3 December 2010

Westminster Hall Debate: Nick Herbert responds to questions on PACE changes

Kam Gill's avatar

​On 1 December 2010, Richard Fuller MP tabled a Westminster Hall debate on stop and search, raising a number of StopWatch concerns. The debate focused on the changes being made to the PACE code of practice A. Nick Herbert MP, Minister of State for Police, provided some answers.

StopWatch commends Richard Fuller for tabling the debate. His presentation provides us with a solid and powerful analysis of the issues surrounding stop and search. A transcript of the debate is available here.

Although StopWatch would like to thank MP Nick Herbert for his response to the issues and welcomes his offer of further debates we are still concerned about a number of issues.  StopWatch has therefore submitted a response to the Westminister Hall Debate between MP Richard Fuller and MP Nick Herbert which highlight our concerns.

The answers given by Nick Herbert on stop and search raise questions that must be answered. Herbert noted that 450,000 hours of police time would be saved by cutting stop and account recording. This is a gross overstatement of the saving. Ministry of Justice data shows us that to save 450,000 police hours would require each stop and account to last nearly 5 hours! In reality, recording stop and account rarely takes more than 5 minutes. Realistic estimates indicate that operational officers will save 6.4 minutes per officer per month or less than an hour and a half per year through the abolition of stop forms.

Equally so, the estimates on savings around stop and search recording – which will be made by losing vital information around repeat stops, injury or damage caused during stop and searches and the effectiveness of these police actions – do not stack up. Herbert estimates officers will save “over 300,00 hours a year.” On average, individual officers carry out 8 stop and searches per year. The time saving will be a matter of minutes per officer per month and no more than 10 minutes over a year.

When we weigh the real time savings made from these changes against the potential damage to community relations, this is a false economy. The way to make real time savings is to ensure less but more effective stop and searches. This cannot be achieved without rigorous oversight and scrutiny, which cannot in turn be provided without recording and community monitoring.

The government’s proposals to abolish stop and account recording and limit the recording of stop and search will not make the time savings they promise but will undermine long-fought for accountability mechanisms and minimise communities’ scrutiny of police powers.

In his first major speech as Minister of State for Police, Nick Herbert said that policing policy would follow the government’s Big Society template. This means ‘empowering individuals and communities, encouraging social responsibility, and creating an enabling and accountable state’. For this to become reality, individuals and communities need to be confident that the government is open and honest about their policies. Over-inflating figures and conducting vital consultations in secrecy does not instil this confidence.