Stop and search can be a vital tool in combating crime and protecting the public.

Searches by the police have led to taking dangerous weapons like knives out of the hands of misguided young men and women who wouldn't think twice about using them - sometimes resulting in tragic consequences. These searches have led to seizures of drugs and alcohol. They've led to recovering stolen property.

Used appropriately, these prevention tactics are a key to stopping violence and antisocial behaviour and are keeping Scotland's communities safe.

They're also backed by many victims' families who have spoken out in support.

Latest statistics show that Scotland is a safer place for people to live and that is to the great credit of officers working day in, day out to make our streets safer.

Crimes of carrying an offensive weapon, including knives, are also down by 62 per cent since 2006-07 and stop and searches have played an important part in these huge falls alongside education initiatives by sending out the message that if you carry a knife, you'll very likely be caught and face the consequences.

Clearly though, there has been a lot of debate in recent months about so-called 'consensual' or 'non-statutory' stop and searches with a growing discomfort in particular about searches involving children.

As Justice Secretary, and as a father of three, I share that discomfort.

It's a difficult issue as Police Scotland have said that what they are seeing on the streets are some individuals stooping so low as to hide weapons and drugs

in prams or getting children to carry them themselves knowing that they are too young to prosecute. At other times, officers are seizing alcohol from under 12's for their own protection.

However, the extent to which a child can give proper and willing consent and know their rights in a vulnerable situation is highly questionable. We've got to do everything we can to protect the rights of our children.

That's why I was pleased to see Police Scotland's announcement that this practice was to be stopped. The fact that, despite this, some children continued to be searched is a real concern. The Scottish Police Authority will now be seeking answers about why this happened.

I welcome the announcement that the Chief Constable is now consulting on whether to end 'consensual' stop and searches for all ages. The time is right to review these practices.

I've asked for an update before the end of March and Parliament will be updated.

This Government will always make sure police officers have the necessary resources in place to protect communities. That's why we will continue to deliver 1000 extra police officers in Scotland.

However it is vital that our police command the confidence of the public in going about their duties.

Stop and search can be a valuable tool in combating crime but we must get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of the individual.

Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice