I understand the concerns raised regarding stop and search. There has to be a balance between deploying tactics to help fight crime and ensuring no one feels unduly threatened. However, I want to be absolutely clear, no one should be targeted because of their race. It is also important to note that Bedfordshire has been ranked first amongst all 43 police forces in respect of carrying out stop and searches with reasonable grounds on 95.8% of occasions.
It is true that front line police have told Ministers that stop and search is a vital tool to crack down on violent crime. I was very interested to learn that in the last year, stop and search removed over 11,000 weapons from the streets and resulted in over 74,000 arrests. I believe the police must be empowered to keep communities safe and tackle the most dangerous offenders in communities across the country.
The Beating Crime Plan shows that the Government is taking a twin-track approach which combines tough enforcement to get knives off our streets together with early intervention programmes that steer young people onto better paths for the future. I welcome the fact that an assessment of the pilot relaxing conditions on the use of Section 60 stop and search showed it gave police officers greater confidence to make use of the power, better reflected the realities and uncertainties officers face on the ground around predicting serious violence, and acted as a deterrent. I therefore welcome the fact that Ministers are making it easier for the police to use stop and search powers by permanently relaxing voluntary conditions on Section 60 stop and search, used when the police anticipate serious violence.
I am also clear that there is a particular issue that too many people who carry knives and weapons offend again and again. In 2019 for example, 29 per cent of offenders had previous convictions.
The Government has listened to the front line and the recommendations from the Centre of Social Justice to propose a new court order to tackle offenders. I was pleased to stand on a manifesto in December 2019 committed to introducing Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs). It is good news that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will introduce these orders and the ensure this manifesto commitment is fulfilled.
SVROs will provide police officers personalised powers to target those already convicted of certain knife offences, meaning that known criminals who pose the greatest risk could be stopped at any time.
I understand that Ministers intend these orders to complement existing stop and search powers and the orders will allow the court to impose them following a conviction for a relevant offence. If an offender is then caught, they would be brought back before the court where they could expect to be handed a custodial sentence under the 'two strikes' legislation introduced in 2015.
I support the Government’s approach on this important issue, Ministers are providing police with these powers but ultimately it is an operational decision to use them, and we expect officers to use their discretion.