I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Serious Violence Strategy.
A year ago today, 22 innocent people, including many children, lost their lives in an appalling and cowardly attack on the Manchester Arena. Today, we remember their lives and share a thought for all the families who were affected on that tragic day.
We are reminded today of the devastating consequences that hatred and violence can have for ordinary lives. This Government’s absolute priority is the safety and security of their citizens. No one should feel unsafe on our streets and in our communities. That is why I am here today to talk about another issue affecting the lives of ordinary citizens and to lay out the Government’s strategy for tackling violent crime.
This Government are determined to end the deadly cycle of violence we see on our streets today. We are clear that these crimes are unacceptable, that there is no place in society for these horrendous crimes and that anyone committing these acts of violence must feel the full force of the law.
The recent increase in serious violence is of deep concern to us all in both Houses, and I assure Members that the Government take this very seriously. That is why on 9 April we published our “Serious violence strategy”, which sets out the action we are taking to address serious violence and in particular the recent increase in knife crime, gun crime and homicide.
The Government have also made a commitment to bring forward legislation in the coming weeks. Our strategy represents a step change in the way we think about and respond to serious violence, establishing a new balance between prevention and the rigorous law enforcement activity that is already happening up and down the country.
The Minister will know that recorded incidents of violent crime have risen from 700,000 in 2009 to over 1.3 million in 2018. Does he think in any way, shape or form that the 20,000-plus reduction in the number of police officers in that time has any connection to that rise in crime?
I hear the right hon. Gentleman’s observation. What I do know is that, during the last spike in knife crime, in 2009-10, there were more knife crime offences than there are now and police numbers were at much higher levels, so it is not entirely connected, as he will know. If it were, his logic would have said that there would have been fewer knife crime incidents, when the police numbers were much higher, than there are today. Perhaps he can answer this question: in 2009-10, why was there a spike in knife crime given that there were such high police numbers then?
The figures are clear: there were 700,000 violent incidents in 2009 and 1.3 million now. I was the Minister dealing with knife crime then and there was a spike. We put investment into early prevention, after-school activities, higher policing visibility at the school gates, visibility at night and alternative activities for people in the streets and we reduced knife crime incidents; they were recorded at hospitals and at accident and emergency. In his violent crime strategy, the Minister is now reinventing those measures, having cut them in 2010.
I note the right hon. Gentleman’s examples, but none of them—hospitals, local schools, local government—was about police numbers; they were about similar things to the things we are talking about today in the strategy and the broader response by society to tackling why violence is being embedded in communities. So it is not purely about the police numbers debate.
I reject utterly that connection. We would have to swamp the streets with policemen; there would have to be policemen available at every violent incident for it to make that form of difference. We would be back to Cromwell saying, “If I arm one in 10 will that be enough?” Of much more significance in terms of the propensity to violence is the lack of attention to the question of young people—particularly very young people—and parenting. That is where the Government’s efforts must be directed.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s point. It is certainly the case with any type of crime, whether violent crime, serious crime, organised crime or terrorism, that it has to be dealt with not purely by arresting our way out of the problem.
I am going to press on.
We can debate police numbers all we like in the House, but the simple fact of the matter is that, unless we get involved in prevention and share the burden more broadly in society—[Interruption.] As important, because it often slips the mind of the Opposition, is the fact that if we do not live within our means we will not be able to sustain the spending on our communities and public sector. I regularly have to remind the Opposition that in 2010 the deficit in this country was £150 billion. We were spending more than we got in tax receipts. Unless we start to live within our means we cannot sustain the investment in our communities. We can live with the Opposition’s fantasy politics of nationalising everything on a Monday, funding everything on a Tuesday and borrowing all year round, but we will pay for that in the end. That is why we have set about balancing the economy and taking a strong and stable determination in how we invest in our policemen.
Our approach is not solely focused on law enforcement, important though that is, but depends also on a range of partnerships across many sectors such as education, health, social services, housing, youth services and victim services. It requires a multiple-strand approach, involving a range of partners across different sectors, such as those framed in our four pillars: early intervention and prevention; tackling county lines and misuse of drugs; supporting communities and partnerships; and an effective law enforcement and criminal justice response.
I am encouraged by what the Minister says about partnership models. Can he set out some localised examples of best practice at work, so we can get away from this artificial debate around police numbers and look at what actually works on the ground and how to put these solutions into practice?
Here is a good example. I visited Merseyside recently to see the work it has done on organised crime groups and county lines. A particularly nasty organised crime group was operating from one part of Merseyside and sending people up into Lancashire; a 15-year-old was sent into Lancashire to deal drugs in the Rossendale valley.
We decided to take action against that organised crime group. The local police, alongside some first-rate leadership from Merseyside council and officials in the council, set about dismantling that group. They dismantled, effectively, the café where it met; they co-ordinated with Lancashire police so they could deal with the 15-year-old who was in Rossendale; through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 they targeted the huge amounts of cash being used by that organised crime group; and they dismantled the whole group. We used the local authorities in both Merseyside and Lancashire and both police forces, and we used imaginative methods and the powers that POCA and other legislation have given these people to make sure we took apart the money that enabled them to operate. That crime group is no longer active, and that community has taken back control and managed to deliver a successful response.
The Minister knows that there are difficulties in London at the moment. He is also aware that Cressida Dick has requested additional resources to deal with them. I came here today in the hope that we would have a fair and balanced debate about what we need on our streets, rather than this Punch and Judy nonsense. What he has suggested is that it is okay for nine children to have died in my local authority area because we do not have the money for the police force. May I ask him to be a bit more sensitive in the way he is dealing with this debate?
Is the hon. Lady suggesting that I said it was okay for nine people in her constituency to die? That is the worst example of Punch and Judy and immature politics I have heard in this House for a very long time. It is fine for her to ask about resources, and it is fine for her to say that she does not think the response is correct, but she seems to suggest that a Government Minister is saying it is okay for nine people to die. Is that the measure of the debate we are going to have today from the Opposition? She insults the police, the local authority and her own constituents. The reality is that people are dying on the streets because of a whole range of issues. Tragically, people were dying on the streets long before the Tory Government or the Labour Government were here. I remember patrolling the streets where people had died, and people were not going round half the time saying that it was purely the Government’s fault. There are lots of factors involved.
One of the factors behind the rise in violent crime is the use of smartphones and encryption, where we have seen a big shift. Those networks empower people to trade drugs and to communicate in a safe space. They allow connections between groups in a way that never happened before and that makes those groups much less vulnerable to the work of the law enforcement agencies.
In the old days, if anyone wanted to import huge amounts of cocaine to this country, somebody had to go to Colombia and meet people there. They had to physically go there and order the drugs. Then they had to take the cash and launder it. In the space of about eight years, these changes have meant that no one has to do that anymore. People can sit at home and order and deal drugs, and they can launder the money almost instantaneously through Bitcoin and elsewhere. That is a real challenge for the police, and it will not be fixed purely by putting more patrols into communities. It is also about changing how policing is done and investing in upstream National Crime Agency issues—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) is right to say that there are issues of resource, and that is why we have increased some of the resource. I am informed that £49 million more is going into the Met, and the violent crime strategy comes with some new money.
I really want us to get back to a serious tone. I am grateful to the Minister for specifically mentioning the cocaine market. Will he say something about our Border Force? Will he also say something about resources for the National Crime Agency? He will understand that the average black teenager in Tottenham barely knows where Colombia is and certainly does not have the means to organise trans-shipment routes. Will he also say something about eastern European gangs?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a clear point. In the past, there were plenty of middlemen between the local gangs and the big serious organised criminals running out of Colombia or the Balkans. That has now reduced. Through safe and secure encryption, young people have the ability to order drugs and gangs have the ability to have delivered to their door large packets of drugs from Albanian or Serbian drug gangs, or indeed from local drug gangs: United Kingdom citizens—it is not the copyright of the western Balkans. That has put real power into the system.
At the same time, the United Kingdom is fast becoming the biggest consumer of cocaine in Europe. There is high demand from the consumer, and cocaine is no longer the preserve of the yuppie or the rich. We are seeing cocaine in my villages, in rural communities and in communities in London that would not previously have used it. It is a high-margin, high-supply drug at the moment, and that is fuelling the increase in violence.
