“(1) The Secretary of State must publish data about the use of the stop and search powers under sections 6 and 7 within three years of—
(a) if sections 6 and 7 come into force on the same date, the date on which they come into force, or
(b) if sections 6 and 7 come into force on different dates, the later of those two dates.
(2) The data published under this section must include—
(a) the total number of uses of stop and search powers by each police force in England and Wales, including whether the powers were used on suspicion or without suspicion,
(b) disaggregated data by age, disability, ethnicity/race, sex/gender and sexual orientation of the people who have been stopped and searched, and
(c) data relating to the outcomes of the use of stop and search powers.”
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 9—Review of the use of stop and search powers—
“(1) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent reviewer to assess and report annually on the use of the stop and search powers under sections 6 and 7.
(2) In carrying out their review, the person appointed under subsection (1) must—
(a) consider the impact of the use of stop and search powers on groups with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and
(b) consult such civil society organisations as appear to the person appointed under subsection (1) to be relevant.
(3) The person appointed under subsection (1) must ensure that a report on the outcome of the review is sent to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable after the completion of the review.
(4) On receiving a report under this section, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—
(a) a copy of the report, and
(b) the Government’s response to the findings.
(5) The first report under this section must be completed no later than one year after the date provided for under section [publication of data about use of stop and search powers](1
These new clauses are authored by my hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova and address clauses 6 and 7 of the Bill, on stop and search. New clause 8 would make it mandatory for the Home Office to collect data on how stop and search is going—demographic data on who it affects, how old they are and what ethnic group they are from. New clause 9 would create a new position of an independent reviewer, who would then assess the use of the powers.
Over the past few days and weeks, we have heard how this Bill criminalises protest tactics and potentially drags more people into the criminal justice system. My hon. Friend and I would say that it is people from black and minority ethnic communities who will suffer the most. They are already over-policed and targeted by the authorities. There were the notorious sus laws in a former age. It took quite a lot of good will between the police and the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, to ease tensions, but now I feel that we are going backwards here.
The provisions on protest-specific stop-and-search powers are really quite disturbing. The expansion of stop-and-search powers will entrench racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system and has the potential to erode trust in public institutions. Suspicionless stop and search has the potential to poison relations between communities and to feed mistrust. We want to build in some safeguards to ensure that that does not happen.
The Bill will amend section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to expand the types of offences that allow a police officer to stop and search a person or vehicle. Most worrying of all, it will extend suspicionless stop-and-search powers to the protest context, so that police officers will be able to stop and search a person or vehicle without suspicion—on a whim—if they reasonably believe that certain protest-related offences will be committed in the area.
We get the figures. I think that black and minority ethnic people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than non-BME people. Despite the ongoing revelations regarding the misuse and racist application of stop-and-search powers, the Government have none the less decided to roll them out even further. This is counterproductive. Decisions to lift restrictions on police stop-and-search powers will damage trust, as I have said, between black, Asian and ethnic minority communities and the police.
I will just outline the difference between new clauses 8 and 9. New clause 8 would make it mandatory for the Home Office to publish disaggregated data on stop and searches under clauses 6 and 7. Let us collect the data; let us see who is being stopped. That would be a very sensible thing to do. It would allow stakeholders to assess which groups were the most impacted by the clauses. There is that expression that sunlight is the best disinfectant. If people say that this provision will not do what we say it will, let us see the data. I do not see what is controversial about that at all. The Government claim that black, Asian and ethnic minority people will not be affected, as the clauses are specific to protests, not to the skin colour of the person protesting, so let us see; let us collect the data.
We know that, over the last few years, protests have been vital to these communities—I can call them “our communities”—in order to advocate and organise. We saw the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. Historically, there were the protests in New Cross. We can construct a long list of where protests have taken place. There were the Cherry Groce protests—there have been loads of them.
New clause 9 would create the new position of an independent reviewer to assess the data and make recommendations to the Home Secretary on the impact of the use of stop-and-search powers on groups with protected characteristics under clauses 6 and 7. The buck would stop with that individual. It would not be a full-time post—the great and the good could all apply for it. The reviewer could come up with a report after up to four years, so they could take a rain check on how this was going. The independent reviewer’s role would be to inform the public and political debate on stop-and-search laws. They would do that through annual reports prepared for the Home Secretary; as I said, the first would be in up to four years’ time. They would report to the Home Secretary and they would audit what was going on.
The uniqueness of that role would lie in its complete independence from Government. The reviewer would be like the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation—that sort of person. In performing the role, they would be required to speak with the widest possible range of people. They could collect qualitative data as well; they could speak to social scientists—they could take a multi-method approach for their reports. They would speak to the widest possible range of people with experience of how stop-and-search laws operate.
These are very sensible new clauses that would just build some safeguards into what is coming.
I rise to support my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton and for Battersea on the sensibleness of the new clauses.
Requiring the Secretary of State to publish data, and requiring the establishment of an independent reviewer to assess and report annually, seems to me to be the very least that the Government should be doing when they are bringing in such a broad range of powers. We know that there is significant concern—we have debated it at length—about the extension to protests of stop and search in both its forms, including suspicionless stop and search. There are organisations and representatives of the police who are worried about the potential disproportionality of those parts of the Bill. The College of Policing and the inspectorate have all looked at stop and search and said that it can erode trust between the police and local communities and that it is disproportionate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton listed the stats on that.
