Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
We have heard from many people on the Government and Opposition Benches for whom I have the utmost respect, including from my hon. Friend Priti Patel. However, I do not share the enthusiasm of all Government Members for all aspects of the Bill. There are many parts with which I heartily agree, and we have heard a few examples of areas where the current legislation has gone wrong.
Years ago, I was involved in a case in the Welsh Assembly in which a bus driver who worked for a company that undertook school bus runs was told that he might lose his job because 20 years previously he had incurred a minor conviction for shoplifting or a drink-related offence at the age of 19. For 20 years, he had lived a perfectly good life and suddenly he was about to lose his job over that minor offence. Clearly, such examples are totally and utterly disproportionate and I hope that we will do something about them.
I am less keen when I hear people talking about a police state. I declare an interest as a serving special constable in the British Transport police. I assure Members that when I go out it does not look like a police state. I have conducted many section 44 stop and searches, and I do not recognise the descriptions that have been given. I would challenge Tom Brake, who is not currently in his place, to ask the gentleman who says that he was stopped and searched every time he stepped out on the streets of London to produce the written evidence. Written evidence there most definitely will be, because every stop and search of that nature required about 20 minutes of paperwork.
One problem with section 44 stop-and-searches was that they were carried out entirely at random and were never actually picking people up. The police officers themselves were not enthusiastic about doing them, because they knew that they would annoy a member of the public who was probably not doing anything at all, incur at least 20 minutes of paperwork and be most unlikely to get anyone for anything.
Section 44 is going, which is fine, but the Government ought to consider the fact that the other stop-and-search legislation is not adequate to catch people who are clearly breaking the law. For example, on many occasions—
I assure Members that I mean many, many occasions—I have stopped people for committing offences that were never going to be arrestable. The first thing that a police officer does in that situation is to check whether the person in question is known to the police for anything and whether they have a previous record. Very often it turns out that they do, and that there are warning markers indicating that they regularly carry knives, guns, drugs or other illegal paraphernalia.
At that point, faced with somebody who has committed an offence that will not get them arrested—perhaps begging or abusive language—but who regularly carries guns, knives or drugs, one would think that the officer would have the power to search them, but they do not. Unless the police officer can actually see the knife or drugs sticking out of a pocket, there are no powers to search somebody. The officer cannot take account of a person’s previous record. If we are going to get rid of section 44 stop-and-search powers, which is absolutely fine, we should at the same time ensure that people who are likely to commit offences or carry illegal apparatus can be properly searched.
We need to let the police know that when they see people acting suspiciously, they will still the have the power to stop and search. A lot of police officers, myself included, having undergone courses such as the behaviour spotting one—it is called BASS, but I will not bore Members with the details of what that means. It is about spotting people behaving in a suspicious fashion. Many police officers I have spoken to still feel uneasy about simply going up to somebody to stop and search them, even if they have been displaying obvious signs of acting in a manner that is likely to mean they were about to commit an offence.
Members of the public might feel that the police are for ever stopping and searching them—every time they go out on the streets of London, according to one Member—but police officers actually feel very nervous about going up to people to stop and search them. They feel that they are likely to get complaints if they do so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will think about that. I have tabled amendments in the past suggesting that officers should be able to take account of somebody’s previous criminal record in deciding whether to conduct a stop and search, but I have not succeeded thus far. I do not know whether I have any more chance under the current Government than under the previous one—I suspect possibly not.