Amendment 129

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 3 November 2021.

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Lord Paddick:

Moved by Lord Paddick

129: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—“Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: power to search for possession of drugs for personal use(1) The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is amended as follows.(2) In section 23 (powers to search and obtain evidence), after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The constable conducting a search under subsection (2) must explain to the suspected person the grounds for suspicion and must record the explanation.(2B) Subsection (2) does not apply if the constable also has reasonable grounds to suspect that the drug is—(a) in the possession of the person for that person’s personal use only, or(b) in the vehicle or vessel for a person’s personal use only.””Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would remove the power of the police to search a person or vehicle for possession of controlled drugs for personal use only.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, in moving Amendment 129, I will speak also to Amendment 276 in my name. It is unfortunate that these amendments were not grouped with amendments concerning the new violent crime prevention orders, as these, too, relate to police stop and search.

As well as being a police officer rising to the most senior levels in the Metropolitan Police over the course of more than 30 years, I worked in Brixton in south London between 1980 and 1982, in the 1990s, and again in the early 2000s. I was a police sergeant during the Brixton riots, a chief inspector and acting superintendent in the 1990s in Brixton, and I was the police commander in Lambeth, unusually in the rank of commander—the equivalent of assistant chief constable—in the early 2000s. In so saying, I am an expert on police stop and search. I realise that an expert is somebody who knows a little bit more about a subject than other people do, but I think I fall into that category, particularly in areas with high levels of visible minority communities and a poor track record of police community relations.

In 2001, Lambeth, with Brixton at its heart, had the highest street robbery rate in western Europe and high levels of burglary, and criminals were openly dealing crack cocaine and heroin on the streets. We were 100 police officers short of the 1,000 officers we were supposed to have in Lambeth. I recall an incident when I was a sergeant in 1982, the year after the Brixton riots, that clearly demonstrated that the community was concerned about street robbery, and not about possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. When we chased a handbag thief into an illegal gambling den, the youth was ejected from the premises into our waiting arms; when we chased someone who we thought had cannabis, the door was slammed in our faces.

In 2001, it was more than just community priorities, and that involved the arrest of one of my officers for allegedly taking cannabis from suspects on the street and keeping it himself. But one of the prime motivations for suggesting on the front page of London Evening Standard that the police should not arrest people for small amounts of cannabis for personal use was that there were far more important things for the police to spend their time on—both far more serious crimes that were at endemic levels and crimes that were a priority for the community. Clearly, possession of small amounts of cannabis was not one of them. When the “no arrest” policy was introduced, a public opinion survey found that well over 80% of people in Lambeth were in favour of the approach—slightly lower among the black community but still over 80%.

Following intense media debate and the submission of detailed data about how long it took officers to process someone arrested for cannabis—two officers over four hours each—plus the administrative work by police support staff and the CPS to prepare the case for court, the court time involved and the usual conditional discharge or small fine on conviction, this all persuaded the then commissioner to agree to a six-month pilot in Lambeth, where no adult was arrested for possession of small amounts of cannabis. These are the sorts of penalties courts are imposing today for possession of small amounts of class A drugs for personal use, if the case gets to court at all—many cases are dealt with by means of a police caution.

Despite false stories in newspapers, an independent assessment by the Metropolitan Police Authority of the pilot, which was extended to 12 months, showed reductions in all forms of serious crime, an increase in the amount of cannabis seized—as officers were able to quickly and easily deal with any that they found by seizing it and warning the person on the street—and an increase in the number of class A drug dealers arrested. Fears of an influx into the borough of those seeking cannabis proved to be the reverse of what actually happened.

Police and community priorities change. Now, in many areas of the country, knife crime is the priority, rather than street robbery. Noble Lords will quite rightly think that properly targeted stop and search is a powerful weapon in taking knives off the street, particularly if third-party information—community intelligence—points to those who are the knife carriers.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has done some number-crunching on stop and search, and I am very grateful to Matt Parr —he might not be thanking me in a moment—who briefed Peers on the issue last week. Some 63% of police stop and search is for drugs; over 80% of those stop and searches are on suspicion of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. On average, only 9% of police stop and searches—less than one in 10—are intelligence-led; the proportion varies by police force between 23% in the best performing and 1% in the worst. These are HMICFRS figures. The top five police forces in the UK account for 90% of all stop and search carried out. Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank, published a report a few weeks ago that found the Metropolitan Police had the highest rate of stop and search of any police force and the lowest rate for apprehending drug dealers.

