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

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.