confidence amongst minority ethnic communities in the police".

We are monitoring closely the performance of our forces in making progress through a range of best-value indicators, including levels of confidence among minority communities in the service. There is also a specific best-value indicator which measures the extent to which our forces investigate racist incidents, and the number of race crimes detected.

However, our new duties under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 must give renewed impetus to our efforts. Codes of practice to underpin those duties are being developed by the APA in conjunction with the Commission for Racial Equality and will be disseminated to all police authorities when completed.

In my own force area, we have a full-time diversity development adviser and a specific group comprising representatives of all the minority communities in our county. It provides a co-ordinated approach to tackling the issues arising out of a number of local and national reports and inquiries into how the police service deals with minority groups, both internally and externally. Its philosophy is worth mentioning:

"The philosophy of the Group is one that promotes the acceptance and understanding of all individuals, both colleague and customer, within a framework of quality service delivery. No individual or group should ever receive less favourable treatment, service, or consideration due to their minority status".

Those are fine words but it is up to members of the police authority to ensure that they are not only written on paper but are actively and enthusiastically pursued. It was not always the case in North Yorkshire, but we are learning.

The Lemos report took its evidence from areas where the highest numbers of black and minority ethnic communities lived. But I contend that it is also in the rural areas where few visibly ethnic people choose to reside that harassment can take place. Because rural areas, by their very nature, tend to be isolated, the incidence of racial harassment can sometimes be overlooked or not taken seriously as numbers tend to be small. But it is a problem which we must also address urgently. I know that my force is doing just that.

Last year, there were a total of 127 incidents in North Yorkshire--77 per cent of all diversity measured incidents. The force is now compiling a survey document to be sent to all victims of racial incidents in order to monitor the levels of service which they have received from the police. The results will enable it to understand the concerns expressed and act appropriately on them.

The police authority which I chair, along with every other in the country, is presently undertaking a campaign to raise public awareness on police powers to stop and search. The Macpherson report found that the way that those powers are exercised hasd a profound influence on how the police are regarded by minority groups. The APA has produced a great deal of promotional material for us all to use and in North Yorkshire we are distributing it widely among our communities. Look out for it. I can commend it to your Lordships.

We have also been asked by the Home Secretary to seek views on whether the existing requirement for the police to record all stops and searches should be extended to all stops which the police carry out. Questionnaires have been sent out to minority group representatives, young people, community and police groups and community safety partnerships, all of whom are consulting their local communities. We are to hold two conferences in York on 26th May where the issue will be debated fully, and we shall inform the Home Secretary of our findings.

Those are but a few examples of what we are doing in only one agency of those identified by the Gerard Lemos report. Nevertheless, I hope that it has been a helpful insight into the clear commitment of both police authorities and forces of the work we are undertaking to tackle racial harassment. We must not rest until we stamp out the scourge of racism in our society.

Photo of The Bishop of Bath and Wells The Bishop of Bath and Wells Bishop 8:50 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, not only for initiating this debate but also for her excellent presentation of the main contents of the report, which set the debate in context.

For 13 years I was Bishop of Stepney. With others, I tried to tackle the harassment described in the report. I witnessed many nightmare events: people terrified in their homes; people abused and harassed in the streets; and the aggressive marches of the British movement. In the past few days I have been angered to see the exchanges in the media and in the political game in relation to the real events of people's lives. I am surprised that none of our leading politicians has taken the opportunity to talk about racial harassment and what it does to people. That cheapens the whole event.

I say in support of something that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, that I have learnt that almost nobody takes any notice of what is happening in Parliament except in relation to race. If something is said by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or someone in high office, the matter seems to be put on a red electric track, providing ammunition on the streets for those carrying out harassment. As the good things that they say strengthen those who resist racism, it is clear that what every politician says on this really matters.

I want to give a piece of good news which supports what the noble Baroness has just said in relation to the efforts made by the police. In the past I have worked a lot with the police. I was Bishop of Stepney when the Liberal Democrats were engaged in Tower Hamlets. Today in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, I felt encouraged by the large gathering of people invited there to learn about the steps being taken by the Met following the Macpherson report. The Met's racial and violent crime task force, under the inspiring leadership of DAC John Grieve, provides us with a great example in such matters, as that body expresses the policy to tackle institutional racism.

