On 7th February 2023, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in the second day of the report stage. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in favour of amendments to remove clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill, which would have extended the police’s stop and search powers:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I too speak in support of the amendments to remove Clauses 10 and 11, to which I have added my name. I declare my registered interests as the co-chair of the national police ethics committee and the chair of the Greater Manchester Police ethics advisory committee.
Stop and search can be an extremely useful tool in the police kit box, but, like many tools, it works far less well if it is overused or used for the wrong task. Eventually, it loses its efficacy entirely. I have several broken screwdrivers at home that bear witness to my own excesses in that regard, as well as to my very limited DIY skills. That is the danger we run when we extend stop and search powers in what, at times, feels like a knee-jerk reaction. They are simply the most obvious tool at the top of the box, whether they are appropriate or not. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, indicated, stop and search becomes, as it has in the past, so discredited that it reaches a point where, like my screwdrivers, it is counterproductive to use it, even in circumstances where it would be right and appropriate to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, reminded us, with some chilling figures, of its disproportionate use against certain sectors of society—young black men in particular —which damages confidence in policing not just with regard to stop and search but more generally. It is because I am passionate to support our police that I have such worries about anything that tends to diminish that public confidence. I have the greatest concerns where stop and search is undertaken without suspicion; such powers are even more at risk of simply being used against people who look wrong or are in the wrong place. They become especially prone to the unconscious bias that we might try to shake off but all to some extent carry within us. Should these amendments be pressed to a Division, they will have my full support and I hope that of your Lordships’ House.
I conclude by offering a modest proposal that goes beyond these clauses and the Bill. Could the Minister seek to gain a commitment from His Majesty’s Government to refrain from any extension of stop and search powers until such time as it is clear that the existing powers are being used properly and proportionately? Such a self-denying ordinance might lead to us have an intelligent conversation about how better to focus the use of stop and search. We could then look at whether there are circumstances in which those powers should be radically extended—but not before then.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Coaker (Lab): My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 47 in my name, for which I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. Just in case I forget, I say now that I want to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 47.
Before I do so, I want to say how much I sympathise and agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others have said about Amendment 46 and stop and search with suspicion. It is worth reflecting that many of us are grappling with a Bill with much of which we disagree, but we are at Report stage and difficult decisions and choices are before us about how we might improve the Bill—if the votes are won in your Lordships’ House—and send it back to the other place with the best possible chance of it not being overturned, thereby impacting on the legislation in a way which will protect, as many of us want to, the rights and freedoms that the people of this country have enjoyed for generations and which parts of the Bill seriously threaten to undermine. That is the choice that lies before us. That is the difficult choice I have in saying from the Labour Front Bench that we are focused on Clause 11 in particular. That does not mean that we agree with other aspects of the stop and search powers, but it means that we think that Clause 11 in particular is an affront to the democratic traditions of our country.
We have heard what it actually does. We have had a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, a former senior police officer of the Metropolitan Police, and others, telling us about stop and search without suspicion and the impact that it has on black and ethnic minority communities, particularly on the young. Will your Lordships seriously pass into law something that will make that fragile relationship between the police and those local communities even worse? Is that what we want to do? And what is it for: terrorism, serious gun crime, serious knife crime, or the threat of murder and riots on our streets? No, it is because some protests may take place somewhere, and we will have stop and search without suspicion to deal with it. Is that in any sense proportionate or a reasonable response to public disorder? Clearly, it is not.
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