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Bristol (Disturbances)

Volume 987: debated on Thursday 3 July 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the first two inquiries of the investigation into the Bristol disturbances on 2 April namely (a) the inquiry by the chief inspector of constabulary into police methods and (b) the inquiry into social provision by the local authorities, to report.

We hope to be able to announce the results of the review of arrangements for handling spontaneous public disorder before the Summer Recess. The outcome of the current discussions on community relations in Bristol is, of course, primarily a matter for the local authorities and other bodies concerned, but I understand that there have been two meetings and that working groups have been set up on education and employment.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the slowness of the so-called three-pronged inquiry that the Home Secretary set up is causing great disappointment in Bristol? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Select Committee was unable to spend sufficient time in Bristol, although perhaps that was not its fault? Does he accept that the Home Office should therefore reconsider the request of the local authorities and community relations organisations for an official inquiry into what happened in Bristol on 2 April?

I do not believe that the three-pronged approach is proceeding slowly. The Select Committee has paid its visit. The review of spontaneous public disorder has proceeded rapidly, and we are about to learn the results. Local authorities have set up working groups to deal with the crucial areas of education and employment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited Bristol a few days ago, and am aware that the city council and others would still like a public inquiry. However, having talked to them, I believe that my right hon. Friend's decision to proceed in the way that he outlined in April is the most constructive approach

Does my hon. Friend agree that what happened in Bristol on that night is not greatly in question and that there would be nothing for an official inquiry to do except to investigate the underlying causes? There have been several reports on such matters and the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee is preparing another. Does not my hon. Friend think that the time has come, not to have more inquiries, but to take the necessary action?

Can the Minister tell us whether his statement is likely to include a definition of the Government's policy on the law of "sus", which large sections of the community, including one of our Select Committees, believe does a great deal to sour race relations in this country?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made our view on "sus" clear in the debate that took place in the House a short time ago. The inquiry that has been set up by the Home Office, in conjunction with the Association of Police Officers, will look at the whole question of spontaneous public disorder, which is a slightly different matter.

In view of some past misunderstandings, will my hon. Friend confirm that the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee visited Bristol with the purpose of investigating racial disadvantage in that city and not the events leading up to the disturbance?

My hon. Friend, who is a member of the Sub-Committee, is right. We felt that the visit of the Sub-Committee could be of value in trying to get to grips with the broader questions of racial disadvantage in this country.

What further steps will the Government take to deal with racial disadvantage in order to avoid a repetition of the disturbances in other towns and cities? Will he consider introducing measures similar to the previous Government's Local Government Grants (Ethnic Groups) Bill, which was aimed specifically at tackling racial disadvantage?

I cannot make a statement on the whole of the Government's policies towards race relations in answer to this question. As the hon. Lady knows, we have been looking carefully at whether section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 needs to be replaced by new legislation or whether we can revise the administrative criteria. We hope to make an announcement on that matter shortly.