Tackling knife crime is the Government’s priority, it is our priority, and it is the priority of many communities, but, looking at the facts as presented by HMICFRS, it is not police officers’ priority when it comes to stop and search. My Amendment 129 would not allow the police to stop and search someone on suspicion of personal possession of a small amount of a controlled drug for personal use. The police already cannot search for possession of illegal psychoactive substances that are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act; in fact, possession of small amounts of illegal psychoactive substances for personal use is not even an offence.

We are not talking about not tackling drug dealing—that is not covered by this amendment; indeed, there will be more police resources available to tackle drug dealing. We are not even talking about an untried and untested leap of faith. When we did not arrest people for simple possession of cannabis over a 12-month period in Lambeth, the police ended up concentrating on more important offences instead, more serious crimes and crimes that were a priority for the community.

We have too few police officers at this time, as I had in Lambeth when I was the police commander. We have too much serious crime, as I did when I was the police commander in Lambeth. We need to focus scarce police resources on what really matters; whatever that priority is, it is not possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.

The key to effectively reducing serious violence is the police and communities working together, with communities providing information to the police about who is involved in serious violence, so that the police can concentrate their efforts, particularly stop and search, on those carrying and using knives. Policy Exchange believes that community policing is key. Other metropolitan forces, such as Merseyside, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, do less stop and search and more community policing than London’s Metropolitan Police, and they are far more effective at arresting those involved in drug dealing.

Nothing is more damaging to police-community relations, trust and confidence in the police than poorly targeted stop and search. From standing in the middle of Brixton, being bombarded with bricks, paving slabs and petrol bombs, as I was in 1981, following a massive poorly targeted stop and search operation, I can tell noble Lords that that is the sort of damage it does. Visible minorities are four times more likely and black people nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people, but they are no more likely to have something illegal in their possession than white people. That is when the police have to have reasonable grounds to stop and search people. Amendment 129 would not allow the police to stop and search for small amounts of controlled drugs for personal use, removing the cause of so much hostility between the police and communities, whose support and co-operation are vital in reducing serious violence.

That is not the only disproportionate form of stop and search. In 2010, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, responding to a European Court of Human Rights judgment that suspicionless stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act was illegal, said:

“The first duty of Government is to protect the public. But that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties”,

adding that the then Government would not have appealed the judgment, even if they could. She said that the court found that the powers were

“drawn too broadly—at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used” and

“contain insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/7/10; col. 540.]

That is very similar to the position we are in today with Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which still allows indiscriminate stop and search.

The purpose for which the police are using Section 60 goes far beyond what Parliament intended it to be used for. When this power was given to the police there was a recurring problem with rival gangs of football supporters arranging to meet at a specific time and place, arming themselves with weapons. Noble Lords will immediately see the point of a Section 60 power to search everyone in the area at the time rival gangs planned to meet, without the need for reasonable suspicion in these particular circumstances. This rarely, if ever, happens today.

Instead, if there has been a stabbing, the police will routinely impose a Section 60 order in the area surrounding the incident. That is not what it was intended for and of limited use in such circumstances. The first thing a knifeman will do after stabbing someone is dispose of the weapon and go to ground. Even if he is in the area, there is usually a description, from witnesses or CCTV, and other powers of stop and search based on reasonable suspicion can be used. I maintain that the Section 60 power is being misused and is ineffective.

The second problem with Section 60 is that indiscriminate stop and search causes untold damage to police-community relations. As I have said, people from minority-ethnic communities are four times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police and black people are nine times more likely. But when it comes to Section 60, where no reasonable suspicion is required, that figure rises to you being 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black than if you are white. The overwhelming majority of these people have nothing on them to justify such a stop and search. Community intelligence is vital to make stop and search effective in tackling knife crime, but communities are losing trust and confidence in the police because too many innocent members of their communities are being stopped and searched using Section 60.

