Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 3 December 2002
[Mr. David Taylor in the Chair]
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Statutory Powers to Stop and Search) Order 2002
The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Statutory Powers to Stop and Search) Order 2002.
A copy of the order was laid before the House on 13 November and it has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. From 1 April 2003, the order will bring into effect the revised code of practice in connection with the exercise by police officers of statutory powers to stop and search a person without first arresting him and to stop and search a vehicle without first making an arrest. The order has been made under section 67 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—PACE—and it cannot have effect without the approval by resolution of each House.
Under section 66 of the 1984 Act, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a duty to issue codes of practice to regulate the police in the exercise of their powers. There are currently six codes of practice. The current version of PACE code of practice A for the exercise by police officers of statutory powers of stop and search came into force on 1 March 1999. Since then, a variety of legislative changes have amended the powers of stop and search available to police officers. It is time to update the code.
Since 1999, there has been a wide-ranging public debate on the use of the powers, in particular the question of whether they are exercised by officers in a way that discriminates against members of minority ethnic communities. That debate was brought into focus by the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, published in 1999; it highlighted the importance of the use of stop and search in the context of relations between the police and the community and made a number of recommendations.
In March, in accordance with the provisions of section 67 of PACE, the Home Secretary prepared and published a draft of the code of practice; he has considered representations made to him about that draft and has modified it accordingly. The consultation draft was prepared in collaboration with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the other police staff associations, police authorities and a number of independent advisers drawn from a range of diverse organisations and communities. Many of those were involved also in the Lawrence steering group, which oversees the implementation of the Home Secretary's action plan in response to the Lawrence inquiry report.
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The revised draft code covers the exercise by police officers of the statutory powers of stop and search. There is a separate issue about the recording of ''stops'' or non-statutory encounters, which will be the subject of a phased implementation and is not part of the order.
I hope that the proposed additions to the code are not thought contentious. The objective of revising code A was to ensure that the powers of stop and search are exercised in a way that is effective in reducing crime but which will promote trust and confidence in policing among all communities. It is clear that, in order to achieve those objectives, stop and search powers must be used in a way that is fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory. Furthermore, research shows a clear link between fairness and effectiveness. In other words, if the powers are used in a way that is likely to increase trust and confidence, they are more likely to reduce crime. The revised code therefore includes important new provisions for searches and ethnic monitoring, which we believe will significantly increase the confidence of both the public and the officers using the powers.
I shall list some of the main changes in the revised code. The revised code sets out the principles that govern stop and search. It places an obligation on forces, in consultation with police authorities, to make arrangements for the search records to be scrutinised by representatives of the community. It also states that an officer carrying out a search must now record the person's self-defined ethnicity as in the 2001 census classifications. The revised code gives a clearer definition of what constitutes ''reasonable suspicion'' in the exercise of those powers. It states that there should be an objective basis for that suspicion, based on facts, information and/or intelligence relevant to the subject of the search. Reasonable suspicion must never be supported by generalisations or stereotyped images of certain groups.
The revised code also states that an officer who carries out a search must explain the grounds for reasonable suspicion. Under the code, an officer who has carried out a search must make a written record at the time, unless that is wholly impracticable such as in situations of public disorder or when the officer's presence is required urgently elsewhere. A copy of the record must be given immediately to the person who has been searched.
Generally, the revised code is clearer and simpler for officers and the public to understand throughout, a fact that was commended in the public consultation. I hope that hon. Members leading for Opposition parties received notes earlier today that summarised the main differences from the previous version. Notices were put on the Board for other hon. Members, but I apologise if any of them have not seen them. In preparing for the debate, I asked officials to draw up a summary and simply felt that it might help other members of the Committee to be able to compare the texts—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) does not appear to have a copy.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): No.
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Mr. Denham: I apologise, and I will endeavour to ensure that the hon. Gentleman has one in a moment.
Statistics published on 7 November 2002 show that 714,000 stops and searches were recorded in England and Wales in 2001–02, of which 12 per cent. were of black people, 6 per cent. Asian people and 1 per cent. other minority ethnic groups. Black people were eight times and Asians three times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in 2001–02. More work needs to be done to understand those statistics fully, and there might be several explanations.
