I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. That is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week, if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre on the estate or at home. Please also give one another and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the use of Stop and Search in the West Midlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and to have secured the debate. I begin by referring to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am a board member of West Bromwich town’s business improvement district.
The bottom line for this debate that I want to highlight is: stop and search saves lives. It is one of the most effective methods police officers have to take dangerous weapons and drugs off our streets quickly, as I have witnessed in my constituency. At its core, stop and search is about pre-empting dangerous situations before they happen. It also acts as a deterrent to violent individuals, if they know that the police are willing to use the powers effectively. Not only does stop and search protect members of the public, it also saves some perpetrators, who might be vulnerable adults and children, from becoming further involved in crime and illicit activities, perhaps giving them the chance to change their path, once they face up to the consequences of their actions.
I felt compelled to apply for this debate after reading the comments of the West Midlands police and crime commissioner about stop and search in the Express & Star on
“if searches are only leading to an action in about a quarter of cases, then it is legitimate to ask if the ‘reasonable grounds’ threshold for a lawful search has been met in connection with many of the searches that take place.”
That concerns me, because not only can little be taken away from those metrics, but officers going about their job to protect our communities are undermined and the zero-tolerance messaging that we should be seeing is compromised. Let me explain why I feel that the police and crime commissioner’s comments on the ratio of positive searches are not proportionate.
Were the police to pull over a car of four people because of suspicious activity, and found either drugs or a weapon on just one occupant of the car, that is treated as a 25% positive outcome of the overall search under the official police definition, as four people were searched in total. If a weapon were found or recovered after the event took place, that would not be recorded as a positive outcome at all, even if police suspicions were right.
That shows that none of the data can be taken at face value, but must always be viewed with nuance and context. If the police and crime commissioner bases his measure of success solely on positive search rates, he will in effect be limiting the use of stop and search artificially to create more positive searches from a pool of fewer overall searches. The statistics do not back up that approach, and I am concerned that the policy will lead to more knives and drugs on our streets, unchecked.
I believe that there is a positive story to tell about stop and search in Sandwell in particular, where police officers use the powers well: 751 searches were conducted in July to September this year, with a 29.8% rate of positive outcomes over the past six months. In Sandwell, officers use body cameras to capture footage of searches; they have taken time to invest in training to fill in any knowledge gaps; and they use the acronym GOWISELY when conducting all searches to ensure that they act appropriately and proportionately.
I will explain what GOWISELY stands for. This is what is to be said as the stop and search takes place: grounds, a clear example of the reasons for the search; object, what the officer is looking for; warrant, production of a warrant card if officers are plain-clothed; identity, the name and collar number of the officer; station, the police station where they are based; entitlement, the person must be informed they are entitled to a copy of the record; legal, stating the legislation that permits the search to take place; and you, the officers must explain to someone that they are being detained for the purpose of the search.
Like all other communities, we have a local stop-and-search scrutiny panel that aims to ensure that stop and search is being used fairly and effectively, and GOWISELY is also in place. In these scrutiny panels, randomly selected body footage is shown to the committee, which includes members of the public among others, and the chair of the panel is always a member of the public. The community hold the police to account, which is how it should be. Sandwell has one of the most rigorous scrutiny committee panels in the region, which even offers advice on best practice to neighbouring panels. Any learnings or concerns are fed back to officers directly.
However, I know that some panels struggle with retention of members and some were not particularly well established before the pandemic, which has caused difficulties. We therefore need to invest in and expand such schemes truly to get the most out of such vital resources. That is an idea I hope the police and crime commissioner will take up, using Sandwell as an example for other areas.
To add a further layer of best-practice sharing and scrutiny to this process, each committee chair attends a meeting twice a year at the Stop-and-search Commission, where they share best practice and consider wider issues across the force. Scrutiny panels also provide career opportunities for members of the public to get involved in some really positive community work. If a young person has chaired or been otherwise involved in one of these panels, what a fantastic thing for them to have on their CV. Indeed, local police inform me that one former chair of a local scrutiny committee has gone on to become a special police officer himself, because he was so inspired by the work the committee did. That is the kind of story we want to hear. In fact, I have accepted an invitation to sit on one of the local panels in Sandwell next year, to observe what such panels do.
One thing remains true in all of this—proportionality is clearly based on consensus, with both the public and the police being confident about the methods and means being used. Indeed, complaints against police officers in Sandwell over stop and search are few and far between, which is really good to see. It shows that the proportionality is there, that police feel confident about using these powers, and that the body camera footage boosts faith in the police and gives our communities protection, as it will evidence the fairness and the proportionality of any search.
However, in the police and crime commissioner’s crime plan, the PCC cites complaints about stop and search as something to be improved. Of course complaints need to be heard and responded to, and lessons learned, but I am not confident that the life-saving nature of stop and search is fully appreciated in the west midlands, and that could lead to worse outcomes for local people.
It is such outcomes that worry my constituents deeply. Despite the fact that crime has been falling across most of the country over the last year, in the west midlands we have seen a huge increase in overall crime, and crime is an issue that floods the inboxes of most west midlands MPs on most days. Our constituents are worried, and rightly so.
I cannot stress enough the importance of backing our police officers and giving them the confidence to act with conviction. They need to have the confidence to know that their decisions, when they are reasonable and proportionate, are backed by their political leaders, which is the only way in which we can make our zero- tolerance approach truly felt by all.
It would be a travesty if an officer were to be worried about searching a suspicious individual because of the seeds of doubt that the police and crime commissioner has placed in their mind with their stance on the use of stop and search. The West Midlands police and crime commissioner’s own website says:
“West Midlands Police was one of the first forces to adopt the Home Office’s ‘best use of stop and search’ scheme. As part of the scheme, it introduced a raft of measures to improve its use of the power…There are also ongoing projects that are improving scrutiny, teaching young people their rights when stopped and searched, researching disproportionality, and increasing the range of data we publish.”
That is all available to view on the website.
As I have just set out, there has been a lot of work in recent years around stop and search, especially in Sandwell. I regularly speak to local police officers in Sandwell and they are confident about their grounds for stopping people and about the proportionality of searches, and when they have not been confident they have undertaken training to bolster their knowledge.
It is no secret that we have seen some horrendous incidents of violent crime in West Bromwich town centre in the last few months alone. Only a few months ago, there was a horrendous incident in New Square, West Bromwich, when a group of three men turned on police with machetes after the police approached them. The brave police officers at the scene handled themselves brilliantly, and thankfully the wounds that they suffered were not fatal. However, we should consider what would have happened if those individuals had not been spotted. Those knives would have been taken right into the heart of our communities.
That group of men was stopped by behavioural detection officers. BDOs do what it says on the tin—they are trained to spot “out of place” behaviour in the community and to challenge anyone suspected of suspicious activity. They are specialists in behavioural studies. It was a group of BDOs on patrol who stopped this group of young men who were carrying machetes in the town centre. The group of young men were noticed because of their suspicious behaviour, including wearing thick, heavy clothing on what was a warm day. After the officers managed to force the group into a safer area of the shopping centre in order to stop them, the men produced large knives from their bags and proceeded to attack the officers. The officers’ training, knowledge and bravery, and the actions of some brave members of the public, meant innocent bystanders were not hurt that day.
It is important to mention that without the deployment of Project Guardian to West Bromwich, those individuals might not have been spotted, apprehended and taken off our streets. For Members who may not know about Project Guardian, it is the West Midlands police team that works across the region to tackle youth violence and get dangerous weapons off our streets. If hon. Members need a reason to back stop and search, they should take the opportunity briefly to scroll through their Twitter account to find out more.
The team are out every day using stop and search, among other powers, to seize drugs and knives. They are on the front line, assisting our local police teams to tackle this scourge on our streets. Their work should be shouted about loudly so they have the confidence to keep doing what they are doing to keep us all safe. If officers are not confident in using stop and search, the outcomes will not be successful. Training should be expanded to help them learn from the best or, better still, to promote the training of behavioural detection.
I would like to place on record my thanks to Lisa Hill from the business improvement district, Chief Super- intendent Ian Green and PC Rich Philips, who have led on stop and search in our area, along with all our local police officers in Sandwell, who are doing some amazing work in our community. The business improvement district, local schools, colleges and MPs are backing our police officers all the way. I thank the Minister and the Home Secretary for their personal support and engagement with me on these issues.
The use of stop and search is a major tool in fighting back against county lines. Young people especially are exploited across the west midlands and forced to live in towns and cities outside their area to sell drugs. They go missing from school or college, sometimes for weeks on end. Stop and search can help save them when others in their lives have been unable to. That is why it is important to view stop and search not just as a tool to apprehend criminals but as a way to rehabilitate vulnerable people who sometimes, through no fault of their own, have become trapped in a life they do not wish to lead.
The use of stop and search in a proportionate and respectful way saves lives. It takes dangerous weapons and drugs off our streets and makes us all safer. Those who hold public office must send a message loud and clear that bringing violent weapons and drugs into our communities will not be tolerated. I do not think the police and crime commissioner’s statement sent anything like the right message. We should invest in training to get more BDOs on the street, expand and promote internal training opportunities for officers, and engage with the public even more through the positive use of the stop-and-search scrutiny committees. That is at the same time as putting 20,000 more police officers on our streets by the end of this Parliament, which we are well on track to deliver. We cannot just look at the figures when assessing stop and search. Context is crucial. To quote again from the West Midlands police and crime plan:
“How we measure, analyse and improve public confidence in policing and public satisfaction with police services will get better.”
I can tell police and crime commissioner that nothing promotes public confidence more than using stop and search. I could go on all day about my community’s experience with violent crime, but it is important that we hear from others. I am looking to hearing about other Members’ experiences.
Only today, the police are carrying out a major operation—a knife search, as they call it—in the Finchley Park area. I regularly talk and work with our local police service on how they use stop and search on the one hand, and on initiatives such as knife arches in a number of local secondary schools, on the other. There is no question but that stop and search remains essential to effective policing, acting as a valuable tool in combating pervasive, violent crime and keeping our communities safe as a consequence. The key is that the use of stop and search has to be appropriate. The need for the police to carry communities with them remains paramount. Historically, that has not always been the case, which has damaged police-community relations. Stop and search remains, however, an important tool in our armoury, with the caveat that its successful application requires ongoing dialogue with communities. I am pleased that the West Midlands police and crime commissioner has made clear commitments to that end.
Although I welcome the fact that Nicola Richards has secured the debate, I disagree with her interpretation of what the police and crime commissioner said. There has also been no mention thus far of the single biggest problem facing the police service, to which I will return. The police and crime commissioner has given no direction to the chief constable to reduce or scale back stop and search. It has been suggested in some quarters that he has, but that is simply not true.
How does the hon. Gentleman interpret the parts of the police and crime commissioner’s plan where he quotes reports that say that stop and search does little or nothing to tackle crime, and where he says that the measure of whether “reasonable grounds” have been met should be whether at least 50% of stop and searches result in further action?
Point made. The police and crime commissioner has said clearly in his plan:
“Stop and search can be an appropriate and necessary tool to detect and investigate crime and remove weapons from our streets.”
I was with him on the streets of Erdington for most of the day on Saturday last week. He was sending an unmistakeable message that we should use whatever tools we have in our armoury to protect the public, but that crucially, we must get the use right and ensure that there are not counterproductive consequences as a result of getting it wrong. His plan is about making stop and search more efficient and effective with the intention of removing more dangerous weapons from our streets.
The single biggest problem confronting the police service is the loss of more than 20,000 police officers. Only last week, the police and crime commissioner wrote to all hon. Members in the west midlands—Labour and Conservative—to ask us to act together. He detailed the unfairness of funding for the West Midlands police, which is attributable to a decade of devastating austerity for the police service. For example, over and above the cuts that have been made to the police service, because of the damping formula, it has lost out by an additional £40 million. The west midlands is treated unfairly compared with some of the leafy southern shires.
The facts are undeniable. Since 2010, the West Midlands police service has lost £175 million and 2,221 police officers—25% of the workforce—as a consequence. Many examples stick in my mind, including the several hundred A19 officers whom I will never forget. Seven years ago, just when crime was rising, people such as Tim Kennedy, an outstanding detective constable, and Mark Stokes, an outstanding inspector and expert in designing out crime, were forced out of the police service in their prime at 52 or 53. It was a catastrophic mistake by the Government of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East that should never have been made.
The truth is that there has been a devastating impact on the west midlands and my constituency in particular. The hon. Lady pointed to the impact on her constituency too. Those cuts by a Conservative Government have had a severe impact on neighbourhood policing. Time and again—all hon. Members will have experienced this —members of the public, who are overwhelmingly supportive of the police service, say, “We rang and they took forever to come out.” Or, “We rang and they told us they could not come out.” Or, “Where are they? We never see them on the streets any longer.”
That is the impact of years of Tory cuts to neighbourhood policing. In parallel, there have been huge cuts to services that really matter to crime prevention, for example, youth services, youth clubs, mental health facilities and the probation service. The human consequences are sad and all too obvious: knife crime up, 17%; possession of weapons, up 28%.
