I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the effect of police stop and search powers on BAME communities.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. Stop-and-search is often referred to as the litmus test of police-community relations, and it is one of the first encounters that young people from ethnic minority backgrounds have with the police. Those early interactions can shape how young people view the police for the rest of their lives, especially when they, their family or their friends are searched repeatedly. Members from all parties will undoubtedly have heard accounts from their constituents of deeply negative experiences of stop- and-searches and other types of police-initiated stops, such as detentions at ports and airports under counter-terrorism legislation, and stops under road and traffic legislation.
Unfortunately, we have debated stop-and-search time and again due to the way that it has been misused since the 1960s. Recently, the Government initiated a series of reforms backed by cross-party consensus, which I will refer to. However, numerous inspections by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—in 2013, 2015 and 2016—found that many chief officers are frustrating that process because they are
“failing to understand the impact of stop and search” on people’s lives. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government seek to carry on reforming these powers and prevent the backsliding that we have seen in the last couple of years.
I stress that stop-and-search can be a useful tool to detect crime, but only when it is used in a very targeted way. Claims are often made about how useful stop-and-search is, but they are not backed by scientific research and, in fact, often contradict the evidence base. Stop-and-search is neither the solution to crime problems nor a substitute for intelligence from good relationships with communities. Evidence shows that stop-and-search is a blunt tool for the prevention and detection of crime, and has a profoundly negative impact on police-community relations.
Home Office research in 2000 showed that stop-and-search had only a marginal role in combating crime, because its use was not linked to patterns of crime, and that searches for drugs were fuelling unproductive searches of ethnic minorities, particularly young black men. Ten years later, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reached the same conclusion. Threatening legal action against the five forces that it felt had the worst ethnic disproportionality at the time, it managed to reduce their volume of searches and that disproportionality—importantly, without reversing the long-term fall in crime. Last year, the College of Policing published analysis on the effect of stop-and-search on various crimes. It, too, found that stop-and-search had a weak role in reducing only certain types of crime, while having no measurable impact on most others.
Those studies show just how ineffective stop-and-search is as a general tactic. Even within a similar family of forces, stop-and-search use, outcomes and ethnic disproportionality differ so drastically that, as some of the research concludes, they are determined more by the culture set by chief officers than by local crime trends.
On the ground, the ease with which police officers can use their discretionary powers, together with their widely divergent views about what constitutes reasonable suspicion, mean that stop-and-search has become the go-to power for social control, and one that is influenced by unconscious biases or outright racial prejudices. For example, “smell of cannabis” and “fits a suspect description” are routinely used to justify searching people of colour. There are, of course, other powers that do not even require reasonable suspicion. Members will not be surprised to hear that those produce even worse ethnic disproportionality.
Given the national debate about the apparent increase in knife and violent crime, what are the Government doing to resist the urge to increase stop-and-searches in the false view that that will solve the problem? When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she rightly called that
“a knee-jerk reaction on the back of a false link.”
In fact, the police’s own data show that most searches are for drugs, rather than knives, guns or other weapons, and that the proportion of searches for drugs is actually increasing. For most forces, that figure is consistently more than 50%, and in a number of cases it is even above 70%. Will the Minister outline what the Government are doing to ensure that stop-and-search is actually targeted at violent crime?
Ironically, that increase has occurred at a time when police forces have signed up to the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, the main purpose of which is to increase trust and confidence in policing by addressing the disproportionate impact of stop-and-search on ethnic minorities and by giving communities a stronger role in scrutinising those powers. Although that has delivered a welcome 44% reduction in the use of stop-and-search and has improved detection rates, if we probe behind the headlines we find that little else has changed.
After initially declining, disproportionality has shot to new heights in the past two years. Estimates for last year show that black people were searched at more than eight times the rate of white people, and people from mixed, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds were searched at around double the rate. Under the “suspicionless” powers in section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, black people were searched at 14 times the rate of whites, mixed people were searched at twice the rate, and people from Asian or other backgrounds were searched at a slightly higher rate than whites.
Clearly, the benefits of scaling back excess searches of people who would not otherwise have been searched have not filtered through to ethnic minority groups. As with the Government reforms following the Brixton riots in the 1980s and the Macpherson report on the mishandling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, we are at risk of giving up too soon and allowing stop-and-search to regress to unacceptably high levels of disproportionality and grief.
In her final months as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister argued that
“there is still a long way to go.”
That is partly because numerous HMIC inspections have shown that most chief officers are failing to show leadership in addressing stop-and-search. At one point, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, declared:
“The Conservatives have become the party of equality.”
So can the Minister explain why the current Prime Minister has allowed disproportionality to increase and reform to grind to a halt under her premiership?
Communities have been left wondering whether the Government remain committed to reform of stop-and-search, particularly because the previous Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, did not give it the attention it deserves, despite it having been so central to her predecessor’s race equality agenda. The Prime Minister has also failed to live up to her promises to introduce monitoring of traffic stops and remove individual officers’ ability to use stop-and-search where they are found to be routinely misusing it. Will the Minister affirm that the Government are still committed to those proposals and say when we are likely to see them?
The powerlessness of ethnic minority communities to scrutinise and shape police policies and practice is a crucial issue that remains unaddressed. The true test of a democracy is the way it treats its vulnerable and minority groups.
The hon. Lady will know that a hugely disproportionate number of black young men are victims of knife crime. Will she agree to survey victims’ families—those who are most closely affected—to see whether they agree with her? I strongly suggest that they want tougher sentences for knife crime, they want tougher sentences for the criminals who are convicted and they want more stop-and-search.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that, and I will address some of those issues. I am not sure that conviction rates support what he suggests, but I will look into that further.
Police and crime commissioners were elected to democratise policing, but few have prioritised issues facing ethnic minorities. The best stop-and-search schemes give the public opportunities to accompany officers out on patrol, but they place most of their emphasis on scrutiny of stop-and-search records and data at police consultation groups.
The University of Warwick recently conducted the most comprehensive study of how members of the public in five police force areas try to provide input into police practice. It showed that police-public consultative groups have become the main forum through which the police make themselves accountable to the public, although those groups lack representatives from ethnic minorities and young people, who are most affected by policing. It concluded that these groups have become talking shops and are viewed as merely rubber-stamp committees by frustrated members of the community who want to make a difference. That is because there is no obligation on police officers to amend their policies or practice in the light of recommendations from the public. Even more concerningly, some senior officers responsible for organising these groups are either misleading the public about their use of stop-and-search or withholding even the most basic information, which would allow communities to hold them adequately to account. If we are serious about empowering communities, we need to ensure that members of the public can make recommendations and receive a written response from their chief officers on what those officers will do with that feedback. Will the Minister make that a statutory requirement?
