§ `(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice in connection with the exercise by police officers of their powers and duties under sections 1, 2 and 3 of this Act.
§ (2) The Secretary of State shall prepare and publish a draft of that code, and shall consider any representations made to him about the draft and may modify the draft accordingly.
§ (3) The Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of any code of practice prepared by him under this section.
§ (4) When the Secretary of State has laid the draft of a code before Parliament, he may bring the code into operation by order made by statutory instrument.
§ (5) No order under subsection (3) above shall have effect until approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
§ (6) An order bringing a code of practice into operation may contain such transitional provisions or savings as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient in connection with the code of practice thereby brought into operation.
§ (7) The Secretary of State may from time to time revise the whole or any part of a code of practice issued under this Act and issue that revised code, and the foregoing provisions of this section shall apply (with appropriate modifications) to such a revised code as they apply to the first issue of a code.
§ (8) A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of this code of practice may render him liable to criminal or civil proceedings.
§ (9) A police officer shall be liable to disciplinary proceedings for a failure to observe any provision of such a code, unless such proceedings are precluded by section 94 below.
§ (10) This code of practice shall come into force not later than the date on which sections 1, 2 and 3 of this Act come into force.'.—[Mr. Dubs.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following:
Government amendment No. 3
Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, leave out clause 1.
187 Government amendments Nos. 4 to 11.
Amendment No. 305, in clause 1, page 2, line 24, at end insert —'(aa) a controlled drug that is capable of creating or satisfying an addictive habit; or'.Amendment No. 306, in page 2, line 39 at end insert—and '(e) trafficking in controlled drugs.'.Government amendment No. 12.
Amendment No. 13, in page 3, line 16, leave out clause 2.
Government amendment No. 14.
Amendment No. 307, in clause 2, page 4, line 46 after `gloves', insert'or any hat or other form of head gear or head covering save one that is customarily worn by the detained persons for a religious purpose.'.Amendment No. 16, in page 5, line 5, leave out clause 3.
Government amendments Nos. 17 to 25.
§ Mr. Dubs
New clause 18 deals with codes of practice for stop and search by police officers. Throughout the long discussions on the Bill, the question of stop and search has always loomed large. Of all the provisions in the Bill, and of all the powers that the Bill gives to the police, or confirms as being given to the police, the use of the powers of stop and search inevitably will have the widest impact on the largest number of people.
The use of the existing power of stop and search is seen frequently as arbitrary by nature, and difficult to control in any effective way. Last autumn, we had the report of the Policy Studies Institute commissioned by the previous Metropolitan commissioner of police, which went in great detail into the use of stop and search powers by the Metropolitan police. It is regrettable that we have less information about the use of these powers by other police forces. However, London is a sufficiently large area for the findings to be relevant to our consideration today.
The report of the Policy Studies Institute estimated that there were 1.5 million stops in London in 1982. In considering those 1.5 million stops, it suggested, on the basis of the evidence of impartial researches, that about one third, or 0.5 million, were exercised by the police beyond, or without having, any legal powers to do so. That was surely a disturbing conclusion.
Those figures contrast with answers given to parliamentary questions which suggest, according to the information that the Home Secretary has, that in 1982 and in 1983 some 780,000 to 790,000 people were stopped in the streets of London. In both years, those stops led to about 70,000 arrests. What the Home Office has not been able to tell us is how many of these arrests led to people being brought before the courts, and how many people were convicted. Of equal importance, we do not know how many of the people subsequently convicted were convicted because they were carrying an article or an item which was the basis of the original stop by the police officer, and how many were convicted because of a confrontation or a hassle resulting from the unpleasant circumstances of the stop.
We all know that stops are resented by people. When they have been stopped many times, there is an understandable feeling of resentment. This will lead to a hassle, and sometimes to a person being arrested for obstructing a police officer in the course of his or her duty, which can lead to a person appearing in court. It would be 188 useful to have this information to assess the impact of the Government's new proposals. We would then have a fuller basis in arguing the case for new clause 18, although there is ample justification for the clause without the extra desirable information.
Who are the people who are stopped by the police on so many occasions? We have some evidence on this. The Home Office produced a document entitled "The use, effectiveness and impact of police stop and search powers". That booklet deals at some length— it goes beyond the London area—with the use of these powers by the police. Table 3 on page 14 indicates in a tabular form the reasons given for recorded stops and searches in the four stations visited — Kensington, Peckham. Watford and Luton, thus going a little beyond the Metropolitan police area. It analyses the people stopped by ethnic origin and sex.
We know from general experience, and from research studies such as this, that most of the people stopped are young, male and typically between the ages of 16 and 24. A comparison of the stop and search rates for all males and for black males in the age group 16 to 24 shows that a significantly larger number of blacks were stopped than males as a whole. This is true of all the police stations that were the subject of the investigation. In Kensington, the likelihood of a black being stopped was more than twice that of a white being stopped. The same ratio applies in Peckham. In Watford, the ratio was three times as great as it was in Luton, where the figures were lower. The figures for males in the age group 16 to 24 were much higher than for the population as a whole.
The conclusion on page 22 of the research document confirms what the figures show, thatblacks, and particularly young black males, are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than whites.I should like to draw to the attention of the House another piece of research, carried out by Hillingdon legal resource centre in 1984, which dealt with stop and search. The survey dealt with 295 pupils in six schools in the borough of Hillingdon. It came to the alarming conclusion that 52 per cent. of the sample claimed to have been stopped and questioned or stopped and searched by the police. It must be a matter of concern that the Metropolitan police are using their powers in such a way that a sample of pupils from typical schools in a London borough reveals that slightly more than half of them had been stopped and searched.
Anyone who has spoken to those who have been stopped and searched will know that many people find it an extremely humiliating and unpleasant experience. It is not surprising that the young people from Hillingdon who were covered by the survey came to similar conclusions. They complained that it had not been a pleasant experience, that the police picked on them and that they were generally disconcerted and upset by what had happened to them. One of the quotations from the report reads:It makes you anti-police.Another section of the report states:Teenagers searched when innocent distrust the police.The use of police stop-and-search powers, even under the present law, which is significantly more limited than the provisions that are proposed by the Government, has the effect of increasing the hostility of young people 189 towards the police. It is bad for relationships between young people, especially young black people, and the police. This has had many unfortunate results in many inner-city areas. We all know that there are many inner-city areas, apart from Brixton at the time of the riots, where young people and the police are at daggers drawn instead of co-operating. As the police constantly say—I believe them fully — their best chance of catching criminals is through the co-operation of the public. It is a sorry state of affairs when a significant sector of the public —young people, and especially young black people—are not willing to co-operate with the police because of antagonism and resentment following stop-and-search activities. That must be a matter of concern to the House.
The Government are proposing significantly to increase stop-and-search powers. They are rationalising police powers throughout the country —that that is something to which no one will object — and proposing additional powers for the police in many areas, including the London area. It is proposed that the police should have additional powers to deal with offensive weapons. Most people would say that there is nothing wrong with the police having the power to stop and search those whom they suspect of having offensive weapons. That might be true if an offensive weapon were something which everyone could identify as such. The difficulty is that in the past the courts have held that items that are innocently carried in the normal course of events may, on occasion, be offensive weapons. This includes items such as coins, bunches of keys and penknives.