The contrast with what a Labour Government did could not be more stark. That Government, under Blair and Brown, saw 17,000 extra police officers, 16,000 police community support officers, the development of neighbourhood policing, and crime falling in this country by 43%. As a consequence of the cuts made, that era of progress has been thrust into reverse.
While we are all enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s reminiscences of the good times, what is the police and crime commissioner’s plan to get the positive outcomes up to 50% on stop-and-search cases? We have not heard that; it is not in his plan. It has not been mentioned today. How do we get there?
There are two things. First, on stop and search, it would happen in exactly the way I have said—I have quoted the police and crime commissioner’s own words and I have heard him say it personally. It is about the vigorous but appropriate use of stop and search—getting it right; avoiding counterproductive outcomes. Secondly, he cannot put right all the wrongs of the past era since 1997, but he is committed to recruiting an additional 450 police officers, which I welcome.
Why does the hon. Member think that Labour police and crime commissioners in the west midlands have seen rapid increases in the recorded crime rate over the past 12 months, where Labour police and crime commissioners and Mayors in other urban areas, such as Merseyside and Greater Manchester, have seen falls during the pandemic? Why is the west midlands different?
The size of the cuts that have been made to the police service is one answer to that. Can I throw a question back? If it is right, as is undoubtedly the case, that the police service has been starved of the necessary resources—and what the Government are proposing will still leave us 1,000 short in the west midlands—why do Government Members not join us to speak with one voice and say to the Government, “Back our police service; invest in our police service. We want to see a return to 2010, and an end to an era where the public have been put at risk as a consequence of those cuts.”? I throw that question back.
It is right for the hon. Member for West Bromwich East to bring this debate. Are we simply going to focus on a crucial issue, and then have no regard to the cost and consequences to the police service of being starved of the necessary resources, and all that has flowed from that? That cannot be the case. Hon. Members must make up their minds, because we will probably have the police grant settlement before Christmas. We need to stand together to influence the Government. Would any hon. Member like to respond to that? Why not unite with Labour colleagues to put the safety and security of the people of the west midlands first?
I certainly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s appeal to put partisan political point scoring to one side. He may remember that back in the distant days of January 2016, we had a similar debate in this very Chamber—I was sitting here, and he was sitting nearby as shadow Policing Minister—at a time when the previous Labour police and crime commissioner for the west midlands had asked us all to come together on a cross-party basis to support a £5 increase in the police precept for the west midlands. I did so, and my hon. Friend Julian Knight also did so. Can the hon. Gentleman remember how he briefed the local media after Conservative Members had supported the Labour police and crime commissioner’s increase in the precept?
Correct me if I am wrong, but was there universal support from Tory colleagues at that point in time? No, there was not. Were there some truly honourable hon. Members who took a stand in support of proper funding of the police? Yes, there were, and I welcome that.
I say this one final time: all Government Members are going to have to make their mind up. The case for additional resources and a reversal of the cuts of the past 10 or 15 years is overwhelming, and the consequences being felt by our communities are likewise overwhelming. Therefore, we need to stand together and say to the Government that we badly need additional investment of resources in our police service, not least because the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. The Government often talk tough on crime, but the reality is sadly the opposite. Our priority must be to return the police service in the west midlands to 2010 levels.
The hon. Gentleman has said that the Government are not tough on crime, but what I am saying is that the police and crime commissioner wants to get a positive outcome for 50% of stop and searches, with no plan to achieve that. It is fine to speak warm words about working with the community and better communication, but what I am asking for is a plan, and until a plan is produced on issues such as stop and search and others that we are concerned about, we are not going to lobby for more money to go into the Labour police and crime commissioner’s bottomless pit. Will the hon. Gentleman join us in asking his colleague to explain what the plan is?
I can say without hesitation that I want to see a vigorous and proportionate use of stop and search—there is no doubt about that. That is what the police and crime commissioner was arguing for in Erdington only last Saturday. Crucially, the hon. Lady has just said that she will not give a commitment to stand up to the Government and argue for the necessary additional resources. In a matter of weeks, a decision of immense consequence will be made for the safety and security of our citizens in the west midlands. We need to influence that decision, so I urge all Members, irrespective of party, to come together and make the case to Government to back our police service through proper investment in it. There is no question that we have to increase activity in crime prevention, and a commitment to rebuild neighbourhood policing will also be crucial.
The Dea-John killing is one of many that will always stick in my mind. As Members of Parliament, we have all seen the heartbreaking consequences for our communities of what has been happening in recent years, in particular the growth of violent crime as the number of police officers has decreased. Of course, there are different views, but the communities that we represent want to be able to live in safety and security. That means—I stress this one final time—putting the public interest first and backing the call for fair funding for the west midlands. I hope that all Members of Parliament from the west midlands will join together to do precisely that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and I thank my hon. Friend Nicola Richards for securing today’s debate.
I will start by talking about stop and search as a tool that the police are able to use to tackle crime. Just this week in the Northfield constituency, we have seen our local police force working with the National Crime Agency. They have conducted a successful operation on the Cock Hill estate, taking four criminals and weapons in the form of a gun and knives off the streets. That is an example of how these powers are used every day to bring down crime in this country and to make our streets much safer.
We have also seen the powers being used in areas such as the Three Estates in Kings Norton, in my constituency. This time last year, my inbox was full of messages from people who were worried and concerned about the safety of their children and their families on the streets of Kings Norton. However, in the course of the last year, we have seen crime coming down, thanks to our local police, including the impact team and the neighbourhood team, who have been working together hand in hand to bring down crime, using the powers that they have to make our streets safer.
I want to say thank you to Inspector Michelle Cassidy and Chief Superintendent Steve Graham, who have been an enormous support to our local teams in the area; people such as Councillor Adrian Delaney in Rubery and Rednal who have worked with the police and local communities to bring down crime in Cock Hill and ensure that we make it a safer place; and local residents such as Natalie Chambers on the Three Estates, who helped to organise an online Facebook group, sharing information with different residents, empowering them and organising them in order to ensure that the police have the correct information at the right time, so that they can decide how to execute their powers and how to bring down crime locally.
As many speakers have said so far, stop and search is a vital tool. We have seen nationally how it saves lives. Last year, more than half a million stop and searches were conducted—that equates to 11 in 1,000 people—and 11,000 weapons were taken off the streets of this country. There were 74,000 instances of people being arrested also.
We see locally how this power is being used proportionately and responsibly by our local police in the form of the GOWISELY initiative, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East mentioned. It is these sorts of initiatives that, as local politicians and community groups, we can help to scrutinise through the panels. I am glad that my hon. Friend brought up the panels, because they are certainly going to be picking up some of the issues that she raised. I am going to have a look at my own Birmingham panel and see how I can help and engage with it, to see what we can all do to ensure that the powers are being used wisely. It also means that local community groups feel that they are having input into the process.