The importance of getting stop-and-search right is made clear by academic literature on procedural justice, which suggests that the way people are treated by the police has an impact on their trust and confidence in the police and, by extension, on their perception of the state’s legitimacy, which determines their willingness to co-operate with the police and obey the law. It is therefore no surprise that anti-police riots have been fuelled by experiences of stop-and-search. All of that makes it even more important that we get stop-and-search right, no matter how long it takes.
One type of encounter that tends to be ignored and that is shrouded in secrecy is stops under schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which are the most draconian of all police stops. The schedule provides powers to detain the travelling public for up to six hours, which could mean they miss their flights, without the right to compensation. They are separated from their family and friends to be questioned, searched and potentially strip-searched. They have their biometric data taken, irrespective of the outcome of the stop, and have data from their mobile phones and laptops downloaded without their knowledge or consent. This has a deeply negative psychological impact on British Muslims and on those mistaken for Muslims, such as Sikhs and men with beards. This power does not require there to be suspicion that individuals are involved in terrorism, so British Muslims are left wondering why they have been detained, other than by virtue of their faith.
Young Muslims have had the bizarre experience of being asked if they personally know where international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden are hiding. These law-abiding citizens are made to feel humiliated, distressed and fearful, as well as alien to the country they know and love. That has created a sense that British Muslims have become the new suspect community. What will the Government do to eliminate religious and racial profiling at ports?
There is more data and research on police stops than ever before. It shows a consensus that these powers are ineffective in anything other than highly individual scenarios and that they continue to impact negatively on innocent people’s lives. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels and assume that the job is done, simply because the overall numbers are down. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government are doing to empower communities to hold their police to account, to deliver on promises of reform and to tackle the false notion that knife crime is linked to stop-and-search.
I will finish on this:
“nobody wins when stop-and-search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 579, c. 833.]
Those are the words of our current Prime Minister when she was the Home Secretary. This year marks 20 years since the Macpherson inquiry started, and last month was 25 years since the stabbing of Stephen Lawrence. The Macpherson report in 1999 noted on stop-and-search that there remained
“a clear core conclusion of racist stereotyping”.
In 2009, the Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, reported on progress since the Lawrence inquiry. It noted that minority ethnic people remain
“over-policed and under-protected within our criminal justice system.”
It may be easy, from a position of privilege, to view this as a fad, but for many in our black and minority ethnic communities, racial profiling and discriminatory policing are real. They are corrosive, and they are undermining trust in public institutions. If we have learned anything from the Macpherson report, it is this: institutional racism needs to be dismantled if we are to build a society based on values of procedural justice and public accountability.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, Naz Shah, on securing the debate. It may not surprise her or you to hear that I disagree with virtually everything she said. I will explain why.
This debate is about the effect of police stop-and-search on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. I believe that the recent changes in the culture on stop-and-search are very much hurting parts of those communities, and it is not on. They are suffering not from the overuse of stop-and-search, as the hon. Lady would contend, but from the potential underuse of it.
I appreciate that some people will look just at the headline facts, take the consensus view and then want to be seen to be doing something to solve the problem they have identified. I wish, not just on this issue but on many others, that we in Parliament would look more closely at the evidence; we are not here to represent the loudest voice of the day. Apart from that being sensible in itself, if the problem identified is the wrong problem, doing something to fix it could actually be more harmful than helpful, despite people’s very best intentions.
It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that young people are dying on our streets at a frightening rate, particularly in London. If we look beyond the statistics to the real lives being lost, they are predominantly not white. I am no fan of dividing people up by the colour of their skin—in fact, I often think that the people who see everything in terms of race are the real racists—so all such references in my speech are simply to reflect that that is the way in which the debate is framed.
Extreme violence is one of the real problems facing us, and by and large it is non-white people who are the victims in these murders. The 2016 statistics on race and the criminal justice system show that, in the three-year period from 2013 to 2016, the rate of homicide was four times higher for black victims, at 32 victims per million people, compared with white victims at eight per million and other victims at seven per million. Therefore, when it comes to the most serious offence of all—murder—it is clear that black people, and in particular black males, are far more likely to be victims. They are also more likely to be murderers.
Following a parliamentary question I asked in 2016, I was given the following information about the ethnicity of murderers. While white people made up 87% of the population, they were responsible for 67% of murders. Black people made up 3% of the population but 14.5% of murders. Asian people were 6% of the population but were responsible for 12% of murders, and mixed race people were 2% of the population but responsible for 5.5% of murders.
It is also a fact that black people are more likely to use a knife or a sharp instrument to kill. According to the 2016 statistics on race and the criminal justice system, for victims from the black ethnic group sharp instruments accounted for nearly two thirds of homicides, but they accounted for only one third of white homicides. Cressida Dick said last year that young black men and boys were statistically more likely to be the victims and perpetrators of knife crime, having made up 21 of 24 teenagers murdered at that point that year.
That is the background and those are the facts. I am not sure anybody disputes them, because they are the official facts. If no crimes were taking place, we would not need stop-and-search, but in the real world there is crime, and it is a serious problem. The use of stop-and-search is just one way to fight against crime and one tool to try to prevent it, but it is a very important tool.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, my neighbouring MP, for his input. How does he respond to the fact that for the majority of stop-and-searches that take place, when police officers make their recordings they are made for the purposes of addressing drugs, not knife crime or violent crime, despite what he reads?
I will come on to address those points in my remarks, but the implication of what the hon. Lady says is that drug offences are not serious offences and therefore the police should be turning a blind eye to them. That is not a premise I accept. Drugs are a blight on our society and cause misery for a lot of families, and it is absolutely right that the police try to crack down on drug offences. I do not take the view that drug offences are something that the police should not focus on.
The association is more intimate than that, is it not? Very often, these crimes are the result of gang activity, and those gangs are involved in both the drug trade and the violence that leads to knife and gun crime and ultimately fatalities.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point; it is difficult to disaggregate drugs from some of the violence we see. The two often go hand in hand, and he puts that point particularly well.
I do not have time today to go into as much detail as I would like on this subject. I know that one of the reasons for stop-and-search relates to drugs. The 2016 statistics on race in the criminal justice system show that 34% of black offenders, and only 15% of white offenders, were convicted of drug offences, making that the largest offence group for black offenders. It seems to me perfectly obvious that black people are therefore more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, because more people are convicted of those crimes. That seems to me to be partly obvious. Drug offences were also the largest offence group for the Asian ethnic group, accounting for 28% of its offenders.
One of the other purposes of stop-and-search is to check for weapons. According to the Ministry of Justice’s figures, black suspects had the highest proportion of stop-and-searches for offensive weapons, at 20%. As far as I am concerned, it is irrelevant how many people from each background are being stopped and searched. What is relevant is how many of those who are stopped and searched are guilty of those crimes.
