Skip to main content

Stop and Search

Volume 649: debated on Monday 12 November 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on proposed changes to police stop-and-search powers.

The Government fully support the police in using their stop-and-search powers when they have lawful grounds to do so. This is a vital policing tool when used correctly. We will always ensure that police have the necessary powers to keep people safe, and that is why we work very closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to keep under review the stop-and-search powers that 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 that 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 for stop and search in 2014 in response to evidence that the power was not used fairly, effectively or, in some cases, lawfully. Since introducing those 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, these need 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 that the police have the powers they need and our support to use them lawfully.

We have all read the reports that suggest that the Home Secretary is pressing for greater use of stop-and-search powers and amending the grounds of reasonable suspicion that currently govern stop and search. Does the Minister agree that that is, in effect, a move to random stop and search not based on evidence? [Hon. Members: “No!”] Okay. Is the Minister aware that the current policy, which he wants to remove, was introduced by one of the Home Secretary’s predecessors, who is now Prime Minister, and that she made that reform of police stop-and-search powers based on evidence, not on chasing easy headlines? Has the Home Secretary bothered to examine that evidence?

The use of the stop-and-search scheme was announced by the then Home Secretary in a statement to Parliament on 30 April 2014. She stated that the principal aims of the scheme were to achieve greater transparency and community involvement in the use of stop-and-search powers, and to support a more intelligence-led approach, leading to better outcomes.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the very poor outcomes of the previous implementation of stop and search, and that the Home Office itself and the College of Policing, as well as Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, found that there were only 9% or 10% arrest rates from random stop and search? Does the Minister accept that this was a colossal waste of police resources? As a former police officer, I can tell him that that is the case. Is he aware that, according to his Department’s own research, black people are eight times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, and Asian people are twice as likely?

Finally, intelligence-led stop and search does work. It is an important tool in the police arsenal. I am in favour of it. The Labour party is in favour of it. Random stop and search does not work, and the Minister has no evidence that it will. We do know, however, that it can poison community-police relations. Is he not trying to distract from the fact that knife crime is soaring under his Government, while they have cut 21,000 police officers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. Unfortunately, this all starts from a false premise, which is newspaper speculation that is entirely wrong. I go back to my statement: 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 not going back to random stop and search, to use his words.

The hon. Gentleman set out eloquently the case for reform that this Government made on stop and search, which means that stop and search is now conducted in a totally transformed environment in terms of the transparency and accountability around it. We are now at record levels for the ratio between stop and arrest, so we are not going back to the bad old days when over 1.4 million people were stopped with only 8% or 9% of them arrested. That is not what this is about. This is about recognising that we now have a million fewer stops and searches than we did in 2009-10, and that we are—I think on a cross-party basis—absolutely determined to bear down on this horrendous spike in violent crime. We need to be sure that the police have the confidence to use the tools at their disposal, and stop and search is one of those tools. There is evidence that the police have lost some confidence in using it, and what the Home Secretary is setting out in his interviews and articles is his determination to restore that confidence and give the police confidence in the powers that they have. We can look at ways of reducing the bureaucracy and anything else that is getting in the way of that, but this is about trying to save lives.

I accept fully that the previous way in which stop and search was used was often too random, but there is no question but that it should play a part in the reduction of violence and the use of drugs in some areas. There has been a large increase in gang warfare and the use of guns and pistols in areas such as mine, where many of the people who are moving weapons and drugs around know that they can, for the most part, do so with impunity because they are unlikely to be stopped and searched. We therefore need to get the police to apply the process much better, so that we make it clear to those people moving guns and weapons around that there is a high likelihood of their being stopped and searched.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend, who speaks with a great deal of experience from his constituency and with passion and expertise in this area. Stop and search is one tool in a box that has to combine robust police law enforcement with superb prevention and early intervention work in the community, as he knows. The evidence is that although the police have improved their practice, as is reflected in improved arrest outcomes, they have lost some confidence in using the stop-and-search tool. The Home Secretary is saying that we as a Government want to send a signal that we expect the police to use these powers lawfully and in an intelligence-led, targeted way. There is no room for stopping anyone on the basis of race or ethnicity. This is about sending a message to the communities about the increased risk of getting caught.

As in England at present, the police in Scotland can stop and search only when they have reasonable grounds to do so. Violent crime in Scotland is down 44% since 2007-08, and offensive weapons offences have been reduced by almost two thirds. However, my colleagues in the Scottish Government accept that there is no room for complacency. In Scotland, treating knife crime as a public health issue is widely recognised as having been highly effective. Can the Minister confirm that his Department is looking carefully at the lessons to be learned from Scotland? Can he also tell us when the Offensive Weapons Bill will come back to the Floor of the House?

