I’m really proud of my party today.
I’ve long argued that the Conservative Party must do more to prove to people from Britain’s diverse ethnic minority communities that it is on their side, both because they are a growing segment of the electorate and we increasingly need their support but also for nobler reasons too (I want the Conservative Party to be a party for people of all backgrounds who share a belief in freedom, personal responsibility, reward for hard work and the importance of family, not a party for wealthy white southerners).
There are a number of things we need to do to convince people from a particular community that we are on their side. One of them is being seen to address the issues that they are concerned about. Now whatever our faith or the colour of our skin, most of us care about the same things – our standard of living, whether our children have good prospects of getting a decent job when they leave college, our NHS, the safety of our community and the quality of our local schools. But there are some issues that specifically affect particular communities. In the past, the Conservative Party has either been ignorant of, or disinterested in, these issues and people from the relevant communities have drawn the appropriate conclusion. I am thinking, for example, of the failure of the last Conservative Government to set up a public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Today the Home Secretary demonstrated how the Conservative Party is changing. She made a statement to the House of Commons about the use of stop and search powers by the police.
Stop and search is an important power, but there is overwhelming evidence that it is being mis-used. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that in 27% of the cases they looked at the police did not have reasonable grounds to search people. And who is it that is being searched? Official figures show that if you are from a black or ethnic minority background you are six times more likely to be stopped and searched. Given that only about 10% of stops result in an arrest, this a waste of police time but worse than that it undermines confidence in the police, denying them vital community intelligence that is so critical to reducing crime.
In the last few months, the Met have shown it is possible to reduce the number of stops, improve the stop-to-arrest ratio and still cut crime. So today the Home Secretary announced a comprehensive package of reform:
- revisions to the Police & Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice to make clear what constitutes “reasonable grounds for suspicion” (the legal basis on which police officers carry out the vast majority of stops) and that if officers don’t use their powers properly they will be subject to formal performance or disciplinary proceedings;
- action to ensure all police forces make arrangements for public scrutiny of stop-and-search records;
- a review of the national training of stop-and-search to ensure, among other things, it includes unconscious bias awareness training and an assessment of officers’ fitness to use stop and search powers – if an officer doesn’t pass this assessment, they will not be allowed to use the powers; and
- a Best Use of Stop-And-Search scheme under which forces will record the outcome of stops in more detail, allow members of the local community to accompany police officers on patrol, raise the level of authorisation for no-suspicion stop-and-searches to a chief officer and limit the application of no-suspicion stop-and-searches to 15 hours.
And the Home Secretary made it crystal clear that “if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the Government will return with primary legislation to make these things happen”.
As important as what the Home Secretary announced – for those who are interested in whether the Conservative Party has really changed – was the reaction of backbench Conservative MPs. First, there were more of them present than backbench Labour MPs. And second, every Conservative MP who asked the Home Secretary about what she had announced supported what she had to say.
As I say, I was very proud of my party today.