I recently announced that the Home Office was establishing a new unit to consider racism in the criminal justice system, so as to understand better a series of statistics that show that members of ethnic minorities have a different experience of and treatment by many parts of the system. Whatever the explanation for the disparity in the likelihood of being stopped and searched, the figures obviously reflect a difference in experience for different sections of the community. We believe that the new provisions for searches and ethnic monitoring should help us to understand better and address any disproportionality in the use of those powers.
The revision of code A has long been awaited by the police service, because of the need to update it in the light of legislative changes. There is a commitment to that important step in the reform of the overall process. As far back as 26 May 2001, the ACPO council agreed to introduce the 2001 census ethnicity classifications for stops and searches, among other matters. ACPO issued detailed guidance on the subject on 12 March 2002. It also issued a good practice guide on stop and search in August 2001, and the revised code A essentially follows the principles and provisions of stop and search laid out in that guide. At the 14th meeting of the Lawrence steering group in January, ACPO was keen that the revised draft be put out to consultation without delay.
We are not legislating for something that comes as a surprise to the police service, but giving legislative backing to a series of changes that it has already supported and that is working to implement. Forces started ethnic monitoring at the beginning of the year, planned to introduce it in the middle of the year, or are on course to introduce it into their stop and search practice from April 2003 in any case.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time.
I thank the Minister most sincerely for providing me with the document to which he referred earlier, which contrasted the differences between the previous code and the amended one that we are discussing. I would otherwise have found such a comparison difficult, so I appreciate his courtesy. The need for a new code is obvious. The Minister has already explained the reasons why we need a new code, which include changes in legislation and practice, so it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. I shall shortly raise some questions about the code itself, but there is
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no doubt about our welcome for a new code in principle.
I am concerned that there has been too much hype and even, in some quarters, hysteria during the past few years about the use of stop and search. Accusations have been flying around about its misuse by some individual police officers. I believe that stop and search is an essential part of policing and must remain available to police officers. Obviously, it must be carried out in a sensitive and sensible way, with the necessary recording. It seems eminently sensible to set out the proper use of stop and search in a code such as this. The code is in clear English, which most people will be able to understand, so it will enable people to read what police officers should or should not do. Hopefully, it will lead to a reduction in some of the wilder comments that have been made about stop and search.
I need to report some concerns to the Committee, which, I am sure, are familiar to the Minister. The Police Federation has expressed concerns about the ultimate purpose to which the code and information gained from reporting will be put. Obviously, the existence of a code will reassure the public and, hopefully, those who are stopped and searched, but vast numbers of statistics will be derived from it, which raises questions about the use of those statistics not only in relation to the types of people who are stopped but in relation to police performance. I hope the Minister will explain how information will be gleaned from the reports and put together for statistical analysis. I entirely understand that local communities will have access to the information and that the process will be transparent, but we must ask what will be done with the statistics. I am thinking largely of issues regarding ethnic minorities and racial groupings, as well as the whole debate, which the Minister touched on, about the numbers of people from ethnic minorities who are stopped in different areas. The Police Federation has asked me to challenge the Government on the whole issue of the population that is used as a base against which to compare the statistics. The Minister is nodding, so he has obviously received the same representations.
The police suggest that simply comparing the number of people of any minority who are stopped in a certain area with the overall population of that area is not necessarily fair. They argue that one should look at the proportion of the population that can be expected to be mobile on the streets at any time, which may be very different because of the propensity of older people to stay indoors and because, in some parts of the country, many people work in an area during the day.
In considering statistics, we also need to bear in mind the use of intelligence-led policing. As that is used increasingly throughout the country, it stands to reason that more people will be stopped and searched as a result of intelligence. The code clearly sets out the circumstances in which people can be stopped and what reasons the police must have for stopping them—it must be something more substantive than a vague suspicion. I am not avoiding that issue, but if intelligence-led policing is to be used more
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frequently, it is likely that officers on the street will obtain intelligence from elsewhere that causes them to stop and search, with the result that a greater proportion of stops and searches will have a positive outcome. In other words, the police will tend to stop and search only those people who actually have something about their person that the police are searching for. That may have an impact on the statistical base, but the police have previously been accused of stopping people simply because of their colour or racial grouping.
I now turn to some specific questions about the code. I am slightly puzzled by something in paragraph 2.8, which refers to powers in the Terrorism Act 2000. The last sentence of that paragraph says,
''These searches may only be carried out by an officer of the same sex as the person searched.''