I notice that the police have no trouble talking about institutional racism, whereas many people find it a difficult concept. In the Church, we are aware of our institutional racism. We do not say that we are not all racists and we do not say that many of us are racists, but we know that our systems and organisations work in a way that prevents black people or those who have come from other societies rising to the top of the Church hierarchy. That needs constant attention. Today's presentation in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre concentrated on the impact on recruitment of institutional racism, which is a reality in the police. It is important that the confidence of the people who feel in need of police protection is won over.

The phrase "protect and respect" seems to be a good adage. I like the use of the word "diversity" to describe the multi-cultural character of our society but, as the noble Baroness said, it is important that those words are put into practice and are followed through in a detailed way in the organisation and training of the police force.

I also want to mention the third-party reporting proposals in the report and the necessity of partnerships. We have two examples: one in Leytonstone, at the Cornerstone Church, and another at All Saints in Battersea. Twelve more centres are being planned by the Church and other authorities and organisations involved to provide a safe local place where people can talk about what has happened to them and be listened to.

My last point is that this is not just a matter of choice; it is a matter of vocation. If my colleagues were present they would want to say that that is a demand of our faith. Our faith points us to the fact that we should never stereotype people; we should always see them as they are and treat them with the respect and honour demanded for God's children--if I may put it so bluntly. We have the great vision of a single, undivided humanity. We should never give up. We should never give up on it just because it is so difficult and so many centres of power resist it. We should try to reach the ideal--or at least move society and ourselves towards it.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 8:55 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, I welcome the report by Gerard Lemos and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for introducing the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, was absolutely right in citing some of the statistics. The British Crime Survey of 1995 talked about an estimated 382,000 racial incidents. That is 3,183 every month or 106 every day, or four or five for every hour of the day and night. That is an unacceptable figure.

My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill is absolutely right. I stress that politicians have a vital role to play in the way that race matters are handled. Not since the time when Neville Chamberlain waved a signed piece of paper has there been such open warfare as has broken out in one of our political parties about the signatures on the compact of the Commission for Racial Equality. The extent to which emotional language results in attacks on ethnic minority communities cannot be measured.

During the passage through your Lordships' House of the Crime and Disorder Bill I raised the matter of legislation to deal with racially motivated crimes. Then I said that the terms "racial attacks" and "racial harassment" have no legal significance.

There is a wide variety of incidents--for example, personal abuse, threatening behaviour, graffiti, racially aggravated damage to property, physical attacks and murder--in which the perpetrators are motivated by racial hatred. Not all incidents between people of different races are racially motivated; an example is robbery where the motive is greed, as against attacking an individual because of the colour of his or her skin. The feature that distinguishes racial incidents from ordinary criminal or antisocial behaviour is the element of racial motivation on the part of the perpetrator.

Recent events must be a matter of serious concern to us all. We live in a culturally mature and tolerant society. People, irrespective of the colour of their skin, are entitled to walk in our streets without being abused. Surely what is happening in Oldham or in Leeds or in many of our towns and cities is unacceptable.

The Lemos report identifies examples of innovative practice. It deals with multi-agency working, prevention and publicity, recording and reporting and providing support and action against perpetrators. However, there is some confusion in agencies about how we define racial incidents.

As early as 1985 ACPO defined a racial incident as any incident in which the complaint appears to the reporting or investigating officer to involve an element of racial motivation or any incident which involves any allegation of racial motivation made by any person. That was further amended by the Macpherson report as,

"any incident, which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".

Why do I mention that? In the recent trial of the two Leeds United footballers Mr Justice Pool criticised the police for adopting that definition. He said that that definition had,

"the potential for causing serious mischief".

Therefore, we have a problem about interpretation and the sooner it is sorted out the better. I would appreciate the Minister's view on that point. Do we need to give legal significance to "racial harassment", "racial attacks" and "racial incidents"? I believe that it is easy to become caught up in trying to produce a perfect definition that will fit all circumstances at all times. The quest for perfection can prove to be a tedious business. I suspect that the definition used by the police is easy to understand and it can embrace all kinds of racial incidents and not just serious physical attacks and other criminal offences.

Moreover, it is an element perceived by the victims who see the hostility inherent in a racial incident as arising not from any avoidable provocation but because of their racial origin. The victims' perception in such cases is not that they have been subject to a crime, but that they have been a victim of racism. This perception may exacerbate the psychological damage that the victim suffers and other members of the ethnic group to which the victim belongs may also perceive themselves to be at risk simply because of their racial origin.

It is for this reason that the law takes into account racial motivation as an aggravating factor in all cases where judgments have to be made about the handling of such incidents.

