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Macpherson Report: Twenty-two Years On – [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We both served on the Public Order Bill Committee and it was deeply concerning to note that there has been a large increase in the use of section 60, not just to tackle violent crime and threat of harm but protest without any real consideration of how that will increase disproportionality. That is a real risk. The figures on disproportionality and ethnicity and drug use have already been given. They are really stark, and there is a lot of work to be done on stop and search in that context.

Recent high-profile cases have highlighted concerns around policing. The conduct of officers following the murder of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman was deeply shocking for everybody. The strip-searching of children such as child Q and the adultification of children, particularly black children, that seems to be commonplace, the failings in the case of the death of Richard Okorogheye and the IOPC report on that and the conduct unveiled in the IOPC’s report into the Charing Cross police station show that there are pockets in policing where progress is not happening fast enough. Those pockets seem to cover large areas, because such problems have not just been seen in the Met police; we have seen similar issues across the country, so all forces need urgently to address the deep and troubling lack of confidence among black communities in policing and the criminal justice system.

I have been working with police chiefs and the NPCC since they set up a big programme of work on disproportionality and racism in policing, and I am pleased that their action plan is significantly better than it was when first drafted. It has been beefed up and has some real legs. I am pleased to see the recommendations in there and the very honest way in which the police chiefs have articulated the problem. They have set out an ambition to identify and address disproportionality in the use of stop and search, particularly in relation to drugs and searches of children. They will have robust accountability and learning processes, based on security and supervision.

The challenge with stop and search and disproportionality across the board is that we can see the numbers but we do not know why there is an issue. We assume things about racism, but there is not proper evidence. Evidence needs to be gathered about the places where people are stopped, the interactions and what happens to people. For example, if someone driving a car is stopped and searched, recording data is now being introduced. That was not the case before, and we know that there is huge disproportionality in stop and search for people who are driving. The evidence is not there for us to pull together and find out what needs to be done.

The NPCC will review the use of the smell of cannabis as grounds for stop and search, because that increases disproportionally. It will also review the use of Tasers, section 60, intimate searches and standardised recording practices. The breadth of what it has set itself to do shows how seriously it takes this issue. It will increase the awareness and understanding of every officer and member of staff about racism, anti-racism, black history and its connection to policing, through the introduction of a mandatory programme of training for all police officers and staff. Of course, we welcome that. It is looking at reducing racial disparities in misconduct cases and the complaints process, and is improving support to black officers and staff. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North highlighted, there are pockets of good practice, but it is not across the board.

The NPCC is looking to trial and test methods for better enabling black people to have their voices heard and raise concerns. It is looking at the criminal exploitation of young black men, which we have talked about, and is working to disrupt the cycle of victims becoming offenders.

The NPCC is introducing a national standard across all recruitment and promotion processes to minimise race disparities. The Home Affairs Committee suggested targets. I am quite a fan of targets, and I have had lots of conversations with police officers about the unintended consequences of them. It is good that the NPCC has gone for a national standard.

All that work is good, but I worry that the Government do not take this issue as seriously as they should. They tend to push it out to individual police forces or to the NPCC, when it chooses to come together. I worried about the introduction of serious violence prevention orders in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 without a proper analysis of what the disproportionate impact will be on young black men. I worried about the extension of section 60 to protests without any proper consideration of disproportionality. We all worried when we read the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which the Government commissioned, and the lack of action in it.

I worry that the Government have a habit of waiting for the IOPC or HMIC to look at something and bring out a report, which often takes years, instead of taking action themselves. For example, the IOPC and the inspectorate looked at what happened during lockdown in London, where there was an increase in the use of stop and search. Habits formed around handcuffing people—in particular, young black men—when they were being stopped and searched, which the police are not supposed to do unless there is a threat of violence. What I think happened was that a lot of new, inexperienced police officers came in through the uplift. They were not supervised properly and they learned bad behaviour. They learned how not to do stop and search, because more experienced people were not there to do it. I worry that the Government did not see that problem and intervene to do something about it.

The Labour party has long called for improved anti-racism policies and for tougher action to increase diversity in all ranks of policing. A clear combined plan needs to be implemented by police forces, driven by the Home Office, with proper scrutiny and consequences if action falls short. Racism and bias must be tackled wherever they are found.

After child Q, we all called for new guidance on strip searches, but we still have not seen it. When it comes to the pressing issues of reforming police culture and standards, there are myriad actions that Ministers could choose to take, but they point to inquiries that have been set up and tell us that we must wait for this and wait for that, without taking action themselves. A record number of police forces are in the engage phase, a form of special measures. We need a national overhaul of training and standards. There is much to be done on leadership in the police. We need better leadership development at every rank and a new vetting system. We need to overhaul misconduct cases and new rules on social media use. All of those things would help tackle some of the disproportionality and bad culture in the Home Office. All of those issues could be led from the front, with the Home Office taking action.

A lot of these problems are in the Met. If we look at its ratio of PC to sergeant, we will see that supervision has been cut more than that of any other force, so there are not enough supervisors to make sure that the right cultures and practices are in place for PCs. Surely the Government cannot be happy with that ratio and the lack of support for the raft of new officers. There has been a hollowing out of experience. The Government cannot replace the 21,000 experienced officers they have cut without losing all their helpful experience.

The report is very important. It highlights that progress has been made, but there is lots more to be done. I congratulate the police leaders and the NPCC who are independently pushing new proposals to improve things, but without Government intervention and leadership I do not think we will go fast enough. The suggestion that it will take 20 years to have a police service that is reflective of the communities they serve is a stark example of that.

The policing style in Britain is one of consent. The public have to trust the police for the system to work, and at the moment some communities, particularly black communities, do not. The public need to trust the police. Victims need to get the justice they deserve, regardless of the colour of their skin, and our officers deserve to work in a police force that has high standards and a respectful culture.

Given the chaos around us, the Minister does not have this power right now, but the new Government could choose to drive up standards. They could insist on the recruitment of more black officers, tackle disproportionality and increase professionalism in policing, instead of saying, time and again, as the former Policing Minister always did, that there is an inquiry into this, a report on that, and that we would just have to wait and see. Tackling racism is an active job. As one of the resigning Ministers, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), said yesterday:

“not doing something is an active decision.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2022; Vol. 717, c. 876.]