This means that if the Bill is interpreted rationally, the police will legitimately be able to say, "This gives us much wider powers to stop and search, and we need have no reason to hesitate before we use these powers." It is my contention that the Bill gives the police the power to stop and search almost anyone. I hope that they will not go so far as to use these powers. I hope also that the new clause will be accepted by the House, for it provides a framework within which the powers of the police are to be exercised. However, if the police use these powers widely, I fear that the effects will be devastating.
Some will say that there is nothing to worry about because the Policy Studies Institute report stated that about 500,000 stops and searches took place in London without there being any legal sanction, and that if we increased the legal powers of the police, we should be making legal that which has been illegal in recent years. I hope that that argument will not be advanced. To say that the police have been going beyond their legal powers and that we should legalise illegal activities would be an odd way of justifying proposed legislation.
If we increase the powers of the police to stop and search, it is likely that the police will make use of the powers and that there will be a significant increase in the number of occasions when stops and searches take place. I remember speaking at a public meeting about the Bill when a woman—she seemed elderly—asked, "What is the matter with being stopped and searched? I have nothing to hide." The Minister of State beams with pleasure to hear me say that. As I explained to the elderly woman, the first time that a person is stopped and searched will probably not lead to him expressing his objection, nor will the second, third, fourth or fifth occasions; but if it happens 10 times or 15 times, he will begin to feel that 190 police powers are not being used in the right way. I put it to the elderly woman that even she would begin to take that view.
It is sad that no research has been carried out to ascertain the number of times that a typical inner city young person, especially a black person, is stopped and searched by the police. If that research had been undertaken, I think that even the Minister would be shattered by its findings. I commend the Minister to initiate that research. The typical pattern of young people's experience in inner-city areas is that they are frequently stopped and searched by the police. This happens so frequently that they regard it as a matter of course, even if they bitterly resent the way it goes on.
I accept that police officers may often be extremely polite and that no exception can be taken when they request someone to stop and to allow a search to take place, but how often does a police officer stop a young person in an inner-city area and say, "Good evening, sir. Would you mind coming over here while I have a look to see what you are carrying in your pockets?" That may happen, and in the Hillingdon area it seems it does. Quotations from teenagers appear in the Hillingdon report which describe polite experiences when being stopped by the police, but I suggest that that is not always so. I suggest that some of the methods by which stops and searches are carried out are discourteous to say the least, are positively aggressive and sometimes racist if the person being stopped is black. That is why we are so concerned about increasing the powers of the police and about the way in which the powers are to be exercised.
I shall quote from the Metropolitan police newspaper, The Job. The edition which appeared on 9 March commented on the stop-and-search powers that appear in the Bill. Part of the report read:A search in the street must be superficial and only the outer clothes—jacket and gloves—can be removed. In private, such as in a police van, the search can be extended.There are many who might say, "If an individual is to be searched, it is better that the search does not take place in the street because it is humiliating for an individual to be searched publicly, perhaps in front of his neighbours, colleagues or friends." Nevertheless, there is a chill implication in the way that the quotation from The Job reads to me. It suggests that what can be seen publicly is one thing and that what happens privately is another. That is another reason for me being concerned about the way in which stop-and-search powers are to be used.
I understand that the Metropolitan police are finding it necessary to consider developing a code of practice for their officers on how stop-and-search operations are to be conducted. I welcome the fact that this is to happen. The knowledge that the Metropolitan police were considering such a code was one of the reasons that led the Opposition to table the new clause. If the Metropolitan police find it necessary to develop a code of practice for stop-and-search operations, why should there not be an explicit arrangement rather than something which the Metropolitan police develop privately for their own purposes?
I do not know what will be in the code of practice that is developed by the Metropolitan police, and I can only assume that my information that it intends to develop one is accurate. Perhaps the Minster will be able to inform the House whether that is so. If that is what the Metropolitan police are doing, it is right that the House should know about it. It is right also that we should be able to consider 191 the code of practice as we are considering other codes of practice as part of the Bill. We may wish to influence the contents of the code, and it would be right for the House to have a chance to make its criticisms, if it had any. Above all, we should applaud the fact that the Metropolitan police are moving in this direction. Let us make it an explicit decision affecting not just one police force but governing the conduct of stop-and-search operations by all police forces in England and Wales which come within the scope of the Bill.
It would not be a great concession for the Minister to say that he agrees in principle with the new clause and that he will introduce in another place proposals to give effect to it. We have had experience of codes not only about questioning people in police stations but about the tape recording of interviews in police stations. The precedents are already in force for such a code. Apart from the clauses relating to detention, the most critical subject covered by the Bill is the way in which stop and search operations are to be conducted.
I appeal to the Minister to treat this as a reasonable and sensible proposal which already has the support, by implication, of the Metropolitan police and which, I think, would have widespread support. If the police must be given extra powers—I wish they were not, but we have to take that for granted at the moment — the House should be able to say that the powers would be coercive if misused, that they have been misused in the past and, therefore, we wish to influence the way in which the police will use them in future. We can then put into the code all sorts of things about the manner in which people are stopped, how they should be spoken to, and how they should be searched so that dignity is not taken away from the individual and the whole process does not become threatening, humiliating or intimidating which, alas, it often is.
That is a reasonable proposal, which would be of benefit to the police. What could be better for the police than for them to be able to say, "We know we are under criticism for the way in which we carry out stop-and-search activities, but if we have a code of conduct to which we will subscribe, and which is available publicly, that will lay down the way in which stop-and-search operations should be carried out."?
I do not want to go into the details of what a code should contain beyond the few references I have already made. That would be trespassing too much on the time of the House. I know that many other hon. Members are so concerned about stop-and-search activities that they wish to speak. All I do is repeat my plea that this is a sensible proposal which would be of benefit to the police, to young people and to most people who are liable to be influenced by stop and search powers. I hope the Minister will accept the new clause as a proposal that will help and improve the Bill.
§ Mr. Hurd
It might be helpful if I intervene briefly at this stage. There are a number of Government amendments in this group to which I should like to speak, and at the same time I should like to comment on the new clause. I shall leave on one side the other amendments in the group, particularly those tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). If need be, perhaps I may catch your eye briefly at the end of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
192 The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) started with a familiar critique, which he has thoroughly researched, about stop and search. This is relevant to the amendments in the names of members of the Liberal party to delete clauses 1, 2 and 3. As the hon. Gentleman said, clause 1 will permit the police, subject to the safeguards contained in clauses 2 and 3, to stop arid search a person whom they reasonably believe to be in possession of stolen goods, offensive weapons or housebreaking equipment. It is already an offence to be in possession of such articles in a public place. The clause provides the police with the power which they need to enforce the law. It gives effect to the recommendation of Sir Cyril Philips' Royal Commission, which was endorsed by Lord Scarman in his report on the Brixton disorders. Comparable powers exist throughout the Western democratic world, many of them wider than those proposed in the Bill, which are limited to the suspected possession of certain specified articles, so there is a good pedigree to this part of the Bill.
The case deployed by the hon. Gentleman against the conferment of additional powers to stop and search is that they are not in practice efficient in controlling crime but are effective in damaging community relations. Both claims depend upon how the powers are used—this is surely the point—and this is where the new safeguards in clauses 2 and 3 come into the picture. The effectiveness of stop-and-search powers where they exist has been fully established. Home Office research and planning unit paper 15, with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar, shows that a substantial proportion of all arrests in London are made as a direct result of the use of these powers.
The PSI report, which has been properly used in the Standing Committee and on the Floor of the House to buttress criticisms of the way in which these powers are used, shows that about a third of all arrests in the metropolis resulted from their use. Probably because of that finding, the authors of the PSI report, although they reported evidence critical of the way in which these powers were used, nevertheless did not recommend that they should cease. Having studied the PSI report, and having discussed it, not just with the Metropolitan commissioner but with the police in general throughout the country, we think it important that the exercise of these powers should be subject to effective controls. That is what the Bill tries to do.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will probably try to put me right, but we believe that the power to search for offensive weapons, which was introduced in Scotland in 1981, has already proved its worth. On average, 27 per cent. of those searched under this power have been found to be carrying offensive weapons and have been successfully prosecuted. That is just a statistic, but it suggests that scores of horrible injuries may have been averted by the timely use of this power in Scotland.
The power can also have an important deterrent effect on the streets. It can help to make them a safer place by deterring people from carrying offensive weapons when they know that the police will have power to stop and search for such weapons before they can be used.
The other side of the case against clause 1 concerns the fears about the way in which the proposed powers will be used. As I have said, the PSI report undeniably confirms much other evidence to show that these powers need to be 193 used more responsibly, more carefully and more accountably. The kind of random, untargeted stopping and searching pinpointed in the PSI report damages relations between the police and those whom they are serving.
The provisions of clauses 2 and 3 address the deficiencies exposed in both the PSI and Scarman reports. As I tried to show in the debate on Friday, the new safeguards push in the same direction as the Metropolitan Commissioner is pushing for strictly policing reasons in London. They will reinforce the fundamental safeguard that police action should be based on reasonable suspicion of the individual concerned, and they will make abuse, over-use or insufficiently directed use of the powers both less likely to occur and easier to detect.
There is a question which we are entitled to put to those who criticise the provisions: what action should an officer take if he finds someone behaving in a way or in circumstances which give him reasonable grounds to believe that a stolen or prohibited article is being carried? Is he to do nothing?
§ Mr. Hurd
Quite so. The hon. Lady has intervened helpfully and said, "Arrest him." The point about arrest is that it is much more coercive than stopping and searching. This is one of my difficulties with the critics of this part of the Bill. They are constantly pushing for the police to arrest at an earlier stage. Part of the Bill's philosophy is that powers should be used only to the extent that they are necessary. I am simply not happy with earlier and more frequent arrest as an alternative to stopping and searching. It blows up straight away the argument that the Opposition are concerned with the liberties of the subject, because the intervention of the hon. Lady is not a civil rights objection at all.
§ Ms. Clare Short
It is my view and, I think, the view of the Opposition, that if the police had to arrest in such circumstances they would be more careful, they would use the power more selectively, they would have better grounds for their suspicion before they arrested and, therefore, there would be a better protection of liberty.
§ Mr. Hurd
That is a tortuous argument. The Opposition's proposal for the deletion of stop and search would compel the police to make arrests which may not be justified and which they would not need to make. That is a far more coercive power than stop and search.
Stop and search is a real alternative to arrest. Provided that it is used carefully and responsibly, it is a valuable tool in the hands of those charged with maintaining public tranquility and protecting the public, particularly in relation to street crime—one of the main new afflictions in our cities.
When there is criticism of a power, one must decide whether to abolish that power, even if it is needed to protect the public — which would be foolish — or to surround it with safeguards. That is what we are trying to do.
I am not opposed in principle to the new clause. As the hon. Member for Battersea said, the Metropolitan police are considering such a code. I am pleased about that, but I am a little reluctant to add to the codes annexed to the Bill. One of the problems is that the Bill is already 194 multiplying paperwork. Clauses 2 and 3 are already very detailed. I have not yet looked at the Metropolitan police draft, and I do not know whether it contains additional safeguards. If such a code were included in the Bill it would apply throughout the country under clauses 59 and 60.
I am not happy with the new clause, because it is not needed, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the clause. I have laid out our considerations and I should like to consider the principle without commitment. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will have views and I should like to consider the practicalities.
Government amendments Nos. 4, 5, 10 and 11 fulfil an undertaking given in Committee to make it clear that all searches under the clause are limited to searches for stolen or prohibited articles. Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 deal with a problem which caused the Committee substantial difficulty in its early stages. They relate to the scope of the powers conferred by clause 1. In Committee we undertook to table amendments to clarify the various points.
First, a new subsection is inserted at the beginning of the clause which sets out its scope. The House will see that this does not employ the concept of a public place, which caused the right hon. Member for Manchestr, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) difficulty. The definition of "public place" varies from statute to statute. On reflection, I agree that it is desirable to avoid adding a new variant. Instead, the new subsection provides that a police officer may exercise his powers under clause 1 either in a place to which the public have a right or permission to enter, or in a place to which there is no right of entry, but where people can readily enter. Whether there is ready access in a particular case is a matter of fact and observation. Obviously one cannot lay down hard and fast rules in abstract terms.
§ Mr. Dubs
May I take the Minister back to what he said about new clause 18? He made comments about the suggested code of practice and seemed to be sympathetic to it. It would help us to decide whether to press the issue to a vote if we knew how firm the Minister's commitment is to developing a code, perhaps not in the form suggested in the new clause.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like a commitment. I am trying to be fair and to explain the considerations for and against the proposition. I do not recommend my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the new clause, but I am prepared to consider the proposition that in addition, alongside, or in place of the Metropolitan code, a code should be annexed to the Bill. If we come to a favourable conclusion after consideration, there will be an opportunity to make a change in another place.
The philosophy underlying the definition of the scope of the stop-and-search power is simple. If a person can readily get from the street to any place and is seen there by a police officer in circumstances which justify reasonable suspicion that he has on him stolen or prohibited articles, the police officer should be able to follow him to check that suspicion—unless, of course, the person is on his own residential property.
If, for example, a police officer sees someone loitering in suspicious circumstances in a front garden, what is he 195 supposed to do? He would be failing in his duty if he did not investigate. The amendment makes it clear that he has the legal authority to do so. The majority of people would be glad for the police to search a stranger found on their property. The amendment makes it clear that a police officer is not debarred from exercising that power merely because a suspicious person has left the street and happens to be in somebody else's garden.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 17 recast subsections (1) to (7) of clause 2, give effect to a number of undertakings given in Committee and set out the provisions of the clause in a more simple and comprehensive way. I hope that they will be acceptable to the House.
Government amendments Nos. 18, 19, 23, 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 simplify or give effect to relatively minor undertakings in Committee, and I hope that they commend themselves to the House.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I represent a constituency where crime is far too high. The prime duty of a Member of Parliament is to protect the victims of crime, as much as to care for civil liberties. I represent a constituency where in the past relations between the community and the police reached rock bottom. It was at the epicentre of the race riots in Britain. Our job is to weigh carefully the interests of the victims of crime, the development of police powers and those who suffer searches and stops, arrests and sometimes harassment.