If those from certain communities were being stopped and searched and were consistently found to have done nothing wrong, I would be the first to say, “This is completely unacceptable.” In fact, that was one of the reasons why I started to do my own research on this subject, because I was constantly being told that people from ethnic minorities were much more likely to be stopped and searched but to have done nothing wrong, and therefore they were simply being stopped and searched because of the colour of their skin. If that were the case, it would be unacceptable, but that is absolutely not the case.
I asked a parliamentary question about this in 2016. I was told that the following were the percentages of searches that resulted in an arrest. For white people who were stopped and searched, 13% were arrested as a result. For black people it was 20%, for Asian people 14% and for mixed race people 17%. The evidence shows that the community that is much more likely to be stopped and searched and yet found to have done nothing wrong is white people. Those are the facts. They might be inconvenient facts for people who have a particular agenda, but they are nevertheless the facts.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I struggle with it. For me, the common-sense approach to this would be to say that if the police are searching more black people, they will get higher conviction rates. If they were searching the same number of white people, would that not correlate with convictions? The truth is that from the outset, black people have been stopped and searched much more than their white counterparts, so there will be a reduction in those figures, will there not?
It is a proportion, not a number. It is a proportion of the number of people who are stopped and searched who were found to have done something wrong and were arrested as a result. The numbers are irrelevant; I am talking about the proportion. As I say, I am not a big fan of dividing people into ethnic groups, but that is the purpose of this debate. The fact of the matter is that the ethnic group most likely to be stopped and searched and found to have done nothing wrong is white people. That is the fact.
For the avoidance of doubt, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the disproportionate levels of stop-and-search exercised on black people, Muslim people and people from south Asia is because we are more criminal?
I am giving out the facts, and the facts of the matter are, as I went into earlier—I am sure the right hon. Lady was listening—that for certain offences, black people are more likely to be found guilty than white people. That is a fact. I gave the figures for murder. They are official figures. They are not my figures; I have not made them up. It is not a contention I am making. I am merely quoting the facts. I know the right hon. Lady is not always known for wanting to deal in facts, but they are the facts.
I have just answered that question, but I will answer it again for the right hon. Lady’s benefit. The fact is that for certain categories of offence—murder, drug offences and so on—black people and people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be guilty than white people. That is a fact. I am not making a particular contention. That is the evidence. That is the rate of convictions. That is done by the courts. It might be that she has no confidence in our courts system in this country; that may be her contention. I, as it happens, do. Those are the facts.
I am really struggling with this. What I am saying, and what I have put before the House today, is the fact of the disproportionality of young black men being stopped and searched in the first instance. Had we not had that disproportionality— if we had it equal—does he not agree that those figures would then be more fairly representative—
Thank you, Mr Owen. I will try to resist more interventions on that basis.
I do not accept the premise the hon. Lady starts from, which is that police officers in this country are inherently racist and are going out of their way to deliberately stop people from ethnic minorities whom they know there is no basis for stopping. I do not accept the premise of that argument. I have a high regard for police officers, not only in my local community but right across the country. I believe they do the job to the best of their ability. The evidence shows that her premise is not right, because the people most likely to be found guilty of something after being stopped and searched are people from ethnic minorities, which would indicate that police officers are not doing as she and Ms Abbott allege.
The Ministry of Justice’s most recent publication says that
“the rate of prosecutions for the Black ethnic group was four times higher than for the White group. The Mixed group had the second highest rate, which was more than twice as high as the White group.”
That mirrors the higher stop-and-search rate in that same period, when black individuals had a stop-and-search rate around four times higher than white individuals in London, and about five and a half times higher in the rest of England and Wales. In many respects, the rates of stop-and-search based on different people’s ethnicity only mirrored the exact same difference in conviction rates for those ethnic groups. The two were entirely in line. The most recent figures show a bigger gap between the rates per 1,000 who are stopped and searched by ethnicity, and time will tell whether those rates continue to mirror the same pattern within the criminal justice system.
When it comes to youths, the difference is even starker. According to the Ministry of Justice report:
“The number of juveniles prosecuted for indictable offences in relation to population size varied by ethnicity. Prosecution rates per 1000 people aged 10-17…were highest for Black juveniles (12 juveniles per 1000 people), followed by Mixed (4 per 1000), Chinese or Other (2 per 1000), White (2 per 1000) and Asian (2 per 1000).”
In 2016, the black ethnic group represented 4% of the general population aged 10 to 17 but 19% of all juvenile prosecutions for indictable offences, whereas the white ethnic group represented 82% of the general population aged 10 to 17 but 67% of juvenile prosecutions. In answer to the shadow Minister, the figures suggest a clear pattern in youth offending, and particularly in serious youth offending. Those are the facts. They might be uncomfortable, but we cannot get away from them just to suit our political narratives.
I do not even accept the premise set by the hon. Member for Bradford West that people from ethnic minorities feel that the criminal justice system and stop-and-search are discriminatory against them. Again, I do not see the evidence to suggest that. A group of young BAME people were asked if they agree that, if used fairly, stop-and-search is a good tactic to help reduce crime. Some 71% either agreed or strongly agreed, and only 9% disagreed. Why did only 9% disagree that stop-and-search is a good thing? Could it be that they believe and realise that the police predominantly protect them through the use of stop-and-search? Without stop-and-search, they are much more likely to be the victims of these serious crimes.
Another survey, with the results published in “Statistics on race and the criminal justice system”, was done back in 2014. It found that the ethnic group with the highest confidence in the criminal justice system was Asian people, with 76% of them having confidence in the criminal justice system. For mixed race people it was 66% and for both white and black people it was 65%—exactly the same. Again, I do not see any evidence to suggest that people from ethnic minorities have less confidence in the criminal justice system. Those surveys certainly do not suggest that.
The hon. Member for Bradford West may well have seen the article in The Sunday Times last weekend with research from Cambridge University that found that Muslims are no more likely than white Britons to be stopped by police on suspicion of committing a crime. I hope that she will read that report, because it is a helpful piece of research.
Are police officers guilty of racism towards non-white individuals in the street? That, in effect, is the allegation that Opposition Members are making. Actually, that does not even take into account the fact that BAME officers themselves engage in stop-and-search. According to the Home Office’s latest police workforce figures, 6% of police officers are non-white. In London, where stop-and-searches occur far more than in any village in my constituency, 13% of officers are BAME. As of
To follow the hon. Gentleman’s line of thinking, this is all about stopping crime. Bearing in mind that, in 2016-17, 62% of stop-and-searches were for drugs, compared with 11% for offensive weapons, 9% for going equipped and 1% for firearms, does the hon. Gentleman agree that higher priority must be given to searches? That would help to reduce the rise in killings in London, for example. Stop-and-search is a way of preventing crime, and it is very important.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for that support.
Why are more black people being stopped? If the uncomfortable truth is that they commit more of the crimes for which they are stopped, we need to accept that and deal with it. If that is not the case, we need the evidence to show what the issue is. The Prime Minister said that institutions should explain or change. I say that this evidence needs an explanation, and it may well be that it should result in a change to the recent policy on stop-and-search, and that stop-and-search should be used more.
