This week's big questions: What do you think about Plebgate? Was Roy Hodgson’s joke racist?

This week's questions are answered by founder of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon

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The Independent Online

You formally joined the Lords this week. What are your ambitions as a peer?

I would like to be the voice of ordinary people. Most of the time there is a disconnection with ordinary members of the public and I would like to be able to put their views across.


The disproportionate number of black people in Britain’s prisons is being tackled by the Justice minister, Damian Green. What is your message to him?

Something needs to happen around sentencing. When a black person is convicted they seem to get a harsher sentence and are more likely to go to prison. If they would only look at the person and take in their situation properly maybe we would not have so many black people in prison. There are a few black judges but sometimes it is very difficult for them because they don’t want to be seen to be too sympathetic, so sometimes they can be stricter. People are still more likely to think that black people are criminals. They tend to think the worst. When Stephen died it was automatically assumed that we must be criminals without anyone knowing us. That is all wrong and that mentality has to change.


What do you make of police conduct as apparently revealed by “Plebgate”?

People like me know the police do tell lies. It is shocking because whatever their reason is they went to an extreme. Andrew Mitchell may have upset them but why go to these lengths? It is not all police officers, but there are elements within the police force that do tell lies.


Jockeying for position has already begun for the next London mayoral election, in 2015. What should Boris Johnson’s successor prioritise?

They need to focus on the plight of Londoners. Train fares are something that goes up every year and that no one seems to take into consideration, especially in this climate. Also, there are hardly any houses for Londoners, and those who are trying to buy one can barely manage. And unemployment, especially among young black males, is about 56 per cent. That is disgraceful.


Kenneth Baker called this week for colleges that emphasise vocational skills over academic learning. Is he right?

You need both. You cannot throw one out for the other or you will never have properly qualified people. We need to focus on how we can support young people in whatever they want to do. Whether it is going off to university when the fees are so high, or if they feel that is not the route they want to go, you need to find a way to support them. During the Olympics we had to get Europeans to come and help with skills such as plumbing and plastering. Why didn’t we have that here in this country?


A government education adviser said this week that it mattered “more” to tackle underachievement by white school pupils “just because there are more of them”. What do you make of that?

Of course you will have more white people. Working-class people need as much support as black people because they tend to fall through the net also. Regardless of background, regardless of race, young people need as much support as they can to make their way in life. If they don’t, what will the country be like in 20 or 30 years’ time if you don’t give everyone the same opportunities?


Do you think there should be CCTV in care homes, to keep watch over how residents are treated?

You have to be very careful and you need a balance. You need to make sure people in care homes are well protected and looked after and [have] the right people caring for them. Where would you have these cameras? The places that you might need them might be in the bathroom, for example, so how do you balance their privacy and their rights? It’s a really difficult call. I’m not sure CCTV is the right way to go.


You founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to try to bring about social change. How hard is that to achieve in Britain?

Stephen died 20 years ago and we are still trying to have some effect whichever government is in. I think this government is probably a little bit harder, but at our Legacy Ball we had both home secretaries and Ed Miliband all shaking hands. The question is how do we work together? We need to focus on the common good. Ultimately we all want the same things. We have made quite a big difference over the years. Racism is something people feel more comfortable to talk about, whereas before it was something that could be swept under the carpet and there was no specific law that someone could be charged with for racist behaviour. But now that there is, people feel a lot more comfortable to challenge things.


Do you consider Roy Hodgson’s joke to be racist?

Twenty years ago it would not have been an issue, what he said. It would not have been challenged. But I didn’t hear it and without hearing the whole thing it would not be appropriate to comment.


Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon is the founder of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust