Skip to main content

Macpherson Report: Twenty-two Years On

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Third Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2021-22, The Macpherson Report: twenty-two years on, HC 139, and the Government Response, HC 274.

It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Ms McDonagh. I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for allocating time for this debate, although I am well aware that events outside this place may be occupying hon. Members’ time this afternoon, so we do not have many Members present.

I am very pleased to see that we have a Home Office Minister with us, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove); I was worried when I heard that the former Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), had been promoted to the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I send my congratulations to him. I am very pleased to have the Minister here, and I am sure he is fully apprised of all the issues that I will raise.

I am sorry that the Home Affairs Committee felt the need to hold this debate. When we produce a report, it is normal to get a response from the Government within eight weeks. In this case, it took eight months. The Committee applied to the Liaison Committee for a debate in which to discuss the report, because we were concerned to ensure that the important issues we highlighted were raised in this place, and had not yet had a response from the Government. We subsequently got a response, and we are disappointed, shall we say, that the clear calls that we made on the Government in our very detailed and evidence-based report were not always heeded. We are pleased to have this opportunity to discuss some of the shortcomings of the response with the Minister.

This debate is particularly timely in the light of recent events, including the report on Charing Cross police station by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. I thank the former Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, now the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for leading the Committee during this inquiry.

I want to set the report and this debate in the proper context. Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, was murdered on 22 April 1993 in an unprovoked racist knife attack in Eltham, south London. The inquiry into his murder, led by the late Sir William Macpherson, uncovered major failings in the police investigation and in the way Stephen Lawrence’s family and his friend Duwayne Brooks were treated. Many of the findings and the subsequent 70 recommendations made by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry focused on long-standing issues that remain relevant today.

The Committee’s inquiry was prompted by concern that in some areas, in the words of Baroness Lawrence,

“things have become stagnant and nothing seems to have moved.”

Our inquiry sought to assess progress against some of the most important Macpherson report recommendations on: community confidence; tackling racist crimes; recruitment and retention of black and other ethnic minority officers and staff; race disparities in the use of stop and search and other powers; and the late Sir William Macpherson’s overall aim of

“the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing.”

The Committee found that policing today is very different from 23 years ago. Since the Macpherson report was published, there have been important improvements in policing, including significant improvements in the policing of racist crimes, commitments made to promoting equality and diversity, and good examples of local community policing.

At this point, I ought to acknowledge the work of our police officers and staff. Across the country, police forces work hard each day to tackle crime and keep all our communities safe. Police officers and staff work immensely hard to deliver fairness in policing, to support black and minority ethnic victims of crime, to tackle racist hate crimes and to support community cohesion. The important role the police play in our communities is the reason the Home Affairs Committee produced the report.

Having said all that, I want to be clear that our inquiry also identified persistent, deep-rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas, including a decline in confidence and trust in the police among some BME communities, lack of progress on BME recruitment, problems in misconduct proceedings, and unjustified racial disparities in stop and search. In those areas, we proposed urgent action. We found that there had been an increased focus in policing on race inequality since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States of America in 2020, which again shone a spotlight on race injustice across the world. Reforms announced by individual forces, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and the IOPC are, of course, welcome. However, it should not have required video footage of the murder of a black man by a police officer and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests to concentrate the minds of the Government and the police on the imperative of race equality.

We are extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to our inquiry. We recognise that, for some, that involved retelling difficult and painful events. We would particularly like to thank Baroness Lawrence, Dr Neville Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks for their time and contributions. I also particularly thank the young people who shared their experience of the police with the Committee and who, along with the many other contributors to our inquiry, provided invaluable evidence that underpins our recommendations and conclusions. I thank our specialist adviser, Dr Nicola Rollock, and our specialist adviser on policing and the former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, Sir Peter Fahy, for their valuable input.

Although the report was extensive and we covered many issues, I will focus my contribution on four key areas that the Committee considered. First, I want to focus attention on confidence in policing among BME communities. The Macpherson report called for it to be a ministerial priority that all police services should

“increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities.”

However, all these years on, evidence to our inquiry showed that there is a significant problem in black communities with confidence in the police, particularly among young people. The report noted:

“Adults from Black and mixed ethnic backgrounds are less likely to have confidence in the police than adults from White or Asian backgrounds and the confidence gap has widened over the last few years.”

Our report also noted that 67% of white adults said they believed the police would treat them fairly

“compared to 56% of Black adults. All victims of crime should feel confident in turning to the police for help.”

It is of deep and serious concern that black people have much lower expectations than white people of being treated fairly and with respect by the police.

Data for England and Wales also suggest that the confidence gap between black people and white people in their local police is even greater among young people. In May 2019, we held a private roundtable with a group of young BME people from London aged 17 to 30 on their experiences, their views of their relationship with the police, and the use of stop and search. This was not universal, but the majority of participants told us that their experiences with the police had been negative, and that they did not feel confident in approaching the police for protection. The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, told us that,

“in London, following police encounters with young people, she often saw officers sending the young person off with a smile on their face.”

Indeed, our report added that

“She said that it was the police’s responsibility to ensure that ‘each interaction’ with a young person was as positive as possible”.

By contrast, a young participant at our roundtable told us that the Metropolitan police’s stop and search procedure was

“more hostile than professional”.

He said it was difficult for young people to trust the police due to their stereotyping of BME communities as likely criminals.

Our inquiry also found a lack of data on confidence by ethnicity at a local force level. That makes it much harder to hold local forces to account for concerns about BME communities’ confidence in the police. Concerningly, we found that increasing trust and confidence in policing is not being treated as a policing priority, or a ministerial policing priority.

I am pleased that the Government have agreed on the need to monitor trust and confidence in policing, both nationally and locally, and that they have improved the way in which they collect and use data, including on stop and search and community confidence. However, their response did not say how the Home Office is monitoring confidence among black and minority ethnic communities in policing locally. I hope the Minister can provide us with an update on progress, specifically on how his Department is working with police forces to collect data on confidence in policing.

I turn to the issue of recruitment and progression of BME officers and staff. Throughout our inquiry, we heard concerns about community confidence in the police, the use of certain police powers, and wider racism in policing. Communities’ concerns about the racial disparities that we identified are exacerbated by the lack of BME police officers and staff at all levels of the police force.

The Macpherson report recommended that police forces be representative of the communities that they serve, and that targets be set for recruitment, progression and retention of minority ethnic police officers. However, the 10-year target set by the then-Home Secretary included a target for overall minority ethnic representation of 7% in the service by 2009. That was not met. Our report highlighted that even by 2020, BME officers represented just 7.3% of the police service across England and Wales. That figure is now 7.6%, but that is still far below 14%, which is the percentage of the population in England and Wales who identify as BME. Concerningly, under-representation is most marked in senior ranks. Only 4% of officers at or above the rank of chief inspector were from BME backgrounds; that figure is now 5%. 

We found that police forces across the country have failed to do enough to increase BME recruitment, retention and promotion for decades; there has been a lack of focus, consistency and leadership on driving that recruitment and promotion for far too long. Shockingly, our analysis suggests that, at the current rate of progress, we will not have a properly representative police force in England and Wales for another 20 years. Just think for a moment: that would be four decades after the Macpherson report raised the seriousness of this issue, and nearly half a century after the murder of Stephen Lawrence. 

More positively, we found that some forces—notably Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester—are making significant progress in increasing BME recruits by taking positive action such as having targeted recruitment campaigns, working on youth engagement and outreach, and working with local community and faith leaders. However, the vast majority of forces are still failing to recruit enough BME officers to ensure that the proportion of BME people in the force is the same as the proportion in the local population. 

I am therefore disappointed that the Government have rejected our recommendation to agree minimum targets for the recruitment of BME officers, so that constabularies reflect the composition of their local populations and we achieve at least 14% BME representation of officers nationally by 2030. Instead the Government response suggests that

“forces should be striving to become more representative of the communities they serve”.

That is not good enough. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister outlined what work the Home Office is doing to monitor how all 43 forces in England and Wales are working to reflect the composition of their local populations. Could he tell us what proportion of police forces are currently representative of the communities they serve? Also, what work has the Home Office planned to improve BME recruitment in policing when the uplift programme ends in 2023?

On police misconduct and discipline, during our assessment of the progress police forces have made on the Macpherson report’s recommendations about diversity in the police workforce, we repeatedly heard concerns about the higher likelihood of BME officers resigning voluntarily or being dismissed from their force. There is a clear racial disparity in the number of officers being dismissed from police forces—BME officers are more than twice as likely as white officers to be dismissed—and in the number of BME officers subjected to internal disciplinary processes. It is extremely troubling that the disparity has been allowed to continue for so long without serious action being taken by police forces to investigate or address the problem, so we welcomed the work by the NPCC to instigate reforms, including improvements to training, misconduct guidance, welfare support and addressing the lack of BME officers in professional standards departments.

We also noted the NPCC’s 2019 report on disproportionality in police complaints and misconduct cases for BME officers and staff, which identified that 63% of Home Office police force professional standards departments had no BME police officers or staff. That is deeply troubling and totally unacceptable. Our recommendation is that forces must address unacceptable racial disproportionality in their PSD composition. More positively, we welcomed the work done by some forces to draw on BME advisers and seek to address the lack of BME representation in PSDs, as reported in the NPCC’s recent review. However, we urged all forces to address the problem and demonstrate progress by the end of 2021. Additionally, we recommended that the NPCC conducts a review on this issue and reports within a year.

I am pleased that, in their response, the Government recognise the risk posed by a lack of appropriate BME representation on a number of PSDs. It is also encouraging that ethnic minority representation on PSDs has risen by 2% since 2020, but clearly there is a lot more to do. The Government response said that the NPCC is working across policing to ensure appropriate representation and involvement of minority ethnic officers in decision-making processes in professional standards departments, so can the Minister update us on the progress, and provide details of both the Government’s work and that of the NPCC to address ethnic diversity in PSDs?