I am very glad that the police are being protected in these incidents through police body cameras. I was glad that the Government listened to the calls from the Police Federation to have the images stored on a camera published, so that there are checks and balances. Unfortunately, we did see many incidents in which police were being filmed and the videos were being put online, but the police were not able to publish their own video footage to protect themselves from people making allegations against them in relation to stop and searches and other incidents. I am glad that the Government listened to the Police Federation in that respect and moved forward.
Knife crime is a real concern in Birmingham. It is something that has been around for as long as I can remember. Jack Dromey knows that I was born and raised in his constituency, and lived there for 30 years. Five people I went to school with—we were in the same year group—are currently inside for murder. All those crimes were committed with a knife. People I went to school with have been slain in Finchley Park over arguments. The hon. Gentleman always gives very impassioned speeches about resources, but these incidents were pre-2010, in the times of plenty, when these sorts of things were never addressed properly. They affected people and children, and included the killing of children in local parks. We need to address these issues, and these powers are at the heart of the efforts to combat them.
It has been said that the police and crime commissioner is fully supportive of the initiative of stop and search. If that is the case, why has he thrown a cloud of doubt over stop and search recently? Why has he thrown this cloud of doubt over the entire process locally? He did not have to do so. He could have carried on with the way it is at the moment without revising his action plan. What has happened is that locally, in the media, it has thrown a cloud of doubt over the process. I can imagine that it really demoralises our local police, who go out day in, day out, and face these challenges. They need political leadership as back-up for what they are doing day in, day out, and it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that they have that political leadership behind them.
Unfortunately, with the current police and crime commissioner, as with the last, we have seen a lack of political leadership. There has always been a void between the decisions that they make and the distancing away from those decisions and trying to blame the Government all the time. There is not a single police station left in my constituency. Decisions are made in Lloyd House in Birmingham, which, coincidentally, had £30 million spent on it to do it up at a time when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said there were cuts. There was £30 million spent on an office in the middle of the city centre. Local police stations were taken away. My entire constituency does not even have a base that the police can call home.
The hon. Member makes an interesting point. I do not want to score a point, but I have listened to debates, as have lots of us, about police stations. How many police officers and staff does he think are required to resource a basic local police station? Our areas—his and mine—are served at the moment by Bournville police station. If we had another half dozen satellites, how many staff does he think would be required to staff those? How long should they be open and what would that cost?
The hon. Member makes an interesting point. I do not have the figures to hand, but that £30 million would have gone a long way to providing local police stations. Even if it is not an entire police station that is open in the constituency—somewhere on the high street, in the community, in an impact area—that money could have been spent in local communities across the west midlands, particularly in my section of Birmingham, rather than being spent on a city centre office.
I have listened to the impassioned speeches of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington since I was a young man—or boy, even. However impassioned he is, that does not make his point any more right than anybody else’s. He has portrayed doom and gloom since 2010, and there is a reason why people, including me and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East, rejected his doom and gloom argument. People do not believe the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has deployed over the last 11 years, because there is always a void between the rhetoric and the actual doing. We have had a Labour police and crime commissioner in the west midlands from day one. When the hon. Gentleman goes around knocking on doors, giving TV interviews and blaming the Government all the time, they can see the gap between the rhetoric and the actions locally. That is why they did not believe him during the elections, and that is why I and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East are in this Chamber at the moment.
It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that our police force has the political leadership.
First, the hon. Member talks about what the police have to say. If one listens to the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, they all speak with the same voice about the importance of additional resources over and above what the Government have thus far committed to. Secondly, does he agree with me that, rather than engaging in political games, the thing that matters is the safety and security of our citizens? Is it or is it not true that as the numbers of police have radically diminished in the west midlands, crime has significantly risen?
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, but as my hon. Friend Mike Wood pointed out, that is not replicated in other areas. Local decisions are made that have local consequences. That is the void between rhetoric and reality that I am talking about, which we see across all our constituencies in the west midlands.
Finally, stop and search is an invaluable tool. It is needed to make sure that our streets are safer, and the political leadership needs to make sure that the police know that, when it is required, we have got their backs.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank Nicola Richards for securing this important debate. As we have all said, stop and search is a constructive and useful power. The police service, with their cameras on, should be trained properly to respect the level of search they will be conducting and how that will be reflected in their numbers. It is important, it is needed and we should be working together to do that.
I had a meeting with the PCC last Friday and that was one of the issues we discussed. Another was resourcing my local areas with more police officers and more police community support officers. The reason I say that is that, on its own, stop and search is a weak tool. In the past, we had local PCSOs walking up and down the streets, speaking to people in their local areas and understanding what the issues were, where there was instigation of crime and what people were engaged in. What prevented the stop-and-search process was the intelligence that we had on the ground.
In my constituency, we had Rob Capella, who used to be a party member—in my first election, he delivered a lot of leaflets and I was sad to see him become a PCSO, but he is fantastic in the job that he does. He has built a huge relationship and a huge amount of trust in his local community and people come and speak to him. Unfortunately, about 85% of his team is no longer there. It is essentially just Rob doing most of the job that he had wanted to do. He does not have the police officers to report back to and carry out some of those necessary actions.
My constituency contains Lozells, Handsworth and Aston, which have had particularly high levels of crime. When I took over the constituency, very early on, we had the killings of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare—a hugely tragic event, which was difficult for me as a new Member of Parliament to handle. I got the community together, I got the black churches together, we got the local enterprise people together and worked to deliver that process. We delivered that because we all got over it together. We did the same recently, as my hon. Friend Jack Dromey said earlier, with the murder of Dea-John, where we got the churches, the community and the police together and we responded very quickly. My hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill also joined us in that process. It was the right thing to do.
We are prepared to bring together whatever is needed to ensure that anything that happens is dealt with in a proportionate manner and the communities understand what has gone on. We are quite prepared to do that. However, the PCC explained to me how difficult it is for the officers to do that policing work without the support of additional resources and additional police officers on the streets. While we confine ourselves to stop and search, that is a small tool in the police’s armoury.
My colleague from the Westside business improvement district works very hard. He has a huge amount of entertainment venues in his BID district, mainly around Broad Street in Birmingham, which most people will know is quite well frequented from Thursday until at least Saturday night and sometimes Sunday as well. There is a huge challenge in trying to resolve some of the issues with people. He employs wardens to work alongside the officers in the area, but there are not sufficient resources. When the officers come in and try to apply stop and search, it causes issues for a number of people in the area and makes the situation tense, so other people come in, with the risk of causing another incident. We have to look at where and when we can apply stop and search.
