Amendment 129

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 3 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:00, 3 November 2021

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.