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.