In my constituency, in January of this year, we lost Keon Lincoln, a young boy of 15 who was shot and stabbed. It was another hugely tragic event, not just for his family but for the community as a whole, so we need to look at giving support. To that effect, at my meeting on Friday, I also had the violence reduction unit present to look at forging a multi-agency approach to dealing with this issue. I want youth services, social services, educationalists and the police to work together to provide a resolution. I know it works, because when we had real issues in the early ’00s, we got those teams together and it worked. By 2008-09, we had some of the lowest crime rates in my constituency because we worked together.
No one mechanism is good enough to effect change. I think we would all say that stop and search has a place but has to be done by properly trained officers. Again, more resources are needed to do that. We also need to have enough officers to do that properly, so that we can provide positive outcomes. In much of the city, it is probably not safe enough for officers to do that. They are professional servants of the community, but at times they put themselves at risk because they do not have enough support. It is very difficult. I praise them for the great work that they do in protecting us all, but they need sufficient resources.
Gary Sambrook mentioned the issue of lower crime rates. The way that crimes of domestic abuse have been reclassified has had the effect of lowering some of the crime figures in Birmingham and around the west midlands. That is something that we need to look it, rather than saying we are reducing crime.
We have a huge amount of work to do. I commend the police service, which does a fantastic amount of work in our area. The PCC is engaging with us all, and I hope the Minister will engage with him constructively to ensure that we all work together to provide the best possible policing for all our communities.
Thank you, Ms Rees. I shall be very brief.
My father was a constable with West Midlands police for 29 years and was stationed for much of that time in the constituency of Mr Mahmood, working in Aston, Handsworth and some challenging parts of the city at a particularly challenging time in the late ’70s and early ’80s. An awful lot has changed about policing since he retired, but it is still the case that stop and search remains a vital tool for combating the scourge of serious violence and keeping people safe. We do not need to hear politicians saying that. The public know that that is common sense. The police know it to be true. Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stop and search, said:
“The authority to stop and search people in appropriate circumstances is a necessary power that allows police officers to tackle violence in our communities and prevent people from becoming victims of crime. Every day officers across the country seize horrifying weapons and are preventing further injuries and deaths by using their search powers.”
My hon. Friend Nicola Richards referred to parts of the police and crime commissioner’s crime plan for 2021 to 2025. The commissioner is right in one regard: stop and search is clearly an intrusive process. However, on the scale of interventions open to the police, it is very much at the lesser end of intrusion. Given its impact on both individuals who are stopped and searched and on perceptions of policing and fairness in the wider community, we must ensure that the powers are used appropriately, as the deputy chief constable said.
Certain individuals or groups of individuals should not be repeatedly targeted and stopped such that it almost becomes harassment. However, I fear that the language used by the police and crime commissioner in his plan sends out a signal to the many hard-working constables and officers in our communities across the west midlands, and to our neighbourhood policing teams in particular, that they should be extremely nervous of stop and search and use it only if they have almost seen a person carry a knife around a town centre—they need such a high level of certainty.
The commissioner writes in the plan:
“If searches are based on a reasonable suspicion of finding something or some other action following, then at least half would need to generate a positive outcome. This is not the case.”
That 50% positive searches test is not generally shared by practising barristers or criminal solicitors, and it is certainly not shared by the majority of police officers, yet by putting that in his formal plan for the police force area, he introduces such a note of caution that, in circumstances where an officer has good grounds to believe that an individual may be carrying an offensive weapon in one of our streets, town centres, communities or pubs, they are more likely to avoid stopping and searching than to carry out a stop and search. Even if there were positive results in only 20% of cases, that could be a significant amount of harm avoided and, indeed, lives not lost.
Proportionality is central to how appropriate the measures are. Inevitably, as the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police force, Sir Stephen House, said, if such powers are being used properly and in the areas with high crime rates, certain groups are far more likely to be stopped and searched than if people were being stopped and searched in St James’s park—the outer edges of the police force area—and the same applies in the west midlands. We know that parts of the region have far higher levels of crime and that, if we took a random sample in those areas, we would find that on a demographic, ethnicity or socioeconomic level, certain groups would be likely to be stopped more often than if a similar exercise were done on the streets of Pedmore in Dudley, or perhaps in parts of Meriden. We must ensure that these powers are not being used discriminatorily. We have to ensure that our police are comfortable and confident in exercising these powers when they are needed—when they feel that they have good and solid reasons to think that an individual may be carrying a weapon. We have also to ensure that police will have people’s backing, and that they will have the backing of decision makers and politicians. Sadly, some sections of the police and crime commissioner’s plan damage that confidence. They threaten to make our region less safe. I hope that he will reconsider and edit his plan.
On that last point about making the region less safe, the simple fact is that, as the police service’s resources have substantially diminished, crime has risen. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore be joining fellow Tory colleagues and Labour colleagues to make strong representations to Government to reverse the cuts that have been made to our police service since 2010?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have a long history of pushing Ministers, of arguing in private and indeed in this Chamber, for greater funding and for changes in the funding formula to benefit West Midlands police. I shall continue to do so; I know that a number of my colleagues will continue to do so. However, I would remind him—I think that it probably slipped his mind—that five years ago, he, I think as a shadow Minister, attacked me and my hon. Friend Julian Knight for calling for council tax hikes because we were backing the police and crime commissioner’s call for a £5 increase in the policing precept.
We need a good level of funding. We have had increased funding in the west midlands. The number of officers in the west midlands is increasing. The previous West Midlands police and crime commissioner failed to translate that into safer streets and communities. I genuinely wish the new commissioner well; we need him to succeed, and we need him to improve policing and safety in our region. However, I fear that he is making the same mistakes as his predecessor. Our constituents deserve better.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Rees. I congratulate Nicola Richards for securing the debate. It is nice to have a focus on the west midlands. Listening to her, there was very little difference between her positive view of stop and search as a police tool and my own view. To be perfectly honest, there is not that much difference across this Chamber in that respect.
If I have a criticism of Conservative Members, it is that that they suffer a little from selective and collective amnesia. I wonder whether I can tell you a short story, Ms Rees. I have been struck by the account given by some hon. Members—that the police and crime commissioner may be putting at risk the valuable tool of stop and search and may be undermining the confidence of the police. You will remember, Ms Rees, that in April 2014, after record falls in knife crime, Mrs May, the then Home Secretary, announced her dissatisfaction with stop and search. She demanded a much more complex recording system, with the deliberate aim of reducing the number of stop and searches. The police were instructed that they could use stop and search only when they believed that a crime would take place, rather than when they believed that a crime may take place.