Publishing the data is an easy thing to do, and I hope the Home Office would do it anyway. Establishing an independent reviewer is easy to do—Lord Geidt may be free. There will be other good people who could do the job. With such a significant expansion of police powers, it really would be alarming if we did not do those things. I hope the Government will consider new clauses 8 and 9.
I will speak first to new clause 8. The Home Office continues to publish extensive data on the use of stop and search to drive transparency, as the hon. Lady for Ealing Central and Acton requested. In 2021, for the first time, we collected and published data on the age and gender of all individuals stopped and searched, alongside our long-standing collection of data on ethnicity. That allows us to create a clearer picture on how stop and search is used and how best to build on the existing trust and confidence held between the police and the community they serve.
I want to make it clear that, as with all stop and search, nobody should be stopped and searched under the new powers because of their ethnicity or on the basis of any other protected characteristic. I know that the hon. Lady did not mean to imply that the police operation of stop and search is, as she said, “racist” at the moment. There are complicated reasons that sit behind the disproportionality in stop and search, which undoubtedly exists in some parts of the country, that we need to be conscious of and address. However, she will also be aware that there are safeguards in place, including the use of body-worn video and statutory guidance in code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and those safeguards will also apply to the new powers in the Bill. Data on their use will be collected and published, broken down by age, gender and ethnicity—including the outcome of the search—as it is for existing stop-and-search powers.
I want to make the point that we do not actually know what causes the disproportionality. That is why the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing are going to do a lot of work in that space. We do not have the answers, so we do not definitively know what is causing it. A lot of people suspect it is racism in the police force; a lot of people think it might be other things. We do not actually know.
The hon. Lady is making exactly my point. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton did use the word “racist” regarding the operation of stop and search. I was refuting that as a conclusion that may be drawn. There are complicated reasons behind the disproportionality in stop and search, and we all have a duty to try to understand what they may be.
Sometimes, there are statistical anomalies. There is a well-known anomaly in Dorset from a couple of years ago where a couple of drug dealers travelled down to deal drugs and they were stopped and searched. They happened to be from a BME background. Even though they were the only two people who were stopped and searched during that period, that stop and search and their apprehension as drug dealers meant that someone was 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched in that part of Dorset if they were from a BME background.
There are lots of complicated reasons that we need to understand about the disproportionality, and I am not downplaying the significance of it. As somebody who has fought crime in London during my political lifetime, I am very conscious of the impact it can have. I have sat and worked with all communities across London, particularly those affected by very serious violence, to understand the impact of stop and search. I have to say that body-worn video, in particular, is making a huge difference.
On new clause 9, I agree with the hon. Lady that independent oversight of the use of intrusive powers is essential. We all expect the police to use their stop-and-search powers as they see fit and to scrutinise their use of powers to ensure they remain focused, legitimate, proportionate and necessary. However, it is also true that having an independent body increases accountability and enhances the service officers are giving to the public.
I am pleased, therefore, to remind the Committee that we are fortunate to have two independent bodies that already perform that vital task. First, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services inspects forces on their use of stop and search as part of their annual inspections, and makes recommendations for improvement where needed. That allows the public to see whether their local force is meeting the high standards we expect. Forces should be able to explain their use of stop and search, including any disparities, to HMIC and the public, and we expect forces to respond to the inspectorate’s recommendations with alacrity.
Secondly, the Independent Office for Police Conduct provides a function through which complaints about police use of stop and search can be investigated. It is also able to issue recommendations to which forces are legally obliged to respond. As the “Inclusive Britain” report set out, the Government also recognise the importance of scrutiny by local communities. We are already enhancing these safeguards through the development of a national framework for community scrutiny of stop and search.
I know the hon. Lady will join me in praising the hard work of those two independent bodies in scrutinising police powers, and indeed the hard work of the police in using stop and search over the past couple of years to remove about 50,000 knives from the streets. I hope I have offered her some reassurance that we are conscious of our duty to deal with disproportionality, and that the existing safeguards and structures, as well as the new powers in the Bill, will be aligned with respect to that responsibility. On that basis, I hope she will withdraw the new clause.
I hear what people have said, but the new clause would make the publication of data mandatory. The Minister has said that there are statistics around, but the new clause would make that a targeted, mandatory thing, given the huge increase in stop-and-search powers. He said that I called their application at the moment racist, but I spoke, in fact, about revelations and allegations. That would be flushed out by having statistical data that we could see—is it the case or not? There is this whole whataboutery point; people are saying, “This will criminalise a whole load of people, and it will be black and ethnic minority people who are hit hardest by it.” Let us publish the data and see.
As for the independent reviewer, we have that with other things, such as terrorism. In the interests of openness and transparency, we should be overseeing these things. The Minister talked about the IOPC, but it takes years for a complaint to go through it, whereas this measure would mean an ongoing, dynamic process of collecting figures. Yes, nobody should be subject to racist stop and search, but Members should look at the figures, which cause one to think, “Oh, what’s going on here?” Let us have the data.