Finally, I want to discuss the use of stop and search. We heard troubling examples of stop and searches being conducted in a manner that was deeply alienating and uncomfortable. Many of the young BME participants that the Committee heard from in a private roundtable session felt that they were unjustly targeted by the police from a young age, which led to mistrust. One such participant, Witness M, who reported that he was first arrested at the age of 13, told us that he was “nearly stabbed” in 2018 but did not want to speak to the police when they asked if he was involved, due to his negative experiences with the police from such a young age.

At the time the Committee’s report was published, Home Office data showed that black people were over nine and a half times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched. The latest Home Office data—to 31 March 2021—show that black people are seven times more likely than white people to be stopped. Our report acknowledged that stop and search is an important police power, and the Macpherson report’s conclusion that it has a useful role to play in the prevention and detection of crime still applies. However, no evidence to our inquiry has adequately explained or justified the nature and scale of the ethnic disproportionality in the use of stop-and-search powers, particularly in possession of drugs searches.

At the time of our report’s publication, evidence showed that black people were less likely than white people to have used drugs in the past year, but they were 2.4 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drug possession. Indeed, in its February 2021 spotlight report on the disproportionate use of stop and search and the use of force, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services found that

“Drug enforcement, mainly through stop and search, contributes to ethnic disproportionality despite evidence that there is no correlation between ethnicity and rates of drug use.”

Our report also recognises the importance of the police being able to take action against knife crime, including through stop and search, but highlights that only 16% of reasonable grounds searches in 2019-20 were conducted to find offensive weapons. I am encouraged by the fact that the Home Office’s response confirms that the NPCC has undertaken an initial review of forces’ implementation of recommendations made by HMICFRS in its 2021 report on the disproportionate use of police powers, which the Home Office said

“showed that the majority of forces have already implemented the recommendations or have plans in place to do so.”

I hope the Minister can tell us how many of the 43 forces in England and Wales have implemented those recommendations on the disproportionate use of police powers. Can he also confirm whether that review is in the public domain?

Unfortunately, I have only been able to touch on the surface of the myriad issues we raised in our report, but I hope I have been able to give an overview of what is a very comprehensive report and the issues it raises—some of which, sadly, have not been satisfactorily answered in the Government’s response. Our inquiry has found that the Macpherson report’s overall aim of the

“elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing”

has still not been met. We have identified persistent, deep-rooted problems where too little progress has been made because of a lack of focus and accountability on issues of race. While that is the case, trust between the police service and black and minority ethnic communities will remain low, and the long-standing Peel principles of fairness in policing and policing by consent will continue to be undermined. The commitments made over the past year by the NPCC, individual forces, and senior police officers to a step change in addressing race equality in policing are important and welcome, but commitments have been made in the past that were not then delivered on. This time needs to be different, or confidence may be permanently undermined.

Thank you, Ms McDonagh. It feels a little strange to be summing up after just one speaker, but the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) was a comprehensive one that took us on the journey that led to the need for this report. Twenty-two years on from the Macpherson report, it is clear that work remains to be done to tackle racism in society and in policing.

We wonder why people become disillusioned. I am sure that all those decades ago, when the report was published, there were many who heaved a sigh of relief—its aim, after all, was to

“increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities”.

I am also sure that all those decades ago, when the aim of the report was stated to be

“the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing”,

many felt they had finally achieved progress. I am sure that everyone involved was aware that Rome was not built in a day, but had some hope, and maybe even allowed themselves a little confidence that life for those experiencing racism would soon change for the better.

The family of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered and then denied justice because of the colour of his skin—the family in response to whom the Macpherson report came about—perhaps felt when that report was published that his death had not been completely in vain. I have met Stephen’s brother, Stuart Lawrence, and of course we all know or know of his father, Neville Lawrence, and his mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence. Anyone who listens to Stuart or reads his book, “Silence is Not An Option”, begins to understand the catastrophic impact Stephen’s death had on everyone in his family and how they have all had to work so hard, almost every minute of every day, simply to survive.

To a lesser degree, the impact on whole communities was also devastating and life-changing. To have the hope that things would get better for other mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters when the report was published 22 years ago, and then to come to the conclusion that Doreen Lawrence reached recently, namely that

“things have become really stagnant and nothing seems to have moved”,

which is the view that prompted the Home Affairs Committee’s third report on Macpherson, must make it all the harder to keep going.

That third report recognises that there remains an awful lot to do. As we have heard, it refers to a lack of confidence in the police among black people—a belief that they will not be treated fairly by the police and a belief that they are not treated with respect. We have heard the figures about stop and search. Saddest of all, there is the belief among black people that the police will not keep them safe.

The report is about England and Wales, but Scotland, of course, is not immune to these challenges, and the Scottish Government and Police Scotland have also taken decisive action recently to try to tackle them. The Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, spoke in March of the need for

“practical, firm, progressive, visible action”.

And he also said that

“Words and good intent are not enough.”