The police have argued that black people are disproportionately involved in knife crime, and in some areas, this may well be the case, but it is in these areas, in these communities, that the flow of community intelligence is even more important if knife crime is to be tackled effectively. In evidence to support a super-complaint about Section 60, it was revealed that in 2012, the Metropolitan Police reduced the use of Section 60 by 90%, and stabbings and shootings fell by a third and 40% respectively. In the year ending March 2020, only 1% of Section 60 stop and search resulted in an arrest for possession of a weapon. Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 2,800% increase in the use of Section 60, despite the evidence showing that Section 60 is effective only in creating hostility between the police and the communities who are subjected to it, the very communities whose intelligence is vital in reducing serious violence.

The cost-benefit analysis of Section 60 is negative. The reason for its enactment rarely, if ever, occurs. Therefore, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 should be repealed. That is the intention of Amendment 276. I beg to move Amendment 129.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 5:00, 3 November 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in tabling this amendment, and it is the reason that we first met. When I heard about this commander down in Brixton who had an innovative way of dealing with cannabis possession, I went down there very quickly to meet him and find out exactly what he was doing, and I was very impressed.

He has laid out the rationale behind the amendment extremely thoroughly and with great insider knowledge, but I will throw in what the Green Party has been saying for the past 50 years. Our drugs policy is to create a regulated drug and alcohol market that is focused on safety and harm reduction, which our current policy is clearly not. In the interim, decriminalisation is important, but it will never be as effective at reducing crime and improving health outcomes as a fully regulated system.

Many police forces have de facto decriminalised cannabis. They have seen that it just does not work to keep on with this targeted racist behaviour. The amendment would be a very welcome step. At the moment, it is a gateway power which allows the state to interfere with people and search them for something that should not even be illegal. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said very clearly, it alienates communities at the very point at which you need those communities to help the police with intelligence. I have been out with quite a few stop and search teams. I have seen it done well, but that was the exception. I have seen it done okay and done extremely badly. It is an issue of training as well as for the law itself, and it is used in discriminatory ways. This is a brilliant amendment. Well done to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for tabling it.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 276, to which I have added my name. Suspicionless stop and search is a significant problem for community relations in this country. It is a significant problem for trust in the police. In recent days, we have rightly given a great deal of time and attention on all sides of your Lordships’ House, including in this Committee, to trust and confidence on the part of women, and young women in particular, but we must not forget other aspects of broader trust and confidence, including the issue of young black men and policing.

Decades after the Lawrence inquiry, we still need to keep returning to this issue. No power or set of powers has probably done more to weigh against the strides made by the late Sir William Macpherson and by everyone across politics, including former Prime Minister, Theresa May, to try to address problems with stop and search. No power has been more problematic than that of suspicionless stop and search in general and Section 60 in particular.

This is really not a partisan issue. Your Lordships know that, long before I came to this House, I was a civil liberties campaigner and not popular with Governments of either stripe in relation to powers such as these. In my view, there has been an authoritarian arms race about law and order in this country for too long. No Government are perfect. No Opposition are perfect. This is a good moment to look at stop and search. There is no better parliamentarian to be leading us in this conversation than the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

The problem with suspicionless stop and search is this. No human is perfect; therefore, no police officer is perfect. Stop and search, conducted by humans of other humans, even with reasonable suspicion, is problematic, but there is no choice if we want to combat crime and investigate offences that have happened or that might yet take place. We have to have powers to stop and search. They are problematic, even when based on reasonable suspicion because what is reasonable suspicion? Who do we think is going equipped? Who do we think meets the profile of somebody who committed an offence a few hours ago? Of course, it is hard for any citizen, including constables, to rid themselves of all the baggage that comes with being in this—or any—society. Those problems are so compounded when reasonable suspicion is taken out of the equation.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act gives the power—which is triggered by a senior police officer, but a police officer none the less—effectively to change the criminal law in an area for the period in which that power is triggered. In that particular part of town, there is effectively a suspicionless stop and search zone. We are often talking about urban areas, and areas with a very high density of people from certain communities. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, can correct me if I am wrong. Within that area, young black men in particular know that that is a stop and search zone. Their first encounters with the police service are often very negative.