I observe the principle of defending people's rights, but I make a pragmatic judgment about how one should phrase the law. I have no wish to defend criminals. On the whole they do not support the Labour party—they tend to be Tory supporters. I remember canvassing in my constituency and telling one man many reasons why he should vote Labour. He said, "You are very convincing, but there is one single reason why I shall not vote Labour — under a Labour Government a working man is not prepared to do an honest day's work." Mr. Charles Richardson, a constituent of mine who was subsequently sent down for a long period, was a supporter of the Tory party. In my experience, criminals in general tend to support the party of exploitation rather than the party of equality.
It is often said that it is better that 10 guilty men should go free than that one innocent man should be found guilty. We should be able to refine our law to the point where the choice is between five guilty men going free and one innocent man being found guilty. I take a pragmatic view. I have no objection to developments in the law which are fair and consistent with civil rights and which — emphasise this—will be effective in practice. That is the heart of the matter. If the extended powers of stop and search are not effective, but counter-productive, we may as well do without them.
The House must choose between the view of the Royal Commission that police powers should be developed—admittedly, that view was endorsed by Lord Scarman—and the view which is the result of experience. Experience suggests to me that if there are to be stop-and-search powers, a code of practice should be attached to them.
In paragraph 4.2 of his report on the causes of the riots in Brixton, Lord Scarman said:The loss of confidence and the attitudes and beliefs to which it gave rise represented a serious break-down in relations between the police and the community they were serving.196 I hope that I shall not be accused of being selective if, for the sake of brevity, I do not quote all the causes suggested by Lord Scarman for that breakdown. Lord Scarman said that one of the causes wasthe 'hard' vigorous policing directed particularly against street crime".In other words, he was referring to the power to stop and search. He also referred tomethods which caused offence and apprehension to many.Those included the sus law, which has now been abolished, andthe exercise of the statutory power to stop and search".Lord Scarman was referring to the statutory power to stop and search which is available to the Metropolitan police and which the Government wish to extend to the whole country. He referred to "Swamp '81". which was a stop-and-search operation of the type which should be controlled by a code of conduct.
Finally, Lord Scarman said that one of the causes of the breakdown of relations was theunlawful, and, in particular, racially prejudiced, conduct by some police officers when stopping, searching and arresting young blacks suspected (or allegedly suspected) of street crime.Lord Scarman's conclusions were based on facts. They were distilled from the cauldron of the Brixton riots, and the House should consider them carefully. If the extension of the stop-and-search powers leads to a lack of confidence in the police and growing tension between the police and the community, street crime will not be stopped and the crime figures will not be reduced.
Experience in Brixton and Lambeth supports that view. In that area, under supervision and after discussion with the community-police consultative group, there has been a change in the way in which the police use the stop-and-search powers and undertake the policing of the borough. As a result of that liaison with the community, there has been a reduction in crime, as the Home Office would be the first to claim. One of the reasons for that reduction must be the less hard, less vigorous and more sensitive exercise of police powers. The lesson that we must learn is that the hard and vigorous use of statutory powers—Lord Scarman never suggested that the powers were improperly used—is not helpful and that the powers should be used in a way which is sensitive to the feelings of the community and gains its co-operation.
The Home Office lays great store by the views of the police-community consultative group for Lambeth. That group echoed what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). It pointed out that the Metropolitan police are drawing up a code of conduct, and added:The Group considers that this police intention to draw up their own code of practice on stop and search in the street reinforces the Group's request that there should be amendment empowering the Home Office to introduce a code of practice in general terms on stop and search, that can be interpreted sensitively to meet the needs of different areas.The Government have paid attention to what is happening in Lambeth, and take some credit for the reduction in crime. I ask the Government to listen to the views of the consultative group which endorses the view expressed from the Government Front Bench that there should be a code of conduct on these matters. We should remember that when the power becomes statutory it is likely that there will be more searches.
There are two subsidiary matters which are likely to be raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. 197 Griffiths). I agree with him on one of them and disagree on the other. I am referring to amendments Nos. 305 and 307.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's attempt to make provision for searches of headgear as part of the stop-and-search operation. The hon. Gentleman's amendment would exclude the searching of headgear worn for religious reasons. No doubt the hon. Gentleman is thinking of the Sikhs. However, in Brixton and other areas of the country where there are many Rastafarians, offence is likely to be caused if a Rastafarian is obliged to take off his tam in public. That sometimes happens in the course of a search for drugs.
It would be better not to involve ourselves in an argument about whether Rastafarians are members of a religious group. The sensible course would be to leave out of the Bill any reference to a power to search headgear, and to leave the matter to negotiation between the policeman and the person concerned in the street. Someone who refuses to allow his headgear to be searched can be taken to the police station if there is a reasonable suspicion that he is carrying something which would constitute the commission of an offence. I ask the Government to resist the hon. Gentleman's proposal. The Bill at present does not mention the search of headgear, and I think that that is right.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds on the other matter, on the assumption that he supports the repeal of section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The hon. Gentleman proposes that the powers of stop and search should be extended to those who are likely to be carrying or trafficking in addictive drugs. I believe that he means that the power to stop and search should be extended to those who are carrying or dealing in drugs such as heroin or cocaine, but not cannabis.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman nods his head. The power to stop and search for cannabis and all controlled drugs rests in section 23 of the 1971 Act, but only section 24 is to be repealed by the Bill. I believe that section 23 should be repealed and, if necessary, re-enacted. If the Government believe that the power to stop and search should be available only for serious offences or offences involving prohibited objects such as offensive weapons, they are wrong to maintain the power to stop and search—as opposed to the power of arrest—for non-addictive drugs such as cannabis.
Many of the stops made in my constituency involve cannabis. Last year there were 33,000 searches in Lambeth. In the Brixton division alone, there were 1,700 stops for the misuse of drugs, and in most cases the drug in question was cannabis. If the view of the Home Office is that stop and search should be reserved for the more serious offences, cannabis should not be subject to stop-and-search powers. My view is wholly consistent with what I said last Friday. I believe that we should fight as hard as possible against those who traffic in—or even carry—addictive drugs such as heroin.
I believe that there should be a code of conduct to regulate the use of stop-and-search powers. My views were hammered out on the anvil of the Brixton riots and have been matured and confirmed by the views of Lord Scarman and of the consultative group. I hope that in the 198 interests of law and order and of the good relations between the police and the public which, above all, reduce the incidence of crime, new clause 18 will be accepted.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
It is always a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). Although I have scored only one out of two possible successes with him, I share his thinking on virtually all of the subjects on which he touched. I shall speak to my amendments, Nos. 305, 306 and 307, but before doing so I should like warmly to welcome the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister, not for the first time, has honoured the undertakings that he gave in Committee. The amendments which the Government have tabled meet in every respect the undertakings he gave.
As to the Opposition's proposal, in principle I have no objection to a code of conduct in respect of stop-and-search powers, but I imagine that it would be extremely complicated to produce. However, the Bill empowers the Secretary of State to produce such codes. As my right hon. Friend considers the matter further, he might feel that there is a case for trying to draft such a code. I am sure, however, that he would be wise to wait and see how the Metropolitan police code comes out first. There might then be some discussion in the House. I thought the speech of the hon. Member for Norwood persuasive in regard to a code of conduct. I have no advice from the Police Federation on the matter, but I see no objection in principle to such a code of practice, provided that it can be drafted in a workable way. That is where the burden of proof must rest.