Looking at some of the recent case studies, I have no doubt that there are difficulties in identifying racial motivation as an aggravating factor. The police are less sure, the CPS less comfortable and the magistrates and judges less confident about pronouncement in court cases. I was pleased that the Home Office provided in Part II of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 guidance on racially aggravated offences.

We need to revisit these areas. We need again to remind police forces about the ACPO policy principle for dealing with racial incidents. It is:

"There should be a presumption towards prosecution in all racially motivated incidents and the effectiveness of police response enhanced by promoting increased prosecutions, where evidence allows, thus demonstrating to perpetrators that their actions will not be tolerated".

In 1998, when I served on the Home Office inter-departmental racial attacks group, it was evident that having a policy was one thing but ensuring that it was implemented on the ground was another. In almost all areas we visited we were told of instances where prosecutions instituted by the police had been dropped by the CPS, despite strong representation from the police that prosecution would be in the public interest. We were also told that CPS lawyers had not brought out racial motivation as an aggravating factor once the cases came to court, resulting in a less severe sentence for the offenders.

I am glad that the situation has changed. The CPS now provides a two-stage test in the decision to prosecute. The evidential test is vital. Moreover, if there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, the public interest must be considered. The more serious the offence, the more likely that a prosecution will be needed in the public interest. The code includes in the list of common public interest factors factors in favour of prosecution. They are that:

"The offence was motivated by any form of discrimination against the victims ethnic or national origin, sex, religious beliefs, political views or sexual preference".

I believe that the combination of ACPO's definition, its statement on policy principles for dealing with racial incidents and the code of crown prosecutors provides a correct framework. However, it would be helpful if there were a more rigorous approach in magistrates and higher courts to ensure that Section 82(2)(6) is followed. This makes it clear that the court will state, in open court, that the offence is racially aggravated.

Let me conclude. All members of our society, irrespective of the colour of their skin, should be able to go about their daily activities safely and with dignity. The test of a civilised society is how it handles the issue of public safety. If there is not to be seen to be protection in the machinery which the state has established, that strikes at the very heart of our democratic process.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Conservative 9:03 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for initiating the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, has the knack of pointing out in a modest and understated way the difficulties faced by the ethnic minorities. To those of us in the white majority, it is certainly humbling.

The seminal document of recent years has been the Macpherson report, published in February 1999. One of its key recommendations was the definition of a "racist incident". I can spare your Lordships much of what I had intended to say because the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, spoke in detail about the comments of the judge in the collapsed trial of the Leeds United footballers. However, I urge the Minister to take note of the judge's remarks. The comments of the judiciary in statements which do not have the force of law is most important. I hope that the Minister will give due attention to reframing the definition of "racist incident".

Perhaps I may speak briefly about anti-social behaviour orders to the extent that they have a bearing on racism. I note that Mr Lemos in the Rowntree report gives them only qualified support,

"on the ground they do not seem to have proved a straightforward tool in combating racial harassment. Their use and effectiveness will need to be monitored and evaluated".

The ASBOs were brought in under the Crime and Disorder Act and as they were designed to be used in instances where anti-social behaviour can be demonstrated but where there is insufficient evidence to warrant a charge of criminal damage. As such, they should therefore be particularly suitable in combating racial incidents. However, I understand that only 150 of the orders have been issued since they came into force, against the 5,000 originally forecast by the Government. The regulations issued by the Home Office have been criticised by local authorities as confusing. Contrary to widespread disinformation, my party is not committed to scrapping ASBOs but rather to making them more effective through being easier to implement.

Perhaps I may say something about police training. One of the points made by the Rowntree report was the wide disparity in racism in different parts of the country. This must in part be due to the attitude and effectiveness of the respective police forces in dealing with a multi-ethnic society. In that respect, it was interesting to hear the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.

I once spoke to a priest who had considerable experience of race relations in west London. He told me that time and time again when there was a racial incident it was those white policemen, as individuals, who had been brought up in London or a major city who were most effective in resolving the situation. That was in contrast to those in the metropolitan force who came from rural or small-town backgrounds. It was not due to any inbuilt racial prejudice on the part of the latter but simply to lack of experience in being exposed to that kind of problem. It is in the forces outside the major cities where training is absolutely essential, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.

Lemos cited two cases of strongly suspected racial murders in Westbury and Telford, where the cry had gone up immediately to bring in the Metropolitan Police's racist and violent crime task force. In my view, the Rowntree report rightly concluded that that was not the answer. Communities should themselves be responsible for developing their ethnic policies and in that respect the local police force must be in the vanguard.