As a result of this politically correct chatter about stop-and-search, the number of stop-and-searches has reduced dramatically. One reason is that the police fear stopping and searching people in case they are branded racist. In fact, one police officer told me that, in their training, they were told to avoid stopping and searching somebody from an ethnic minority because it could easily get them into trouble. What a message to send out to our police officers, who try their best to combat crime. Cressida Dick is reported to have said of police officers last August:
“I think there are some who have become concerned that they will be accused of racism, that they may get a complaint and that if they do get a complaint, that may inhibit their work in other ways, or they may not be supported by their bosses. When I look at it, there’s a very low number of complaints, and the vast majority of those are resolved very, very quickly and in favour of the officer.”
Of course there will be the odd bad egg in any institution or organisation, and of course that should never be tolerated. Modern technology in the form of body-worn cameras can help to allow greater transparency, and those who abuse their position can be weeded out. I understand that 94% of Metropolitan police officers now wear those cameras, so what is anybody worried about?
All the evidence as to whether people are treated fairly or unfairly is there. Let police officers get on and do their job. They do a fantastic and important job in keeping us safe. The last thing they need is meddlesome politicians, who know barely anything about what they are talking about, interfering in their operational work. Their job is hard enough as it is without people in this place making it even harder for them. Let us trust them to get on and do their job. They do their job with great skill and dedication, and we should support them.
It is totally unacceptable to have a situation in which officers leave criminals free to commit crimes simply because they want to avoid racism complaints. We need to ensure that everything is done to stop the needless killings and other crimes on our streets. Above all, we need to trust the police and let them get on with their job. There are plenty of political correctness wallahs in the police anyway nowadays, so there are plenty to look after that agenda. We need to give the police the best chance of fighting crime and protecting all our people, black, white or whatever—their skin colour is completely irrelevant. I am not sure that debates and agendas like these help with that unless they are based on evidence and facts.
At the beginning of May, the Evening Standard reported on parents who have lost children to knife crime leading a peace march and rally in London. The article said:
“Hundreds of marchers are expected to take to the streets in Hackney and Islington amid a growing outcry over the number of fatal stabbings. There were also calls for the Metropolitan Police to boost the number of stop-and-searches in London to detect knife carriers.
March organiser Janette Collins, who runs the youth intervention project The Crib, said: ‘We are saying we have had enough. There are no police on the streets, we do not see them walking on the streets in Hackney and Islington, they are in their cars. We need to bring back stop-and-search. If people object to it, I ask do they want to see kids running around with big knives?’”
That is the real view of people out in the streets, but it is a view that this House seems completely out of touch with. I think that most people in this country expect us to support the police in the work that they do. I certainly do. I hope other Members will do so too.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend Naz Shah on bringing this important subject before us. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who made his case with his usual Yorkshire bluntness. I will be a bit less monochromatic; I am a sociologist, so I will introduce some light and shade and context to the debate. I will quote very few opinion surveys, because as a sociologist, I am always suspicious of the sampling techniques used to seemingly pluck figures out of the air, such as the use of self-selecting samples. I used to teach sampling methods.
It is important to remember the context. Disquiet at the excessive use of stop-and-search long predates expressions such as “institutional racism”, “hostile environment” and other terms with which we are now familiar. It has its origins in the sus laws, and in the Vagrancy Act 1824, which allowed any person to be arrested on suspicion of loitering and was scrapped in the 1980s. These are not new debates.
We have a sense of déjà vu. In 1981, there were headlines about rising violence on the streets. The Specials’ “Ghost Town” was No. 1, and the streets of Brixton and Toxteth burned. At the same time, a royal wedding was being celebrated. I queued up to see the fireworks for Prince Charles and Lady Diana, I remember. A royal commission in 1981 found that there was an excessive use of stop-and-search, and in the end it was scrapped. That year’s riots were the result of the heavy-handedness of the sus laws and of the use of stop-and-search against ethnic minority communities. It is often a knee-jerk reaction to step up stop-and-search. Nobody doubts that it is an important tool in the toolbox of police and law enforcement when there is rising crime, but it can be a blunt instrument, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West pointed out. We need to think about the implications that it has for community relations, for trust and confidence, and for transparency.
Of course, the events I mentioned were in 1981, before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and before interviews had to be recorded, and there are a lot of scary examples of how it was used indiscriminately on our streets. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West pointed out the alarming figures, and the fact that some people are eight times more likely to be searched, which is quite disturbing. My intervention was going to be figure-free and has grown into a speech as I have been sitting here. We still have Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which authorises officers to stop and search people without reasonable grounds but where there is a risk of violence, or where it is believed weapons are being carried. A Section 60 stop-and-search order is something that should not be slapped on lightly.
What we are talking about is racial profiling, as a sociologist would say. There has been some to-ing and fro-ing on drugs policy in the debate. I have figures from the most recent British crime survey—a robust exercise, not simply an opinion survey—that say that BAME people are much less likely to use drugs, including cannabis, than white people, yet black people are stopped and searched for drugs at a rate nine times higher than their white counterparts, compared with eight times higher for all other reasons for a search. Asian and mixed-race people were also stopped and searched for drugs at a rate three times higher than their white counterparts, compared with two times higher where there were other reasons for a search. There are disparities there; we cannot get away from that.
A key part of addressing racial bias in the police force is making sure the force reflects the community it serves. When I joined Greater Manchester police, there were only a handful of such officers. Things have improved since then, and there has been good work, through unconscious bias training, positive action co-ordinators and independent advisory groups, but there is still an issue with minority ethnic officers rising to the top ranks. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government and politicians should do what we can to encourage forces to reflect their communities at all ranks?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who has served as a police officer and a lawyer, and is now a shadow Minister—so he speaks with great authority. There is a need for greater training, and for things to be seen in a less monochromatic, dogmatic way, rather than as political correctness gone mad, and to address the issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West has pointed out, the Prime Minister said when she was Home Secretary that communities are alienated when stop-and-search is used willy-nilly.
There are some reasons to be cheerful. According to figures from the Mayor of London’s office, from 2011 to 2012, fewer than one in 12 instances of stop-and-search culminated in arrest; but now one in six leads to arrest, and of those, one in three produces a positive outcome. No one disagrees with stop-and-search if it is done properly—if it is targeted and intelligence-led. There are many instances of that, and I can give some anecdotal ones. As I have said, I am always suspicious of opinion polls of any sort; at the general election, they predicted my demise, and my majority went up 50 times. However, the polls cited by the Mayor of London show that 74% of Londoners and 58% of young people support stop-and-search. I do not know where the figures came from.
The hon. Member for Shipley pointed out the use of body-worn cameras, which could be a game changer; we shall have to see how that plays out. In the past, police interviews were not even tape-recorded. We live in an age when everyone carries a smartphone and many more things are recorded.