With those Albanians or those serious organised criminals comes the enforcement of the county lines. They do not just put a 15-year-old into a house or “cuckoo” the house; they provide a weapon to enforce the drug line. Sometimes, if the 15-year-old is not a willing participant, the gangs will ruthlessly enforce that county line with violence. They will kill those people and they will kill the local drug dealers if they get in their way.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and I, through the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, recently met some girls who had been involved in county lines. They had become involved because of boyfriends, because of money and because it was a solution to the problems they faced in their lives. They said that nobody had ever told them not to do it. No one at school or earlier on in their lives had explained that these things might be offered to them and that there were choices to be made. There was no one in their school telling them about that. Does the Minister agree that schools have a duty to keep our children safe, and that they need more resources to ensure that children know what good choices to make?
I totally agree that we have to educate children about the dangers that they are exposed to.
I go back to the point about modern communications and smartphones. In the past there was often a gulf between streetwise communities where young people grew up exposed to crime and were sometimes exploited by it, and other areas where people would say, “I never see gun crime in my village”. In the past, there was no connection between the two, but now it is all joined up. Now, young people can be exploited wherever they are, and whatever their background, by being able to access drugs using their smartphones. That is why we are seeing this problem seeping in, and that is why the first place to go is the schools—as low as the primary schools—to teach children about how vulnerable they can be online and how vulnerable they can be to being approached.
Another part of my portfolio involves child sexual exploitation. People are being exploited, manipulated and organised through those telephones. That is a real challenge, and I am not going to pretend that we have a solution.
I take the Minister’s point about this impacting on young people of all backgrounds, but there is no doubt that there is a clear link between what is going on and deprivation, inequality and poverty. Does he agree that if this issue were affecting a different group—a privileged, more wealthy group of young people—it would be headline news every day of the week? Surely this is why we must think about how we approach our young people, and why we must adopt what many are describing as a public health approach to this issue. We are not looking after the mental health and wellbeing of too many of our young people living in deprived communities, including some of the wards in my constituency.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, who I know is on the violent crime taskforce. I often find that the crimes in my communities do not get reported. As a north-west MP, I sometimes feel that when crimes happen in London they get a higher profile than they would in Lancashire. We have a duty to point out to all our young people where they are vulnerable. I agree that some communities do not get the attention they deserve. Certainly, some of the crime we have seen in London has too quickly been put down to gang crime, rather than to serious organised crime. It is often serious organised crime groups that are exploiting these young people, but because this crime is put down to gang crime, there is a tendency to say, “Well, we have dealt with gangs like that for many years.” Those young people are just as vulnerable and exploited as any other type of child.
Five young men have been stabbed in my constituency in the past month alone. The community is traumatised, and people are worried that things are going to get worse, as they always do, as the long summer nights roll in. I know that lots of London Members here will be wondering what can be done in the immediate term, in addition to the strategy, in terms of extra funding for prevention and diversionary programmes to ensure that we do not have a summer of escalating violence in our capital.
I understand the fear about the challenges on summer nights. If five people had been killed in my communities, I would feel as horrified as the hon. Gentleman.
First, we are building on the things that have been happening for years. We are getting everyone around the table—the Mayor of London is on the serious violence taskforce—because it is about engaging everyone. I am not deaf to the resource issue, and I do not pretend that the police have not been under stress. We can disagree about why they have not had more money. We also have to recognise that policing has to change as crime changes. We have seen them do some good stuff. We have sometimes seen money spent in the wrong place. We have to work on making sure money is spent in the right places.
So-called drill music often glamorises violence, stabbings and even murder. When allied with social media, drill music can amplify tensions between gangs and groups. How can we call the social media platforms to account and encourage them to wake up to their responsibilities?
I welcome the statement over the weekend from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on consulting on measures to remove both illegal and legal harms from the internet, and on the exposure of people, certainly young people, to those harms on the internet. I would welcome any suggestions from either side of the House, and the Home Office, alongside DCMS, will tackle those harms.
I met Google this morning to discuss how it can do more to take down violence-inspiring videos. The level of violence to which my young children are exposed quite early in the day on television, let alone the internet, will come back to haunt us.
In his answer to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), the Minister said that he was not blind to the idea of resources, particularly in relation to London and the real crisis that is happening in our city. Will he give us a little more hope because, like the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and many London Members here, I worry about the trend continuing into the summer months?
In the Home Office we are always open to listening to more demands. After Manchester last year I, as Security Minister, received a demand from Mark Rowley and the head of MI5, and we worked hard at the Treasury to get £50 million of extra money to respond to the operational pressures.
It is not just London. Merseyside MPs saw a spate of murders and gun crime at the start of last year. There is a real pressure that we have to try to address. Of course the Home Office will work with colleagues to see where we can get more out of the resources we have.
We have found more resources. We have put £49 million into the strategy, and we have put more money into some of the broader responses, including local government and community responses. We will work with the Mayor of London, with whom we will discuss what his priorities may or may not be, on which we may or may not agree.
I wish I had more money. We did not come into Government to cut things. There is sometimes a suggestion that we had a choice and we chose not to spend money. We will try to do our best to meet the resources, but burden share is important, and it is the same in other growing areas of crime. We cannot arrest our way out of some of these things. We have to burden share, and we are doing a whole range of things. A new contest will be launched in the next few weeks and, in order to meet the growing scale of the threat, we have to burden share with both the private sector and the public sector on keeping us safe on the ground. That is the scale we face not just here but internationally.
Will the Minister give way?
I will give way, and then I will have to make some progress.
The Minister is right to say it is not just about the police, because it is also about the other agencies. The problem is that every agency across the board has faced cuts, certainly in London. My east London constituency covers two boroughs. Waltham Forest has faced cuts of around £100 million, and Redbridge has faced similar cuts. The boroughs cannot mount early intervention and provide greater resources through schools and social services while, at the same time, carrying the burden of £100 million in cuts over seven or eight years.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. As I have said throughout, where we can find more resource to meet this pressure, we will. We might disagree on the wider economy issue but, nevertheless, we are trying to balance the books. Without doubt, it is important that we have this framework in place, with £49 million of early investment, as well as other sums, to make sure that we start the process of gelling together all the people who can help to deliver on some of these issues.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I really have to press on. I have given way quite a lot. I am about to read my speech backwards, and Members will not want to hear it twice.
As I have said, it is vital that we steer young people away from crime in the first place. We have to support positive alternatives and timely interventions to provide them with the skills and resilience to lead productive lives free from violence. In the strategy we propose a range of universal targeted interventions, including the early intervention youth fund, which will be launched this summer and to which police and crime commissioners can apply to support early intervention and prevention activity with young people. We will also provide support to Redthread to expand the pilot and its youth violence intervention programme outside London and to develop its services in London hospitals.
We have reviewed the evidence, and the strategy sets out the trends and drivers of serious violence. The analysis makes it clear that the rise in serious violence is due to a range of factors, but the changes in the drug market are a key driver of recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicides, which marks the second element of the strategy.
Crack cocaine markets have strong links to serious violence, and evidence suggests that crack use is rising in England and Wales due to a mix of supply and demand factors. County lines drug dealing is also associated with violence and exploitation, and its spread is also a key factor.
In addition, it is thought that drugs market violence may be facilitated and spread by the social media I talked about earlier. The strategy sets out a range of activity we will undertake to tackle serious violence, including more than 60 specific commitments on action. We are providing £40 million over two years to support the initiatives in the serious violence strategy, including £11 million for the early intervention youth fund and £3.6 million for a new national county lines co-ordination centre that will sit in the National Crime Agency.
We are particularly concerned about county lines because of the violence they are now developing. The links behind the county lines are complicated, and the threat crosses police and local authority boundaries, which is why the national county lines co-ordination centre will be key not only in sharing intelligence but in co-ordinating responses and in making sure that victims are supported or diverted away from the county lines.
We will also work with the Department for Education on the support and advice offered to children who are educated in alternative provision, including those who have been excluded, to reduce their risk of being drawn into crime or on to the pathways into crime. In addition, we will work with the Department for Education and Ofsted to explore what more can be done to support schools in England in responding to potential crime.
However, taking effective action means that the issue needs to be understood and owned locally as much as nationally. Communities and relevant partners must also see tackling serious violence as their problem, which is the third pillar of our approach. We are supporting communities to build local resilience and awareness by continuing to match fund local area reviews, which identify the resilience and capability of local areas to respond to gang-related threats, including county lines. That follows on from our support to help partners.