It is perhaps no coincidence that two forces particularly commended by the Inspectorate of Constabulary for police training in racial matters were the Met and West Midlands. I believe that some rural forces have a good deal to learn from urban forces. I am sure that that experience would be willingly passed on. Incidentally, the Government are to be congratulated on the inclusion of police training in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill which is currently before your Lordships' House.

But all is not gloom. Nothing can be more discouraging to those dedicated people up and down the country who endeavour to find innovative ways to combat racism. The Newham monitoring project makes a point of being publicly accountable, accessible and transparent--much more so, it claims, than some of its better known sister bodies. One commendable initiative has been taken by a group of Sheffield United fans appalled by the number of incidents of racist abuse in and around the stadium. In their part of Sheffield 44 per cent of the population come from ethnic minorities. They have launched a number of football-linked initiatives which support ethnic minority men and women to become coaches supporting local football teams which are predominantly ethnic.

Much remains to be done. This report has provided a great service to the community by focusing with such clarity on many of the problems and, more importantly, Mr Lemos's suggestions for addressing them.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 9:09 pm, 24th April 2001

My Lords, I, too, join in the general thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for initiating this timely debate and her warning against any form of complacency within British society about tackling racism and the need constantly to review and tackle the problem with new and innovative approaches. In particular, her approach to many of the issues, focusing as she did on the question of what to do with perpetrators, was part of a very profound series of observations. For us in government this is a very real challenge as we seek to change racist behaviour. Her call for imaginative and constructive responses was very good and in some ways--I should be very interested to hear her opinions on this matter--reflects the work undertaken by the South African Government in setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That has done some very important and profound work in this field and recognises that these issues are not just about compliance but also conflict resolution.

I pay tribute to one quote in the document by Gerard Lemos. The starting point is Stuart Hall's comment reported in the Guardian on 8th July 2000:

"If you're serious about a multi-cultural society, you would address the alienation of white working class people, who have to be won to a new concept of themselves where Britain's not lording it from a gunboat".

That is a very important starting point which challenges all of us in government.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the implications of the research conducted by Lemos and Crane on action that is being taken to tackle racial harassment. From the start, the Government have been very supportive of the research. The Home Office, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales have all been represented on the advisory group. It is a substantial report which I hope noble Lords will take the trouble to read fully. I believe that the report deserves a broader debate than we have had this evening. I am saddened that the Chamber is not better attended than it is, but all of the contributions have been very worthwhile.

I cannot avoid making the observation that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is on his own tonight. I hope that that is not a comment on the other members of the noble Viscount's party. One would have hoped that they would have been able at least to listen to the debate and take it very seriously. That is particularly so in view of recent events and comments relating to the CRE compact which we all hoped had been enthusiastically endorsed and signed up to by all parties as we approach a likely general election.

Tackling racism, especially that which manifests itself as violence or harassment, is a priority for the Government. That was why we introduced racially aggravated offences in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, set up the Lawrence inquiry and are implementing the recommendations of that report. Much of the work that has been carried out to implement the recommendations is very relevant to the report of the research. I draw to the attention of noble Lords the comments by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the second annual report on progress in implementing the Lawrence inquiry recommendations which was published in February of this year.

One of the issues in the report is the important recording of the ethnicity of victims of racist incidents. The Government recognise, as the report suggests, that we need further information about the nature of racist incidents and offences. In particular, we understand the need to know more about the victims of racist crime. I can tell your Lordships' House that the Government, in conjunction with the police, are actively considering monitoring the ethnicity of victims of racist incidents. That is a very important move.

Under-reporting of incidents is raised in the report. That is recognised by the Government and by the police. It is timely that today there was the MPS conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre which looked at many of the issues. There was a clear difference between the kinds of figures emerging from the British Crime Survey, for example, and the official number of racist incidents recorded. It appears that many people simply did not record incidents because they thought the incidents were not serious enough, that racist abuse for example was not a crime and because they thought that nothing would be done about a reported incident.

I observe that between 1993 and 1997 racist incidents recorded by the police increased gradually from about 11,000 to 14,000 incidents. For the year 1998-99, however, 23,049 incidents were recorded. That is a 66 per cent increase on the previous year. For the past year--1999-2000--the figure rose to 47,814 incidents, an increase of 107 per cent on the previous year.