Because of the rise of the internet, mobile phone use and videos of incidents, this material is now there to be viewed. I have seen some very disturbing scenes of quite young boys being stopped and searched, without suspicion, on streets not many miles from here. These young boys and men do not have the protections that they have post-arrest in the police station. Arrest is based on reasonable suspicion. Officers usually stop a young man. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave the statistics. If you are a young black man you are many more times likely to be stopped and searched than if you are a young white woman, let alone a middle-aged woman like me.

Sometimes officers will be situated in a particular place. I understand their reasons. They are worried about knife use, for example. Some young men are being stopped on a routine basis. Sometimes big, burly officers make a human wall around a boy of perhaps 13 or 14 years-old. I have seen the pictures. People in that community—bystanders, if it happens in the daytime—will be trying to remonstrate with the officers. They will be held back. This young man—13, 14 or 15 years-old —is having his first encounter with the authorities. He is frightened. He is behind this human wall of big, burly officers. There is not even reasonable suspicion that he has done something wrong.

It seems to me that this is very dangerous—and it is not an occasion where I can even blame the police. It is an occasion when I have to look to the statute book itself, because this is about legislators, not police officers. I have been critical in other debates, and I am afraid that I will have to be critical about some decisions that the police have made. But this is a legislative problem, because legislators from both major parties have allowed this regime to be triggered for suspicionless stop and search, and it has created problems over many years. It really is time to address this.

This seems like a radical probing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but if Section 60 were removed from the statute book, what would be the consequence? There would still be ordinary, democratic, rule of law-based powers to stop and search with reasonable suspicion. That is a fairly low threshold in any event, I would argue, but this ability and power to designate particular areas—everybody knows where those areas are and who is affected in them—would go. I cannot think of a more positive signal and progressive step for any Government, any party and any legislator who cares about race relations in this country, and cares about rebuilding trust in policing and the rule of law.

So once more I find myself thanking the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I feel that I will do so again a few more times in this Committee.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I have some questions for the Government on Amendment 129, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

Drugs policy and the drugs trade have come up in our debates on this Bill as part of the debate on the serious violence reduction duty, particularly regarding child exploitation and county lines. It will come up again shortly when we look at the groups of amendments on road safety and dangerous driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. There is a complexity of links in multiple areas of policy, be they poverty, health or criminal justice. On the serious violence reduction duty, the Government’s stated aim is to reduce serious violence through a public health approach. So my question to the Minister is: what work is being done alongside those plans to look at a coherent public health approach to drugs policy? As with serious violence, there needs to be a focus on what reduces harm, not just what deals with the symptoms.

Amendment 129 is specifically about removing the power of the police to search people for drugs for personal use only. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave a very informative history lesson, if you like, on his part in the “no arrest” policy in Brixton. I thought I might update what he was saying with my perception as a magistrate who sits in criminal and youth courts in London. I can say with reasonable confidence that I very rarely see in front of me, for the possession of class B drugs alone, either a youth or an adult who is of good character. I really cannot remember the last time I saw that in a court in which I was sitting. In my experience, when that is charged, other matters are charged as well, or the amount of drugs found on the person is at a much higher level but, nevertheless, the CPS chooses to charge that person only with possession rather than possession with intent to supply. Nevertheless, it is an interesting amendment, and the noble Lord raised a number of interesting points about the appropriateness of that power of the police under Amendment 129.

I turn to Amendment 276, which would repeal Section 60 of suspicionless stop and search. Obviously, we have concerns about how stop and search is used, but we do not support a blanket repeal of this power. I will make a few general comments. We will debate this again when we get to Part 10.

