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Police: Racism

Volume 744: debated on Thursday 25 April 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the allegation made by the Metropolitan Black Police Association that the Metropolitan Police Service is institutionally racist.

My Lords, the Government do not believe that the Metropolitan Police Service is still institutionally racist. It has worked hard to improve relations with communities and the representativeness of its workforce since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. The commissioner has been clear that he will not tolerate racists in the force, and has publicly stated his determination to ensure that the force looks more like the community that it serves.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The Metropolitan Black Police Association has made very serious allegations to the effect that the Metropolitan Police is still institutionally racist, 20 years after the infamous Lawrence case. It has referred to the wholly disproportionate number of stop-and-search cases involving the black and Asian communities compared with the white. What is being done to address this alleged—I repeat “alleged”—situation?

My right honourable friend Damian Green, the Minister for Policing, recently met the National Black Police Association to discuss its concerns about race in policing and offered to work in partnership with the College of Policing because, as noble Lords will know, that new institution will be important in strategies such as this. There have been suggestions that elements in policing, as with other institutions, still sustain racist attitudes, but it is clear from the comments of the commissioner of the MPS, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, that he is determined, and he is supported by the Government in this regard, to stamp it out.

My Lords, does this not come close to the pot calling the kettle black? What could be more institutionally racist than insisting on having a black police association?

For my part, I am reassured that any drivers that ensure that the police more fully reflect the communities that they serve must be a good thing, so I cannot join with my noble friend in this regard. A lot of progress has been made in increasing the number of police officers from BME backgrounds but there are still too few, and there are still too few in the higher ranks of the police force. I hope that one of the considerations of the direct entry scheme will be to ensure that some of the higher levels of the policing profession are from British minority ethnic backgrounds.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many senior officers of ACPO rank there are from black and minority ethnic communities as a proportion of the total? Can he also say what steps will be taken to ensure that individuals who come in by direct entry from those communities are not set up to fail because they will not have been through the normal ranks structure?

Of course, that hazard would apply to any candidate. However, I am confident about that policy and I believe it will enhance the policing profession. I have some figures here. There are 6,604 BME officers in the 43 forces in England and Wales, representing 5% of total police officer strength. The proportion of those of chief inspector rank or above is only 3.7%. I think that bears out the point that the noble Lord is making, one with which I do not disagree. There are too few at that level.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for a very helpful Answer. Does he not agree that, 20 years after Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death and after the Macpherson report on institutional racism, it is time to look at this issue again? In particular, does he not agree that it would be right to ask HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake a thematic review of race relations policies to see what progress has been made since then?

Since the Macpherson report, which was the initial report, as noble Lords will know, there have been a number of allegations. Indeed, currently there is a review investigating allegations of a conspiracy to cover up this case. We will take that review seriously. It does not alter the fundamental strategy, which is to try to make sure that police numbers and the ethnic make-up of policing reflect the communities that they serve.

My Lords, I recently had the pleasure of spending six days out with team A of Southwark Metropolitan Police Service. During that time, we conducted a stop and search of a black man outside the Damilola Taylor Centre. Including myself, there were three representatives of the Metropolitan Police Service handling the coercive power of the state, and every single person who walked past us was from the black community in the area. When will my noble friend the Minister insist that all police services raise their levels so that they reflect the populations that they serve, give a time limit for that to take place and perhaps even make it a performance indicator?

My noble friend reinforces much of what I have been saying. In January 2012, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police initiated the “stop it” campaign as a way of trying to ensure a better balance. The police must use stop and search in a proportionate fashion, and we will consider the outcomes of that strategy. I commend my noble friend on joining in that particular exercise. I attended a dinner here with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police the other evening for the parliamentary police programme, which is widely supported by parliamentarians—indeed, Members of this House were present. I commend that programme. Anything that makes us, in politics, more aware of the decision-making and the thoroughness with which the police do their work is worth while.