He is right, and he also made an offer to police forces across the UK to share the insight and value that Scotland’s hard-earned lessons can provide, in order to improve policing for communities across the UK.

I am very conscious that when Scottish National party MPs talk in this place about things that we do better, or just differently, in Scotland, sometimes there is a collective rolling of eyes: “Oh, not this again”. However, I hope that colleagues will accept that, yes, sometimes we are trying to make a political point but mostly we are trying to share our experience in the hope that it can help other public bodies, in this case police forces. The SNP group is always looking to the experiences of other countries, including the other countries of the United Kingdom, to see how we can improve our own public services. So I acknowledge that this is a two-way thing. In that spirit, I will talk about a time when I believe Police Scotland got things spectacularly wrong and also got its response wrong, too.

I am talking about Sheku Bayoh. Sheku died after being stopped in the street by two police officers, who were soon joined by another seven police officers, in Kirkcaldy, in Fife, in May 2015. There is a public inquiry under way about this case right now. However, it has been seven years since Sheku died and his family, who I have met on a number of occasions, have still not had answers. How did this fit young man in his thirties—a brother, a son, a dad, a partner, a friend—who had no weapons on him end up dead after encountering the police?

I cannot answer that question and I will leave it to the inquiry, but what I will say is that in any other situation where nine people confronted one person, and the one person ends up dead, those nine people would be taken in for questioning, at the very least. They would not be allowed to discuss what had happened with each other; they certainly would not be allowed to send out press releases that were later found to have wrongly characterised the dead man and that told their side of the story before the dead man’s family even knew he had died. It simply would not happen.

Given that we know—nobody denies this—that Sheku was sat on, and given that we know that there was no question over who was with him or who was sitting on him at the moment of death, how on earth can it have taken seven years before we even start to hear what happened that day? The inquiry continues and is considering whether race was a factor in Sheku’s death.

So, Members will not hear me nor, I imagine, anyone in my party claiming that Scotland or our police force is racism-free.

However, the overall approach to policing in Scotland is a community-based approach, which is built on policing by consent. It is about reducing tensions rather than inflaming them unnecessarily. The aforementioned Chief Constable of Police Scotland has consistently made it clear that the policing tone and style must reflect the need for positive engagement.

If we look at the recent lockdowns, we see that the vast majority of people complied with the rules, and policing in Scotland was focused on engaging, explaining and encouraging. That is reflected in public confidence in the police in Scotland, with figures from last year’s crime and justice survey showing that the majority of adults in Scotland believe that the police in their local area are doing an excellent job or a good job. That majority is 55%. Clearly, we want it to be higher than that.

I agree with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee when she says that we need technology, and that the vast majority of police officers and other police staff work tirelessly to protect and support people in communities. That majority feel as let down as the rest of us when a small minority of police officers fall short of the expected standards.

As I have already alluded to, they do not always work but there are robust processes in place to investigate misconduct. It is a matter for Police Scotland to consider any disciplinary allegation, but if there are allegations of criminality against a police officer, Police Scotland will refer the matter to the Crown Office. What matters more than anything is that there are robust, clear and transparent mechanisms in place to investigate complaints or other issues of concern. I am pleased to say that things have moved on and improved in that respect, since Sheku Bayoh’s death.

In 2018 the Scottish Government commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini to independently review police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct. Her final report was completed 2020; her review made 111 recommendations, the majority of which the Scottish Government accepted. The Scottish Government and Police Scotland are doing a lot more work on that than I have time to detail. However, some of the positives are around mainstreaming equality, diversity and inclusion, and working with diversity staff associations, such as SEMPER Scotland, which is an association that supports all minority ethnic employees in Police Scotland. The Chair of the Committee talked about recruitment targets. SEMPER has talked to me about not only recruitment but retention, and ensuring that environments are made in such a way that they retain those members of staff.

Finally, I will say a few words about the Scottish Government’s new hate crime strategy, to be published later this year. It will set out our approach to tackling hatred and prejudice in Scotland, and it will complement the implementation of a modernised hate crime legislative framework. It is vital that the legislation is implemented effectively, so that once it is in force it offers strength and protections to those targeted by hatred and prejudice. It includes rigorous safeguards on free speech; it does not prevent people from expressing controversial, challenging or offensive views, nor does it seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate. What it does is criminalise and hold to account those who express or demonstrate their prejudice in a threatening or abusive way with the intention of stirring up hatred or committing other offences motivated by prejudice.

I hope when the Government are able to get on with their day job fully—I understand why they cannot at the moment—the Minister’s Department will look at that afresh. I echo the calls of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I will end by remembering just two of the many people failed by our systems on these islands. I think saying names out loud is important. Stephen Lawrence, rest in power. Sheku Bayoh, rest in power. You will never be forgotten.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, on her important contribution today. I put on the record how incredibly important the Home Affairs Committee report is, how thorough and good it was, and how important it is, 20 years on from the Macpherson report, that there is something looking back on what has been achieved and what has not.

