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Metropolitan Police: Stephen Lawrence Murder Investigation – [Philip Davies in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

That is a very good point, and I completely understand what my hon. Friend says.

Like everybody else, I pay tribute to the Lawrence family and to Baroness Lawrence, who is here today. They have had to fight and campaign for so long. We think of them every time there is another news story and they have to relive the trauma of what happened, which must be incredibly difficult. They have faced what no parent should ever have to bear.

The failures in this case run deep, as we have heard. It is extremely troubling that, after 30 years, information about those failings is still emerging. It is also unacceptable that the Crown Prosecution Service sat on the IOPC file—the dossier into alleged mishandling—for three years. We need an independent investigation into what happened, so that we can establish everything that has gone wrong. As has already been mentioned, Baroness Lawrence has said that she is bitterly disappointed and will be seeking a review, which limits, up to a point, what we can say about it. It is clear, and the message to the Minister is clear: the Home Office must not stand back. The Government have a role here and real leadership is needed. We need the Government to commit to engaging seriously with the issue of police reform, to avoid repeating failures and rebuild trust in communities that have lost that trust.

Other Members have talked about the journey from the Macpherson report to the Casey report. Undoubtedly some good changes were made in that period, but equally Louise Casey finds that a lot of things have not improved. I pay tribute to Baroness Casey for the thoroughness of her review. She described the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Macpherson report as irrevocably changing the nature of policing in the UK. It changed the understanding, the investigation and the prosecution of racist crimes nationwide.

Macpherson rightly called for police forces to be representative of their communities, but we have made very slow progress on that front. At the current rate of recruitment and attrition, the Met will manage to increase its black, Asian and ethnic minority representation to only 22% of all officers to reflect the population by 2055. If the Met continued to improve its black, Asian and ethnic minority recruitment by an additional 1% each year from this year onwards, it would take nearly 40 years to reach an officer group that was proportionate. I represent Croydon Central, and I remember going out with the new recruits, who are the ones who carry out stop and search in our communities. There were 80 of them, and not a single one of them was black. There is a very diverse population in Croydon, so that does not work and it needs to be changed.

The trust that people have in policing is an important part of being able to solve crimes. If people do not trust the police, the police cannot solve crimes. In 2021-22, only 43% of black Londoners believed that the Met did a good job locally, while 33% of black Londoners thought that the Met did a good job across London. Only 46% of Londoners think that the Met treats everyone fairly, and only 14% of black Londoners think that the Met treats black people fairly. Looking at the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime surveys, we can see that those figures have fallen—rapidly, in some cases—in recent years. Things have got worse.

It has already been mentioned that Louise Casey talked about black Londoners being under-protected and over-policed. That is a really important issue that I would like the Minister to comment on. I think we are going backwards, and the approach that the Government are taking is making the issue harder to tackle. Most hon. Members present were in the Chamber recently when the Home Secretary made a statement about stop and search. She has gone further than even the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), in almost denying that there is a problem that needs fixing. For example, she said:

“Suggestions that stop and search is a means of victimising young black men have it precisely the wrong way around…Black people account for about 3% of our population, yet almost a third of under-25s killed by knives are black.”—[Official Report, 19 June 2023; Vol. 734, c. 569.]

However, that implies that those figures are somehow equivalent, and of course, they are not. Something like 120 young people under the age of 25 are murdered every year, so we are talking about 40 or 50 young black people, tops, and 3% is 2 million people. So there are 2 million people who are black in this country, and a very small number of murders, so we cannot equate the two. The implication that the Home Secretary seemed to be making—that that meant it was fine that people were being over-policed—is very dangerous and sad. I do not think that even this Government have been saying up to this point.

The under-protection of black people in London in terms of crime is really acute. The figures showing evidence of that are in Louise Casey’s report. Indeed, disproportionality is not questioned by anybody—apart from potentially our Home Secretary. Whether it is the National Police Chiefs’ Council in its report on racism—which covers the whole of policing—or the inspectorate, the IOPC or the Met itself, everybody accepts that there is a huge problem. I worry that the Government are taking a line that questions that. In Wales—the hon. Member for Glasgow North East said it is similar in Scotland—there is an active anti-racism strategy led by the Government across the board, so it is much easier for the police and the leaders of policing to do the right thing. It is actively harder for them to the right thing under this Government, which is a great shame.

It is clear that we need change across the board. Labour wants a complete overhaul of the way the police are vetted and recruited. We want misconduct to be dealt with and training to be introduced. All those things need significant reform. The issue of vetting is even worse than hon. Members have said. It is not just that people can fail their vetting and still be police officers; it is not among a police officer’s powers to sack someone because they have failed their vetting.

There are problems across the board with the way that vetting, interviews and misconduct processes work, and structural racism is built into all those processes. Black police officers are much more likely to have a much shorter time in the Met and are much more likely to be subject to disciplinary proceedings. It is at every level, so we need to reform all those things.

We need to look at things such as stop and search, Child Q strip searches and adultification. There needs to be much better training, and the law needs to reflect what is right and wrong. The approach to children must be much more child-centred and safeguarding-centred.

People have asked whether we should break up the Met. Louise Casey said that we should give the new commissioner two years, and if at that point we have not seen significant reform and change, there is a case for breaking it up. An administrative change to structures does not necessarily change anything. Putting a group in a different team does not necessarily lead to change, but Louise Casey sensibly concluded that if the pace of change is not sufficient and we do not see more improvements, we need to do more.

I have talked about the change that we need to see, and that sits alongside the impact on policing. The good police officers in the Met struggle to do a good job. Louise Casey said that austerity has “disfigured” the Met. There is an absence of neighbourhood policing, so police officers do not have the ability to build relationships with their communities. We have seen groups such as the Territorial Support Group go into communities they do not know and make bad judgments about who they stop and search.

Across the country, we have a shortfall of 7,000 detectives. We do not have enough good detectives who can solve crimes, be curious, ask the right questions and be trained. Although there is now direct entry into detective work—which is good and has led to more diversity in the workforce, so that a different type of person joining the police—we need to go much further. There needs to be much better training on issues such as racism and violence against women and girls. We need to change these ingrained cultures through better training.

I ask the Minister to respond to all the points that have been made. The Met has struggled to reform, but these problems exist across the country—six forces are in special measures—so what will the Home Secretary and the Home Office do to raise standards and reform policing? Does the Minister accept that there is disproportionality within the system and structural issues that mean that racism, misogyny, sexism and homophobia continue unchanged? Will she back the calls from everyone here to change the way we vet and train officers, and deal with police misconduct?

Our thoughts are with the Lawrence family and with Baroness Lawrence, who is in the Public Gallery. I am so sorry that she has had to go through this. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central said, we are here for a reason—it is not just for show. We need change, but even after so many years, it is possible. These things are not inevitable; we can and must change things. I hope the Minister sees the urgency of the task.