Stop and Search: West Midlands — [Christina Rees in the Chair]

Thank you, Ms Rees. I shall be very brief.

My father was a constable with West Midlands police for 29 years and was stationed for much of that time in the constituency of
the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), working in Aston, Handsworth and some challenging parts of the city at a particularly challenging time in the late ’70s and early ’80s. An awful lot has changed about policing since he retired, but it is still the case that stop and search remains a vital tool for combating the scourge of serious violence and keeping people safe. We do not need to hear politicians saying that. The public know that that is common sense. The police know it to be true. Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stop and search, said:

“The authority to stop and search people in appropriate circumstances is a necessary power that allows police officers to tackle violence in our communities and prevent people from becoming victims of crime. Every day officers across the country seize horrifying weapons and are preventing further injuries and deaths by using their search powers.”

My hon. Friend
the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) referred to parts of the police and crime commissioner’s crime plan for 2021 to 2025. The commissioner is right in one regard: stop and search is clearly an intrusive process. However, on the scale of interventions open to the police, it is very much at the lesser end of intrusion. Given its impact on both individuals who are stopped and searched and on perceptions of policing and fairness in the wider community, we must ensure that the powers are used appropriately, as the deputy chief constable said.

Certain individuals or groups of individuals should not be repeatedly targeted and stopped such that it almost becomes harassment. However, I fear that the language used by the police and crime commissioner in his plan sends out a signal to the many hard-working constables and officers in our communities across the west midlands, and to our neighbourhood policing teams in particular, that they should be extremely nervous of stop and search and use it only if they have almost seen a person carry a knife around a town centre—they need such a high level of certainty.

The commissioner writes in the plan:

“If searches are based on a reasonable suspicion of finding something or some other action following, then at least half would need to generate a positive outcome. This is not the case.”

That 50% positive searches test is not generally shared by practising barristers or criminal solicitors, and it is certainly not shared by the majority of police officers, yet by putting that in his formal plan for the police force area, he introduces such a note of caution that, in circumstances where an officer has good grounds to believe that an individual may be carrying an offensive weapon in one of our streets, town centres, communities or pubs, they are more likely to avoid stopping and searching than to carry out a stop and search. Even if there were positive results in only 20% of cases, that could be a significant amount of harm avoided and, indeed, lives not lost.

Proportionality is central to how appropriate the measures are. Inevitably, as the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police force, Sir Stephen House, said, if such powers are being used properly and in the areas with high crime rates, certain groups are far more likely to be stopped and searched than if people were being stopped and searched in St James’s park—the outer edges of the police force area—and the same applies in the west midlands. We know that parts of the region have far higher levels of crime and that, if we took a random sample in those areas, we would find that on a demographic, ethnicity or socioeconomic level, certain groups would be likely to be stopped more often than if a similar exercise were done on the streets of Pedmore in Dudley, or perhaps in parts of Meriden. We must ensure that these powers are not being used discriminatorily. We have to ensure that our police are comfortable and confident in exercising these powers when they are needed—when they feel that they have good and solid reasons to think that an individual may be carrying a weapon. We have also to ensure that police will have people’s backing, and that they will have the backing of decision makers and politicians. Sadly, some sections of the police and crime commissioner’s plan damage that confidence. They threaten to make our region less safe. I hope that he will reconsider and edit his plan.