Police and crime commissioners have a vital role in working with community safety partnerships, or the local equivalent, in providing local leadership to bring communities together. That is why the Government are also committing £1 million to our community fund for each of the next two years. The fund, which was launched last week, provides support for local initiatives that work with young people to tackle knife crime. Those initiatives include early intervention and education, as well as mentoring and outreach work. In March we launched a major new media advertising campaign, #knifefree, aimed at young people and young adults to raise awareness of the risks of carrying knives. That was chiefly delivered through social media targeted at young people and it has had a positive response from our partners. We must pursue, disrupt and prosecute those who commit violent crimes, and a robust response from law enforcement therefore remains critical. As I have said, we will bring forward legislation to strengthen our response to violent crime. That includes the introduction of new measures such as—
Order. Colleagues, we will now hold a one-minute silence to remember all those affected by the terror attack in Manchester a year ago today.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
A year ago, I was in Manchester, from very early in the morning of the attack, and I wish to take this opportunity to place on the record my appreciation of Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, of the leader of the council and of chief constable Ian Hopkins for the fantastic and amazing work they have done over the past 12 months in helping to heal Manchester and bring that community together. Having visited the investigation on many occasions, I cannot say just how much regard I have for the police and intelligence services, who are still pursuing leads and still working to keep people safe. I believe we have the best police and intelligence services in the world, which is why Manchester is back on its feet, alongside a great community who are determined to make sure that the spirit of Manchester lives on. Although I am not there with them today, many of us are there in spirit and we stand ready to continue to help that great city.
We must pursue, disrupt and prosecute those who commit violent crimes, and a robust response from law enforcement therefore remains critical. As I have said, we will introduce legislation to strengthen our response to violent crime. That will include the introduction of new measures such as restrictions on buying and carrying knives and corrosive substances; and banning certain firearms. An offensive weapons Bill will be introduced into the Commons or the Lords in the next few weeks. We will also continue to support and facilitate police action such as Operation Sceptre—weeks of action designed to tackle knife crime—and action to prevent violent gang material on social media. The serious violence taskforce has been established to drive the implementation of the strategy and support the delivery of key objectives. The taskforce brings together Ministers, Members of Parliament, the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the director general of the National Crime Agency, other senior police leaders, and public sector and voluntary sector chief executives.
The Minister mentioned social media. The Met police have reported more than 400 incitement to violence videos on YouTube alone that are still online today. Do the Government support police authorities across the country having the power to compel YouTube and other social media outlets to remove content that is violent or incites people to violence?
I absolutely support our forcing these outlets to take this material down where we can. I met Google and YouTube this morning to discuss exactly that subject. The challenge around the world on videos and YouTube stuff is not on cases where a clear crime is involved, such as bomb-making manuals or child abuse; it is where companies—often based abroad—decide that our version of incitement or extremism is not their version of it. That is where we have to look at all alternatives. That is what the announcement at the weekend on the consultation by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was about. We have to have a proper collective discussion and ask, “Where do we start and stop? How do we draw a line about what is freedom of speech, what is incitement and what is violent extremism?” That is not as straightforward as people say. However, 98% of violent extremism on those internet platforms is being taken down within 24 hours and some of it is being taken down within two hours. We are pushing for this to happen even quicker, through using artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognise those issues. We want these companies to put more of their resources into that, to make sure these things are taken down. I also want them to report this content when they take it down so that our police and agencies can do something about it.
The Minister makes the point that it is difficult to tell, but we do not have a problem deciding whether something is incitement to violence offline. I fail to see why we cannot apply that logic to online content and why he cannot work with the internet providers and the platforms to administer online what we have offline.
When we see these things and we report them, these providers take them down. We are asking them to spot them in advance before they are uploaded. That is what we want. On the plus side, when, through the Met police’s internet referral unit, we report these things, the providers do take them down. The simple scale of the internet means that we want them to do this before or during the uploading. They have made some progress on this matter, although we still think they can do more. I am acutely aware that they have made more effort only when we have talked about regulation, tax and harder things; it is not as though they jumped through the front door offering. However, I think they have had a realisation, through seeing the patience that is being tested internationally.
I was at the G7 recently with people from France and Germany, and they were all saying to the lead four companies, “We have sort of had enough.” Those companies are now starting to move and move rapidly. We have supported the Global Internet Forum, set up and chaired at the moment by both Governments and the big four. We have to make sure that they do more about the small providers, because as they are taking more stuff down, small providers and platforms, based in jurisdictions we cannot get at, are popping up and handling most of that content. We have to do more on that. We have to put more pressure on the United States about some of the far right websites. As the Select Committee on Home Affairs rightly pointed out, we will proscribe National Action yet it will still be running a website—or it has in the past—in the US. However, we are working hard with the Americans and they have said they will do more, as will the internet companies. They are now moving, although they could have moved a bit faster—that is how I would probably say it.
Nigh on three weeks ago, two teenagers in my constituency were shot at and seriously injured. I do not doubt the commitment of Cressida Dick and the Metropolitan police to finding the perpetrators of that shocking incident, but my constituents and I worry about the decline in the visibility of the police presence on our streets in Harrow. I therefore take this opportunity to underline to the Minister the profound concern, particularly from London MPs, across party, as well as from others, about the lack of sufficient resources for the Metropolitan police. I urge him to do whatever he can to lobby the Chancellor for further funding for the Met.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point on the funding. I also say that it is important to work with Cressida Dick and to ask about policing priorities and how she chooses to deploy her force. All police forces do things differently. Members may recall significant gun violence in Nottingham a few years ago, when the city went through a patch that included the murder of a jeweller’s wife. Interestingly, Nottingham got a bad reputation in the early-90s or mid-90s, but that was driven by two people and when they were taken out it had a profound effect on that community. There are definitely operational decisions here as to how police forces spend their resources, but I also hear the point about resources.
I really have to move on. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will respond to the debate and can certainly answer more questions on those points.
I believe that the approach set out in the strategy—a multi-strand approach with a greater emphasis on early intervention—will address the increase in serious violence and help young people to develop the skills and resilience to live happy and productive lives away from violence, and it will also ensure that people feel safe in their communities and homes.
We Opposition Members also want to honour the anniversary of the Manchester atrocity. We share the Minister’s appreciation for the leadership of Mayor Andy Burnham, and for the work of the police, security services, fire services, NHS and other public sector actors. Above all, we want to honour the people of Manchester, who did not allow the bombing to tear them apart and who showed outstanding love, solidarity and strength.
I am pleased that the House has this opportunity to debate the important serious violence strategy. Serious violence is an issue that concerns people all over the country. Here in London alone, bloodstained month has succeeded bloodstained month since the new year. Just in the past few days we saw in Islington the 67th homicide victim in London this year, who was also the 42nd victim of a fatal stabbing. But it is not just a big-city issue. The county lines phenomenon has brought violent gang-related crime into the heart of the countryside and county towns.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for what she is saying in her speech. She talks about serious violence not being just a London issue; it might not be very well known but throughout Norfolk and Norwich we have seen the biggest surge in violent crime in the entire country in the past couple of years. There has been a fifteenfold increase in knife crime and a 70% increase in gun crime. In the midst of this perfect storm and this rising tide of despair and woe is increasing youth homelessness, more children in care, more children permanently excluded from school and community policing completely and utterly cut—Norfolk was the first county police force in the country to do that. Some £30 million has been cut from the police budget in Norfolk—
Order. If you want to speak, I can put you on the list. Short interventions, please; it will help the House.
Serious violence is not just a big-city phenomenon. Earlier, after some of my hon. Friends’ interventions, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) said that this was artificial politics. Let me say to the House that nothing could be more real than mothers crying over their dead sons, and nothing could be more real than keeping our constituents safe. This is not a parliamentary game; this is about our constituents’ lives.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just about the £253 million that is going to be cut from the Metropolitan police in the next 18 months? The cuts to youth services since 2010 have also fuelled this despair and worry.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and shall return to those issues later in my speech.
We welcome the broad themes in the serious violence strategy—tackling county lines; early intervention and prevention; supporting communities and local partnership; and law enforcement and the criminal justice response—but I hope the Minister will agree that it is reasonable to talk about resources when we discuss those themes. For some time, Ministers claimed that they were protecting the police budget and that crime was going down. I am glad to hear them now admit that there is a major problem with serious violence, the crime about which people are most frightened and concerned.
In the latest 12 months, police recorded gun crime is up 11% and knife crime is up 22%. There are widespread reports of serious violent crime, including knife crime, throughout the country. Reported deaths have risen sharply from the beginning of this year. Ministers have said that the Home Office serious violence strategy is designed to address all that. In her foreword to the report, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), said that £40 million of public funds have been committed to the strategy and that it is a
“significant programme of work involving a range of Government Departments and partners, in the public, voluntary and private sectors.”
