Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

My Lords, my father was born in Jamaica in the West Indies. After serving in the British Army in the Second World War he was proud to sign for Warwickshire as a county cricketer. Life was good: he was scoring runs; he was taking wickets; he was a star in the making. Then came tragedy. After just two seasons he had a serious arm injury; his career was over. No longer a star, for the first time he had to experience the reality of life as a black person in 1950s Britain.

I remember him telling me, with some emotion, that although he was a qualified accountant, the only work he could get was sweeping a floor in a factory. No longer able to stay in one of the houses provided by the county cricket club, he had to face landlords openly displaying signs in their window saying, “No Blacks”. My father could have become very bitter and angry but he refused to give up. Maybe he was an exceptional person. He studied and trained to be a cricket coach. Eventually, Warwickshire decided to give him a temporary contract. It lasted 32 years. Ironically, he went on to discover many players who went on to play cricket for England.

The reason why I tell that story is that he tried at any rate to instil in me, as a young black boy growing up in Birmingham, a certain philosophy. He warned me that there would be times in my life, due to the colour of my skin, when I would feel that life was totally unfair. He said, “Don’t give up when that happens. Look for solutions, not just problems”. That is why, in the main, I welcome the Macpherson Report.

That is an attitude I tried to keep firmly in mind during my eventful time as a parliamentary candidate in Cheltenham during the 1992 general election. In Britain, I believe we have come a long way since the racial tensions in the 1950s and the inner-city riots of the early 1980s. I was one of the barristers involved in the Handsworth not trials. I have to say that at that time, the future seemed bleak as far as race relations were concerned. But now, in the 1990s, many of Britain’s heroes are black, especially in the realms of sport and show business. There are a number of Asians on the so- called “Rich List”. However, it must also be said that these high profile successes have tended to mask the unfortunate experience of many black and Asian people in this country.

It is a disgrace, quite frankly, that it has taken the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence and then 69 days of public hearings, 88 witnesses and over 100,000 pages of documentary evidence to expose what black and Asian people in this country already knew. The Macpherson Report speaks of institutionalised racism in Britain. That finding may have come as a shock to middle England but it came as no shock to the ethnic minority communities in this country.

It is clear that, through a combination of incompetence and racism by certain officers, the Metropolitan Police failed Doreen and Neville Lawrence. The brutal killers of their son are still at large. The Macpherson Report clearly will not bring Stephen back, but it might prove to be the most significant milestone in race relations in this country since the Scarman Report.

In my view, the report’s most important message is that there is a need to restore confidence in the police among all—I stress all—sections of the community. The police, as an organisation, look insular and outdated in today’s multi-racial, multi-cultural society.

I welcome the formation of a steering group to oversee and monitor the progress of police reforms. I understand that the Home Secretary has pledged to chair it himself. I believe that an annual report and a debate in Parliament is certainly a way of evaluating the progress of such reforms. We await the effectiveness of the new police discipline arrangements. Clearly, what is required is more transparency and faster procedures for dealing with guilty officers. I hope also that the establishment of the metropolitan police authority will improve accountability because here accountability is a key word.

The system whereby complaints against the police are investigated by the police clearly is no longer acceptable. Yes, I support also effective race equality training and targets—not quotas—for recruiting ethnic minority officers. There is no intrinsic reason why a black or Asian person cannot aspire to be and become a top-rate officer, indeed, a chief constable. There are black and Asian police officers all over the world. My own grandfather was the Chief of Police in Jamaica.

This Government will fail in their plans to increase the number of ethnic minority officers if they do not follow up this drive with more effort to retain those officers. If black and Asian officers are denied equal opportunities for promotion and continue to be victims of the police canteen culture of racial taunts and abuse. they will leave, and who can blame theme’ That would cause further damage to the image of the police at a time when they are being scrutinised more closely than at any time in their history.

Extending the Race Relations Act to cover the police and all public services is right and long overdue. However, I say to the Government that at ground level more community police officers are required. A good rapport with the local community cannot be achieved by a police force which primarily patrols in cars or waits to respond to 999 police calls.

There needs also to be an improvement in police-family liaison skills. The report criticises the insensitive ways in which certain officers dealt with the Lawrence family. In a sense, that is nothing to do with racism but to do with pure, good manners to a grieving family.

It is also clear that the police have used their stop-and-search powers disproportionately against the ethnic minority community. However, as with the recording of racist attacks, the stop-and-search figures need more research and clarification. There seems to be some confusion here. The recording of a person’s ethnicity varies around the country from police force to police force.

One weekend recently I returned home having spoken at a conference. It was about 8 p.m. and dark. I decided to take some exercise. I put on my track suit and went for a jog. After about 15 minutes, I heard a car coming up from behind me. It was a police car. A uniformed 881 officer called out to me to stop. This was a new experience for me. The officer said that he had had a report of a dark man wearing a track suit running from a nearby house. I turned around. I gave him my name and explained that my home was just around the corner.

The reaction of that officer was quite telling. He was embarrassed, spluttered apologies and started to back away from me. I stopped him and said, “Officer, no. As long as you are acting with integrity and within the rules, I support what you are doing”. As a black person, I emphasise that point. As long as they act with integrity and within the rules they will be able to protect us all.

The other major finding to emerge from the Macpherson Report is the conclusion that racism exists in other institutions, not only the police force. The report obviously could not do justice to these other areas but it at least signalled the need for further in-depth research; for example, into our education system, the armed services, the National Health Service, the Civil Service and the media.

Dealing with the wider ramifications of the report, I wish to emphasise one particular area in terms of institutionalised racism; that is, corporate Britain. I believe it is relevant to mention that in the context of this debate. The Macpherson Report has required Britain to look at itself in terms of race. Britain is not only composed of the public sector. The spotlight should also be shone on the private sector. The issue was raised recently by none other than Sir John Browne, chief executive of BP Amoco. He listed diversity as one of the biggest challenges facing his company. He said that talent must be drawn from all sections of society to access the widest, most creative range of new ideas— an essential part of competitive advantage, especially in a global market place.

In Britain alone it may not be widely appreciated that the ethnic minorities now have an annual spending power of £14.9 billion. I have the privilege of being president of an organisation which represents Britain’s fastest-growing business sector. It is not Asian, but Afro-Caribbean. The irony is that, faced with racism as employees, many of these black Britons went off and started their own companies. So in many ways the firms they left have been the real losers.

In my work also with the Warwick Leadership Foundation—a charity dedicated to promoting leadership—I am finding that many British companies still do not understand that diversity is not just about equal opportunities; it is about making the whole organisation, whether it is in the public sector or the private sector, stronger and more innovative.

There are elements of the Macpherson Report which I find less compelling, such as the observations about the double jeopardy rule and racist comments in the home. But the report’s main recommendations have given us a real chance to be more honest and more positive about race relations in Britain. It is time to recognise diversity as a strength, not a weakness. In practical terms we need to build bridges between our communities, not walls.