Race Relations (Amendment) Bill

Race Relations (Amendment) Bill

Today’s seed brings tomorrow’s harvest and so in principle I welcome this Bill as an extension to the Race Relations Act 1976. I support the intention to make the police and other public authorities liable under the Act. But there is a problem. The Bill gives effect to only part of the recommendations of the Macpherson report on the Stephen Lawrence case. It will cover only direct discrimination and not the more significant indirect form.

The first step to any victory is fully to recognise the enemy. This Bill does not do that. That is why I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Looking back can help us to see the future. Extending the law to tackle indirect discrimination was the great innovation when the 1976 Act was passed. That was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. It reflected the growing recognition that it is the hidden, often unconscious kinds of discrimination which are the most insidious and widespread. By understanding the need to fight indirect discrimination, the Act gave enhanced powers of investigation to the Commission for Racial Equality.

Let us not forget that the focus of the Macpherson report was on the prevalence of institutionalised racism which is more often indirect than direct. The abject failure to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice stemmed from the attitudes and practices in investigating crime. The sadness is that it may well have formed a part in terms of investigating the cases of Michael Menson and Ricky Reel.

The reason that this issue is so fundamental to this Bill and why I support the amendment is demonstrated by what Richard Stone, a member of the Macpherson inquiry said. He said: We found no evidence of direct racism. What we did find was indirect racial discrimination”. Unless indirect discrimination can be targeted, in my view the CRE will be unable to carry out the very type of investigation which the Macpherson report showed was needed. Indeed, the chairman of the commission, Sir Herman Ouseley, said that about the Bill. He said: By leaving out indirect discrimination, what the Lawrence enquiry termed unwitting racism, we fear that it will increasingly weaken the ability of the CRE to help in tackling the very issue that the report highlighted”. 554 Should we simply ignore those views? The commission, in particular, would be unable to launch investigations into disproportionate numbers of black people who are stopped and searched by the police.

I understand it is claimed that some officers are now reluctant to stop and search people from ethnic minorities for fear of being accused of racism. However, the evidence shows that “stop and search” plays a minimal role in detecting crime. The actual rates of arrests—I stress the word “arrests”—of black people resulting from “stop and search” are significantly lower than those for their white counterparts.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I support the police. They have the difficult job of protecting our communities. However, the facts suggest that there is a need for more effective scrutiny of such police powers. There can be no better demonstration of how matters can go wrong than when Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, was recently mistakenly stopped and questioned by the police.

Some say that it is easier to know how the shoe pinches if you wear it. A little while ago I decided to go for a training run at about 8 p.m. in the evening. After a few minutes a car pulled up behind me. As I looked round, all I could see were two headlights glaring in the dark. Then two uniformed police officers got out of the car and demanded to know where I was going. As far as I know it is not yet a criminal offence to go running, even though I was wearing an Aston Villa tracksuit! When I briefly explained that I was Lord Taylor of Warwick their attitude transformed instantly. The hostility and aggression was replaced by a rather flustered and faint apology. I believe that I and the officers concerned in that episode learned some lessons.

The Macpherson report gave the police an opportunity for a new start and a new heart. There is a clear perception in the black and Asian communities that they are not treated fairly. The Bill in its present form will reinforce that feeling. Let us make race relations better, not bitter.