Are Ministers really telling us that the resources that they are promising are adequate? To be clear, in the past 12 months the police recorded almost 40,000 knife crime offences and well over 6,000 firearms offences; the funding allocated to discourage, prevent, divert and detect serious weapons-related violent crimes is therefore just a few hundred pounds for each offence.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point about resources, and it is clear that there are not enough. As she rightly says, it is about not just big cities but towns, too, and it is also about having the resources to detect and prevent crime and to get the intelligence. That is one of the biggest problems. It is about not only having police officers on the streets but being able to prevent crime in the first place.
My hon. Friend is right. We talk about the lack of resources because the role of the police is not just to detect crime and prosecute; the role of the police is to be in communities and to know what is going on, and to be trusted stakeholders with whom community groups, parents, schools and others can work. If we do not have the police officers on the ground, that affects our ability to respond to serious violence, in more than one way. It is unclear from the Government’s published strategy whether there is any new money at all or if it has just been stripped from the existing police budget, which has already been cut in real terms since 2010.
When we look at stakeholders’ response to the strategy, we see their scepticism about the level of resources. The chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board said:
“Only with the right funding and powers can councils continue to make a difference to people’s lives by supporting families and young people and help tackle serious violent crime”.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said:
“The strategy emphasises the importance of local communities and partnerships yet provides little for local authorities to develop local responses”.
If Ministers are to be taken seriously on this issue, they have to listen to what stakeholders say about resources.
I completely agree with the shadow Home Secretary on this resourcing issue. First, does she agree that no one on the Opposition Benches is saying that resources alone or more police numbers alone are going to solve this? The point is, though, that the current state of affairs makes it so much harder to address this problem. Secondly, on prevention, does she agree that it is high time that this country elevated the status of our youth workers? Too often, youth work is treated as a useful add-on or a voluntary activity, but we need to treat youth work in the same way as we treat teaching. Youth workers sometimes spend more time with our young people than teachers in our society.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Nobody on the Opposition Benches is saying that having more police officers would solve the issue of serious violence on its own, but the Government cannot expect the community to believe that they are taking the issue seriously unless they provide the right level of police officers. The Government have long been in denial about the effect of their own cuts to the police. They have cut 21,000 police officers since 2010, and more than a quarter of police community support officers have been axed. They have not protected police budgets, which have fallen in real terms. According to the National Audit Office, which I hope Ministers will regard as a reliable source, central Government funding to police forces reduced by 25% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
The Government talk about making more money available, but much of what they are talking about is the capacity of police and crime commissioners to raise the precept. Why should keeping people safe come out of the pockets of the community? When will the Government acknowledge that people expect national funding to meet national need?
While the Government have been in denial about the fact that they have not protected police funding, chief constables are clear that those cuts have consequences, especially for the police’s ability to tackle serious violent crime and other important areas of crime. The most senior police officer in the country, Cressida Dick at the Metropolitan police, has said this about the effects of cuts:
“There’s a whole load of things, but of course I would be naive to say that the reduction in police finances over the last few years, not just in London but beyond, hasn’t had an impact.”
It is time that Ministers started listening to chief constables and listening to stakeholders such as Cressida Dick.
Cressida Dick accepts that many reasons contribute to the rise in serious violent crime, but she also accepts that police cuts are one of them. Even the Home Office itself, in a leaked memorandum, accepted that resources are part of the problem. The Home Office document, “Serious violence; latest evidence on the drivers” said:
“So resources dedicated to serious violence have come under pressure and charge rates have dropped. This may have encouraged offenders.”
It is unlikely to be
“the factor that triggered the shift in serious violence, but may be an underlying driver that has allowed the rise to continue.”
On the issue of the lack of charging and prosecuting, what message does my right hon. Friend think that the Government are sending to Mariama Kamara whose 16-year-old son was murdered in September 2015 in Walworth, or to the mother of Rhyheim Barton who was shot and killed in my constituency on 5 May? Those mothers see the plateauing of prosecutions and know that there are people out there who are literally getting away with violent crime and murder.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. If the level of charging has plateaued and people are literally getting away with murder, communities must think that, for all their protestations, Ministers do not really care. [Interruption.] Well, Ministers may try to reject that analysis, but the thoughts of the people in our communities must turn to that.
We want a serious violence strategy, not just increased levels of stop and search. Evidence-based stop-and- search has a role, but any serious strategy to tackle violent crime will involve a number of Departments and local stakeholders, as the Minister has said. We need to learn from what works. The Home Office’s own research into stop-and-search shows that there is
“no statistically significant crime-reducing effect from the large increase in weapons searches during the course of Operation Blunt 2. This suggests that the greater use of weapons searches was not effective at the borough level for reducing crime.”
Research from the College of Policing came to exactly the same conclusion. When the New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, completely ended stop-and-frisk, he found that it coincided with a decline in crime. The Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, had this to say:
“I strongly believe that stop and search should be used proportionately, without prejudice, and with the support of local communities”.
I agree with her comments then, even if her views and those of other Conservative Members differ now. Indiscriminate or mass stop-and-search has no discernible impact on reducing crime. Only targeted, intelligence-led stop-and-search has shown to be effective.
Ministers will be aware of the advances in tackling knife crime and other violent crime in Scotland. In 2017, there were no deaths from knife crime in Scotland, even though Glasgow was once thought to be the knife crime capital of this country. The approach taken there, which itself developed from lessons learned in the United States and elsewhere, was to treat knife crime as a public health issue. That means tackling the gangs and the gang culture, including diverting people from crime and helping young people get out of gangs. It includes work in communities and in schools, and ending the widespread use of school exclusion, rather than class exclusion.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we have good and outstanding schools in many local authority areas, including in my own, sadly, the numbers of exclusions are going up, which seems to correlate with the rise in youth crime? That seems to hold up the evidence on the public health approach, as keeping young people in schools, or in some sort of care, seems to be an effective anti-crime approach.
We must reflect on the rising level of school exclusions and acknowledge that pupil referral units sometimes look and feel like academies for crime, even though the people who run them work very hard and do their very best.
As someone who was a councillor in Glasgow when the initiative was introduced, I can say that it made an absolutely huge difference. I do not know whether she heard of the call-ins that we had in the medics against violence programme when gang members were brought into the courts and shown testimonies by parents and by medics. Did she see that and does she think that an initiative, whereby people could see the direct result of gang violence to families and communities, would make a difference in London?
I have heard of that initiative, and it is certainly worth trying. Dealing with violent crime is not just a question of policing and arresting. The initiatives used in Glasgow are well worth looking at. Anybody who thinks that we can simply arrest or stop-and-search our way out of this crisis is deluding themselves.
A senior commander at the Met told me recently that an entire gang operating in one part of London was put away for lengthy sentences for drug crime. The result was not that the level of drug crime and the level of violence dropped, but that violent crime in the area actually surged, as competing gangs moved into the vacant territory. We need an integrated, joined-up approach. Seizures, arrests and sentencing will all play a part, but we also need the right level of resources, and those can only ever be a part of a much broader strategy involving schools, hospitals, local communities, social workers, resources for youth centres and recreation and much more. Of course, all those things have been cut as a result of this Government’s austerity, and we are now living with the consequences. We cannot keep people, and our young people, safe on the cheap.
I try to visit the families of every young person who is stabbed or a victim of homicide in my constituency. I remember visiting a family recently. They were broken, and the mother could not stop crying. In my closing remarks, I want to say to the House as a whole that we need to remember that, whatever the circumstances, violent crime is a tragedy for the protagonist, a tragedy for the family, and traumatising for entire communities. That is why the Opposition believe that the Government must give the issue their continued attention and the right level of resources. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), the Minister said that if five people in his constituency died, he, too, would be very upset. Communities want Ministers to behave as though five people in their constituencies had died. Our constituents want the Government to pay more than lip service to the issue and to learn from strategies that have succeeded, whether in America or in Glasgow.
The right hon. Lady can question our policies or our funding, but to question our motives or suggest that we do not care is just insulting. Glasgow has done a fantastic job in reducing knife crime to zero—[Interruption.] Police Scotland has done that; it is a devolved matter. According to Police Scotland, the number of police in Glasgow in 2015 was 5,544. In 2017, when knife crime had been reduced to zero, the number was 5,530. Therefore, on the numbers, police in Glasgow managed a reduction, but they used broader shoulders to solve the crimes and the problem, and they should be rewarded for that. If there is an example to show that it is not all about police numbers, that is it.
I said earlier that I am not arguing that this is all about police numbers, and I touched on some of the other issues, such as education, youth services and community services, that are also part of the answer.
I have always believed that part of my role in this Parliament is to be a voice for the people who would not otherwise have one. In my community and in others that I have visited, there is serious concern about how much the Government are prepared to do about this issue. We want Ministers to act as though they believe that every young person’s life has a value. We want Ministers not just to talk the talk, but to put resources, police officers and support into strategies that can relieve our communities of the burden of constant reports of death and killing.
It might be useful for me to begin with the genesis of the debate. I draw attention to it not merely to emphasise my role, but to illustrate that the request for this debate sprang not from one part of the House, but from across the House. When I raised the matter at business questions on 19 April, I was quickly followed by several colleagues, including the hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and others, who were determined to ensure that we had time and space to debate the issue. We did so exactly in the spirit that was mentioned earlier: not out of a desire to make party political points, but a proper and responsible desire to talk about both the causes of and potential responses to the problem.
I was encouraged, perhaps even inspired, to begin that process—although I share the credit entirely and equally with all my colleagues—by a wireless programme that I heard on Radio 4, on which the mothers of victims of knife crime were interviewed. It was extremely poignant, as one might imagine, and we have all seen or heard similar interviews, I am sure. Those mothers not only described the tragedy of their loss—of course they were going to speak about that, which would have been sad enough—but, chillingly, claimed that people in positions of power did not know enough and, more than that, did not really care. Without bitterness—just as a bold fact—one of the ladies said, “Well of course they do not care, because it is not their children at risk.” When I heard that as I drove to come here, I thought to myself, “I know many people in this House—some better than others, but I know people across the House extremely well—and there is not a single Member of this House who does not care.” We needed this debate and the chance to speak out not just because the matter deserves airing, but because we need to broadcast from this Chamber not only that we care, but that we are prepared to do something about the things about which we care. That was the genesis of this debate.
I had no idea—
I will give way to somebody whom I know well and like a lot, but only after I have finished this point.
I had no idea that the hon. Member for Gedling in Nottinghamshire, where I spent the first part of my adult life, or the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford in south-east London, where I spent my childhood, were going to follow me at business questions. It was not staged, but it might as well have been, because it was highly effective. The Government responded to our call, and I am grateful to Ministers and, as I said last week, to the Leader of the House for doing so.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am glad that he recalls the audio that he heard on the radio. Just to contextualise the comment made by the shadow Home Secretary about the sense that people in this House do not care, I have certainly heard, in my constituency, what the right hon. Gentleman heard on the radio, and we must face up to that. Too often, we focus attention on the matter when we see the numbers jump, as they have recently, and the perception is that we forget about it afterwards.
As someone who served in government for some time, the right hon. Gentleman may have noted something that I find disappointing. It is good to see the two Home Office Ministers here, but Ministers from all the other Departments affected should be here, because the only way that we are really going to grip the issue and show that we really care and will do something about it is if there is join up. Where is the Minister for Skills? Where is somebody from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government? That is vital.
The hon. Gentleman is of course absolutely right. As has already become clear from what has been said so far this afternoon, the issue touches so many aspects of life that it is bound also to touch many aspects of Government. We have heard about youth services, education, employment and everything that is associated with what sustainable communities are and how they are built. That affects the work of all kinds of Departments, and the work of all kinds of Departments affects those communities. He is right that we require a lateral approach.
The hon. Gentleman will also know, as I do having served in many Departments, that one of the weakest parts of our system of government is its ability to combine the efforts of Departments effectively. It does happen. Sometimes, an initiative, campaign or effort can span Departments, but the nature of how Governments are constructed, with ministerial responsibilities essentially following a vertical pattern, means that it is hard to get Departments to be as effective as they need to be in combining. That is not an excuse, and certainly not a justification, but it is perhaps a reason for why successive Governments have not done as well as they might have done in bringing people together. Perhaps today marks an opportunity to do so. [Interruption.] I see the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on the edge of his seat—I first met him when he was a Home Office Minister, and he was a very good one indeed.
I was just moving slightly following what the right hon. Gentleman said, but when Labour was in government and I was the Home Office Minister responsible for policing and security and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and Baroness Hughes of Stretford, the former Member for Stretford and Urmston, were Education Ministers, I assure him that we met every week for a year as part of a knife crime action plan to try to bring the figure down when the spike mentioned by the Minister occurred. That co-operation between Departments drove a reduction in knife crime.
Yes, I did not want to suggest—and I did not, actually —that it does not happen at all. What I said was that we did not do as well as we might. That is not to say that efforts are not made. I was involved in all kinds of cross-departmental work in various Government Departments, including when I did the same job as the Security Minister, who opened this debate. However, we do need to work more at having that kind of cross-fertilisation, application and collaboration. If the right hon. Gentleman can point to a precedent that could be followed, so be it. Governments should learn from their predecessors, regardless of party. All Governments do some things well and some things badly. All Governments have their moments in the sun and their periods in the darkness, do they not? All Governments have their brightly shining stars, although far be it from me to claim such a mantle. The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) is smiling because, of course, we worked together so effectively in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and he knows well the approach that I took there.
This is a real opportunity. It may be an opportunity to stimulate just the kind of work I just mentioned. It is an opportunity for the Government to sit back and consider what they are getting right and what they are not, and what more can be done. It is also an opportunity for us to critique the effectiveness of the current policy, and to articulate some new ideas and thoughts about what we could achieve as time goes on.
This debate is a salient one. The hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford and for Leyton and Wanstead, myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) and others called for this debate because, although violent crime, knife crime and gun crime are not new, there is a qualitative and quantitative difference now. There has been a step change in volume and a change in the character of the events that lead to the appalling crimes with the consequences that have already been described by others Members.
I want to speak today not really on my own behalf. By definition, I always speak on behalf of my constituents, but I also want to speak for all those who have been affected and are being damaged by these tragic events not just in London—as the Minister and the shadow Secretary of State said—although urban places have of course suffered most, but in places across the country. We have heard already that nearly 40 people have died this year as a result of knife crime and that more than 65 people have lost their lives in London since the beginning of the year due to violent crime. Yesterday, of course, saw a murder on a high street in broad daylight.
It needs to be said that this crime disproportionately affects particular communities. Despite making up less than 2%—about 1.4%—of the whole population, young black men represent a third of the victims of these crimes. We must do something about the disproportionate effect of violence in those communities. We owe all our people a duty; and when we look after all our communities, this House can feel truly proud. But by the same token, if we are not taking action and if any group of the population feels neglected, as the mothers of those victims clearly did, it is a cause not merely of disappointment, but of shame. I do not want to be shamed by a failure to act and I know that Ministers do not either, so let us be clear: we all want to make a difference. We are here because we care about this issue. I know both Ministers on the Front Bench, and I know that they care about getting this right as much as anyone in this Chamber.
Let us now talk about cause and effect, because so far in this debate there has been some meandering between the two. I want to be clear that we cannot just deal with the effects; we have to deal with the causes and we have to be honest about them. Yes, gang violence is a part of it. Yes, gang culture is a part of it. Yes, it is fed in part by social media. It is certainly affected by the character of the communities in which these people live. When people’s lives are stripped of purpose, they lose pride. When people lose a sense of place, pride and purpose, hopelessness prevails, and hopelessness leads to all kinds of malign and malevolent outcomes, including violence. If people have nothing to belong to, when there is nothing that give their lives shape and meaning apart from the membership of a gang, they are very likely to join one.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about gangs, but does he agree that we must actually be very careful about the way in which we use the term “gang”? It is unhelpful to put people, particularly young people, into that bracket because they are not gangsters. In some senses, using the term reinforces the notion that they are. There is also the problem that, if we put the issue into that bracket, we condition agencies and public sector bodies to think, “Oh well, that’s how those young people act.” There is then almost an expectation that that is how it is, and that we should just put people in that box. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my hesitation about that, not least because—due to social media, as was mentioned earlier—people are no longer acting in big groups, and the situation is much more localised and parochial than it was before?
It would be myopic—even misguided—to isolate the reality of violent crime, particularly knife and gun crime, from social and civil decline. We have to look at the character of community and the nature of civil society in order to get to the root of why this is happening at the scale and in the way in which it is. If this is the qualitative and quantitative change that I have described, we have to be straightforward, but also thoughtful, about the cause, and I think that part of that cause is the decline of traditional structures.
I spoke at the beginning of this debate about growing up on a council estate in south-east London. I had an idyllic childhood in a stable, loving family in a strong, responsible community in a place that I was proud to call home. Now, I do not for a moment claim that my family or the others that we lived among were wealthy. We certainly were not wealthy. By that stage, of course, people had a reasonable standard of living. We had enough food to eat, a well-furnished home, a seaside holiday for a fortnight a year—usually in Kent—as well as a polished second-hand car outside the door and a clipped privet hedge. This was not like the background that my father endured of abject poverty before the war; my childhood was not wealthy, but neither was it uncomfortable.