I agree with Members that stop and search is essentially a preventive tool, so it follows that there will be some occasions when it is used and the people stopped will not be found to be in possession of illegal items. However, it also serves as a deterrent. That is especially important if we are talking about youth crime and particular types of street crime. It is worth while as well, and I would defend that.
I remind hon. Members that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead said that the power should be used only when the police were absolutely confident that a crime would take place. That had a dramatic effect. There were 600,000 fewer recorded stop-and-search exercises as a direct result of that intervention. It resulted in a spiralling epidemic of knife crime that we are still suffering from today. I say in all seriousness to Conservative Members that if they are worried about the risk of misplaced judgments on stop and search that could lead to a curtailment, they are seven years too late. The former Home Secretary and Prime Minister did that and created damage and a lack of confidence in police forces across the country.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, who said that the Opposition are taking up too many scares, that the public do not believe us and that that is the explanation for his and his colleagues’ election results in 2019. If people do not believe what we say about crime, I would like to hear his explanation of the election of the third Labour police and crime commissioner in the west midlands 18 months later. The assumption is that people may have some doubts about what has been said in other areas, but when it comes to police and crime, they do not trust the Tories, but they trust the Labour candidate. Is that not a logical conclusion to draw?
Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman’s selective amnesia. Let us not forget who has been in power for 11 years and takes overall collective responsibility. Let us not forget who scrapped ID cards, abandoned neighbourhood policing, and cut our police force in the West Midlands by over 2,000. Let us not forget that, even if we get the money that has now been promised, we will still be 1,000 officers short of the target. That is the overall reason why we have a crime problem in our communities these days—there simply are not enough police.
The hon. Gentleman made a reasonable claim—I hear it often—about opening more local police stations. I asked him what that would cost and to be fair, he said, “I haven’t a clue”. However, he also said, “Well, it could be paid for with that £30 million.” I want to make two points about that. First, staffing is a recurring cost, so £30 million cannot keep being spent. Once you’ve spent it, you’ve spent it. I did a quick, back-of-a-fag-packet calculation and I assume that in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, my neighbouring constituency, if we could open another four satellite stations—eight in all—at a very minimum for safety, we would need about four staff in each. That is another 32 officers, or officers and civilian staff. In addition, of course, there would be the on-costs of rent, heat and lighting.
Secondly, it is worth pointing out that the Minister for Crime and Policing’s predecessor was tackled on the question of the £30 million. He pointed out at the time that it would save money because the police headquarters could retreat into a central body and the police could refurbish some of their equipment, so that they could use high-tech policing, and create an environment where they could do their job more efficiently. I did not say that; it was the Minister’s predecessor, Mr Nick Hurd.
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of costs for rent etc. Would it not be far more logical to combine some of the services in the community, and team up with the fire brigade, ambulance services and community hubs for the local authority? Maybe, if we were really revolutionary, we could even merge some of the roles of the police and crime commissioner into that of the mayor, which would be much more sensible.
At a time when we are waiting six to eight hours to get an ambulance for a 90-year-old woman, I am not sure that talking about merging services is the best strategy. I am quite happy to see certain resources shared, but in my view, that does not mean concentrating them all in the hands of a single person. I would point out that the reason we have separate police and crime commissioners is that this Government forced it upon people at a time when they did not want it. They were asked whether it should be put to a public consultation, and they said, “No, we’re having it anyway”. That is why we have police and crime commissioners. It is part of the collective selective amnesia.
I am proud of the three elected Labour police and crime commissioners in the west midlands. The late Bob Jones had a reputation for decency and integrity; David Jamieson worked hard to bring communities together and showed real concern on issues such as knife crime or illegal Traveller settlements; and I hope that Simon Foster is not being attacked because he is making fair funding and equipping the police with the right resources the centrepiece of his first term.
I simply contrast that with the North Yorkshire Tory PCC who had to resign after victim blaming; the Wiltshire PCC candidate who had to resign on the eve of the count for failure to disclose a conviction; and, of course, the Tory incumbent in Cleveland who is a person of interest to the very force he is supposed to be holding to account.
I hope that demonstrates how easy it is to politicise these issues in a cheap and nasty way. It will not help any of us. We should find the common ground that is staring us in the face. We should work together on stop and search. There is an argument for asking how we get to that aspiration of a higher conviction rate. I am actually in favour of that, and the hon. Member for West Bromwich East alluded to some of the ways in which we could do that. I would not have too much trouble working with her on that.
However, there must also be a recognition of the resource deficiency in the west midlands. We are not doing our constituents any favours if we decide to play party politics and do not make the effort to work together. I will be dead straight—that goes for us as well. We have to work on behalf of our constituents because they are the people who are losing out at the moment.
It is a pleasure as always to serve under you as Chair this afternoon, Ms Rees. It is also a pleasure to follow what I thought was a brilliant speech from my hon. Friend Steve McCabe. I thank Nicola Richards for securing this debate. She made some really important points about the value of stop and search and, like her, I am taking part in a Zoom scrutiny panel about stop and search at 5 pm. Those meetings bring local officers together with members of our communities, and play a very important role. I share the hon. Lady’s sentiment that long may that continue.
The hon. Lady and others are also right to send our thanks to the frontline officers who have to take the decisions around stop and search in real time, out on our streets. We should never lose sight of that. In facing someone who may be carrying an offensive weapon, officers very much put themselves at risk, and we pay tribute to them for their service. Like Mike Wood, my father is a retired police sergeant. I also have an uncle who is still serving on the frontline, so I am thinking of them and the support they need from us as they go about the work in our communities.
To be absolutely clear, Labour supports evidence-based and intelligence-based stop and search. I very much recognise that it can save lives. When stop and search is guided by those principles, it is a vital tool in halting acts of violent crime and in building trusted, consensus- led policing that is supported and trusted by all local communities.
The commissioner’s new police and crime plan, which we have heard so much about today, notes that only 25% to 30% of searches in the west midlands area resulted in any policing outcomes, which include cautions, arrests, drugs found and weapons seized. In only 3% of all searches did officers find an offensive weapon. Moreover, a freedom of information request released by West Midlands police this year showed that, of those stopped and searched per 1,000 of population, about 11 were black, eight of Asian heritage and three white.
The duty of any police and crime commissioner is to consider those statistics and to ask what the figures tell us about how stop and search is being used. Is it proportionate? Is it effective? Is it correct and is it prudent to assess whether the reasonable grounds threshold is being met in connection with the searches that take place?