My right hon. Friend set out very well what stage we are at, and how much more needs to be done. I am particularly pleased that during the process the Committee managed to talk to young people about their experience at the other end of a stop and search. I was talking to a Conservative police and crime commissioner the other day, who is black, and has been stopped and searched many times. I suspect that most of us in this Chamber have not had that experience because we are white. To understand what it feels like, and how intrusive it can be, I think we need to speak to people who are affected. I congratulate the Committee for thinking to do that—and for ensuring it was done.

We have been talking about racism and disproportionality in policing for decades, certainly since the Scarman report in 1981, the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1992 and then the Macpherson report in 1999. That report was a watershed moment for British policing. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, the national figures on public confidence show that there is a significant variation, depending on their ethnicity, in people’s confidence in the police. Confidence in the police was at 74% for white British people, 69% for black African people and 54% for black Caribbean people. The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the campaigning that has been done since has been so important in shining a light on these issues. I cannot not mention Doreen and Neville Lawrence, who have been so instrumental and gracious in the way they have tried to help us all do better when it comes to these big problems of racism.

When the Home Affairs Committee looked at Macpherson, it did find, as has been said, that there has been positive progress in some areas and that the policing of racist hate crimes and the representation of ethnic minorities within police ranks has improved. However, it found that there are persistent, deep-rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas. It found a lack of confidence in the police, a lack of progress on recruitment, problems in misconduct proceedings and stark racial disparities in stop and search. Although the Committee found that policing today is very different from 22 years ago and that there have been improvements, there are persistent problems and unjustified racial disparities in a number of key areas.

Macpherson rightly called for police forces to be representative of their communities. At the current rate of recruitment, it will take 20 years until police forces are such. I represent Croydon Central. Croydon is a very diverse borough and although our police force have done some brilliant work with local communities on building trust and confidence—important work, and I praise them for it—the colour of our police officers is still not reflective of the communities that they serve. The unit that goes out and does stop and search in Croydon has about 80 people, and last time I checked there was not a single black officer among them. That absolutely has to change, and change is happening too slowly.

Black and minority ethnic police officers are more than twice as likely to be dismissed from their role than white officers. The report also found that stop and search is more disproportionate now than it was 22 years ago. We know that when it comes to stop and search, the measure of success is whether a knife or something similar is found. When the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) was Home Secretary and reduced the number of stop and searches and made it more intelligence-driven, the incidence of disproportionality fell in that period. It has got worse again with greater use of section 60 stop and search.

Just on that, does the hon. Lady agree that allowing suspicionless stop and search under the Public Order Bill will increase disproportionality rates between the different ethnicities, because now officers will not actually need an excuse to stop and search somebody who might be near a protest?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We both served on the Public Order Bill Committee and it was deeply concerning to note that there has been a large increase in the use of section 60, not just to tackle violent crime and threat of harm but protest without any real consideration of how that will increase disproportionality. That is a real risk. The figures on disproportionality and ethnicity and drug use have already been given. They are really stark, and there is a lot of work to be done on stop and search in that context.

Recent high-profile cases have highlighted concerns around policing. The conduct of officers following the murder of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman was deeply shocking for everybody. The strip-searching of children such as child Q and the adultification of children, particularly black children, that seems to be commonplace, the failings in the case of the death of Richard Okorogheye and the IOPC report on that and the conduct unveiled in the IOPC’s report into the Charing Cross police station show that there are pockets in policing where progress is not happening fast enough. Those pockets seem to cover large areas, because such problems have not just been seen in the Met police; we have seen similar issues across the country, so all forces need urgently to address the deep and troubling lack of confidence among black communities in policing and the criminal justice system.

I have been working with police chiefs and the NPCC since they set up a big programme of work on disproportionality and racism in policing, and I am pleased that their action plan is significantly better than it was when first drafted. It has been beefed up and has some real legs. I am pleased to see the recommendations in there and the very honest way in which the police chiefs have articulated the problem. They have set out an ambition to identify and address disproportionality in the use of stop and search, particularly in relation to drugs and searches of children. They will have robust accountability and learning processes, based on security and supervision.

The challenge with stop and search and disproportionality across the board is that we can see the numbers but we do not know why there is an issue. We assume things about racism, but there is not proper evidence. Evidence needs to be gathered about the places where people are stopped, the interactions and what happens to people. For example, if someone driving a car is stopped and searched, recording data is now being introduced. That was not the case before, and we know that there is huge disproportionality in stop and search for people who are driving. The evidence is not there for us to pull together and find out what needs to be done.

The NPCC will review the use of the smell of cannabis as grounds for stop and search, because that increases disproportionally. It will also review the use of Tasers, section 60, intimate searches and standardised recording practices. The breadth of what it has set itself to do shows how seriously it takes this issue. It will increase the awareness and understanding of every officer and member of staff about racism, anti-racism, black history and its connection to policing, through the introduction of a mandatory programme of training for all police officers and staff. Of course, we welcome that. It is looking at reducing racial disparities in misconduct cases and the complaints process, and is improving support to black officers and staff. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North highlighted, there are pockets of good practice, but it is not across the board.

