BAME Communities: Stop and Search — [Albert Owen in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:08 am on 23rd May 2018.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton 10:08 am, 23rd May 2018

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.