In the commissioner’s new police and crime plan, he laid out three targets to make stop and search more effective. West Midlands police will aim, as we have discussed, to increase: the positive outcome rates for reasonable grounds stops and searches to no less than 50%; the proportion of reasonable grounds stops and searches where an offensive weapon is the object of the search; and the number of weapons found.
Despite what has been suggested, the commissioner has no plans to scale back stop and search, nor does he wish to abandon it entirely. Instead, he is thinking to create a more efficient policy. An effective policy will focus on taking more weapons off our streets, while we build in the community policing that became so difficult thanks to 10 years of austerity under this Government.
The commissioner is taking those steps because, in his constabulary and across the UK, the Government have made stop and search a less effective and trusted tool. The beating crime plan released by the Government in July 2021 permanently relaxed conditions for the use of section 60 stop-and-search powers, under which officers may search someone without reasonable grounds in some circumstances. That dismantled the best use of stop-and-search scheme, introduced by the then Home Secretary, Mrs May, in 2014, which introduced evidence and intelligence-based stop and search.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich East noted the increase in crime in her constituency and across the region. In the West Midlands police force area, crime is up. Specifically, instances of violence against the person and crimes recorded involving the possession of weapons rose from 111,934 in the year ending December 2020 to 137,549 in the year ending June 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics. Those are indeed somewhat shocking figures, and I appreciate the hon. Member’s efforts to raise the issue with the Minister today. The fact is, however, we are seeing increases in violent crime across the country.
In Cleveland, we saw an increase from 24,359 instances of violence against the person and crimes recorded involving the possession of weapons, to 25,360 in the year ending June 2021. The area covered by Cleveland police was the second worst place in the UK for knife crime in the year ending March 2021. According to the Office for National Statistics, proportionate to the population, the force area experienced more crimes involving bladed weapons than Greater Manchester police or London’s Metropolitan police. Between April 2020 and March 2021, 122 incidents of knife crime were recorded per 100,000 of the population. Indeed, only the West Midlands police recorded more, at 156.
More generally, the Office for National Statistics reported that between April 2009 and March 2010, 13 per 1,000 people were victims of violence against the person; and between July 2020 and June 2021, 32 people per 1,000 were victims of violence against the person. I am sure that all hon. Members will recognise that those increases are serious and I know that the hon. Member for West Bromwich East’s police and crime commissioner is keen to engage with her and all hon. Members about how we drive forward the effectiveness of the stop-and-search approach in order to address the systemic factors that have caused such a marked increase in crime, in not only the west midlands, but so many areas of the country.
Since 2010, West Midlands police has lost 2,221 of its officers as a consequence of the Government’s cuts, and we have lost 21,000 police officers nationally, as so many Members have said. The force is due to receive 1,200 back over the coming years, leaving West Midlands police with more than 1,000 missing officers. Since first coming to power in 2010, the Government have reduced the nationwide police budget by £1.6 billion in real terms. Since 2010, West Midlands police has lost spending power of £175 million.
I am afraid to say that the Conservatives’ negligent underfunding of our police forces means that the country is experiencing record levels of knife crime and that nearly nine in 10 cases are going unsolved, which has contributed to the stark increase in crime in the west midlands. There has been no levelling up when it comes to the West Midlands police and instead we have left our communities less safe.
Can the Minister update the House on when the long-overdue revised police funding formula might be ready? I understand that Simon Foster, the police and crime commissioner, recently wrote to all the region’s MPs on a cross-party basis to ask for a fair deal for West Midlands police. I hope that all hon. Members, as other hon. Members have said, will join his plea in that letter to the Government.
As the hon. Lady said, there has been an increase in crime in the west midlands. For violence with injury, the number of offences in the west midlands was up 10% on the previous year. In her own police force area, it was down 5% on the previous year. What does she think that her police force is doing better than West Midlands police?
It is an interesting question. One size does not fit all when it comes to tackling knife crime, as the dynamics of it are different in different areas. It might be the approach to the use of weapons, unfortunately, in domestic violence or to gang crime, or it might be related to drugs. To suggest that one size fits all when it comes to tackling knife crime is misguided.
We need to look to violence reduction units, community partnerships, police officers, police forces and police and crime commissioners around the country to find out what the most effective tools are to address knife crime and violence and to truly drive it down. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has pointed to the great work done by West Yorkshire police. I share his sense that it is doing a fantastic job and I will pass that on to my local officers.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions. My hon. Friend Jack Dromey made a typically passionate contribution about how we have to take local communities with us on stop and search if we are to be truly effective, and about the devastating consequences of cuts to policing.
My hon. Friend Mr Mahmood told us the story of his local police community support officers and the valuable work that they do to establish trust in communities. We should never lose sight of their contribution, which is valued by communities and policing alike. I come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that the west midlands will still be 1,000 officers short by the time the Government have finished restoring the police officer numbers that they have cut since 2010.
I very much hope that we can have a productive discussion about how to improve stop and search. I am reassured that there is a great deal of consensus in the Chamber and a commitment to work with the police and crime commissioner to do that in the west midlands. It can be a vital tool in keeping our communities safe, but it must be driven by evidence and intelligence, and have public support, for it to be effective.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that stop and search is the silver bullet for crime prevention. Although it can be incredibly effective as a last defence against violent crime, the Government must begin to tackle the systemic factors that have driven the increase in crime under their watch. Gary Sambrook made a point about police station closures. I have lost a police station in my constituency—
I certainly will, Ms Rees. If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield thinks that those decisions are not based on the cuts imposed on police and crime commissioners and regional forces by the Conservative Government, he is mistaken. I hope that we can all make the case for well-funded police forces doing that work in our communities in future.
Thank you, Ms Rees, for presiding over a tight and passionate debate about crime in the west midlands. Given that I devote pretty much every waking hour to crime generally, it has been great to hear. I start by paying tribute to the police officers who are tackling the incidents in the constituency of my hon. Friend Nicola Richards, as she outlined. She and I have conversed often about crime in her part of the world, and I will do my best to try to help her now, as in the past.
I am pleased to hear that Project Guardian is now in play in my hon. Friend’s constituency and I hope that it will have an effect. Notwithstanding its impact, she is right to bring her constituents’ concerns to this place, along with other hon. Members. Fighting crime is a priority for most of my constituents, as it is for all hon. Members present. As a result, it is one of the chief priorities that the Prime Minister has placed before the Government for us to make progress on and drive numbers down.
I am very pleased that hon. Members are feeling the effect of Operation Sceptre, our national programme of weeks of intensification in the fight against knife crime, which has been mentioned. However, it is obviously always tragic to hear about these terrible incidents, particularly the killing of young people.