I do not believe that the actual number of racist incidents has dramatically increased in the past two years. It is clear that people now have increasing confidence and the desire to record racist incidents. We should take some comfort in that. They have done so because they have seen that racial harassment is taken seriously, that cases will be investigated and where there is evidence of a racist element to a crime those responsible will be prosecuted for an aggravated offence.

The figures have increased because it is clearer to everyone--police, victims and witnesses--what a racist incident is and because it does not rely solely on the perception of a police officer.

I also believe that the police are now better equipped to understand and to record racist incidents. The adoption of the Lawrence inquiry definition by ACPO, which is that,

"A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person" is a simplified definition. It is wide-ranging but it has to be. It is not a legalistic test and it is not designed to be. It is used for flagging up the possibility of a racist element to a crime. The police can then investigate any alleged offence applying the criminal tests appropriate to racially aggravated offences.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, drew attention to the recent case before the courts involving the Leeds United footballers. I cannot comment on that matter because it is still a matter for the judiciary. However, I cannot avoid mentioning that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, made an observation on it. I am saddened by what I now see as a shift in Conservative Party policy away from the acceptance of the Macpherson definition. My understanding was that that was widely accepted. Do I now understand that the Conservative Party has decided to shift its policy on that matter? If the noble Viscount is seeking comfort in the comments of the judge, that is clearly a matter for him, but I believe that it would be more helpful to move from where we are with an acceptance, particularly since the police service seem to be entirely happy with the definition that has been adopted.

Third party reporting was mentioned during the debate. By that we have a common understanding that that would mean reporting incidents at places other than a police station--a mosque, perhaps at the local advice agency and certainly at local authorities. Support for that recommendation was clear from the Government's side in the wake of the Lawrence recommendations. Of course we would like people to report incidents to the police, but we recognise that some people are more comfortable reporting an incident in a neutral location. That can help build confidence in reporting, particularly from those in the most vulnerable of groups.

The report recommends a national helpline for victims of racial harassment. The Government recognise the importance of supporting the victims of harassment. That is why we have accepted the simplified definition of racist incidents; that is why we have created specific racially aggravated offences; and why there is specific guidance on investigating racist crime and support for the victims of racist crime.

The Government have not rejected the idea of a helpline, but we believe that we need to give it careful consideration, and particularly to concerns about how such a helpline would operate and how it would integrate with the police operations and other support services which already exist and which are based on a local level. Obviously there needs to be much more careful consideration of that matter. I would suggest that the standing committee dealing with racist incidents is the appropriate place for that issue.

Attention was drawn to the issue of support for victims. Obviously that is a very important aspect of the process which cannot possibly be overlooked. We recognise that the impact of racial harassment, including what may appear to be low level harassment, can be devastating to the victims and their families. Racist attacks also impact on the wider community and trust and understanding between communities can be destroyed by a single racist incident.

In developing policy, we support the work of Victim Support, which is now in the process of following through from its good practice guide on supporting victims of racist crime. It aims to improve standards of service throughout its organisation and is part of a wider approach, which also includes training.

The report calls for further research into the benefits to victims of existing support. I can say that the Home Office is planning a survey of victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system. While it will not be specifically targeted at victims of racist crime, that will clearly be an important element.

Attention was drawn to action against perpetrators. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in November last year that, as in the previous year, increasing trust and confidence in policing among ethnic minority communities would be one of just two ministerial priorities for the current year, re-emphasising the Government's commitment to this issue.

Other important issues were raised in the debate. I particularly want to focus on the question of working positively with perpetrators. We believe that to be extremely important and we support fully the intention to move towards more action-based research. The Home Office has now commissioned research to review the evidence base and to review the approach that has been taken, particularly by the probation service.

I know that I have not covered all of the questions that were raised in the debate. Some important questions were raised by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. I shall be happy to respond to those in correspondence. It has been an important debate. The report has immense value because of its practical base and application. I have listened with great interest to all those who participated in the debate. Many speakers have had personal experience of the important race related issues that have arisen in our society over the past two or three decades. I have tried to outline some of the Government's work in this field and some of the activities that we are attempting to promote to tackle racist harassment. We continue to drive that agenda forward to ensure that pernicious racism is not tolerated in this country. We, as politicians, have a particularly important and compelling role to fulfil. The way in which we conduct ourselves in regard to this issue will be watched with great interest by the nation. I thank the noble Baroness for her important intervention on this matter.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he suggested that the Conservative Party is moving away from the findings of Macpherson. I was merely saying that, as a matter of good practice, the Government would be well advised to listen to the observations of the judiciary, who have to carry out the racial policy. That is all.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes past nine o' clock.