As I have said, my speech is really an overgrown intervention. I wanted to share a personal experience that all Opposition Members present may be able to identify with—the fact that because of our pigmentation we are treated differently. The in-built suspicion of people and the idea that they can be stopped while going about their lawful business pervades all levels of society. I have been stopped more times in this place since my election in 2015 than in 43 years outside. It still occurs daily, presumably because my face does not fit. I have the correct pass, and the last time I gave the rejoinder that I had every right to be here, a complaint was made against me through the office of the Serjeant at Arms. We all face that kind of thing. I am sure that it is not a completely alien scenario even for my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who has been here many years.
Last year I was on a cross-party delegation to the state of Israel, and I was told that often the person of colour on a delegation is the one who gets problems. I thought, as an MP, it would not happen. I shall not go into the details of being strip-searched at Ben Gurion International airport, but it happened to me as a Member of Parliament. Those things do happen, and perhaps a cultural shift is needed in society, in the light of such things as the hostile environment policy. The assumption that anyone of the wrong pigmentation may be up to no good, and the idea that all public servants, NHS staff and landlords must suddenly turn into Border Force and ask for passports at every turn, is what we get under a hostile environment policy. Noises are being made about restricting stop-and-search and carrying it out in a more targeted way. I should be interested to hear from the Minister about that.
Having said that I do not want to quote opinion polls, I have some actual data from 2014-15—the most recent figures I could find. They show that of a total of 82,183 citizens in London who were arrested and subsequently released without charge, 45% were white Londoners. It is not necessary to be a statistician to work out that that is hitting black and ethnic minority people disproportionately. If 45% were white, 55% were not, for the benefit of anyone who is not quick at maths.
As a sociologist, I also want to draw attention to poverty and a critical error that is made in this context. The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has said—I have a counter-quote to the one given by the hon. Member for Shipley—that we need higher rates of stop-and-search. However, the idea that higher rates of stop-and-search will lead automatically to a reduction in violence is a false promise; they cannot, on their own. It is poverty that we need to address, because the violence is taking place in the most acutely deprived communities.
There have been police cuts, and police numbers are down 20,000. Cuts, including cuts in the Home Office, have consequences; that is the reason for the massive errors about the Windrush generation. If there are fewer Home Office staff and everyone else is expected to act as border police, anomalies occur. I am glad that the new Home Secretary is addressing those matters. I hope that the change will be to not just wording, but the mentality and climate. This may be politically unpalatable, but rising crime also has to do with rising poverty in society. Anyway, this is an overgrown intervention; it was not intended to be a speech, so I will end there.
We will now hear from the Front Benchers. We have a bit of extra time, so I ask that they use it wisely to give the Minister a full opportunity to respond, and to enable Ms Shah to wind up the debate at the end. If hon. Members have come in late and wish to make interventions, that is fine, but they are not to make long interventions or speeches.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I am grateful to Naz Shah for securing time for this important and, as it turned out, lively debate. She highlighted the risk of inappropriate stop-and-search undermining confidence in the police. That is a real concern. The key is that use of stop-and-search has to be appropriate. We heard the counter-arguments made by Philip Davies, who argued that there was an underuse of stop-and-search, but as I have said, the key for me is appropriate use of it.
Dr Huq placed the debate in its historical context and gave a very balanced view of the current situation. I am obviously a Scottish Member; in Scotland, criminal justice and policing are devolved, and the Scottish National party is taking action to ensure that there are no inappropriate stop-and-searches, but there is still work to be done.
For every debate that I take part in, I like to consider my own constituency cases, but having had a quick look, I have to say that we have had none on this issue, although in fairness, policing is devolved, and if people had a complaint, they would be more likely to go to my Scottish Parliament counterpart. I have also checked with local organisations, and they have had no recent cases. The only anecdote that I can give from my own knowledge is a personal one. It is from my partner, Nidhin. She was stopped and searched when she lived in London, and it had a traumatic effect on her, giving her anxiety and stress-related issues that continue to this day. I am pleased to say that she is largely over that now, but I have seen at first hand how stop-and-search can be counterproductive if used inappropriately.
Scotland has a much smaller BAME population. According to the 2011 census, the size of the minority ethnic population was just over 200,000, or 4% of the Scottish population. That represents a doubling since 2001.
The Scottish Government introduced a new code for use of stop-and-search powers. It came into effect a year ago and, among other things, it requires the police to monitor trends in who is being stopped by them. Since
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, said:
“The ability of police to stop and search individuals can be an intrusion into liberty and privacy, but remains a valuable tool in combating crime.”
He went on to say that he had spent time with officers on the streets and was convinced that such searches would be carried out with “fairness, integrity and respect”. It is vital that that is how stop-and-search is handled.
Under the code, Police Scotland must carefully monitor the use of stop-and-search in relation to specific sections of the community, including different ethnic groups. That will enable Police Scotland to identify any concerning trends or seemingly disproportionate use of the powers, and to take action if necessary. There has been an improvement: an increase in the number of minority ethnic entrants to the police workforce. Police Scotland’s positive action team have implemented the Introduction to Policing programme, known as ITPP, which supports potential minority ethnic candidates through a training and mentoring programme. The first course had 54 participants and the second 58, with the direct result that more than 10% of the recruits who joined Police Scotland in September 2017 were from a minority ethnic background. That stands us in good stead, given that people from such a background make up 4% of the population.
When stop-and-search is used in a way that is perceived to be unfair or ineffective, it has a lasting detrimental impact on people’s trust in the police—particularly when it is used against the young—and their willingness to co-operate with them. Consequently, the police’s ability to carry out investigations and reduce crime is undermined, so it is in everyone’s interests to get this right. Stop-and-search can be a valuable tool in combating crime, but it is important that we get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of individuals and, critically, maintaining the trust between the police and the public.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend Naz Shah on bringing forward this very important debate. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for their important interventions, to which I will return.
Nothing has poisoned relationships between the police and the communities they serve more than non-evidence-based stop-and-search. Philip Davies said there is a lot of support among ethnic minorities for stop-and-search that is used “fairly”, but he missed the important point about that word. Everybody supports stop-and-search where it is used fairly. The concern arises when there is no evidence to justify the stop and the search—when it is felt that there is disproportionality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said, one thing that can allay these concerns is a police force that looks more like the community it is supposed to be serving. That is the point about fairness that the hon. Member for Shipley does not seem to have engaged with.
Although I defer to the hon. Gentleman in all matters, I know a little bit more than him about stop-and-search, because one of the earliest campaigns I was involved in as a young woman in the early 1980s was the campaign against the sus laws. I was part of that campaign together with Lord Boateng—he is now in the other place—but also a number of mothers. What gives the lie to the notion that stop-and-search has no harmful effects is that those mothers, who were working with us to take forward the campaign and ultimately to have the sus laws abolished, were concerned about the effect on their sons—the unfairness and the possibility that disproportionate stop-and-search was actually criminalising their sons, with effects they feared.
