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

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.