The key thing about that time was that the values that prevailed in that community were the kind of values that encouraged a sense of responsibility and purpose, which delivered the pride that I mentioned earlier. When people are purposeful and proud, they are much less likely to behave in a way that is socially unacceptable and they are certainly less likely to get involved in crime and violence. That is not to say that there was not crime then—of course, there has always been crime—but the character of those communities has absolutely changed from the time when I was growing up. I am sure that that is about family breakdown and the values that prevailed then that are no longer routine. It is also about all the civilities and courtesies that once informed daily life. I do think that some of that civil and social decline—that communal deterioration—is associated with the way in which individuals behave, and the way in which that behaviour sometimes spills over into crime and violence.
I agree with the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) that of course it is not all about gangs. The point I was making was that, in the absence of a positive social structure, alternative social structures will sometimes fill the void, and they are not all desirable. Some are fundamentally undesirable—indeed, they are malevolent in both intent and character. In essence, that is a very longhand way of saying that I broadly agree with him.
What are some of these social changes? I have spoken of some of them by way of illustration from my own life. We know from endless research that young people who grow up in broken or disjointed families are much more likely to be involved in antisocial behaviour, crime and drugs. We know that, when some of the other ties of community break down, both individual wellbeing and the common good are detrimentally affected. I spoke of having a loving family. There is no better element of civil society than strong, supportive families.
Our popular culture, however, celebrates success over respect, ego over reflection, opinion over knowledge, and desire and feeling over virtually everything else. Social media’s role in this is that it may have provided a platform to celebrate some of the things that I have described. Social media perpetuates a very egotistical perspective on the world as it celebrates all kinds of characteristics that are not necessarily those which build strong civil society. Knife crime is a devastating consequence of social and cultural malaise. Crime feeds on excess, irresponsibility and selfishness. From the desolation that flows from the kind of doctrine that places individual interest above communal obligations, and individual will above all else, first lawlessness and ultimately violence springs.
It may be convenient for the wealthy white City worker to believe that recreational drugs are his own private business. He may well assume that, as the godfather of liberalism, John Stuart Mill, would put it, his actions are doing no harm. Yet the boom in the middle-class market for cocaine is the root cause of the recent gang wars over county lines that have resulted in so many young lives being lost. Selfish individualism may indeed benefit those who spend their days safely ensconced in guarded office blocks, in the back seat of an Uber, or in gated communities exclusively for the wealthy, but for others it has resulted in desolation and life stripped of meaning and purpose. We cannot hope to find a successful cure for the wave of violence unless we accept the proper diagnosis.
It is not good enough for Governments to say that they can do nothing about drugs and the drug culture. We need a serious clampdown on middle-class drug use and an examination of how that drug use relates to the kind of violence that we are debating, because the lines of supply and demand are closely associated with gangs, with crime, with violence and with murder. I do not say this because they are my Government, or even my Ministers, if I might put it that way; I would say it about any responsible Government. The reasons for society’s failure to do that thus far are ironically, perhaps even paradoxically, the same as the reasons for the growth in the problems we face.
It is a disastrous consequence of the liberal consensus that stop-and-search was seen as part of the problem. I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about this. [Interruption.] No, no. Although we are, I hope, having a good-humoured and positive debate, as it should be—there are contributions from all parts of the Chamber that I will hear and certainly value, and I know that that will also add value to the considerations of Government—I do think that there is also a proper place for disagreement. I am going to talk a bit more about this, but I want to start by being very clear: freedom from being searched is really not more important than freedom from knife crime. Where is the freedom in living in fear of gangs, as so many young people in London do? Where is the freedom for young children drawn into a life of violence and crime as the runners for county line drug networks, or increasingly as drug peddlers in small towns and rural communities, as the right hon. Lady described?
The spike in knife crime must be a spur to action, not just for us to toughen our approach, which is urgent and necessary, but also for deeper measures to restore purpose and pride for people in places that are stripped of both. But first, we must restore the safety and security of our communities. That must mean extensive use of stop-and-search. Moreover, the police must be a visible part of those communities. People would be much less antagonistic towards the police—and towards stop-and-search, by the way—if they did not feel that these are the only times that they ever see them. When policemen were a regular feature of local life—when they were seen in circumstances that were not adversarial and were just there as part of the community—they enjoyed a different relationship with those communities. If policemen are seen to be there only when there is trouble, they will be defined by trouble, and that will change the relationship between the law-abiding public and the police.
On the police’s relationship with the public, about a fortnight ago, on a Saturday morning, hundreds of members of the public turned out in the Willenhall area of Coventry because they were concerned about a lack of police numbers at the same time as an increase in crimes such as burglaries and assaults. That gives an idea of the level of public concern, certainly in Coventry and different parts of the west midlands, regarding the question of policing.
The hon. Gentleman is always a well-informed and intelligent contributor to these debates, and, not for the first time, I both recognise and respect his view, but I suppose that what I am speaking about is the culture of policing rather than just the extent of it. I was describing a kind of policing that was once taken as read—routine. Policemen understood that their role was largely non-adversarial, with the policeman coming to one’s school, popping into the shop to pick up local information, or seen as a friendly face in the town, village, suburb, shopping parade or estate like the one I once lived in.
I am a great supporter of the police, as my local chief constable will testify, and an admirer of all that they do. I do think, however, that a sensible conversation at the Home Office and more widely in Parliament about the kind of police service that we want to grow, and the culture that prevails in it, is timely. People would be much more comfortable with the idea of police engagement if they perceived the police in the way that they once did.
Therefore, I do not think it is entirely about numbers. I am not saying that this is unrelated to them, but I think the Minister was right when he pointed out—as, to be fair, did the shadow Home Secretary—that it is not wholly about numbers. It may be about resources, but it is not wholly and probably not even mainly about them.
I suggest the right hon. Gentleman reads the serious violence strategy, which says on page 24:
“Some have questioned whether the reduction in the use of stop and search is driving the increase. The data do not support such a conclusion.”
I am coming to that now. Although stop-and-search has become more targeted, with 17% of police stops leading to an arrest in 2017 compared with 9% in 2010, we cannot ignore the fact that, in 2010, there were 13,833 weapons-related arrests, compared with 7,794 in 2017. Fewer people are being found with weapons, and fewer people are being arrested for having or carrying weapons with intent. It is all very well speaking about a more targeted approach, but in terms of the numbers—
I have already said that this debate stretches well beyond party politics. I know that it is always difficult for Liberal Democrats to step outside party politics, but I implore the right hon. Gentleman to raise his game and do so. I do not mean to be unkind; I am simply trying to be helpful.
The important thing is that fewer people are being arrested, and fewer people are therefore being convicted. Because of that, inevitably, more people feel they can get away with carrying a knife or a gun.
Ten years ago, only one in 10 stop-and-searches resulted in finding anything, and now it is something like one in three. The way that the police stop and search now is much more effective because it is much more targeted and intelligence-based. Surely that is the right approach, rather than a blanket approach of saying, “We’re going to stop and search anybody who looks a bit dodgy,” which is what was potentially happening in the past. It is much better for it to be completely targeted and based on intelligence, to ensure that those we stop are much more likely to have weapons or drugs.
There is of course a series of bases on which people are stopped and searched. The police are missioned to behave proportionately and, as the hon. Lady will know, there is a protocol associated with stop-and-search. Policemen must make it clear who they are and what they are doing and justify why they are doing it. She is right, of course, that it should not be used permissively. I am simply pointing out the fact that more people are carrying knives and guns and fewer are being arrested for doing so. I know that that will be of concern to the Government, and they will want to respond accordingly.
I also want to say a word about sentencing before I conclude. At the moment, as Members will know, there is a maximum four-year sentence for carrying a knife. In practice, as the Ministry of Justice reported recently, the average amount of time that people serve is just over six months. People are serving just over six months for being convicted of carrying a knife, and that is just not long enough. In Scotland, those convicted spend on average a year behind bars, and there is a lower rate of knife crime in Scotland than in England and Wales. Immediate action needs to be taken to address the issue of inadequate sentences.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a vast number of reasons beyond sentence length for the reduction in knife crime in Scotland? It would be wholly false to give the impression that the reduction in knife crime in Scotland is down to sentencing, because there is a lot more to it, as the shadow Home Secretary said.