The first thing to say about stop-and-search is that it has to be seen to be used fairly and on the basis of evidence. But the next thing to say about stop-and-search is that it does not work in the way some Members seem to think. That is the verdict of research from the Home Office, from the College of Policing and from the Greater London Authority when the current Foreign Secretary was the Mayor of London. And the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, said:
“I strongly believe that stop and search should be used proportionately, without prejudice, and with the support of local communities”.
She also said that misuse of stop-and-search was an “affront to justice”. Government Members do not seem to consider the possibility that, certainly in the recent past, it was misused, but the current Prime Minister considered that possibility, and on that point, if on that point only, I agree with her.
The whole history of stop-and-search is that it is not used proportionately; it is used in a prejudicial way, and local communities frequently feel that it is unfairly imposed on them. The House needs to reflect for a few moments on the 1981 Brixton riots. This was one of the worst riots, up to that point, on the British mainland, and it was triggered specifically by Operation Swamp 81 in Brixton, where, in a matter of days, 943 people were stopped and searched and 82 were arrested.
Nobody—I have to repeat this—objects to targeted, intelligence-led stop-and-search, but too frequently, and certainly until the current Prime Minister introduced her reforms as Home Secretary, stop-and-search has been random, mass and indiscriminate. Local communities too often feel that the only reason they are targeted is the ethnic composition of the community.
Stop-and-search is used vastly more disproportionately on ethnic minorities. Formerly, if someone was Asian, they were three times more likely to be the subject of stop-and-search. If someone is black, that rises to six times more likely. And the situation is getting worse. This is no time for people to be complacent and assume that communities welcome stop-and-search. The disproportions had been narrowing up to 2015, but now the disproportionality has risen once again. As of 2016-17, black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched. The scandal of discrimination is growing.
According to the Home Office, in 2016-17 there were four stop-and-searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 29 stop-and-searches for every 1,000 black people. Ministers have to understand what it does to a young man, often just going about his business—going to his education or his job—to know he has this wildly disproportionate vulnerability in terms of being stopped and searched.
There are disproportionate levels of stop-and-search, which poison the relationship between the police and the community. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, we cannot effectively contend with crime unless we have the co-operation of communities.
The right hon. Lady gave a very interesting answer, but it suffered from not answering the question I actually asked. I will ask it again to see if we can get a straighter answer: is it her contention that police officers in this country are institutionally racist?
My contention—it was also the contention of the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary—is that disproportionate levels of stop-and-search were damaging to police-community relationships. If the hon. Gentleman queries that, maybe he should ask the Prime Minister why she thought that.
Some hon. Members and many pundits believe that stop-and-search is the answer to a rise in serious violence on our streets, including knife crime, gun crime and acid attacks. However, there is no evidence, only tabloid headlines, to support that assertion. In academic circles, there is the phrase “policy-based evidence-making”—that is, searching desperately for any evidence, however flimsy, to support a preconceived policy. Policies formed in that way frequently fail, but their advocates draw no lessons from that failure. They often demand more of the same—more failure.
The truth is that when the levels of stop-and-search decreased, the arrest rate as a whole actually rose. In Hackney, my own borough in London, they brought down levels of stop-and-search, but their arrest rate rose. According to Home Office data, 71% of all stop-and-searches result in no further action. Only 17% of stop-and-searches result in any arrest. Many of those are not for the possession of weapons or any serious crime at all, but for the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Stop-and-search on its own will not end knife crime and gun crime.
The random, untargeted and discriminatory use of stop-and-search is worse than useless. Imagine belonging to one of the groups of people who are routinely discriminated against. Imagine feeling that you have been picked on by the police because of how you look. Is that likely to make you, your friends and your family more favourable to the police or more distrustful of the police? The answer is self-evident. Any large-scale increase in stop-and-search that is not intelligence-led runs the risk of leading to even greater resentment against the police.
In the debate in the Chamber on the serious violence strategy yesterday, the Government’s introduction, although well meaning, was a lacklustre and ill-considered defence of their strategy. The strategy itself is ill-considered, and violent crime is rising. Young black and Asian men must not be the scapegoats for this Government’s failings on policing and crime. Increasing stop-and-search can and will win cheap headlines, but it will not lead to lower levels of serious violent crime. As all the evidence suggests, it will lead to little increase in arrests for possession of weapons, and it may well lead to far greater resentment in the communities where it is imposed.
I can remember the children of the women who were my friends in the ’80s and ’90s, and how upset those women were by the treatment meted out to their children in the name of stop-and-search. I had a friend whose son was wheeling his bicycle back home, and the police stopped him, believing he must have stolen the bicycle. If that happens once, that is one thing, but if that sort of targeting of people because they look different happens over and over again, how can it improve police-community relations?
In conclusion, stop-and-search is clearly a legitimate weapon against crime when it is targeted and there is some evidence base, but as the Prime Minister—a former Home Secretary—said, ill-targeted stop-and-search is an abuse, which cannot help relationships between the police and the community. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West that we have to ensure we leave behind some of the obvious abuses, which are reflected in the figures, of the disproportionate use of stop-and-search, so that it becomes what it has always had the possibility to be: a useful tool in the fight against crime. It is certainly not the be-all and end-all if we are talking about violent crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank Naz Shah for bringing this debate before us and for her contribution. Stop-and-search is a vital policing tool, and I welcome the fact that everyone who has spoken in this debate has recognised that it has a place in policing. I believe, however, that if that power is misused, it is counterproductive, has a negative impact on police-community relations, and is a waste of police time.
I patrolled some of the most hostile community areas in my early life. I patrolled the Turf Lodge in west Belfast, Northern Ireland and carried out stop-and-search there. At the time, that community was far more hostile than any on the mainland of the United Kingdom. I was also an intelligence officer two years later.
The nub of the issue is that stop-and-search is a tool that is often tactical rather than strategic. As the Minister responsible for security in the United Kingdom, I have the strategic responsibility of trying to keep people safe. That is what I am here to do. I will empower our police, intelligence services and communities to use whatever tools they can to do that. Sometimes we have to balance tactical and strategic needs.
I agree with Opposition Members that what really stops crime is gathering good intelligence, when communities speak to police and community representatives and tell them, as they would say in Lancashire, who’s a wrong’un. As a Lancashire MP stuck between two Yorkshire MPs from either side of the House, I felt in a somewhat difficult position in this debate. What stops crime in the long term is when the community is on the side of the police and gives them information. That can be casual information or well sourced information, and it could come from police working hand in hand with community groups to deliver the knowledge needed to use targeted searches. Sometimes that will mean doing less stop-and-search, if it means that there is a longer-term investment in communities to ensure a better flow of intelligence.
