Skip to main content

Human Rights Training For Police Recruits

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 10 February 1999

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.46 p.m.

What steps are being taken to train police recruits in human rights, with special reference to good race relations.

My Lords, all police officers receive training in community and race relations as part of their probationer training at police training centres. Minimum effective training levels in equal opportunities and community and race relations were incorporated into the probationer training programme last September. There is also a specific input on the Human Rights Act and its implications for police constables. The Metropolitan Police Service runs its own training programme which incorporates the minimum effective training levels.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Does he agree that policing in Britain depends on trust between the police and the community and that there is a real crisis of trust at present with the black community in Britain and the police? Can he further say what steps are being taken to investigate the disturbing statistics in the 1998 study of race relations under Section 95, which has just been published? It indicates that stop and search is five times more likely in the case of black Britons than in the community of Britain as a whole.

My Lords, undoubtedly no policing system in a civilised society can operate effectively without the trust and confidence of all citizens or all people who live in these islands. The noble Baroness is quite right, overall the statistics show that black people were five times more likely to be stopped and searched. Indeed, there are internal variations within those figures: it is three times more likely in Bedfordshire, on the one hand, and, on the other, seven times more likely in Leicester and Hertfordshire. Noble Lords will know that in days rather than weeks the Home Secretary expects the report deriving from the murder of Stephen Lawrence. He is holding a conference on 14th April in Southampton to take forward the worrying themes which the noble Baroness has identified.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a great majority of police officers do an extremely good job under very difficult circumstances? Does he further agree that training is required for all officers, particularly at the junior level?

My Lords, not for the first time, of course, I pay willing tribute to the quality of most police officers in this country. Training is very important and I take the noble Lord's point. It is not simply training on entry to the police force but continuous training in awareness of difficult matters. We must aim to get more police officers from ethnic minorities, particularly in the context of retaining and promoting them after they have been recruited.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that my experience as a Member of Parliament for a West London constituency was that the senior officers of the Metropolitan Police concerned with community relations were absolutely first-class and that often the problems arose because some of their more junior colleagues were not as enlightened? Does he agree that that underlines the importance of training not only for recruits but also for those rather older people who still hold positions in the service?

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point absolutely. In all walks of life it is important to have continued training. To revert to his specific indication, it is the fact that most complainants from ethnic minorities will have dealt with that category of police officers who are perhaps not as enlightened as they should be. The answer to that is training and monitoring.

My Lords, training in race and community relations as they affect the police has been going on for the past 25 years. Will the Minister undertake an independent evaluation to see how effective such training has been? I have in mind the figures cited by my noble friend relating to stop and search. Is he aware that one of his own Home Office senior race and community relations advisers has been stopped by the police on at least 44 occasions and to a great extent is responsible for providing training for police officers?

My Lords, these are difficult and continuing problems. It is no good pretending that racially discriminatory views, whether deliberately known or unknown by those who hold them, do not exist That is a part of our society that we must recognise and deal with. We need more police officers from ethnic minorities. In many areas of authority, power and privilege in this country, it is the fact that ethnic minorities are rather under-represented, not least perhaps in this House.

My Lords, how can police forces recruit more from the ethnic minorities when many of them cannot afford even to replace retiring officers?

My Lords, if they have the will to do so—the Home Secretary has determined that they shall—they can perfectly well cast the net widely, properly and fairly to get first-class probationers from all ethnic groups. We owe that to ethnic minority groups and to our own civilised society.

My Lords, about 14 to 15 years ago the Association of Chief Police Officers, with the Home Office, established a special unit, which was housed originally at Brunel University, to design courses and develop training in race relations and race awareness matters, not simply for recruits but all ranks in the service. Can the Minister inform the House whether that unit still exists? If not, can he say why it was discontinued and where responsibility for such work now lies? More importantly perhaps, can he also say who is responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of this training particularly in the light of the comment by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary to a Select Committee of another place in December of 1998:

"We have said firmly that race and community relations training has been marginalised compared with other training"?

My Lords, to deal first with the latter question, I believe that the noble Lord refers to the 1997 report. I am sure he will be pleased to learn that the author of that report will revisit his conclusions to see what, if anything, has changed. As he rightly says, the specific unit to which the noble Lord refers was set up in 1983 at Brunel. That contract expired in 1988. A further contract was granted in 1989, which expired in December 1998. A new contract was granted in January of this year to Ionann Consultancy. We recognised one of the defects to be that the older schemes trained trainers who then went back to their own forces. It was felt, rightly I believe, that the services should be delivered directly to individual forces. I am sure that the noble Lord will, in light of his own experience, bear in mind that that is a significant advance.