I have already pointed out that the reasons and causes of knife crime and all violent crimes are complex. It seems to me that, if the Scots believe that people should spend longer in prison once they have been convicted of carrying a knife, there may be some lesson to be learned from that. The lesson we might learn is that, if someone thinks there will be a longer sentence if they are convicted for carrying a knife with intent, they might be less likely to do so.
We need to tackle the alienation that has developed between those who grow up and live in the inner city and the highly privileged who often make the policies that affect them. The liberal consensus that has prevailed and that has failed to recognise the decline in the quality of life for many of the people who are most affected by these problems and who live on the frontline of violence is in part responsible for the failure of Governments to take the necessary action. There is a simple correlation, which is a meaningful one, between opportunity and purpose. Many of the communities worst affected by both the threat and the reality of this kind of violence are disadvantaged—the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington made that point. One of their key disadvantages is the lack of opportunity to gain and keep a job or to acquire the skills necessary to do so.
We have a big opportunity to improve the opportunities people enjoy to acquire a skill and then to get a job in which to use that skill. The first Crossrail project allowed us to do that with the development of the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy in east London. If we look at the kind of people who trained and did apprenticeships there, we will see that they were not drawn from the predictable, normal group. There were far more women apprentices and far more people drawn from the communities where the academy is based. As Crossrail 2 develops, it is vital that we reach out still further and give more of the people who might be drawn into lives that lead to crime, violence and drugs the opportunity to gain a skill and a job.
This comes back to the point made earlier about cross-governmental work. We need the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Home Office to work together to develop policies that provide the kind of opportunity that feeds hope. We must make sure that Crossrail 2 emulates and improves on what Crossrail 1 achieved for skills and training.
In conclusion, I repeat that I know the whole House cares about social and civil decline and about the quality of life available to the people most likely to be affected by violence, particularly knife crime and gun crime. I know that the Minister who will wind up the debate will want to respond to the heartfelt concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the House, and I know that she does not have a closed mind about what the Government can do or about whether they can do more. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to hold this debate and that, as it has continued, the spirit has been one of collaboration and co-operation. However, this will require a really thorough and robust look at both the causes of crime and its effects and what we do about them. It is no longer enough for us to continue with business as usual. I think the Government and the Minister know that. We must relentlessly address the systemic causes of these problems and be robust in our response with respect to deterrence and punishment. To paraphrase a Labour politician who was once in fashion, we need to be tough on the reasons for violence and tough on its effect.
Order. Although it may appear that we have a lot of time for this debate, many colleagues want to contribute to it, and I urge Members to be considerate of others so that we can get everybody in. With that in mind, if people speak for about 10 minutes, that will be fine, but do be considerate of others, because we cannot have speeches that are longer than those of the Front Benchers.
Before I turn to the subject of this debate, I want to pay tribute to those who are currently in Manchester commemorating the events that happened a year ago today, and I am very proud to say that Scotland’s First Minister is attending those commemorations. On behalf of Scottish National party Members, I offer our condolences to the families of the bereaved and to send our best wishes to the survivors. I pay tribute to the police, the security services, the emergency services, the NHS and other first responders last year, and most of all, I pay tribute to the city of Manchester and its Mayor for their strength and fortitude in the face of such adversity.
There can be no doubt that serious violence is a scourge on societies and communities across the United Kingdom. We have heard already today about the 22% rise in knife crime in England and Wales—the biggest year-on-year rise ever to be recorded, I understand. We have heard that more than 60 people have been murdered in this great city of London alone this year and that almost 40,000 offences involving knives or sharp weapons have been recorded by police in England and Wales—the highest level in seven years, I believe.
It is clear that current UK Government strategies are not working, and that cannot be swept under the carpet. Nor can the fact that cuts in police numbers and budgets do have an impact on the rise of serious crime. That is not my view—or my view alone: it is the view of the most senior police officer in England and Wales, the Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick. She has said in terms that cuts to police budgets play a part in these matters. It is a fact that while, between March 2007 and September 2017, police numbers in England and Wales decreased by 14%, in Scotland, by contrast, police numbers have been maintained since the SNP came to power at almost 1,000 more than under the previous Labour-Lib Dem coalition in Scotland.
I want to be positive today and look at the good news story in Scotland. These matters are devolved and police numbers are not the only area in which the Scottish Government have a positive story to tell; I was grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for alluding to that in her speech.
The infliction of death or assault by knife leaves a scar not only on the victim but on families, friends, neighbours and the wider community. We saw that in Scotland all too recently when, at an Aberdeen school in October 2015, a young man called Bailey Gwynne was stabbed to death. That caused a real national sense of shock and profound loss across Scotland. Despite that recent tragedy in Scotland, knife crime there has plummeted over the past decade. Given the recent spate of stabbings in London, it is understandable that police, politicians and healthcare professionals in England and Wales are now looking to Scotland for a clue as to how to solve the problem.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said earlier, a decade ago, Scotland—Glasgow, in particular—had a serious problem with knife crime. In 2004-05, there were 40 murders in Glasgow, which represented more than a third of the total homicide rate across Scotland. The figure earned for Glasgow the inglorious title of “the murder capital of western Europe”.
At that time, I was serving as Crown Counsel, prosecuting in the high courts across Scotland. I came face to face with the results of knife crime on a daily basis. So I was particularly pleased when the then Strathclyde police—now part of the Scotland-wide police force—launched a new strategy in response to Glasgow’s epidemic of knife crime. It was a holistic approach that saw the formation of the violence reduction unit, which sought to treat violent crime as a public health and social problem. By treating violence as if it were a disease, the violence reduction unit sought to diagnose the problem, analyse the cause, examine what worked and for whom, and develop solutions that could be scaled up to help others.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central has already spoken about how, as a councillor in Glasgow, she was taken to the sheriff court there to witness gang members listening to evidence given by the mums and girlfriends of young men who had been killed as a result of knife violence. That had a profound effect on the gang members.
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for giving way on this point, which is a critical issue for my city to this day. The success of the violence reduction unit is a great legacy for the Scottish Government, under both Labour and SNP administration.
Critical to gang-related violence in Glasgow is the under-reporting of it in the city. One of the most effective measures that the violence reduction unit introduced was the surveillance of A&E departments, which cast significant light on the true scale of the issue in Glasgow and then enabled the deployment of effective strategies to deal with it. Perhaps that is something that the rest of the UK could learn from the city of Glasgow’s experience.
Yes. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that, because the violence reduction unit works with the health service, schools and social workers to observe what is going on and to create lasting attitudinal change in society rather than just a quick fix.
Some mention has been made today of heavy sentences. Heavy sentences do not work. That is not my view but the result of research. That is why in Scotland we have looked at a more holistic approach, which has worked. Again, that is not my view but the view of the professionals who have examined the evidence. The violence reduction unit started out in Glasgow, but it is now a national unit across Scotland that receives long-term stable funding from the Scottish Government. It has been a huge success.
I have listened very carefully to this debate and it has informed me a lot. Does the hon. and learned Lady think that adverts showing how awful the result of carrying knife might be and suggesting that no one should carry a knife would help?
Displaying to those who carry a knife the evidence of the awful results of carrying a knife has worked in Scotland. As I said a moment ago, gang members were brought in to a court setting and they heard evidence from the mothers and girlfriends of young men who had been killed by knives. That kind of education really helps. When I worked as a prosecutor, I became aware that a lot of young men—it is mainly young men—simply have no idea of the potential consequences of wielding a knife. They think they can stab somebody and inflict a minor injury as a warning. So often, however, a stabbing leads to death. It is very important to get that message across. The violence reduction unit has worked in Scotland because it is not just a police initiative but has worked with the health service, schools and social workers to bring in young men who are tempted to carry a knife and to educate them out of the desire to do so.
The approach of the violence reduction unit fits very well with what is called a whole-system approach to crime, which was introduced by Scotland’s first SNP Government back in 2008, after their election in 2007. The whole system approach is designed significantly to change justice policy and focus on prevention rather than punishment. It is also focused on inclusion, making people feel invested and included in the society around them so they will not have the same desire to lash out at it.
The whole-system approach marks a shift away from previous policies that were very much designed to criminalise, label and stigmatise young people. Rather than do that, in Scotland we sought to provide early and effective interventions that kept young people out of formalised justice settings. That does not mean jettisoning a proper approach to criminal justice. If the crimes are committed and they are serious enough, they must be dealt with appropriately, but the whole-system approach focuses on collaboration with schools, social work, the police, the prosecution service and the third sector to stop the offending behaviour from happening at all and to reduce the rates of offending behaviour.