For those who served on the Standing Committee, amendment No. 307 is literally old hat, as I am trying once again, as the hon. Member for Norwood forecast, to instate a police power to require a person who is suspected of having criminal matter hidden under his or her headgear to remove it at the point of superficial search. I can summarise the reasons briefly.
It is the experience of the police in many parts of the country that street crime, especially the mugging of elderly people and the stealing of their purse, bracelet or money, is often accompanied by the mugger of thief putting the fruits of his crime under his hat. It is also police experience in regard to some gangs in Glasgow, London and Liverpool that weapons, notably razor blades and flick knives, are hidden under a hat. The hat might be a peaked cap or a motorcycle helmet. It is also police experience that the pickpocket or dip on the tube or in a football crowd will secrete what he or she has stolen under a bonnet or beret. Many football hooligans at grounds, whether at Chelsea, Birmingham or Anderlecht, where they caused chaos, carry the knife, the booze and sometimes the drugs—for example amphetamines—in their bonnets.
A superficial search is just a quick frisk in the street to determine whether someone has weapons or the fruits of crime on him. If he has not, he can be sent on his way quickly. When the police do that, the Bill will allow the removal of overcoat, jacket and gloves, no matter how cold it is. The suspect will stand there without all those items, but will still have his hat on because the police may not require him to remove it. I find that anomalous, to put it mildly. It is absurd, except for the fact that there are reasons for it. One is that it has been conventional wisdom in the Metropolitan police for a long time that clothing does not include a hat. The time–honoured language is therefore that of the Bill. It includes the overcoat, the 199 jacket and the gloves, but the hat has never been mentioned. Nevertheless, the police have always required people to remove their headgear if they think that there are weapons or the fruits of crime beneath it. Moreover, I am sorry to say that I believe they will continue to do that for their own protection.
The Bill does not include the power to remove the hat, and because such removal is explicitly excluded, any police officer who requires the removal of the hat will be in breach of the criminal law and therefore be subject to disciplinary action. A second reason for the Bill excluding headgear is, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee—he had the support of the Opposition—the religious sensitivities of three groups of people—Sikhs, Orthodox Jews and Rastafarians.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Indeed. They were not mentioned in Committee, but I am sure that they would have been if Opposition Members had thought of them. I entirely understand such religious sensitivities. Indeed, it was my responsibility, when a Minister, to put through the motorcycle helmet legislation. I had the greatest difficulty over turbans when we required Sikhs to wear hard helmets. I understand the problem of the Orthodox Jew. It would be monstrous for a policeman to require a breach of a religious sanction in a street. It would be found to be deeply offensive. That is why my amendment is carefully drafted to say that there should be no obligation to remove head covering if it is worn for a religious purpose.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Norwood that that leads us into the argument whether Rastafarians are a religious group. Such matters can be determined by the courts. Much greater argument between the police and Rastafarians would be caused by the police, because they could not require the removal of the head covering, having to make an arrest so that the person in question could be put into a police van, police station or public house where they could carry out a search and forcibly remove the headgear. That would be a far greater source of altercation. The matter would be far simpler if amendment No. 307 were carried.
§ Mr. John Fraser
The unanimous view of the police consultative group in Brixton, and a view from which the police did not dissent, was that the Home Office was correct and the hon. Gentleman was wrong on this matter.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am aware of that. I am not surprised that that was the view of the Home Office, because it is the author of the Bill. I believe that I speak for the police service as a whole. The superintendents association has made it clear that the amendment should be made, and the Police Federation is crystal clear that it should be included. I also understand that the crime committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers favours its inclusion. Therefore, while I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, I hope that he accepts that there is a fair weight of operational experience on my side.
It is important that the amendment be argued out. As I have redrafted it to avoid giving offence to people who wear headgear for a religious purpose, I ask my right hon. Friend to re-examine it.
One of the things that has deeply offended the British public recently has been the rise in football hooliganism. 200 Time and again we have appalling incidents in this country and abroad after which Ministers come to the House—I have been a Minister with responsibility for sport—deeply to deplore it and to say that it must stop. They say that the clubs, the football leagues or the police must deal with the problem, but that in any case it is a disgrace, as the Prime Minister rightly said recently, and must be dealt with. Yet many football fans going through the turnstiles into the grounds or getting off coaches carry with them the liquor and the knives that cause most of the problems.
From time to time the police do quick checks at the turnstiles or when fans are coming out of coaches or trams. The police pat the pockets of fans and ask them, if necessary, to remove their overcoats, because the police want to find out whether they are carrying booze or knives. Once it becomes known—it will become known—that all one needs to do when carrying booze, drugs or knives is to stick the item in the bonnet, so to speak, for the police to do nothing unless they make an arrest, that is where the items will be secreted.
If hon. Members say, "Let the police arrest them," I must put it to them that the police would have no choice at turnstiles or railway station exits but to arrest large numbers of football fans, with all that is associated with arrest, such as the deprivation of liberty, altercations and the inability of young people to get to the football fields. The police would have to go through the process of arrest to be able to search headgear or at least to ascertain that fans were not carrying booze or knives. It would be so much simpler for the police to have the power to say, "Take off your hat. If there is nothing underneath, you may go on your way."
The House does not really seem to understand the operational realities which the police face when they are dealing with football fans. I must say to the Government, whom I am trying to support throughout the Bill, that they are misguided on this matter. It is, with respect to my right hon. Friend, no use the Prime Minister coming to the House and saying that football hooliganism is a humiliation to Britain and that she must offer apologies, when, in a Bill of this magnitude, we inhibit the police in their attempts to deal with the problem.
I am sorry to have delayed the House on the matter. I shall deal now with amendments Nos. 305 and 306, which touch upon drugs. During the debate last Friday on the policing of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) spoke at length about the drugs menace. The hon. Member for Norwood has adverted to it as well. It is only right to say, using very measured language, that the use of hard drugs in Britain is in danger of taking on epidemic proportions. I use those words carefully, because that has not yet happened, but it is on the way. The evidence is all to hand.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Mr. Tapsell) often visits the far east. He will know that the problem arises there, and much of the problem that is impacting on the United Kingdom comes from south-east Asia. As a result of the middle east war authority has broken down in Iraq and Iran, and much larger quantities of drugs are flowing on to the world market. The United Nations commission said recently of Italy that the heroin laboratories that have recently been unearthed in Sicily are numerous and include signs of the re-emergence of the Mafia dope rings.
A Health Service bulletin said recently that the total number of registered drug addicts in Britain had risen from 201 about 4,000 to about 8,000 in the past 10 years, but that the actual number of users was probably closer to 40,000 of whom at least 20,000 were on hard drugs. The problem is coming to our shores, and it has an intimate connection with crime.
I shall give just three examples. I am obliged to the chief constable of Sussex for the information that in 1983 he executed 69 search warrants in his police area with a positive result. So far in 1984 he has successfully executed 120 such warrants, which is nearly double the 1983 figure. In the case of heroin, seven arrests were made in 1982, 50 in 1983 and 29 have been made so far this year. The progression is clear and upwards.
In relation to the Lothian police area, I shall refer to a, report by the chief constable of Lothian and Borders. He said in his annual report:Drug abuse in Edinburgh has reached the stage where heroin is in prolific use in several districts of the city.He reported that there was a serious involvement of the criminal fraternity in the market for heroin, morphine and cocaine, that large sums of money were readily available for financing drug dealings, and that there was evidence that the so-called customers were turning to crime to raise the money to feed their addiction. Those are the considered words of the chief constable in his report to his police authority.
The Times, in a report on the matter, said that a survey of those arrested for theft or housebreaking in Edinburgh in a six-month period last year showed that more than 34 per cent. of those offences had direct links with drug abuse. The connection between drugs and violent crime is proven.
I mention finally the Thames Valley police authority. I have deliberately left out London, because the Metropolitan police were dealt with adequately in the debate last Friday.
I am obliged for my information on Thames Valley to the police authority's chief constable, Mr. Peter Imbert, who said that the epidemic, as he called it, was spreading from the cities into the towns and was affecting more and more young people. He spoke of the tragedy of that situation and said that in the past few years the age of addicts had become younger and the accessibility of drugs was moving towards young people in our society. Mr. Imbert was chairing a three-day conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers, at Hutton in Lancashire, where they discussed the drugs problem.
Lord Lane, the Lord Chief Justice, said it all in a speech not so long ago. I do not have his exact words with me, but he said that the hard drugs problem was becoming deadly serious in this country and that its link with crime was clear-cut.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill is a major provision. It is a very good Bill, but it ought to deal with this matter. My amendments would make certain that it does. The hon. Member for Norwood divined my intention correctly. I do not wish to see the police conducting large-scale searches for cannabis, even though I am old-fashioned enough to believe that cannabis is a damaging drug which should not be legalised, and I have little patience with those who say that it should be. However, I understand their point of view. It is not the cannabis problem that concerns me, save only in so far as cannabis 202 can be a way-station on the road to harder drugs. I am concerned about the cocaine, heroin and morphine coming into Britain in ever-increasing quantities.
The amendments would make it clear that the police have the right to search for those drugs and that the offence of trafficking in drugs has been clearly identified by the House as a crime which we can no longer accept. I believe that when he replies to the debate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to give us some comfort, in the sense that he will be able to point to the existing legislation and demonstrate that the police have statutory powers — not common law powers — to carry out the searches that I wish. If my right hon. Friend can convince the House that that is so I shall accept it, but I draw his attention to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Norwood, that the drugs legislation might itself require reform. I shall not press any of my amendments to a Division, but I hope that the fact that the House has expressed its concern on the matter will lead the Government to take all the steps that they can to contain this appalling abuse.
§ Mr. Wallace
All hon. Members share the concern of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) about the increase in drug-taking and drug abuse. We look forward to hearing whether the Minister considers that the present statutory provision is adequate in that respect.
Amendments Nos. 1, 13 and 16, in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, delete clause 1 and, consequentially, clauses 2 and 3. Early in his speech, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds hit—totally unconsciously — on one of the reasons why we view with great concern the powers in the Bill for statutory stop and search. We oppose those powers because they are unnecessary and undesirable. The powers to stop and search are used when the police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles, but we believe that the police already have sufficient substantive powers for those occasions when they reasonably suspect that someone is in possession of such articles.
If a policeman has reasonable cause to suspect that a person is in possession of stolen articles, clearly he also has reasonable cause to suspect that an offence has been committed. It may be the offence of theft, being in possession of stolen property, burglary or robbery. Likewise, if the prohibited article is an offensive weapon, there is provision for him to make an arrest on that ground. He can either make an arrest or make a report for summons.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds stumbled across our fear when he said that if we did not extend the powers of stop and search to include headgear, the police would have to arrest numerous people such as football supporters coming out of a railway station or entering a football ground. Our great fear is that those powers will be used on a mass basis. There is probably no particular reason for the police to think that each individual is contravening the law. We fear that the power will be used against sections of the community, and the police officer will not consider each individual when he has reasonable cause to suspect that some people are secreting bottles under their hats, which might be used as an offensive weapon.
203 The Minister said that we were forcing the police into using the power of arrest. A constable must justify any arrest that he makes. He takes account of the situation before he takes the important step of arresting someone. We believe that that prevents policemen using the power indiscriminately on a mass scale. If the power of stop and search is used indiscriminately on a mass scale, ill-feeling could be bred in certain sections of the community and the police force. For that reason, the power is undesirable as well as unnecessary.
I do not want to elaborate on the speech made by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), who referred to the reports and the work that has been done on stop and search. He made the argument as crystal clear as it could be, referring to the grave concern in many parts of the country that if the power of stop and search were used indiscriminately, there would be—there are already—increasing tensions between the coloured community and the police, and particularly between young people and the police. For that reason we do not believe that those powers add anything to the existing powers. If the police have reasonable grounds to suspect that someone is committing an offence, they have the power to arrest, and that should be sufficient.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman will know, as a distinguished Scotsman, that the powers put into Scottish legislation some years ago are virtually identical to these powers. Does he agree that they have been relatively successful?
§ Mr. Wallace
The hon. Gentleman almost took the words out of my mouth. I was about to take that very point. The Minister referred to the powers in section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. In the first year of its operation, about 881 persons were stopped and searched. I make it clear that that provision relates only to offensive weapons. Of those people, 292 were found to be in possession of offensive weapons. That information was given by the Solicitor-General for Scotland in a written answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) on 28 July 1982. At that time he was unable to add how many people had been subsequently convicted.
One can take two points from those figures. First, it is not clear how many of the 292 found to be in possession of offensive weapons could equally well have been apprehended under the law as it previously stood—under the powers to make an arrest on the basis of a suspected contravention of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. Secondly, one must equally consider that almost 600 people were stopped and searched who were not found to be in possession of offensive weapons, which is twice as many as those who were in possession of offensive weapons.
The point is simple. We believe that adequate power for the police already exists. It is unnecessary for an additional power to be given to them. It is undesirable, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Battersea. If, as appears likely, the power of stop and search is given, we acknowledge and accept the arguments for a code of conduct. That would ease the fears felt by many people and communities who feel threatened by such powers. We hope that in this matter the Government will not take a partisan view. It is a constructive proposal, to which I hope the Minister will give a sympathetic hearing and make a positive or at least an encouraging reply.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
There has been a recent rise in street crime, violence and the possession of drugs. The public are heartily sick of it and want something done about it. Only the SDP-Liberal alliance think that the law is adequate; the Royal Commission does not think that it is adequate. It is absurd that people with stolen property should be protected from being searched, except in London and certain other parts of the country. It is absurd that the police can search a person carrying birds' eggs but not a person carrying offensive weapons or house-breaking implements. It is absurd for Parliament to define an offence and for the police riot to be allowed to search for evidence of it. It is absurd to seek to remove clauses 1, 2 and 3.