I can certainly say to the hon. and learned Lady that there is a great deal to learn from Glasgow, as there was from London 10 years ago and as there has been from Boston, Cincinnati and other places that have borne down successfully on violence. The key lesson is about the balance between robust law enforcement and good prevention, and about the multi-agency public health approach, which is exactly what we are doing through the serious violence taskforce. That is exactly what is happening in London now. It is this effective partnership between all stakeholders, including in health and education, who are involved in tackling the drivers of serious violence that will ultimately lead to success.

As the Policing Minister, I was part of the implementation to ensure that no matter what colour someone was, or what race or religion they were, they would not be disproportionately stopped and searched. I completely agreed with decision by the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, on this. What worries me now is that, although the Home Secretary is saying the right things from the Dispatch Box and on the radio, if the police chiefs and the College of Policing do not make sure that this message filters down, there will continue to be fear among officers about doing intelligence-led stop and search. The best intelligence is the bobby who thinks he needs to do stop and search, and that is what we need to see more of.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work on this ground-breaking reform. It was necessary, and it has had a powerful impact in terms of focusing the minds of the police on the right approach and the best use of stop and search. Almost all the forces are now signed up to the framework. However, he has highlighted the critical issue of confidence to use this tool on the frontline. I have heard, on patrol in Liverpool and elsewhere, that that lack of confidence exists, and that is what we now need to address. The powers are there, and we want the police to use them lawfully.

I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Eltham appears to be experiencing some pain, but he is a brave fellow and I am sure he will bear up stoically and with fortitude. Let us hear what he has to say.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have pulled a muscle in my back.

Intelligence-led policing starts at community level, so is it not therefore a shame that there was no money in the Budget to increase investment in community-led policing? They are the people who know who to stop and search at local level, and we need to see a return to effective local policing and more police in local neighbourhood teams.

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s back pain. I fully understand the point he is making and he will have much support for those sentiments on the Benches behind me. There was new money in the Budget for counter-terrorism and for mental health services, which is extremely important for local policing. In terms of budgets for local forces, I ask him to have a little patience and wait for the police funding settlement in early December.

Having served on three operational tours in Northern Ireland, I can tell the Minister that stop and search was an effective weapon against the terrorist. It was so effective because we had soldiers on the street picking up intelligence, so that when patrols went out they knew exactly who was doing what. I support the request by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) for more bobbies on the beat, to get the intelligence that we need to make stop and search far more effective.

I fully understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and he knows from our conversations that I have a lot of sympathy with it. The steps I took last year with the funding settlement have resulted in almost every single police force in England and Wales beginning to recruit again. I also welcome the steps taken by the police leadership to create a more consistent model of neighbourhood policing across the country. That is what the public we serve want to see, and—as I have said—I hope to take further steps in the 2019-20 funding settlement in early December.

I welcome the Minister’s clear statement that the Government will not remove the requirement of reasonable grounds for stop and search. The Minister talked about future reforms: can he make a commitment to the House today that any reforms will be based on evidence, and that that evidence will be published to the House?

I can certainly assure the right hon. Gentleman—and former colleague—that policy making in Government will, as ever, be evidence led. As and when we have taken decisions on what we would like to do, we will engage fully on that, including with Parliament.

One way to make more officers available for stop and search would be to bear down on bureaucracy in policing, especially in London. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the expansion of Mayor Khan’s Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—MOPAC—from £36 million in its last year under my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) to £61 million today? That is a 70% increase in just two years on police bureaucracy, which would pay for 233 extra officers in London able to carry out stop and search.

As a fellow London MP, representing constituents in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, I have a personal view on this which I think is reflected by my constituents. Given a choice between £1 of their money being spent on more bureaucracy in the centre and £1 being spent on local police officers, we both know what their priority would be. It is for the Mayor and his office to explain to the public they serve their decisions and the allocation of their budgets at this time.

I was first stopped and searched in the wake of the Scarman report aged 12, and it was so scary that I wet myself. We got to a place where the Home Office did a review that found there was no discernible, significant decrease in crime with the use of stop and search, and the current Prime Minister reached a cross-party consensus on the issue in the House. I caution the Minister against his party breaking that consensus, which would damage relations with Britain’s ethnic minorities once again. It is finding the drug dealers and gangsters, and dealing with cocaine, that will reduce the knife crime on our streets, as the Minister knows. Why have we cut the Border Force and what are we doing about the drug market in this country?

I understand where the right hon. Gentleman’s passion comes from. I have a great deal of respect for his passion, and I also have a great deal of respect for the fact that he has stood up and offered to serve on the serious violence taskforce because of his passion and his insight into the problem and the drivers that underlie it, not least the drugs market. He and I have sat in on presentations on the subject.

