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Stop and Search

Volume 810: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Disproportionate use of police powers—A spotlight on stop and search and the use of force, published on 26 February.

My Lords, the Government support the police in the fair and legitimate use of stop and search and, where necessary, reasonable force to tackle criminality and violent crime. We have worked with the police to put safeguards in place to ensure that no one is targeted because of their race.

My Lords, like previous research, this report doubts the efficacy of stop and search in reducing serious crime—but, more importantly, it highlights the impact of disproportionality on trust in, and the legitimacy of, the police. Some 40 years ago, in his report on the Brixton riots, Lord Scarman said that enforcement of the law needed to be balanced against the negative impact of enforcement on communities. This report effectively criticises the police service for not having learned the lessons of the 1981 Scarman report. What action are the Government going to take?

My Lords, I trust the police to use their powers in a fair way to tackle serious violence and protect communities. It is right that these powers are used to stand firm against criminals who break the law. Every knife taken off our streets is a potential life that is saved, and, in 2019-20, stop and search removed over 11,000 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in over 74,000 arrests. It is a tragedy that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime—no one should be targeted because of their race. The extensive safeguards in place now, such as statutory codes of practice and the use of body-worn video, are important safeguards to ensure that it does not happen.

I refer to my interests in the register. We all want proper scrutiny of stop and search, but we have also seen highly disturbing clips on social media of what appear to be inappropriate stops. Those who post them have surely waived their right to privacy. Given that, as police body-worn video makes it possible to see the context—particularly what went on before the stop and why it took place—will the Government make it possible for the police to publish the full videos in a timely fashion to counteract misleading impressions from truncated social media clips?

I totally concur with the noble Lord that, sometimes, what you see in a snapshot is not actually indicative of what happened in the round. Obviously, the police are operationally independent of government, but the safeguards, which include body-worn video and data, are very important in this area. We now collect more data on this than ever before, allowing local scrutiny groups, police and crime commissioners and others to hold the forces to account. However, I thank the noble Lord for that question because it is a very important point.

My Lords, this was an exceptionally damaging report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It talks about how the use of stop and search for drug possession is not an effective use of police time. As such, one option for the Home Office is perhaps, as it is the lead department on drugs policy, to update this and make it more relevant, bearing in mind this report. Is that something it will do?

I think the noble Baroness takes one aspect of this—drug use—and conflates it with what is actually a much more complex issue. Possession of drugs, knives and offensive weapons are linked in a complex web of criminality and victimhood: young people carry knives to protect themselves. This is all linked and complex, and I go back to the point that any stop and search should be reasonable and proportionate.

As a former police officer, I recognise the importance of stop and search as a tool—but training is a recurring theme in the report, which is clear that:

“The results of our review of stop and search records suggests that supervisors need further training on their responsibilities and how best to supervise their officers’ use of stop and search powers.”

It goes on to say:

“Research shows that lasting improvements are only achieved when a force’s culture promotes diversity, inclusion and equality.”

I argue that these ingredients are the responsibility of those at the top and throughout the organisation to develop and engender. Does my noble friend agree that if the police are to rid themselves of accusations of disproportionality, they must first address these training issues at all levels?

I totally agree with my noble friend because good training and, as he said, diversity, with enforcers, should really improve the performance in this area. Training is crucial because, unless these officers are trained, they will not be equipped to deal with these issues.

My Lords, this is an honest and fair report. I declare my interest as a board member for Police Now, which seeks to recruit graduate police officers, particularly from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Our job is made that much worse when we see the levels of stop and search for black youths at nine times higher than for their white peers. When 95% of the nation was in lockdown, stop and search for black youths went up 25%, and they were often humiliated as well as being stopped and searched. It was not for knives, in general; 70% of it was for drugs. Often the smell of marijuana—

Does the Minister agree with me that this disproportionality, which alienates so many youths and puts off so many of them from joining the police, must change? We must police by consent.

I agree that we must police by consent. I also agree that someone should never be stopped on the basis of their race, and that the use of stop and search must be both reasonable and proportionate.

My Lords, we were told that increasing the use of Section 60 powers was necessary to suppress levels of violence and knife crime, yet, according to this report, of all Section 60 searches in 2019-20, only 3.7% found a knife or a weapon. Meanwhile, disproportionality has increased, with black people 18.1 times more likely to be searched under Section 60 than white people. Given the damage that Section 60 searches can cause to community relations and in the light of the very low find rates, can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether there are any plans to review this policy?

As the noble Baroness is probably alluding to, we eased the restrictions on stop and search back in 2019, and stop and search went up by 53%, but it led to 74,000 arrests and 11,000 arrests for knives and weapons. The important thing is that, when people are stopped and searched, there is intelligence to underpin the reasons for stop and search.

On that point about black people being 18 times more likely, it is a very troubling figure. It has actually gone down rather than up, so the situation was actually worse—not that that justifies it. But to go back to that reasonable and proportionate approach, that is the important thing.

It seems that no force fully understands the impact of the use of stop and search powers, disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why, and there are wide differences in performance between forces in the use of stop and search powers and in disproportionality. What action do the Government intend to take to ensure greater consistency of approach between forces on the use of these powers? Surely there should be at least a broad national standard that is actually adhered to, or do the Government disagree and believe that it is all an operational matter for each individual chief constable?

The use of data is very important, and police collection of data is very important to interrogate why some of the trends that we see are happening. I would also say that, in many ways, it is more complex than just the data we have, and some of the social and economic factors in this have to be taken into account. It is very important that the collection of data is also scrutinised as we go forward.

Sitting suspended.