I make no apology for being a stout defender of stop and search, and I am very pleased to hear that consensus across the Chamber today. It has not always been thus, and I hope that Opposition Members who have spoken passionately about the use of stop and search will speak to their colleagues who have, for example, opposed our recent proposed expansion of section 60 stop and search—the deregulation, as it were, of section 60 to a certain extent to make it more dynamic and usable. As a number of Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, stop and search is about saving lives, particularly against the background of knife crime.
I have seen that effect for myself: back in 2008, when I became Deputy Mayor for policing in London, we were facing a rising tide of knife crime and teenage killings in London. That was at a time of enormous expenditure by the then Labour Government, with the numbers in London at an all-time high, yet the number of young people being killed was rising on a weekly basis. Against the background of the previous Mayor’s rather relaxed attitude, we came in and sorted that out, driving numbers down. In 2008, 29 teenagers were killed, and by 2012 we had got that figure down to eight. That was eight too many, but that decrease was due to the assertive use of that particular tactic in a critical emergency situation. That is why stop and search, particularly section 60 stop and search, is so important. As Steve McCabe mentioned, it is preventive. We know that the knives are out there tonight in people’s hands. We need to find them and remove them, because otherwise some of them may be used, often to deadly effect.
Stop and search is also preventive because taking knives away from people means they are less likely to be victims. A person is much more likely to be stabbed and injured, or even killed, if they are carrying a knife themselves. Stop and search is unequivocally about saving lives, but it is also preventive because of the psychological effect of raising the likelihood of being caught—the perception of detection. We know that the perception of the likelihood of being caught is the greatest deterrent to any type of crime, so by making sure that stop and search is high-profile—that it is seen, that there are knife arches at transport nodes and at schools, and that stop and search is being done in the community—we will stop people carrying knives in the first place, because they will think they are more likely to be caught. I urge all parts of the country where there is a violence problem to use stop and search judiciously and proportionately, but nevertheless recognise it for the vital tool that we all agree it is.
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East has said, we need to be careful about the use of data on stop and search, because although data can inform when properly interpreted, it can also deceive. There is a famous case of a pair of drug dealers who went from London to the Purbeck coast, down in the south-west. They were intercepted, stopped and searched, and drugs were obtained. However, because they were from a different background from the local population, being stopped and searched in that part of the world became 44% more likely for a person of black, Asian or minority ethnic background, just because of those two cases.
Understanding what the data is telling us is key to maintaining the legitimacy of stop and search, and while we often talk about the disproportionality in those who are stopped, searched and found with knives, or stopped and searched anyway, we never seem to talk about the other side of the argument, which my hon. Friend Mike Wood outlined. That is the disproportionality of victimisation: those people who, sadly, are killed also display a disproportionality that the police cannot ignore. Understanding what is actually happening in the data is a critical part of the mission.
Stop and search can be done well—there is no doubt about it. There are parts of the country where it is done extremely well. Liverpool, for example, prides itself on the way it conducts, handles and promotes in the community its stop and search. Of course, transparency with local people is absolutely critical. Buying in their consent is critical, particularly in those communities and neighbourhoods that are disproportionately affected by knife crime. As a number of Members have said, that takes political leadership. If the police are going to get out there and do this work, they need the political top cover. We politicians are the living consent, by the people of the areas we represent, to do this kind of work and we should be the interlocutors, as should police and crime commissioners.
All those years ago, when we were doing this work in London, the then Mayor, who is now Prime Minister, and I toured London, speaking to audiences large and small, in village halls and the Brixton Academy, to buy in this idea that what we were about was saving the lives of their young people. That is the mission that we all need to be joined on, shoulder to shoulder, including police and crime commissioners. I know that the actions of the police and crime commissioner in the west midlands is the subject of this debate, but I know that he will stand for that purpose and that he will do his best to try to sell this tactic, as Government Members have said, as a critical one for the police to use.
I say that because we are all concerned about crime in the west midlands. We need to reinforce constantly the often difficult and confrontational things that the police do, underline the legitimacy of what they do, and illustrate to our electors and the wider community that the police have a difficult and challenging job, which sometimes involves doing unpalatable things, but that fundamentally their purpose is to save life and build neighbourhood safety. If we could all join on that mission together, I think we can point towards success.
I do not have time, I am afraid; I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
I am hesitant to engage in what I have to say is this rather hackneyed debate about cuts, which I have heard the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak engage in many times, and I have certainly heard his party’s Front Benchers engage in it many times. It is now getting on for over a decade that that debate has been had, through numerous elections, most of which we have won, not least the last one. Indeed, we also won the last round of police and crime commissioner elections, when—I must point this out to the hon. Gentleman—we won 70% of the seats available. By the way, the votes for the Conservative candidate in the west midlands increased to 239,000, from 44,000 back in 2008, so we might catch his party at the next election—let us see where we get to.
Notwithstanding that, we have given commitments at the Dispatch Box about the funding formula. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East and other Government Members from the west midlands have certainly engaged with me about the need for that change in the funding balance, and we will be running that programme over the next couple of years. I have given a commitment that we will have the formula in place before the next election, assuming that the next election is at the end of this Parliament—who knows when that will come?
However, I urge Members to recognise that police and crime commissioners make a difference, and that someone cannot walk away from the decisions that were made in the intervening 10 years and say, “Nothing to do with us, Guv.” Decisions made over that decade by police and crime commissioners mean that as we get into a time of investment in policing—I am very happy about that, and we are now over halfway through our growth in the number of police officers—where we start from is a product of those decisions. There are some forces in the country that fought hard to preserve police officer numbers, not least in London, where I did the same, because we faced the same cuts during our time, or the same reduction in resources, because of the crash and the needs of the country’s finances. We fought to preserve numbers and, as a result, London is in a better position now to advance on police officer recruitment. I am afraid that the west midlands made a different set of decisions during those 10 years, driven by the thinking and the priorities, or whatever it might be, of the police and crime commissioner there.
I understand that the imperative on the Opposition side is to blame us for everything that goes wrong, and we want to blame the Opposition, but I am not walking away from some of the decisions we made during those 10 years—absolutely not. They were driven by bigger issues than us: geopolitics and economics; and a desire to get the country’s balance sheet back into good shape. At the same time, Opposition Members have to accept that the police and crime commissioners of those years—there have been three of them—made a set of decisions that put the west midlands in the position it is in now. If that is not the case, I am not sure what they were saying to people in elections about what difference they were going to make.
I hope that in future, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak quite rightly said, all of us can focus on making sure that the west midlands is as safe as it can possibly be, and I will join with everyone here on that mission.