We should be slightly cautious about that, because every community is different. I joke about west Yorkshire, but it is different from Lancashire. Our communities behave differently and our ethnic communities often behave differently among themselves, so we have to be acutely aware of individual sensitivities at a local policing level. In my view, one of the most important decisions a chief constable can make is the right appointment of the chief superintendents in the divisions that they police, because the at that rank of the police force people hold in their hands the relations with the community. If they get it right there is a massive decline in crime, but there can sometimes be a rise just across divisional borders when they get it wrong.
After being spat at, abused or petrol-bombed, or after one of my soldiers had been murdered, it used to be tempting for me to walk down the street in west Belfast and abuse back. That would be tempting and understandable for any human being who had seen people killed who they owed a duty of care to, who they valued and, sometimes, who they loved. But it does not fix the problem in the long run. In the long run, the problem is solved when the community realises that the police are its help and saviour, not its enemy. That is why we have to get the balance right on stop-and-search, and why the Government started that process by introducing a reform package in 2014.
I make the point to the Opposition that if we are to be less tactical and more intelligence-led, it is important to give our police and intelligence services the power to gather that intelligence. It is no good saying on the one hand that we want less indiscriminate or blanket targeting, but on the other that we oppose Prevent or some of the investigatory powers measures that allow us to gather that intelligence, to be more targeted at people committing or planning wrongdoing and to ensure that we can leave the population alone to live their lives free of interference. That is an important point.
Good intelligence gathering and good intelligence measures and powers are how we can allow our police to leave people alone to carry on their daily business freely, and how we can ensure that we do not end up with such a disparity that we get into the circular debate that I have heard today about whether we go after more people from certain groups because those groups commit more crimes, or vice versa. I urge the Opposition to reflect on that in discussions about Prevent and other issues.
The Minister has raised the issue of Prevent. I certainly have called for a review of it, but the concern is not that we do not need that type of strategy, but that the current Prevent operation has done what I have argued that stop-and-search has done: it has not helped to heal relationships or promote better relationships between certain communities and the state. We want a Prevent-type strategy, but we want one that works. The problem with Prevent is that in many communities—not all, but many—it has become a tainted brand.
I have published the figures, and I would venture that Prevent is working. It allows people who have set off on a path of violent extremism to be diverted from that path and to re-engage in society, and in doing so, it protects many of us on the streets. The figures show that hundreds of people who had been a serious concern are not in prison—we did not cut corners and lock them up without trial, or that sort of thing—but back in their communities, and some of them, hopefully, are back in the mainstream.
We all have a job of recognising and communicating that Prevent is about safeguarding. When we do, and when I speak to communities up and down the United Kingdom, we find that although some in the communities are worried about it or do not like it, a growing number of people realise that it is a safeguarding tool that works.
We have had many debates about Prevent before, but it is about allowing communities, alongside local police, to engage, and about seeing what we can do to make people desist, disengage and turn around. In some communities it works, but I know that, as the right hon. Lady says, we have more work to do in other areas. Whenever I say, “Please give me an example of your version of Prevent,” every single person just describes Prevent. They do not usually come up with anything different, because at the end of the day it is effectively a safeguarding measure.
I need to press on to the heart of the debate about stop-and-search. In 2014, when we started work on a major public consultation on the use of the power, troubling evidence came to light that it was not being used fairly, effectively or, in some cases, lawfully. For example, figures showed that of 1.2 million stop-and-searches carried out in 2010-11, only 9% led to an arrest. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, as it was known at the time, found that potentially more than a quarter of stops carried out by the police were without sufficient legal grounds, and it also found poor knowledge of the law on stop-and-search among officers and their supervisors.
Statistics also showed that if someone was black, they were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than if they were white, and three times more likely if they were Asian. That was a cause for considerable concern, and still is. It is not that we have forgotten about it, and I would not like the Opposition to venture that that was the case.
As a result of extensive public consultation and community engagement, and of working closely with the police and other partners, the Government introduced several measures, such as clarifying “reasonable grounds for suspicion” in PACE code A, which governs the use of stop-and-search powers, and publishing stop-and-search data on police.uk, which offers local transparency to understand how the police serve their communities.
I take the point of the hon. Member for Bradford West, who asked how there could be oversight. She made a point about police and crime commissioners that I was disappointed with, and if what she said is the case, we should all do more to ensure that it is not. They should have a role in that regard, and they should have it further up their agenda. They have the power to hold chief constables to account. I do not know what the response from her local chief constable is, but if something is troubling the local community, that is the point of our PCCs. They should be communicating, taking those things on board and seeing what steps they can take to ensure that such things are not happening.
The Minister trotted out a rather meaningless statistic about the proportion of stop-and-searches on different communities. Is he saying that it is Government policy that there should be the same proportion of stop-and-searches for each ethnic group of the country as their make-up of the population? Otherwise, what on earth is the point of him saying that a certain ethnic group is stopped and searched more often than another? Does he accept that it is inevitable that some ethnic groups will be stopped more often than others, or is he saying that it should be the same figure for every ethnic group?
I am saying that it should always be clearly targeted. The geographic breakdowns give a better picture. Dr Huq talked about sociology and statistics, and it is important to look below the national figure at the local figures. Often, they show where we can put things right, where there is a disparity, or where the figures are just a reflection of the crime trends, as my hon. Friend Philip Davies talked about.
Before this debate, I asked for some regional statistics. In 2016, in Merseyside, if someone was Asian, they were less likely to be stopped than if they were white, and someone was 2.8 times more likely to be stopped if they were black. In west Yorkshire, they were 1.5 times more likely to be stopped than if they were white. In Lincolnshire, someone was less likely to be stopped if they were Asian than if they were white, but if they were black, they were 4.8 times more likely to be stopped.
Those regional or county statistics are really useful, because they help to answer other questions. I had assumed that the figure of black people being 8 times more likely to be stopped was predominantly driven by London, but in the Metropolitan police area, someone who was black was only 3.8 times more likely to be stopped. If they were Asian, it was about the same as if they were white.
When I look at those figures, I ask myself about community relationships, about whether we have a tactical rather than a strategic approach, and about the relationship between PCCs and the chief constables. By looking at the information at force level, we will get a more informed picture on the circular debate about whether it is because people commit more crimes, whether we as the state are doing something wrong, whether communities are not supporting the police, or whether there is a particular problem with organised crime groups in certain areas.
The 1981 riots are important to consider, and they came up in yesterday’s debate on serious violent crime. One of the biggest differences between crime in 1981 and today is the scale of organised crime and the ability for it to be organised through mobile telephones and encryption, as I said yesterday. We should recognise that organised crime is colour-blind. It does not care whether someone is black or white; it will shoot or stab them, and sell them drugs, no matter what. I suspect that some of the least racist people in this country are the drug dealers—they are delighted to sell anyone their poison.
