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Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Code A) Order 2015

Volume 758: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Code A) Order 2015.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, the statutory instrument before us will bring into effect a revised Code of Practice A issued under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, also known as PACE. This code, laid before this House under Section 67(7) of PACE, governs the police’s use of stop-and-search powers. It sets out what the powers are, the preconditions for their use and how they should be exercised.

I shall briefly explain how we have arrived at the revised Code A before us. On 30 April last year, the Home Secretary announced to Parliament a comprehensive package of measures to reform the use of stop and search. The principal aim of these reforms is to ensure that the police use their powers effectively, fairly and in a way that promotes community confidence. There was overwhelming evidence that reform was right and necessary. The Home Office carried out an extensive public consultation on the powers, which attracted more than 5,000 responses and presented a clear case for reform.

Additionally, HMIC published a report in which inspectors reviewed the use of stop-and-search powers in all 43 forces of England and Wales. The findings of the HMIC inspection were very concerning. It reported, for example, that 27% of stop-and-search records they examined did not contain reasonable grounds to search people; many of these records had been endorsed by supervising officers. If the HMIC sample was representative, it means that a quarter of the 1 million or so stops carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act last year could have been illegal. This is why the Government have committed to revising the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice A: to make clear to all officers what constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion. This is the legal basis on which police officers carry out the vast majority of stops. It is also why the Government have made it clear that, where officers are not using their powers properly, they could be subject to formal performance or disciplinary action.

The proposed changes to the code do not alter the nature of the stop-and-search power. Rather, the intention of the revised Code A is to provide a clear direction to those leaders, trainers, supervisors and officers exercising the powers themselves that the use of this power is conditional on there being a genuine and reasonable suspicion that the officer will find the article in question. Therefore, the police cannot choose to stop and search on the basis of a hunch, a social or racial stereotype or otherwise. The revised PACE Code A before your Lordships is central to the use of stop and search; for this reason, it is essential that we get it right. The revisions have been subject to an eight-week consultation and enjoy a broad spectrum of support. If we are to improve professionalism in the police, increase public confidence and enhance accountability, I urge noble Lords to support this revision of Code A. I beg to move.

My Lords, as a former police officer with more than 30 years’ experience, and as someone who has been concerned for some time about the use of stop and search by the police, I welcome these regulations. The important aspect of the new guidance is the fact that stop and search has to be conducted on the basis that the prohibited item will actually be found on the individual. That is the crucial point. I still have concerns that it is not merely changes in legislation or guidance to police officers that is required, but a change in the culture of the police. The evidence that my noble friend the Minister presented showed that not only did a number of the stop-and-search forms examined by HMIC not contain the necessary evidence from the officer who conducted the stop and search, but these stop-and-search forms were actually supervised and no action was taken. While welcoming particularly this aspect about the prohibited item, I think more needs to be done. Hopefully, the Minister will be able to reassure us that the College of Policing is following up the changes in the guidance with a commitment to improving the training given, both to front-line officers and to their supervisors.

Once again, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the background to, and purpose of this order, which we support. The order, as the noble Lady has said, brings into force a revised code of practice that is intended to make clear what constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion when police officers decide to exercise their statutory powers of stop and search. It also indicates that, if these powers are not exercised lawfully, performance or disciplinary procedures could be instituted.

As the Minister said, and as the Explanatory Memorandum also states, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that 27% of the stop-and- search records that they examined did not contain reasonable grounds to search people. The inspectorate attributed this to poor levels of understanding among officers about what constitutes reasonable grounds and poor supervision.

On the point that has just been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in relation to culture as much as anything, the Explanatory Memorandum indicates that a review is taking place of the national training on stop and search through the College of Policing. Perhaps the noble Baroness could indicate when it is expected that the review will be completed. The Explanatory Memorandum also states that,

“the College of Policing will consider introducing a requirement that stop and search training should be subject to assessment and refreshed on a rolling basis”,

with failure to pass meaning that,

“officers could not use the powers in the course of their duties”.

Can the Minister indicate when a decision is likely on whether to introduce this requirement referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum?

Perhaps I may also raise a few points on the consultation that took place on the revisions to the code of practice. Were any significant issues raised by the campaigning and community support groups and organisations referred to that responded not adopted and, if so, what were they? If I read it correctly, the Explanatory Memorandum indicates that responses were received from six police forces and one police and crime commissioner. In view of the importance of appropriate use of the stop-and-search powers for good police and community relations, that would seem, on the face of it, to be a low level of response from the police. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that in her reply and say whether the Metropolitan Police was one of the forces that responded.

The Explanatory Memorandum sets out in paragraph 12 the success criteria for the changes. One of the criteria is:

“Reduction in the use of stop and search and improvements in police and community relations”.

Is there a target for the reduction in the use of stop and search? The Explanatory Memorandum states that the implementation and impact of the changes in the code of practice will be monitored “on an ongoing basis”. When is it likely that information on the progress being made will first appear in the public domain?

Having asked all those questions, I repeat that we support the order.

I thank my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for their very constructive comments on this order. My noble friend Lord Paddick makes an excellent point about not just amending the legislation but changing the culture in which the police operate and the importance of training in embedding the new attitudes and approach to stop and search. I assure both him and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the College of Policing is making very good progress in its review of national training. The Government expect the college to publish a first draft of stop-and-search standards in February. I hope that that is helpful.

There were a number of other questions on which I hope that it will be okay to write to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in due course. I thank both noble Lords and commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.