Second Reading

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:08 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Deputy Speaker in the Lords, Deputy spokesperson for Northern Ireland, Home Affairs spokesperson for police matters, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:08 pm, 29th March 2010

My Lords, this is a very strange Bill which appears to have lots of incidental measures in it and my contribution to Second Reading will be fairly brief. I intend to restrict my remarks to those about stop and search, but first I must declare my interest. I chaired a police authority for a number of years and dealt with complaints against police officers. I was also a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities for a number of years and this august body was the first to publish a really excellent document to be used by the general public, explaining how stop and search worked. It was widely distributed and very well received throughout the country.

In every debate on a police Bill in which we have discussed this matter, and there have been many police Bills over the years, I have made clear our view on these Benches that the police must carry out these duties proportionately and reasonably. We know that since this legislation was enacted, and particularly under the terrorism legislation, black people have been almost eight times more likely, and Asian people twice as likely, to have been stopped than have white people, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln acknowledged. We also know how this has affected many young people-they have become distrustful of the police-and, once lost, that trust is incredibly difficult to regain. Minority communities will think twice about helping the police. They will not give crucial information to help clear up crime, and they will decline to appear as witnesses to secure convictions. It is so important for the police to deal fairly and to be seen to deal fairly with all our communities, whatever their ethnicity, but particularly when such disproportionality is evident, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee reminded us.

This Bill does not address the problems of stop and search under Sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Will the Minister address this in his response? He will know that the European Court of Human Rights has concerns about the disproportionate use of this legislation. Why have the Government not taken the opportunity in this Bill to address those concerns? It would have been an opportune time to tackle the ECHR's unease about these matters. Why was there so little consultation on reducing the burden of bureaucracy, welcome though such consultation is? Of course we would all support a less bureaucratic process, but that must not be at the expense of losing valuable and often crucial intelligence from the minority communities.

The original form of these stops and searches was ridiculously long and took ages to complete. I remember being stopped in a car that was bringing me back to Westminster after a speaking engagement. The driver was pulled over and questioned by not just one, not just two, but four police officers as I sat in the back of the car wondering what was happening. The whole thing took about 15 minutes. The car was a limousine, and it just so happened that the driver was black. No doubt the police had a good reason to stop him, but when I asked them they told me that it was a routine stop and that I should get back in the car. The driver, having been allowed to continue our journey, told me that this happened all the time to him, especially when he drove that car. I wonder why.

The form of stops and searches that is now envisaged appears to be going in the other direction. Under these proposals, for instance, they will not capture information of age and gender, which might distort proper monitoring and give misleading impressions about how this power is being used. We might need this information to monitor effectively other key diversity information. This may well hinder our ability to check whether stop-and-search powers are being used, for instance, to target particular groups unfairly. As Liberty says in its briefing on the Bill:

"It is essential that a reduction in red tape translates into improved community engagement. Time saved by the removal of bureaucratic measures should be used to improve the way in which police interact with the people they stop and search (such as clearly explaining why the person has been stopped) and not use counterproductively-for example to carry out even more stops and searches".

In its article on stop and search, the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales tells us of the work that is being undertaken by the National Policing Improvement Agency-the NPIA-to develop a diagnostic tool that is based on the knowledge that the vast majority of those in all communities will wish to support the use of the power to stop and search if the forces in this country can demonstrate their effectiveness in tackling criminal activity. This diagnostic tool is called Next Steps, and it has been designed,

"to improve community confidence in a force's use of The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Stop and Search powers. It looks at the building blocks of the successful use of the power through accurate data, effective use of intelligence, good quality encounters, clearer definition of 'reasonable suspicion' and effective scrutiny. The work, which will be piloted in three forces later this year, also includes an operation to focus the use of Stop and Search as a Neighbourhood Policing priority".

Will the Minister assure us that the pilot forces will have sufficient resources to undertake this interesting and important project?

Finally, if we get this wrong, it could have a great impact on confidence in this area. Going from the ridiculously long form to one that asks, well, not much actually, is a step too far, and I urge the Minister to look at the problems that I have mentioned and to consider whether it might be sensible to put in slightly more pertinent information to enable these powers to be scrutinised better.