To give some reassurance, I meant what I said at the Dispatch Box. There is no appetite or desire to go back to the bad old days of stop and search, but we have gone from a situation where over 1.4 million people were stopped in 2009-10 to one where 1 million fewer people were stopped last year. In the context of the problem we face—this scourge, this terrible spike in serious violence—we have to make sure that all the tools in the box are being used.

The reality is that stop and search is an effective tool. I will give one brief example. In one week in January, during Operation Engulf, 27 people were arrested outside Stratford station, and 10 highly offensive, dangerous, scary weapons were seized. Stop and search has its place, but it must be used lawfully and it must be targeted. Nothing about the Government’s approach to the reform has changed.

It is vital that stop and search is intelligence-led, but I think the Minister agrees that the nature of the current funding formula curtails the ability of some forces to be intelligence-led. Will he do what he can when it comes to December to make sure that the funding formula is fairer and that we can have fair stop and search across this country?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in introducing the fair funding formula into an urgent question on stop and search. The short answer to his question is yes.

I thank the Minister for confirming, or clarifying, that the Government have no plan to remove reasonable grounds for stop and search. However, I find it difficult to believe what he says that the police feel less confident about stop and search; the information I have is that they feel more confident because of body-worn cameras. What more will he do to reduce the negative impact of stop and search on young people, especially where they feel shame or embarrassment that they are perceived to be criminals? What more is he doing to build trust between the community and the police?

The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point, and I thank her for mentioning body-worn cameras, which are a game changer in transparently managing the context of a stop and search. We are now on track for 80,000-odd of these body-worn cameras to be deployed across the country, which underpins our confidence in encouraging the police to do more stop and search in a legal, targeted way.

The hon. Lady talks about trust, and it is incumbent on the police, and on the police and crime commissioners, to be highly proactive in engaging with communities, particularly after a section 60 notice, in explaining the reasons for the section 60 notice and its consequences. People need to understand the motivation for a section 60 notice or for the deployment of stop and search, and they need to see how that connects with the results. People want to see action against violent crime, but they need the evidence that stop and search is contributing.

Most knife crime in provincial towns is predicated on organised crime gangs running drugs from city areas by involving young people and making them carry knives. What more can my right hon. Friend do about the organised crime gangs that are running drugs along county lines? What is he doing to try to steer young people away from getting involved in this activity and potentially committing these offences?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point, because county lines are rapidly emerging as a scourge of many market towns and areas that have absolutely no history of this crime. It is deeply unsettling for people so, through him, I reassure the public that the Government take it extremely seriously. There is more money going in to support the police in better co-ordinating their efforts, because crime that crosses borders is a challenge.

There is also considerable effort going in to try to target, identify, steer and protect vulnerable people, particularly vulnerable young people, from getting caught up in this activity. A combination of robust policing and really good prevention and early intervention work will hopefully protect these youngsters and stop this crime.

Greater Manchester police have stated that they have no numeric targets for stop and search or for an overall crime reduction that could be attributed to stop and search, because they believe that such targets, if they existed, could distort officer behaviour. Does the Minister agree? Will he confirm that perceived concerns about a reduced use of stop and search will not lead to a focus on quantity over quality in the future?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. One of the most important things we did as a Government, and the then Home Secretary—now Prime Minister—did, was to scrap a lot of targets, because she knows, with her experience, that targets can distort behaviour. There is no interest among Government Members in this being a numbers game; we are responding to some evidence that the police have lost some confidence in stop and search. We want them to feel that confidence, not least with the advent and prevalence of body-worn video. We want them to use their existing powers and to continue to use them lawfully.

It may have been intelligence-led when I was recently stopped and searched outside 1 Parliament Street, but I do not complain—I want to see more use of it made. But that does imply more police officers to do it, does it not?

I cannot comment on what intelligence the police had that led them to that decision—obviously they got the memo! My right hon. Friend’s main point is right, and I have made it clear from the Dispatch Box that, as we approach the end of austerity, this Government are determined to make sure that our police system has the resources needed. That is why we took the steps last year that have resulted in an additional £460 million of public investment in our police system and almost every police force in the country recruiting again.

I am not being flippant when I say that people with my accent understand sensitivities relating to the use of police powers, but our chief constable and police and crime commissioner on Merseyside tell me that stop and search is a vital tool to combat serious crime. Its use by police officers has increased on Merseyside. Does the Minister agree that if it is intelligence-led, community-focused and proportionate, it should be encouraged, not least to combat knife crime in places such as St Helens?

I do, and the hon. Gentleman is echoing exactly the argument I have made at this Dispatch Box. Stop and search is a vital tool and we want to see it used; we continue to want to see it used lawfully, in a targeted, intelligence-led way, but we want to see it used.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House as to which community’s members are predominantly the victims of the violent crime that these measures are designed to address?

