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Metropolitan Police: Racism

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Metropolitan Police Service about the steps being taken to address racism within its ranks.

My Lords, the Government condemn racism and racists. Racism is abhorrent and has no place in our society. This Government remain committed to working with policing to broaden representation and enhance accountability to help the police make their relationships with the public even stronger. The drive to recruit 20,000 officers over the next three years gives us a significant opportunity to support the police to become more representative of the communities they serve.

My Lords, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation is reported in the Guardian as saying that the reason why black people in London were twice as likely to be given lockdown fines by the police was because

“anyone out in the first four weeks was a drug dealer”.

I checked the accuracy of the officer’s remarks with the journalist before making a formal complaint. The Metropolitan Police Directorate of Professional Standards refused to look into the matter. The Metropolitan Police Federation did not reply when I asked it about what the officer is reported as saying. What does this say about the culture of the Metropolitan Police, and what action do the Government intend to take to change it?

My Lords, several things are happening at this point in time. The NPCC announced its intention to develop an action plan on 18 June, on the back of the Black Lives Matter protests. The College of Policing has also reviewed and applied positive action to the senior national assessment centre and its strategic command course for chief officer candidates. The recruitment of those 20,000 police officers gives us a golden opportunity to increase diversity of representation within the police.

My Lords, at a London Assembly meeting last month, my Green Party colleague Siân Berry questioned the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on that very issue of the data showing that black Londoners were two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested or given a fine. When pressed, the commissioner said, “I have not gone back to them”—her officers—“and said ‘I am concerned about disproportionality’ or ‘Please stop acting in this manner that will lead to disproportionality’ because I don’t see that as an issue.” You have a big problem in dealing with racism if the person at the top of the organisation does not recognise that the issue exists. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police service has worked hard to improve relationships with communities and increase the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic officers and staff. But I am not going to deny that individual cases of racism do not still exist, because they do. There is far more for forces to do to address the disparities in their workforce and in community relations.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the Metropolitan Police service still suffers from a paucity of competent leadership in its higher ranks, and that its ability to correct issues such as racism in the ranks would greatly improve if it were to introduce an officer recruitment programme, similar to that used by the Armed Forces? That might conflict with some of Peel’s original principles, but is it not necessary to provide the kind of policing that our country needs today?

I do not think anyone would disagree with my noble friend’s point. On the back of that, HMICFRS has agreed to focus more closely on how forces are performing on diversity and inclusion as part of its next round of Peel assessments. Diversity and ability are not, of course, mutually exclusive and, as my noble friend points out, a far more diverse workforce might help with some of those issues at the top.

Does the Minister agree that racism in the police service, evident in stop and search and disproportionate disciplinary procedures against BAME officers, arises from ignorance and prejudice? Does she also agree on the importance of education and training in the need to look beyond superficial difference to the reality: that we all have much in common?

We most certainly all have much in common, and we now collect and publish more data on stop and search than ever before. We allow local scrutiny groups, the police and crime commissioners and others to hold forces to account. We also discuss it with relevant National Police Chiefs’ Council leads and forces to understand why disparities arise. Perhaps I might also say that the Home Secretary is chairing the national policing board today, and there is an item on diversity.

My Lords, yesterday the Guardian interviewed two black retired senior officers, who talked about their experience of racism in the Metropolitan Police and how it had affected them in their careers. How will Her Majesty’s Government address the future of black and Asian minority officers’ careers, going forward?

I say to the noble Baroness that this is key to the success of the police. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the college has reviewed and applied positive action—not positive discrimination but positive action—to the senior national assessment centre and strategic command course for chief officer candidates. However, it also has training in inclusion and diversity at every level now in the police force.

My Lords, I recall the Brixton riots of 1981 and I regret to say that there was then shocking and very real racism evident and open among some—some—of the police officers there. But since then, over the last four decades, huge progress has been made and I suggest that most people would wish to congratulate the Metropolitan Police on that. I am sure my noble friend will agree that discrimination is unacceptable, be it against black, Asian or indeed white people. Will she ensure that recruitment and promotion policies are entirely transparent, so that we can all see that they are fair and non-discriminatory?

I agree with my noble friend on the positive trend of diversity within the police forces. During the lockdown I think that the police have, in the main, behaved incredibly reasonably in engaging with the public. However, on increasing diversity, training at every level will absolutely be given to police officers and that disparity as people get more senior in the police force will be addressed.

My Lords, the police are one part of the criminal justice system and should be learning from the CPS’s responses, with its evidential tests when cases are passed to it. Are the different parts of the system co-ordinating to address eradicating discrimination, which exacerbates the climate of distrust referred to in the Macpherson report more than 20 years ago?

It is absolutely crucial that different parts of the system not only speak to but learn from each other, and that this forms what is best practice as we proceed.

The Minister has made a number of references to diversity and to the police being more representative of the communities that they serve. The Home Secretary said in the Commons on Monday that she spoke to police chiefs every single day. What has the Home Secretary been telling police chiefs in these conversations that she expects them to achieve on greater diversity within police officer ranks, and over what period does she expect that to be achieved?

I can vouch for the fact that the Home Secretary speaks to the police every day because I am on some of those calls. As I said, she is chairing the national policing board today and one item that will be discussed is diversity.