We must remember that one of the differences between 1981 and now is that the modus operandi of organised crime. It targets communities using county lines, meaning that some of our communities are more vulnerable to being exploited than they were before. I do not know the exact answer to that. Some of it will be an increase in stop-and-search where there is a particular problem with organised crime groups, because that may be the only tool that the local police have at that moment in time. Some organised crime groups have become much quicker at moving into a community before the community spots them, and then delivering their drugs, moving people around and moving couriers from outside an area into it so that the local community does not recognise them.
Also, communities are much less settled now than they were in 1981, which is a challenge. How do our frontline police deal with what is sometimes a very dangerous threat but short-term threat, whereby people move in, carry out their crime and then move on again? Addressing that will be a challenge. Stop-and-search will play a strong role in meeting that challenge, but more than anything, intelligence will play a role in stopping these criminals and hopefully preventing them from getting ahead of us.
We rolled out the voluntary Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, introducing greater transparency and public scrutiny, and the measures in that scheme have all been delivered. Every force in England and Wales signed up to the scheme, putting in place all of its components, which enable the public and the police to better understand how stop- and-search is used and how it can be improved upon. PACE code A, which governs how stop-and-search is carried out, was changed to make it clear that “reasonable grounds” cannot be based on race or stereotypical images, and the College of Policing developed and rolled out national standards and training, including mandatory unconscious bias awareness. We expect to see further improvements following on from those changes.
In answer to the hon. Member for Bradford West, the Home Office—in collaboration with the College of Policing through its national policing curriculum, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and community interest group representatives—is reviewing the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, to take into account the three years of operational experience and feedback from practitioners, organisations and the public. A refreshed version of the scheme is currently being developed, with a view to a nationwide launch by the end of the year. The refreshed version will place further emphasis on community involvement and the need for forces to monitor and explain their use of stop-and-search.
HMIC has observed improvements across the 43 forces in a number of areas. For example, in 2012 the inspectorate found that 27% of stop-and-search forms that it examined did not show that there had been sufficient grounds for a lawful search. By 2017, that figure had dropped to 6%.
As for race and ethnicity, in 2016-17 substantially fewer black individuals were stopped and searched than before; the figure was down by 74% from 2010-11, when there were more than 110 searches for every thousand black people. The number of Asian individuals being stopped and searched has also fallen by 79% since 2010-11. By anyone’s yardstick, those figures represent a significant change and show that things are going in the right direction.
Nevertheless, the figures still show that if someone is black, they are more than eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than someone who is white. As I said earlier, I think that to explore those statistics further and perhaps understand what is behind them, we should look more at our force levels.
I appreciate that the Minister is in a difficult position, because he has to defend the remarks on stop-and-search that the Prime Minister made when she was Home Secretary, which are virtually indefensible and which are unravelling, as we speak, on the streets of London. However, it is reported in the newspapers today that the Home Secretary is at the Police Federation conference and will say that he has only been in his job a few weeks and he is not going there to tell the police how to do their job. Yet I get the impression here that the Government are still trying to tell police officers how to do their job. What I want to hear the Minister say today is that we have a great police force, they do a great job, we trust them to get on and do their job, and the Government will support them. Can he bring himself to give that message to our police officers today?
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley attended the debate in the main Chamber on serious and violent crime yesterday. If he had, he would have heard me say, as I also said on the radio yesterday morning, that I believe we have the finest police force and intelligence services in the world. I have absolutely no doubt of that.
However I also know, from my own experience, the tension between a tactical response and a strategic response. Providing such responses is what I have experience of doing in very dangerous conditions, and yes, sometimes I stopped and searched. I stopped and searched and found a grenade; I stopped and searched and found a car full of Semtex, despite the mob that appeared when I did that. But I also know, from when I was an intelligence officer, that if the police either stopped and searched in a heavy-handed manner or did it in an untargeted way, all my sources dried up. And then guess what happened? The IRA made a bomb and killed lots of people.
One response is strategic and one is tactical, and we can all play to the gallery and just play to the tactical side for the daily headline. However, my hon. Friend might want to reflect that my job is to deliver strategic security for this United Kingdom, which means balancing risks. Getting the right stop-and-search, which is intelligence-targeted, without setting communities against each other, will be the best way to deliver a strong, strategic and secure community.
So I am not playing for the Daily Mail headline for my hon. Friend; I am playing making my community safe. That is the reality. The Prime Minister had the wisdom to spot that and we in the Home Office are going to deliver it. We will listen to the Opposition and urge them to support us on some of our intelligence-gathering measures, which may mean their having to balance risks. It is important to do things that way. I am determined to deliver, and we are on the right track. I want to make sure our communities are engaged with that approach.
We all accept that stop-and-search is a tool, and we can use it and use it well. Nevertheless, the best tool is when someone in the community picks up the telephone and speaks to their local police force, and as a result we manage to arrest the people carrying the knives and dealing the drugs before they are on our streets.
Thank you, Mr Owen, for again calling me to speak.
I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this debate: Philip Davies; my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan); our shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott; and Martyn Day.
I will address a couple of the issues that have been raised. My neighbouring MP, the hon. Member for Shipley, talked about valuing our police. I do value the police. It is in that vein that I sit on the Home Affairs Committee and that I am part of a national roundtable led by Chief Constable Boucher, which looks at diversity on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It is in that vein that I am committed to the police. The hon. Gentleman and I share the same chief superintendent, Scott Bisset, and I have extensive and very good relationships with my local police force. I have full confidence in Chief Superintendent Bisset’s attempts to create a diverse workforce in the police.
Talking about a diverse workforce, what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton said today was really important. We do not have a diverse workforce, despite the figures that the hon. Member for Shipley quoted earlier. The truth remains that we are far from having a reflective workforce. A reflective workforce would benefit the police.
This debate was never about telling the police how to do their job; it is about supporting the police. True leadership consists of two things—challenging and supporting. If we are to are to be real critical friends to the police, we must both challenge and support them in delivering the objective of keeping our communities safe. This debate is about making our communities safer.
Every study that has piloted unconscious bias training has shown a direct correlation between a change of attitude, a change in crime and a change in the nature of how we police, so that it is better for our communities. That is what this debate is about; it was never about hammering the police and having a pop at them. Unfortunately, it has gone that way, which disheartens me.
I thank the Minister for agreeing that policing is about intelligence and relationships. We build relationships with communities not just by attending the funerals but by attending the weddings, too. It is about building relationships between the police and their communities, and that is not done by creating an experience for a child, which will sit their mind, of being searched just because they happen to be black or just because their pigment colour is a few shades darker than that of other people, which shows them that they do not belong, they do not matter and they are not protected. That is what this very important debate today has been about, and I thank you, Mr Owen, for your chairmanship and all the Members who have contributed to it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the effect of police stop and search powers on BAME communities.