The NPCC is looking to trial and test methods for better enabling black people to have their voices heard and raise concerns. It is looking at the criminal exploitation of young black men, which we have talked about, and is working to disrupt the cycle of victims becoming offenders.

The NPCC is introducing a national standard across all recruitment and promotion processes to minimise race disparities. The Home Affairs Committee suggested targets. I am quite a fan of targets, and I have had lots of conversations with police officers about the unintended consequences of them. It is good that the NPCC has gone for a national standard.

All that work is good, but I worry that the Government do not take this issue as seriously as they should. They tend to push it out to individual police forces or to the NPCC, when it chooses to come together. I worried about the introduction of serious violence prevention orders in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 without a proper analysis of what the disproportionate impact will be on young black men. I worried about the extension of section 60 to protests without any proper consideration of disproportionality. We all worried when we read the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which the Government commissioned, and the lack of action in it.

I worry that the Government have a habit of waiting for the IOPC or HMIC to look at something and bring out a report, which often takes years, instead of taking action themselves. For example, the IOPC and the inspectorate looked at what happened during lockdown in London, where there was an increase in the use of stop and search. Habits formed around handcuffing people—in particular, young black men—when they were being stopped and searched, which the police are not supposed to do unless there is a threat of violence. What I think happened was that a lot of new, inexperienced police officers came in through the uplift. They were not supervised properly and they learned bad behaviour. They learned how not to do stop and search, because more experienced people were not there to do it. I worry that the Government did not see that problem and intervene to do something about it.

The Labour party has long called for improved anti-racism policies and for tougher action to increase diversity in all ranks of policing. A clear combined plan needs to be implemented by police forces, driven by the Home Office, with proper scrutiny and consequences if action falls short. Racism and bias must be tackled wherever they are found.

After child Q, we all called for new guidance on strip searches, but we still have not seen it. When it comes to the pressing issues of reforming police culture and standards, there are myriad actions that Ministers could choose to take, but they point to inquiries that have been set up and tell us that we must wait for this and wait for that, without taking action themselves. A record number of police forces are in the engage phase, a form of special measures. We need a national overhaul of training and standards. There is much to be done on leadership in the police. We need better leadership development at every rank and a new vetting system. We need to overhaul misconduct cases and new rules on social media use. All of those things would help tackle some of the disproportionality and bad culture in the Home Office. All of those issues could be led from the front, with the Home Office taking action.

A lot of these problems are in the Met. If we look at its ratio of PC to sergeant, we will see that supervision has been cut more than that of any other force, so there are not enough supervisors to make sure that the right cultures and practices are in place for PCs. Surely the Government cannot be happy with that ratio and the lack of support for the raft of new officers. There has been a hollowing out of experience. The Government cannot replace the 21,000 experienced officers they have cut without losing all their helpful experience.

The report is very important. It highlights that progress has been made, but there is lots more to be done. I congratulate the police leaders and the NPCC who are independently pushing new proposals to improve things, but without Government intervention and leadership I do not think we will go fast enough. The suggestion that it will take 20 years to have a police service that is reflective of the communities they serve is a stark example of that.

The policing style in Britain is one of consent. The public have to trust the police for the system to work, and at the moment some communities, particularly black communities, do not. The public need to trust the police. Victims need to get the justice they deserve, regardless of the colour of their skin, and our officers deserve to work in a police force that has high standards and a respectful culture.

Given the chaos around us, the Minister does not have this power right now, but the new Government could choose to drive up standards. They could insist on the recruitment of more black officers, tackle disproportionality and increase professionalism in policing, instead of saying, time and again, as the former Policing Minister always did, that there is an inquiry into this, a report on that, and that we would just have to wait and see. Tackling racism is an active job. As one of the resigning Ministers, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), said yesterday:

“not doing something is an active decision.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2022; Vol. 717, c. 876.]

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I will start by congratulating the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), on his appointment. He has moved on from being the Policing Minister, which explains why I am here in Westminster Hall to respond to this debate on behalf of the Government. I will, of course, do my best to engage in the subject and answer the points that have been raised. If there are any gaps in my knowledge, after having had a brief opportunity to familiarise myself with the subject matter, I will be delighted to write to Members to make sure that answers are provided.

I offer my thanks to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for securing this debate and for the work of the Home Affairs Committee on what is clearly an immensely important topic. She raised the delay in the Government’s response to the report. I can only apologise; we took longer than usual to respond. That allowed for the publication of the “Inclusive Britain” report, which is a more detailed account of action taking place across policing in response to the issues that the Committee’s report raised. It was useful for that to be developed in full and for this debate to consider it in that context.

I hear the Minister’s point, but I wonder whether he might be able to help me further. A Home Office response is also outstanding to another of our reports on rape investigations and prosecutions. We had expected a response within eight weeks, but we are now well past that. When he goes back to the Department, will he chivvy it along and see whether we can get a response to that report as well?