Over the past eight years the Government have moved from a position where the Home SecretaryTheresa May at the time—sought to limit stop and search powers significantly, including restricting the use of Section 60, to the current position, which supports extending suspicionless stop and search and making it easier to use. What has changed? What different picture of policing and the use of these powers has led the current Government to come to such different conclusions? Can the Minister provide the Committee with statistics on the success of intelligence-led searches compared with Section 60 searches? The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave some statistics, which I tried to jot down and which seemed to show a fairly stark difference between the success of the two types of stop and search. I do not know whether the Government have their own figures. What are the Government actively doing to reduce the disproportionate use of this power against black and ethnic minority communities? Both my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave statistics on that.

As Home Secretary, Theresa May raised issues around police training and fitness to use stop and search powers, and improving transparency, recording and public accountability for police decisions on stop and search. Can the Minister update the Committee on how this work is being advanced?

I agreed with a lot of what my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, especially her comment that this is not a particularly partisan issue: it is one that all sides of the House want to get right. Stop and search is not new. I was brought up in central London, in Notting Hill. When I was a teenager I lost track of the number of times that my friends and I were stopped and searched by police officers. It did not worry us because we were not intimidated in any way—but we were stopped very regularly by police officers. I absolutely accept that I came from a community that was not intimidated by the police. So it is not a new technique. It is, however, one that alienates communities, which is a central point that other noble Lords have made, and it needs to be handled very carefully.

I will make one further point. I have sat on a number of appeals concerning stop and search processes in the Crown Court. We look at the police process, which I understand is known as “Go wisely”, to see whether they have followed each element of the stop and search process. It is interesting that the advent of body-worn video cameras has changed the dynamics of stop and search. It has not necessarily reduced the suspicion of those who are stopped and searched, but as far as I can see the way it is managed by the police has changed. Nevertheless, this is a very sensitive issue and I will listen to the Minister’s response with interest.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 5:15, 3 November 2021

Could I put an ethical and constitutional question to my noble friend, who is both an experienced parliamentarian and a magistrate? When I go to the airport, I understand that I shall be subject to some search, and I have no problem with that—first, because I understand that an airport is a very sensitive place and, secondly, because everybody will be subject to the same search as me. Therefore, I feel no disgruntlement. Equally, with ordinary stop and search powers, if I am stopped and searched on reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence, I may know that I am completely innocent but I shall understand that I have been stopped and searched on reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence.

What is the ethical and constitutional justification for stop and search without suspicion, when everybody is not stopped and searched, as at the airport? If not a suspect and if not everybody, who then? My fear is that, subject to the answer that my noble friend—and, I hope, in due course, the Minister—will give, the answer is that that in-between stop and search, a suspicion under Section 60-type stop and search, is almost inevitably an arbitrary and therefore potentially discriminatory stop and search.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a very interesting speech. For about the first 40 years of my life, I lived in north-west London and—on this discrimination point—I have never been stopped and searched by the police. I have had my vehicle stopped a few times, but I can perfectly well understand why the police did it. So it is quite an interesting point on discrimination.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My noble friend asked me a very interesting question, but I am not sure that I can answer it. I suppose that the short answer is that I am very conscious that this is a divisive issue and one that the police themselves have strong views on. They do not agree with each other—I have certainly heard a range of views within the police about its effectiveness or its blanket use being ineffective. I think that the answer is that the Government need to look at this issue very sensitively and be very aware of the distrust that it breeds within communities, particularly ethnic minority communities.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining the amendments, which relate to stop and search powers. We can always rely on him to share his experience on the ground. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his very thoughtful contribution at the end.

Amendment 129 seems to be a step in the direction of decriminalising drug possession, but I do not think that the noble Lord has ever disguised his wish to see that happen—ditto, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. As the noble Lord will know, this Government have no intention of decriminalising drug possession. Our approach on drugs remains clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.

The noble Lord gave the statistic from Matt Parr saying that 63% of searches were for drugs. He is absolutely right on that. We make no secret of our intention to disrupt drug markets, because that is often part of the police’s strategy for tackling serious violence, and possession searches may come in response from reports from CCTV or the public or from factors that officers more obviously encounter on patrol, such as drug transactions. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seemed to reflect that in talking about the types of issues that he sees in the magistrates’ courts.