My hon. Friend makes and important point, one that has been echoed by people such as Trevor Phillips. It is clear to us—I speak as a London MP—that the tragic faces staring at us out of the pages of London’s Evening Standard are almost overwhelmingly those of young black boys.

Surely the Minister must recognise that the only way we are going to deal adequately with violent crime, particularly in the west midlands, is by having an adequate number of police. We have lost 3,000 policemen over the past two or three years, and surely they have to be restored. More importantly, the police rely on intelligence, which is why we need more community policemen, as that is the best way to deal with crime.

Last year’s funding settlement did put more money into west midlands policing, and it was a settlement the hon. Gentleman voted against. I will be coming to the House in early December with our plans for 2019-20. He is right about the need for a robust law enforcement response to this scourge of serious violence on our streets, but it also needs to be balanced, as I am sure he knows, with excellent work on prevention and early intervention. This Government have committed almost a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money to that prevention and intervention work in communities up and down the country. It is that balance that will give us the success we all want.

When out on patrol with my local police, I have seen how the reasonable use of stop and search helps them to target drugs and disrupt the gangs, and has led to a drop in serious harmful violence, so I fully support it. Will the Minister look again at extending the powers so that “smelling cannabis” could be reasonable grounds for a stop and search?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of her local police, so it is no surprise that she has been out with them, and I know that she welcomes the fact that they are currently recruiting 150-odd officers. Our consultation on the extension of stop-and-search powers in relation to corrosive substances, drones and laser pens has just finished. I will take on board my hon. Friend’s point about cannabis.

The Minister said that a million fewer people are stopped and searched than in 2010 and that the success rate then was around 10%. What are the results under the new regime—are we getting more convictions?

Yes. The number of stops and searches has fallen and the proportion of them that result in arrest has risen from around 9% to 17%.

Nobody wants to go back to the old stop and search, which was deemed racist, but there have been 259 knife deaths in the country so far this year, and there were recently five in London over a nine-day period. Whatever our policy is now, it is clearly not working.

My hon. Friend is entirely right that the losses are terrible and the statistics are awful and unacceptable to us. We have been here before, 10 years ago, in London. We beat it then and we will beat it again, through the combination of robust policing and really effective prevention and early intervention. The robust policing will change the numbers in the short term and the prevention and early-intervention work will change the numbers in the long term. Everything we have learned from London, Glasgow, Boston and Cincinnati tells us that it is that combination that works, so we will stick to that plan.

In Walsall, four people were stabbed and killed in a 12-month period. Does my right hon. Friend agree that stop and search is an essential tool for the police tackling this heinous crime?

It is a vital tool. It leads to arrests and the seizure of weapons and it reduces the risk of violence, crime and death. It is a vital tool in our police’s armoury, yet all the evidence suggests that although the reform has clearly delivered an improvement in terms of the arrest ratio and stop and search’s integrity, numbers have fallen to a low level. The Government would like to see the increased use of stop and search, while making sure that it remains lawful, legal, targeted and intelligence led.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is about not only what the police do but educating our young people? In my constituency, we have an excellent charity called Stand Against Violence that goes into schools to deliver workshops and education to young people on how to deal with these issues and prevent crime. Will the Minister meet me to learn about the charity’s work, because there are definitely lessons to learn?

As a former Minister for Civil Society, I am absolutely persuaded about the critical role that the voluntary sector is going to play in the battle against violent crime. I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend and stand against violence. Public money is available to support organisations that intervene to prevent and divert young people from crime. In fact, just this weekend we announced £18 million of funding for organisations up and down the country to do just that.

I agree with the Minister that the use of body-worn cameras can significantly increase public confidence in stop and search and other police activities. How extensive are the plans for the roll-out of body-worn cameras?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that the use of body-worn cameras is a game-changer. When I talk to police officers, they tell me that it absolutely changes their levels of confidence in being in those situations. It is also, of course, of huge benefit to the people the police stop, search and question. It changes the dynamic of the conversation. The most recent figures I saw showed that 65,000 cameras had been deployed across 41 forces, and from memory I think we are on track to get to 80,000 in short order. We are proud to have supported that.

As someone who, in the past, has stopped and searched suspects when serving as a special constable, may I say to the police Minister that the reasonable grounds available to police officers are enhanced by the deployment of drug-sniffer dogs and knife arches? Can we have more of both, please?

May I, through you, Mr Speaker, congratulate my hon. Friend on his service and experience? We are absolutely determined to make sure that the police have the resources and the powers that they need. The Home Secretary keeps this matter under constant review, and I am sure that he will take his comments extremely seriously.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) ever stopped and searched his own constituents. Further and better particulars on that important matter should be vouchsafed to the House at an appropriate time. It is always good to be reminded of his service as a special constable as well as a member of the Kettering Borough Council.