Civil liberties must be protected. However, is it not better to have rules that are rational, include safeguards, are clear, and certain to deter the police from taking unauthorised action, rather than to allow the existing position to continue, which gives the police the greatest temptation to abuse their rights and powers, and exploit the rights of individuals? The hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said that it was better to have the existing powers of arrest than the power to stop and search. I wonder whether they have thought through their argument. They are both worried about civil liberties. When a person is arrested, the temptation to abort the arrest is slight, and to justify it, considerable. Our system obliges the police to justify an arrest in order to protect themselves against criticism for having done something unjustified. That leads to the abuses of civil liberties, about which many hon. Members have complained. It is necessary first to search for evidence to justify the arrest. In that way, the liberty of the individual will be better protected. It is unbelievable that hon. Members think it right to arrest somebody without evidence rather than to find the evidence first before justifying the, often irrevocable, step of arrest.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said that if half a million people have been stopped without legal sanction, it is absurd to say that that therefore justifies an extension of the rule to cover these offences. If there have been half a million cases of unauthorised stopping and searching, does it not underline the fact that the existing law is neither clear nor easily understandable? We should make the law clearer and more certain. If, at the same time, we can rationalise it, make it more sensible and better able to protect the public, we should do so. The Bill allows us to do that. The Royal Commission thought that the improvements to the law — rationalising it, improving the safeguards, clarity and certainty — were justified. The overwhelming majority of people will agree. The Government provided more safeguards than the Royal Commission recommended.
People are heartily fed up with and sick about the crime of football hooliganism. They do not want to be stopped from going to football matches. They do not wish to board up the shops that are en route to the football ground. Nor do they want the police to be subject to personal violent attacks, and our hospitals are cluttered up with injured people because young thugs and hooligans get out of hand. My constituents ask me what we are doing about it. One answer is that we are giving the police more power to prevent it at source.
205 The stop-and-search provision will deter some people from carrying knives, razors, sharpened coins, and from wearing spiked shoes and all the horrible paraphernalia of modern soccer hooligans. In Scotland one third of those searched were found to be carrying offensive weapons, which means that a lot of violence was avoided. That shows that the power works. The public want to see that power introduced into our law to avoid that sort of crime. Who will complain if, instead of being arrested and taken to a police station where he will undergo slow, humiliating and inconvenient activities that follow from, for example, contacting parents, he is searched peripherally in the street, and then allowed to go on his way if he is not in possession of illegal articles? What has the ordinary, law-abiding person to fear from that?
§ Mr. Lawrence
The police do not usually latch on to me when I leave a football ground—I concede that. I would have no objection to being searched. I should have less objection to being searched than to being carted off to a police station and slapped up in a cell for three or four hours, while they searched the hundred people there for evidence.
§ Mr. Lawrence
The hon. Lady is concerned about harassment, but it goes on now, and will always go on. It is much better to have a system of rules, regulations and safeguards which make harassment less likely than to have a free-for-all system, in which one must fight to explain and justify one's peace-loving activities. That is not necessary. We shall remove the temptation to harassment if we pass these powers.
I support a code of conduct because it would provide certainty and clarification, and would reduce the threat of indiscriminate searches. Conservative Members are as worried about the maintenance of civil liberties and individual freedom as Opposition Members.
I now turn to the question of hats. It is better not to argue in the street about whether a person has a religious reason for wearing a hat. It is difficult to hide a weapon in a skull cap, although not impossible. It is unlikely that nuns carry drugs under their cowls.
§ Mr. Lawrence
It is possible that a Sikh will carry drugs in his turban, or that a Rastafarian will hide drugs or offensive weapons in his hat. Those who do not, may be slighted by being searched. Therefore, it is wholly sensible, if a person says that he is wearing his hat because he is religious and requests not to be searched and humiliated in the street, to take him to the nearest police station. Religious people who want law and order will not object to proving that they are law-abiding citizens in that way.
The only people to object will be the lawless—those who are indeed hiding things under their hats. I do not think that we should worry too much about the susceptibilities of the lawless as it is to deal with those people that the legislation exists. We should thus not be too tender about hurting people's susceptibilities by looking under their hats if it provides protection for the public. People carrying offensive weapons could easily 206 hide them under their hats if the police had no power to search there. I therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on that.
The same applies with regard to drugs — a terrible and growing evil. As my hon. Friend said, the increased production of drugs in the middle east and elsewhere means that they are cheaper and more easily available to ever younger people. We are thus breeding a society in which the age of drug-taking and possession is constantly falling, and I believe that we shall find more drugs than ever before hidden in the clothes, hats and other parts of young people. If we wish to stop that, we must allow the police to search peripherally. If people object and feel that they would be humiliated by being searched in the street, they may go to a police station, but I should certainly rather be searched in the street and allowed to go than be taken to a police station and perhaps delayed for a couple of hours so that I miss my train and a vast audience is left waiting to hear my speech in my constituency. Moreover, my wife and family would not know where I was if the police had only one telephone and 50 people to investigate after a particular outburst of public lawlessness.
I do not believe that any of these measures will stop all this crime, but they will be a deterrent. I believe that it is straining our sensitivities to suggest that any of them are fragrant infringements of the liberty of the individual. As a practitioner in the courts I have seen all the abuses for which the police have been challenged, charged, sometimes convicted and often disciplined in the past, which have arisen because the rules are not clear and the police are tempted to take powers that the law does not provide. I believe that there is much to be gained from simplification, rationalisation and clarification to make it clear to the police that if they infringe clear rules the penalties will be substantial.
I therefore support my hon. Friend's proposals, although I do not suppose that the matter will be pressed to a Division. Indeed, I do not believe that we should command a majority if there were a vote as there are so few of us present. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has listened closely in the months since his appointment and the Government have listened closely to the matters urged upon them over the years. They have learned much and given effect to it. I am sure, therefore, that my right hon. Friend and the Government will take these matters to heart and I hope that they will seek ways to improve the legislation along the lines so sensibly recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds.
§ Ms. Clare Short
I support new clause 18 and the concept of a code being introduced by the Government to control the use of stop-and-search powers. The Minister has said that he is prepared to consider this. In view of the support for the proposal in all parts of the House, I hope that he will take that undertaking very seriously and consider introducing such a code.
I wish to share with the House some of the experiences of my constituency in the use and abuse of stop-and-search powers and the subsequent very wise police decision to limit the use of those powers. Such powers and the problems generated by their abuse have existed in the west midlands for a long time. As far back as 1976–77, relations were very bad indeed between the police and young black people in Handsworth, which includes a large part of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for 207 Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). The police frequently stopped and searched young West Indians, making them turn out their pockets and bend over cars and using abusive and racist language. If one lived in the area, one heard of more than one such incident every day. The practice led to a substantial number of arrests, not because anything was found in the searches but because they led to conflict and fighting. A real problem was thus generated by the stop-and-search practice itself, not because the practice produced any evidence of previous criminal offences.
As time went on, so much tension, conflict and distrust was generated between the police and young black people in the area that a series of incidents took place in which large groups of young black people were involved in attacks on police cars and fights with the police. Anyone living in the area at that time who knew any young black people was aware that the powers were being abused by the police. I lived in the area with a large number of sisters and brothers, but none of us and none of the young white people that we knew had similar experiences. There is no doubt at all that the powers were being abused. I remember a methodist vicar who ran a youth club in Handsworth telling how members of his church choir were stopped and searched and harassed on their way to and from choir practice. Utterly innocent, law-abiding, hard-working young black people lived in constant fear of being stopped by the police.
