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Stop and Search Powers

Volume 793: debated on Monday 12 November 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat as a Statement an Answer given by my right honourable friend the Policing Minister earlier in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“The Government fully support the police to use their stop and search powers when they have lawful grounds to do so; it is a vital policing tool when used correctly. We will always ensure the police have the necessary powers to keep people safe. This is why we work very closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to keep under review the stop and search powers the police need to help keep the public safe.

This House should be clear that we have no plans to change the requirement that ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ are needed before a routine stop and search is carried out. We are, however, working with the police, including the national police lead for stop and search, to see how we can reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency in the use of stop and search. The Home Secretary has been clear that this is something we are looking at and that he will say more on this in due course.

The House will be aware that the Government introduced a comprehensive reform package to stop and search in 2014, in response to evidence that the power was not used fairly, effectively and, in some cases, lawfully. Since introducing these reforms, the arrest rate following a stop and search has risen to 17%—the highest since records began. As the Home Secretary has said, he wants police officers to feel confident, trusted and supported when they are using stop and search powers lawfully. If there are things getting in the way of them using those powers, then this needs to be looked at.

The Government are determined to do all they can to break the deadly and dreadful cycle of violence that devastates the lives of individuals, families and communities. That is why we will always look to ensure the police have the powers they need and our support to use them”.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question, which was prompted by media reports that the police want changes in the “reasonable suspicion” requirement before using stop and search powers. The vast majority of those stopped turn out to be innocent, and the Prime Minister, while Home Secretary, was concerned that it eroded the trust that ethnic minorities have in the police and in Britain as a fair society. The reality is that intelligence-led stop and search does work, but random stop and search does not work.

I note what was said in the Answer so will simply ask: have any discussions taken place between the Home Office and senior police representatives, including the national police lead for stop and search, at which the issue has been raised of changing or amending the requirement of “reasonable grounds for suspicion” before police use their stop and search powers?

Regarding conversations, the British Transport Police hosted a police and public consultation forum on 2 November. It was a policing seminar on stop and search where debates were had on the effectiveness of stop and search on emerging knife crime and violence. As part of the seminar, the possibility of removing the requirement for reasonable grounds was debated within the group, but it was not put forward by senior officers and was only part of an informal discussion with stakeholders. The Home Office was not in attendance, and the NPCC issued a corrective statement to editors.

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. She talked about government reform of stop and search, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to action taken by the former Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister. Is the Minister aware that there has been a 75% reduction in stop and search since 2010-11, but no reduction in the number of black people stopped and searched, so that black people are now nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for certain offences than white people?

The argument is put forward that stop and search tends to be in high crime areas with socioeconomic deprivation, which have a higher percentage of minority groups. Is the Minister aware that the top-ranked forces for black/white disproportionality are Dorset and Suffolk? We are facing a knife-crime crisis in this country. In 2010-11, half of stop and search was for drugs. In 2016-17, almost two-thirds of stop and search carried out by police was for drugs, not for weapons, and the rate at which drugs were actually found was lower for black people being stopped and searched than for white people.

The Statement that the Minister has just repeated said that stop and search is a valuable tool provided that it is used properly. Does the Minister agree that these statistics tend to suggest that stop and search is not being used properly to deal with the epidemic of knife crime? If so, what do the Government intend to do to address the problem?

As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly pointed out, the move to a much more intelligence-led stop and search has been more effective. But on the point about the number of black people being stopped and searched, we are quite clear that nobody should be stopped on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Forces must make sure that officers use those really quite intrusive powers in ways that are fair, lawful and effective.

The figures cited by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, were highlighted by the Race Disparity Audit. I am sure he knows that. They make clear the importance of the transparency introduced by the reforms to stop and search which enable forces to monitor and explain the use of the power. He has just outlined a couple of forces in which there is a huge increase in the proportion of black people stopped and searched compared with the rest of the population. It is absolutely right that the police must explain the use of the power and make efforts to improve it.

My Lords, I apologise; I did not deliberately leave it out. The noble Lord is right to make that point. We are acutely aware of it, as is the Home Secretary. Recent stories in the papers have not made for good reading. There are several reasons why knife crime is on the increase, not least the link to drugs, I am afraid. Through the Offensive Weapons Bill and the strategy that we have recently produced, we are absolutely determined to tackle it.

My Lords, knife crime normally involves carrying a knife, knives are normally made of metal, and metal is very easy to detect. Why do the police not ensure—not in a discriminatory way, but for everybody in particular areas—that people are subjected to the same system as is used in airports? Mobile arches could be set up outside Underground stations where everybody passes through—in St James’s Street as well as in Peckham. Search everyone; you would at least make it much more difficult to carry a knife around London. Why not have a go?

My Lords, the notion of searching everybody who goes through an Underground station would, I am afraid, be unfeasible. In addition to knives, there are other metal things that people might carry in their pockets. I can foresee that system as being entirely unworkable. I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser: intelligence-led stop and search is the most effective way to deal with some of the problems we are seeing.

As nobody else appears to be burning to ask a question perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness to comment on the fact that the percentage of stop and search that is done to look for weapons is abysmally small and that drugs are the reason given for 75% of stop and search, notwithstanding the link between the two?

I agree that the percentage for weapons is not high, but the percentage is an awful lot higher in terms of the number of arrests made. It is becoming a more effective system. I agree with the noble Lord that the number of arrests made as a consequence of stop and search could be higher.