It is fair to say that I and the Department are always keen to be as helpful as possible to Select Committees. I think that is important, as Select Committees perform an important function in scrutinising the work of the Government. I will very happily take away that request and see what can be done to try to expedite the Government’s response to that report.

Let us go back to the subject of today’s debate. The murder of Stephen Lawrence was a heinous crime that shocked this country to its core. While this is a case that has gone on to assume wider significance for policing and for society more generally, it is important to remember that it all started with the senseless killing of a young man who had his whole life ahead of him. My thoughts remain with his family.

As parliamentarians we are accustomed to discussing reports, but very few, if any, have such a profound, long-lasting impact as the Macpherson report. It has left an indelible mark on policing. It is no exaggeration to say that the findings were seismic. They continue to reverberate today, with the report remaining a marker against which we can track and measure progress. And over the past two decades, there has been progress. The police service is more diverse than ever before, forces have worked hard to improve community engagement, and we have seen major improvements in the way in which the police deal with racially motivated crimes, but there is undoubtedly more to do.

As Ministers have said on many previous occasions, public confidence and trust is integral to the long-standing model of policing by consent, and that confidence and trust must never be taken for granted. Recent events have provided a reminder of that, not that anyone should need one. The police have a unique role in our society, and they are invested with immense powers to enable them to perform that role, so when things go wrong or when those powers are abused, the repercussions are far-reaching and significant.

The Government have consistently challenged the police to improve. We will continue doing that, because that is what the law-abiding majority expect and deserve. All communities should have confidence in the police. The police’s ability to fulfil their duties is dependent on their capacity to secure and maintain public trust and support for their actions, as part of our long-standing and cherished model of policing by consent.

The Home Office has fundamentally reformed its governance and oversight of policing. In 2019, the Home Secretary established the National Policing Board to bring together key partners, providing strategic direction and strong cohesion across the law enforcement system. Through the board, we are providing strong leadership on key issues, including violence against women and girls, diversity and trust in policing.

Police leaders also have a vital role to play and the National Police Chiefs’ Council is central to the effort to drive improvements and embed reforms. Local accountability is another important feature of our policing model. Different forces have different challenges, and elected police and crime commissioners are there to hold chief constables to account.

We must remember that confidence and trust in the police are impacted by many factors. Many people have very little engagement with policing, and so their perceptions are much shaped by other sources, including social media. That is why communicating to the public the action that policing is taking is so important. There is more to do, and together we must press on with urgency and energy, chasing improvements that benefit both policing and the public.

Given my brief within both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and as the victims Minister, I am acutely conscious of this issue. It is one of the reasons why the Government are bringing forward the victims Bill to enshrine the rights of victims in law, to ensure that there are more expeditious complaints processes in place, to remove barriers to victims coming forward, and to ensure that complaints are properly heard. Accountability must be better structured at both the local and national levels, with a focus on being able to get to grips with systemic issues and challenges where we find them. That is also, of course, about public confidence.

We also need to make sure that data can be used to help boost confidence, which is something that has been touched on, particularly by the Chair of the Select Committee, who asked about data collection. The Home Office will continue to work with bodies such as the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to consider how best to support forces in collating data on confidence and making it publicly available. As part of the “Police Race Action Plan”, the NPCC and the College of Policing expect to work across policing to improve the consistency of capture, application and use of data and information relating to race and inclusion. We also support the use of data in better informing leaders, such as PCCs, about the information needed to hold forces to account.

The Home Affairs Committee’s report highlighted the importance of a diverse police force, and I could not agree more. I am pleased to say that our police forces across England and Wales are more diverse than they have ever been. The 20,000-officer uplift is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support all forces to become more representative of the communities they serve. The latest uplift data—to 31 March 2022—shows that there are now 11,172 officers from ethnic minority backgrounds, which is the highest number on record. The figure represents 8.1% of all officers, which is the highest proportion ever and an increase from only 4.7% in 2010. 

It might be helpful for the context of the debate if I add that 49,000 female officers are now in place, which equates to 34% of the total—the highest number and proportion on record—and that 18 forces are at representative level compared with force area population. Undoubtedly there is still more work to do, which is precisely what we will continue to focus on. To provide a little more detail, the police workforce are more diverse than ever when it comes to recruiting officers from minority ethnic groups, but we know, as I have said, that there is much more to do. We are supporting efforts to achieve the diverse police workforce that our communities need, by co-ordinating efforts between the Government and policing not only to attract more diverse candidates into policing, but to ensure that it is a career in which all recruits can thrive.

Sharing best practice, engagement with associations, upskilling recruitment teams and enhanced data capture are just some of the efforts being made to improve police diversity. We are supporting forces with a variety of attraction and recruitment strategies, while delivering a campaign that has been designed to reach the widest and most diverse audience possible. We use real police officers with real experiences in our campaign, which seeks to speak to our diverse communities and reinforce the message that policing is a career choice for all. I think that is a message that all Members of this House would want to take out in encouraging people of all backgrounds to come forward and serve in our communities across the country.