That obligation does not apply to any other ordinary stops and searches, although I am not talking about intimate searches or searches that involve the removal of clothing, to which it does apply. It seems, therefore, that terrorists can be searched only by someone of the same sex but that someone who is suspected of a less significant offence can be searched by a police officer of either sex. That puzzles me, so perhaps the Minister will explain.
I strongly welcome paragraph 3.1, one of the new parts of the code. It sets out the obligation on an officer to carry out searches
''with courtesy, consideration and respect.''
That stands to reason, but it is important that it has been included in the code so that officers and, more importantly, the public, understand that.
For me, the most important part of the code is paragraph 4, which relates to recording requirements. It is obvious that the requirements must strike an inevitable balance between the need to gain information and the need to avoid excess bureaucracy and unnecessary reporting. I note that the reference in the old code to written reporting has been removed. That is logical because, with the advent of technology, recording may take forms other than writing. Will the Minister tell us how far we have progressed along those lines? Does he envisage police officers having some form of hand computer, on which they can complete their records and perhaps transmit them directly back to the appropriate police station? It could be a two-way process, allowing them to confirm the identity of an individual or ownership of a car. It is terribly important that the police should utilise modern technology more effectively than I have perceived them to be doing at present.
How much time does the Minister envisage police officers will spend compiling reports? Paragraph 4 includes a long list of items that must be included in the record, and it seems that a checklist approach could be used for most of them, although some description would be required for some. Nevertheless, I am concerned that, having stopped and searched someone, a police officer should not have to spend ages producing a record while the individual
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concerned is standing waiting for his or her copy of the record and providing the relevant information. I would be interested to hear what studies or investigations the Minister has had done into how long the procedure is expected to take.
My last point on the code relates to the issue of self-defined ethnicity, as discussed in paragraph 18. I realise, as, I am sure, other Members do too, that any mention of ethnic groups or backgrounds gives rise to huge sensitivities, and concerns that people are going to be accused of being racist, intolerant or whatever. However, we have to be mature enough to debate such issues in the open, and to be prepared to question or challenge what is happening. I do not raise the issue for any nefarious reasons, but because although a large number of our fellow citizens are of different colours, I believe that they are as British as the rest of us. I therefore do not think that it is necessary to require non-white people to say not only that they are British, but which of a variety of racial backgrounds they come from. Many are proud of, and want to talk about, their racial background. However, in the spirit of cohesion in our communities, many think of themselves first and foremost as British.
Exactly the same criteria could be used to challenge anyone who is white British. An ever-increasing number of our white population are not racially British in terms of their family histories. More and more people are here because their parents fled persecution. The Home Secretary's announcement yesterday was a tiny example of that, though I do not use it in a disrespectful way. There are a large number of people who have come into the country in the last few years who are basically white, but not British by background. It seems anomalous to ask someone who is black whether they are from an African, Caribbean or Asian background, but, if they are white, not to challenge them at all as to their background. I would rather we got rid of those provisions, and instead took people as they are and respected them as they are.
I understand why the Minister wants more information for the purpose of developing statistics to try to assuage concerns that the police are picking on any particular group. However, at the very least he might reconsider the requirement in paragraph 18 that
''An additional 'Not stated' box is available but should not be offered to respondents explicitly.''
At the barest minimum the person stopped should be given the opportunity of not saying how they classify themselves if they do not want to. That is a perfectly reasonable position. To say that people cannot be offered that option and that it will only be used if they insist seems to be counter-productive.
Finally, I turn to a point that the Minister said was not part of the debate—though I hope that he will expand on what he said—which relates to recommendation 61 of the Macpherson report, and the current trials in six areas of the country. The issue is about the obligation to record a stop, as opposed to a search. If those stops are not related to the code of practice, I hope the Minister can tell us what code they are being recorded under. If they are to be extended throughout the country, as the Minister said, under
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what code will they be recorded? Shall we see amendments to the code in the quite close future, or will there be a wholly different code? I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the details. If there is to be a different code, I can foresee confusion arising between recording on stops and recording on searches. If the same code is to be used, we should deal with related matters all at once, rather than revisit them in the near future. I would, at least, be grateful for the Minister's explanation