There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that controlled drugs are harmful and can damage people’s mental and physical health, and our wider communities. The decriminalisation of drugs in the UK would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities. I bet that everyone in your Lordships’ House can think of someone who has been affected. The police therefore have a wide range of powers at their disposal to deal with drug-related offences, including the powers to search and obtain evidence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. How the police choose to pursue investigations is an operational decision for chief constables, but we are clear that we expect them to enforce the law.

I return to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about what we are doing to assist young people away from drugs. He will know that we invested tens of millions of pounds in the National County Lines Coordination Centre; he will also know that we do not wish to criminalise young people—our prime aim is to move them away from a life of drugs and some of the criminal activity that can sit alongside it.

On Amendment 276, the police should have the powers they need to keep the public safe and combat serious violence while ensuring that these powers are used fairly and within the law. The Government fully support the police in the fair use of stop and search to crack down on violent crime and protect communities. It is only right that these powers are used to stand firm against criminals who break the law.

Every knife taken off our streets is a potential life saved. While I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his statistics, I will give some of my own. In 2019-20, stop and search removed over 11,000 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in over 74,000 arrests. Crime statistics have previously shown that increasing proactive policing such as stop and search is helping the police find more knives and arrest more criminals.

That said, the noble Lord is right to highlight the vital importance of ensuring that officers are using their powers based on intelligence and legitimacy, to ensure that the rights of the individual are upheld. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives police the powers to stop and search individuals or vehicles, in anticipation of or after an incident of serious violence, to find offensive weapons or dangerous instruments. They do not need grounds to suspect that the person or vehicle is carrying these items.

Because of its suspicionless nature, the use of Section 60 must be limited in geographical scope and duration, and must be authorised by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. That is to ensure that these powers are used proportionately and only where necessary. PACE Code A sets out that use of Section 60 should be authorised only where there is a reasonable belief that serious violence may occur, and that this should be based on objective factors and led by intelligence. The authorising officer should communicate this intelligence to officers on the ground. When carrying out searches under a Section 60 authorisation, officers should search only individuals likely to be involved, having regard to the intelligence that led to the Section 60 being authorised.

Section 60 searches make up a tiny proportion of the stops and searches carried out by police officers: in the last year they were just 3% of all searches carried out. Despite its low level of use, the police tell us it is a vital tool to tackle serious violence. These powers can also act as a deterrent to prevent offenders carrying weapons, by increasing the perceived risk of detection.

That is why the Government announced, as part of the beating crime plan in July this year, the relaxation of the five voluntary restrictions on the use of Section 60. This follows a two-year pilot during which we gathered and analysed data from forces and community scrutiny leads on their perception of the changes, which told us that officers felt more confident using Section 60 during the pilot, and that the relaxations better reflected the operational reality of policing and the pressures and conditions officers face on the ground. It also showed that many forces had implemented their own best practices to reassure themselves internally that this power was being used legitimately and with accountability.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pressed me on this and I will say that there are a number of legal safeguards, including statutory codes of practice and the use of body-worn video, to ensure that officers are accountable during a search, including any conducted under the powers in the Misuse of Drugs Act. We publish extensive data on these powers, which allow police and crime commissioners and others to hold forces to account. HMICFRS also inspects force level disparities and the use of stop and search as part of its regular inspection programme. I assure the Committee that no one should be subject to the use of stop and search powers based on their race or ethnicity, and that safeguards exist to prevent this.

As part of our Section 60 pilot, the Government asked the College of Policing to update its stop and search guidance to ensure fair and proportionate use. The updated guidance was published in July 2020 and provides best-practice examples for forces to use on community engagement and scrutiny. We expect that forces will follow the guidance in their use of the powers. The Government will always give the police the tools they need to tackle serious violence and other crimes, and I do not think it is in the best interests of public safety to repeal these important powers. I hope that, with those words, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 5:30, 3 November 2021