The atmosphere in Handsworth in terms of law and order was thus one of fear, bitterness and hostility and stories in the local press generated the belief that it was a violent area, so that old people feared to go on to the streets. Far from making people feel safe on the streets, the extensive use of stop and search generates tension, anger, hostility, bad publicity and, consequently, fear because much of the fear of street crime is generated by the press, which often exaggerates the situation. Certainly in my area the prominence given by the press to crimes against old people probably causes more fear and upset than the crimes themselves, because exaggerated publicity about one incident can lead to all the old people in the area living in fear.
None of us wishes to make any apology for street crime, and we all want to prevent it. Nevertheless, it is important that the House should be aware that in practice the use of such powers may often generate the opposite effect from that intended by Ministers and others who support them. The resulting climate of tension, hatred, distrust and clashes between the police and the community means that the entire community lives in a heightened atmosphere of fear and conflict.
The west midlands is fortunate to have a chief constable whom I regard as probably the best in Britain. When things became so bad in 1976–77 in Handsworth, a number of us put it to him that something must be done because the police were out of control and the situation was deteriorating. He took the complaints seriously and responded with one of the early experiments in what is now widely known as community policing—indeed, the phrase has been used so much that we are anxious to replace it with something better. He sought to change the system of policing in Handsworth by bringing in older, more experienced policemen, getting policemen out of their panda cars and on to the streets and requiring them to meet the local community. The police were encouraged to visit youth clubs and choirs attended by young black 208 people so that they could see them as law-abiding, intelligent young black citizens instead of believing that every young black person in Britain was somehow involved in street crime—a stereotype view which leads to many unjust policing decisions.
Therefore, the use of stop and search in Handsworth was scaled down, because we have a wise chief constable who realised that we had a serious problem, basically generated by the abuse of stop-and-search powers, and who decided to transform the policing and encourage the police to use the power more selectively. The number of incidents of stop and search — I do not know the statistics, but I know from experience — reduced massively, as did the amount of distrust between the police and the local community. The trust between the two is not perfect by any means, but it is now much greater. The sense of fear felt by many of the older people in the area diminished.
It is easy to argue in generalities about law and order, crime and the need to give enlarged powers to the police. That sounds right, but in practice we know that in areas such as Handsworth and Brixton, insensitive policing and the crude use of powers against innocent people generate such an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility that law and order diminishes. I ask the Minister to take seriously his undertaking to put out guidance in a code. I hope that other areas of the country, if they have not been through the experiences of Handsworth, will not have to learn the lesson the hard way and will not unleash police abuse of the stop-and-search powers with the conflict and hostility that that generates, and will not have to learn painfully and individually that the powers, if they are there, must be used selectively in the interests of the decent relationship between the police and the community. It is only out of a decent relationship and a sense of community confidence that we get law and order, with people supporting each other and going to each other's aid and comfort when crimes are committed.
§ Mr. Hurd
With the permission of the House, I should like to speak again to answer the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and those who supported his amendment, such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). Although we have considered again and pondered anew the problem of hats since the debate in Committee, and although I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has made a valiant attempt to meet the points made in Committee, I cannot advise the House to accept his amendment.
It is not desirable to allow, for example, the possibility of officers being empowered to remove, by force if necessary, a Sikh's turban. My hon. Friend has tried to deal with the point, but it is difficult to ask a police officer to detain a person in the street for the purposes of a search, and for him to know whether headgear is customarily worn by the person concerned for religious or secular purposes. That is putting a rather difficult burden on the police officer. The scope for argument in court, and even more important in the street, about the status of a particular item of headgear is a recipe for confrontation and hostility.
The removal of headgear can be done privately off the street, as my hon. Friend acknowledged, and can he done in cases where arrest is justified after arrest, as my hon. Friend also acknowledged. Having looked at the matter 209 again, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I came to the conclusion that the risk of conflict outweighed the possible advantages.
However, on the matter of drugs, I can be more helpful to my hon. Friend. I agree with his points, as I do with a large part of what the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said. I agree that the police need the power to stop and search a person if they reasonably suspect him of being in unlawful possession or control of drugs. Such a power already exists under section 23(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. The Bill does not repeal that power. It will be subject to the safeguards that we are introducing in clauses 2 and 3, but it will remain as a power.
We are not enthusiastic about going down the road advised by the hon. Member for Norwood of distinguishing in this legislation between cannabis and other drugs. That is not how the law stands at the moment, and it would be a mistake to start introducing that distinction into the Bill. The power exists under the 1971 Act and is not altered by the Bill, except that it is subjected to the safeguards of clauses 2 and 3.
§ Mr. John Fraser
One of the real problems of young people and drugs is that there is not a sufficient distinction between drugs such as cannabis and those such as cocaine and heroin. Having universal powers of arrest, and having them all treated as controlled drugs, does not make a clear enough distinction between one and the other. In places such as south London, a very clever criminal fraternity has realised that because people sniff heroin they can market it in a way that makes it less distinct from the more readily accepted cannabis. Therefore, drawing a distinction between one and another might lead to fewer people going on to hard drugs.
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) made that case in his speech on Friday, and I know that he would have liked to be here tonight. However, that is really a matter for drugs legislation and, whatever the merits of the hon. Gentleman's case, I do not think that this is something that can be smuggled into this Bill. It would be a major change which would need to be argued through. Obviously in policing—attention was drawn to this on Friday—more attention should be paid to those who traffic in hard drugs than to others. That is accepted as a matter of fact. To enshrine that distinction in law through an amendment to this Bill would be a mistake.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I understand my right hon. Friend's difficulty in seeking to frame amendments to the drugs legislation in the course of this Bill. However, bearing in mind that it is what is known as the snorting and the smoking of hard drugs that are now the real mischief, can he at least go as far as to say that before the Bill goes to the other place he will have another look to see whether this unique opportunity to amend the law can be taken to assist the police?
§ Mr. Hurd
The power already exists, and if my hon. Friend is suggesting that it should be diluted or the part of it concerned with cannabis should be removed, I must tell him that that would run into the difficulties that I have mentioned. Perhaps my hon. Friend and I can discuss this matter.
210 I do not dissent from the main thrust of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said. She made a powerful speech in favour, as I understood it, of the selective use of stop and search and the improvements which she said were brought about in the west midlands after Sir Philip Knights' decision. To a large extent these improvements are now in force throughout the country, because we have added the safeguard of clauses 2 and 3. This is the main point of my argument. The selective use of stop and search is the right use of this power. Chief officers are realising that, and that is to be reinforced in the law.
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is here, because in the absence of his steadying influence the alliance party has been saying some strange things. It has just proposed, I hope not with his consent, the complete abolition of stop and search. This means, to pin it down as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds did, a difficult choice for the police. For example, at the entrance to a football match there may be people whom the police have reasonable grounds for supposing are carrying offensive weapons because that is their habit. Are the police to make many arrests, which may not turn out to be justified and exercise a coercive power, or are they to let these people pour in without making any effort to remove offensive weapons which may cause damage afterwards? The suggestion of the alliance party would put the police in a dilemma in which they should not be put.
The figures that I have cited and to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred in his intervention confirm that there are people walking the streets of Scotland at night who, had it not been for the power of stop and search, might have been injured by offensive weapons which were found following the exercise of those powers which we wish to give to the police, with safeguards, in England and Wales.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.