On the issue of black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in professional standards departments, the police uplift programme gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support all forces to become more representative of the communities they serve in the way that I have described. As of March 2022, there are more than 11,000 officers from ethnic minority backgrounds. In March 2021, 9.8% of officers working in professional standards departments were of a BAME background—up from 7.9% in 2020. Although positive, that alone does not lead to improvements on disproportionality, so we must not be complacent about this issue.

The Government published “Inclusive Britain” this year. It presents a clear strategy to tackle entrenched disparities, promote unity and build a more meritocratic, cohesive society. It sets out over 70 actions to level up the country and close the gap between different groups across education, health, employment, policing and the wider criminal justice system.

The Government have made a series of commitments, including driving forward local community scrutiny of police use of powers, helping police forces to become more representative of their communities, and bringing into force the serious violence duty. We will also support the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to review and deliver any necessary improvements to police officer training in de-escalation skills and conflict management in everyday police-citizen encounters.

There is no place for racism in the police. The public rightly expect every police officer to act with the highest levels of honesty and integrity. This includes an effective and transparent police culture. That is why policing must take action now. The National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing will deliver a new race action plan that gives officers the tools they need to build trust and confidence with black communities, so that they are better equipped to challenge racism and identify and address racial disparities across policing.

The majority of police officers act with the highest standards of professionalism, serving our communities and keeping us safe. Those who breach professional standards by discriminating against others should be held to account through robust and effective systems for dealing with allegations of misconduct. This Government have introduced a number of reforms to strengthen the police complaints and disciplinary systems, including creating the IOPC, the successor body to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was established following Macpherson’s report.

As recognised in the Home Affairs Committee’s report, much progress has been made on hate crime. The Government have created a comprehensive system of reporting and recording of all crimes targeting race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. It is now mandatory for police forces to record the ethnicity of victims of racially or religiously aggravated offences. To tackle online hate crime, we are taking forward the Online Safety Bill, through which companies will be held to account for tackling illegal activity and content, such as hate crimes, harassment and abuse.

On stop and search, the police engage daily with communities who are worried about the safety of their neighbourhoods and want to see more done to protect them from knife crime. Around 45% of stop and searches take place in London, where data shows that young black men are disproportionately the victims of knife crime. Police chiefs are clear: stop and search is a vital tool to reduce serious violence and keep people safe. For the purposes of the debate, it is worth adding that in 2020-21, stop and search removed almost 16,000 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in nearly 81,000 arrests.

We could not be clearer that every weapon taken off our streets is a potential life saved. The consequences of those weapons being on our streets can be catastrophic, as we know. Nobody should be stopped and searched because of their race or ethnicity, and safeguards exist to ensure that does not happen. We recognise and agree that more can be done to improve accountability and transparency about the use of these powers. That is why we have committed to look carefully at strengthening the system of local community scrutiny of police decision making, to give greater clarity and context to stop-and-search data and reassure the public about its use.

We will also seek to remove unnecessary barriers to the use of body-worn video, which can be a vital tool for transparency and safety. This is about building trust. With that in mind, the Government have already improved our data collection on stop and search, and now collect more data than ever before, but we will not stop there. We have committed to work with policing partners and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to consider a range of metrics for stop-and-search rates in order to identify and, where necessary, challenge disparities at police force area level.

A question was raised about what would happen after the uplift of officer recruitment. Recruitment will continue. Forces have to maintain numbers and replace officers who retire or leave. The Department are putting building blocks in place, through much better data and greater understanding, and would expect forces to continue to attract and recruit diverse candidates where possible.

In closing, I again thank the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North for securing this debate, and for her work as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I am also grateful to all other hon. Members who have contributed today. As I have set out, progress has been made over the last 23 years. The police service today is not the same service that it was when the Macpherson report was published. It is important to acknowledge that, and to remember that thousands of men and women go out every day to keep the rest of us safe, performing their duties with pride and professionalism. However, much more needs to be done. The Government do not shy away from that fact, and neither must the police.

I thank everybody who has contributed to what has been a well-informed debate. We do not often spend enough time looking back and taking stock of what has changed and what perhaps has not changed. When Select Committees produce reports that are able to do that—take evidence, look across the piece and come up with recommendations—it is important that we are able to debate them, and that the Government take them seriously and consider them fully.

Today’s debate has highlighted where we may be storing up future problems for ourselves, such as the reference in the Public Order Bill to the right to stop and search. I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about improvements in data collection—particularly, again, on stop and search—and the progress made on recruitment from BME communities. I think he said that the figure is now 8.1%, so progress is being made, but it is still not fast enough. It is also pleasing to hear that 18 forces are at representative level for their communities, but that is out of 43, so again, it is not good enough. We will continue to monitor the progress of police forces and the Home Office in the months to come, and I am sure the Home Affairs Committee will return to the issue of policing in future months.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Third Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2021-22, The Macpherson Report: twenty-two years on, HC 139, and the Government Response, HC 274.

Sitting suspended.

Backbench Business

[Derek Twigg in the Chair]