Before the Minister sits down, will she briefly address the question I put to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, because I think it is crucial to what a legitimate use of Section 60 looks like. If I am a young man who feels I might be particularly affected by this, and after a crime there is an area that has been designated and cordoned off and everybody is being stopped and searched when they enter those two streets—like at the airport—I can understand that. Similarly, if I am stopped and searched under “reasonable suspicion” powers, I understand: I may be innocent, but there is a reasonable suspicion that I meet the profile of the suspect, or I have otherwise given rise to suspicion in my conduct. But how is Section 60 ever to be used in a way that is not arbitrary, and therefore most likely discriminatory? Why have I been targeted for a suspicionless search? How can I be legitimately targeted for a suspicionless search?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Of course, Section 60 is based on local policing intelligence in specific local areas. The noble Baroness has already pointed that out. I have talked about the safeguards, including statutory codes of practice, the use of body-worn video and external scrutiny; I will also talk about the use of data. The Home Office collects more data on stop and search than ever before. The data is published online, allowing local scrutiny groups, PCCs and others to hold forces to account and we discuss it with the relative NPCC leads in forces to understand why disparities occur, if they occur. HMICFRS inspects forces’ stop and search data annually, and extensive data is also published to increase trust and transparency. So, there are a number of things on which we test ourselves and are scrutinised to ensure that stop and search is not being used in an illegal and discriminatory way.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister did not disappoint me, because she mentioned the phrase “operational independence” for the police. Would she be entirely content if a local police commander decided that he or she was not going to have their officers do stop and search unless they thought it was absolutely essential?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

It is part of that operational independence of the police that they know what is best for their area; therefore, it might be relevant for police forces in a certain area not to have much occasion for the use of Section 60 stop and search.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Chakrabarti, for their support for these amendments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that the issue of drugs is very complex: it needs a complex approach and stop and search of this nature is not the way to go. When I suggested to the commissioner that we did not arrest people for cannabis in Lambeth, former MP Ann Widdecombe accused me of usurping the power of Parliament: she cannot accuse me of that now.

Turning to the response of the Minister, almost her whole argument around Amendment 129 was an argument against decriminalisation, yet this amendment does not call for the decriminalisation of personal possession of drugs. It is all about focusing the police on serious crime, rationing scarce police resources by focusing them on what is really important to communities and to the courts. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that he rarely saw anybody in front of him for possession, particularly of class B drugs, unless by chance—usually it is when the police find cannabis when they have arrested the person for something else. They are there for the substantive offence and they get charged for the cannabis as well, for example.

The noble Baroness talked about the harm caused by drugs. Why, then, are new psychoactive substances not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act not an offence? Why is personal possession of psychoactive substances not illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act, if drugs cause so much harm? Why is alcohol not illegal when we look at the harm that alcohol causes? But we are not talking here about decriminalisation; we are talking about getting the police to focus on what is important. As far as Section 60 is concerned, I support stop and search. I have said how important stop and search—properly focused, acting on community intelligence and focusing on those who are suspected of carrying and using knives—is, and how important Section 60 is.

The Minister talked about the figures between 2019 and 2020 and the number of weapons that stop and search removed. This is not an argument about removing the power of the police to stop and search; it is about focusing intelligence-led stop and search on taking knives off the street to be even more effective. The figures that the noble Baroness gave about the number of weapons taken off the street, I assume, are not weapons found by using Section 60. If Section 60 searches were only 3% of all searches, and only 1%—one in a hundred—of Section 60 searches find a weapon, then the figures that the noble Baroness quoted cannot possibly be about Section 60. Why is she using figures about stop and search generally when the amendment she was addressing is about Section 60? It is a blunt instrument.

The noble Baroness is right; it has to be an inspector who authorises a Section 60. Until a couple of years ago, it was a superintendent who had to authorise a Section 60. That is why there has been a 2,800% increase in the number of times Section 60 orders are issued, and that is why Section 60 is so ineffective, with only one in 100 searches resulting in a weapon, and why it is so damaging to police-community relations, which are essential to tackling serious violence.

The noble Baroness said no one should be stopped and searched based on their race. You are 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 if you are black than if you are white. The two things do not add up. Of course nobody should be searched on the basis of their race, but the facts are that you are 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than if you are white. That is why Section 60 is so damaging and so ineffective. That is why I brought this amendment but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 129.

Amendment 129 withdrawn.