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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:24 am on 23rd May 2018.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 10:24 am, 23rd May 2018

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.