In addition to the violence reduction unit and the whole-system approach, the Scottish Government set up the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice at Strathclyde University. It is dedicated to supporting improvements in youth justice, and works to provide knowledge exchange, practice development for professionals working with young people, and research on youth justice issues. These approaches together have led to a vastly improved situation in Scotland. It is simply not true to say that heavy sentences in Scotland have led to that improved situation. What led to the improved situation in Scotland was the violence reduction unit and the whole-system approach. I recommend those to the House as worthy of study given the current crisis, particularly in London.
The facts speak for themselves. Crime in Scotland is now at its lowest level in 43 years. The crime of handling an offensive weapon decreased by 64% between 2007 and 2017—that is a huge achievement. The number of under-18s in custody has reduced by 77% and there has been an 82% reduction in children referred to a children’s hearing on offence grounds. The children’s hearings system in Scotland is unique; it seeks to cater for children and young people away from the court system.
Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?
I will make some progress, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind. We are not complacent in Scotland. The problem has not gone away, so tackling violent crime must remain a key priority. That is why my colleagues in Edinburgh, in the Scottish Government, have invested over £14 million in violence reduction programmes for young people since the SNP came to power in 2007.
I pay tribute to one of the programmes that they have invested in—the No knives, better lives youth engagement programme. It has received more than £3.4 million in funding since 2009 and 24 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities are now involved. This national initiative works with local organisations to provide information and support. I was asked earlier about advertisements highlighting the dangers of carrying a knife. The No knives, better lives strategy goes much further: it aims to raise awareness of the consequences of carrying a knife and provides information and educational materials for use in schools and by other professionals, as well as health advertising campaigns and information on local activities and opportunities for young people to try to get them away from a culture of gangs and casual violence and into participating in and putting something back into their community. Research suggests that this educational work has been particularly effective in making a difference.
Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?
I am very conscious of your strictures on not taking too long, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I am going to wind up now, and I will not take any more interventions.
This is one area where Scotland and the Scottish Government really do have a good news story to tell. Until about 10 years ago, Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, were notorious for violent crime. That is now a historical reputation—not a current reputation—not as a result of some heavy-handed law-and-order approach but because a whole-system approach was used. We need to remember that the young men who carry knives need our help. Some of them are only children. Of course, if they go on to commit a serious crime, they must be dealt with appropriately, but prevention is far, far better than cure.
I am very pleased that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has recognised this and has visited Glasgow and the violence reduction unit to see what lessons can be learned for London and beyond. I was also absolutely delighted that the Solicitor General recently accepted my invitation to come to Scotland to hear more about the whole-system approach from the perspective of the prosecution service, and to discuss moving away from prosecution and towards our early and effective intervention model. I and my Scottish Government colleagues are very much looking forward to welcoming the Solicitor General to Scotland, and I am sure that the Ministers here today would be very welcome to accompany him.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). I listened intently to her discussing the challenges that they have had in Scotland and the progress that has been made. As she rightly identified, that does not mean that the problem has been completely resolved. There is clearly always more to do.
I welcome the serious violence strategy, which Ministers have put forward in response to a problem that has been bubbling under the surface in this country for some decades and is again manifesting itself with tragic consequences. Tragically, there have been 40 deaths here in London in just the last few months.
Ministers are right to identify four themes in the strategy, but I want to dwell on the misuse of drugs and the illegal drug industry, which has become embedded over the decades, not just in London and the big cities, but in towns across the country. I represent Nuneaton. It is just about the largest town in Warwickshire and is extremely well connected in the middle of the country, just up the road from Coventry and Leicester and not too far from Birmingham. It is on the edge of Warwickshire, where it meets Leicestershire, but is also close to the west midlands in terms of policing.
There is a significant issue with cross-border crime that will not have passed the Minister by. It is not uncommon in my constituency for a tenant, particularly in social accommodation, to be befriended by an individual who then suddenly moves into the property—it is known as “cuckooing”—and very soon there is a satellite drug-dealing den in that property. They then befriend others in the community with inducements—cash and other things—who end up hooked on drugs and beholden to their suppliers. This is a critical issue to some other crimes that my constituents are concerned about.
My constituency has recently seen a spike in burglaries because of the illegal drugs industry and the use of illicit drugs. That extends to further organised crime and the taking of car keys in burglaries—the aggravated burglary where people are challenged in their own homes for their car keys—and all because some of my constituents over the last few years, although not wealthy, have started to do reasonably well. They have worked hard and now have nice cars and nice things, and they feel threatened by people hooked in locally who end up working for highly organised criminal gangs who want to take that new Jaguar or Ranger Rover and ship it abroad for a fraction of its value—still a significant amount of money.
Tied into this is the challenge presented by the tragic loss of life. I mentioned the 40 people killed in London recently. A few months ago we had an altercation in my constituency between two groups where a man lost his life. He had several children, who have now been left bereft as a consequence. Other people who have nothing to do with these challenges can also get mixed up in tragic situations. I will cite the case of a 20-year-old man in my constituency, Morgan Hehir. In 2015, he was on a night out with friends. They were walking between one pub and another and decided to take a shortcut across a park. They were followed by three men who, regrettably, set upon Morgan and his friends. Morgan was tragically stabbed with a steak knife, and died at the scene. It is very regrettable that some of these people know no boundaries. In this instance, the men even went to the extent of stealing Morgan’s phone and his wallet while he lay on the ground, either dying or having already died. That just goes to show the lengths to which some of these people will go, and how low some of them will stoop. As Members can imagine, Morgan’s parents have been devastated, his friends have been devastated, and the community has been left devastated.
The issues that we have talked about involving county lines feed into other massive social challenges that we face in our communities. For some months I have been working on a steering group with an organisation called P3, which was commissioned by Warwickshire County Council to support rough sleepers as an outreach organisation. It has become increasingly obvious to the steering group that the majority of the small but significant group of rough sleepers in my constituency are in that position because they have lost tenancies, generally in the social sector.
A frequent scenario is that people move in with someone who has a social tenancy—not always of that person’s own volition, because vulnerable people often feel threatened and do not feel able to throw out others who come to stay with them—and those people, often in a flat, end up making life hell for the other tenants in the block. At that point, the tenants who are having to live with the antisocial behaviour are likely to contact the local authority or housing association, and the holder of the tenancy often loses it as a result. It is apparent to me that many people have held two or three tenancies from a local authority or other social housing provider and have lost them because of the actions of others, which is clearly leading to a wider social problem.
So far we have all talked about things that are depressing, but I now want to talk about something that I find quite uplifting within the difficult situation that we face. One of the biggest problems is putting across to young people, in an educational way, that dabbling in drugs, getting hooked on drugs and hooking up with people who are involved with drugs is bad news, and they should avoid it at all costs. I have recently been heartened by the work of an organisation in Warwickshire called Street Aware, which was started by Councillor Richard Smith, and whose programme director is a lady called Donna Williamson. The organisation works with and trains young people in the issues surrounding drugs and the problems caused by them.
Those young people—they are unpaid, but they want to make a difference in their communities, and I pay tribute to them—then go out to schools and speak to school assemblies. They are speaking to their peers, so it not like one of us going and speaking to young people in a school where we are seen as just people in authority: what do we know? They speak to their peers on the same level, and make very clear to them the difficulties that they will get themselves into if they become involved in drugs. I commend Street Aware, Councillor Richard Smith, Donna Williamson, and those young people who are doing such a good job for our communities. I was recently delighted to attend a National Crimebeat Awards ceremony at which Street Aware scooped second prize for its work for local communities in Warwickshire.
We need more education: we need more education about drugs, and we need to support organisations such as Street Aware. We also need to be doing the same in respect of knives. As the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West said, one of the key planks of the success we have seen, particularly in Glasgow, has been making people aware of the problems that will be caused if they carry knives and use them. Quite often these young people will not want to use a knife, but if they are being threatened and told by somebody who they are running drugs for that they must carry a knife, they will feel compelled to do so, and if they get into a situation where they are challenged and they panic, they might well use that knife without thinking, only to realise afterwards that the consequences for the person they have attacked and for themselves are massive. Using a knife is likely to blight their life as well as that of the person it has been used against.
We must also do more to help young people to engage with society. There are people who engage very well, such as those who play football, go to athletics clubs or attend the Scouts, but there are others who do not get involved in any community activity at all, and we need to look more carefully at how we can get them engaged.
I also welcome the measures in the strategy to do with the police. I welcome the extra support my police in Warwickshire have received recently, and I am glad to say that my police and crime commissioner, Philip Seccombe, is employing an additional 50 police officers in Warwickshire. That might seem a small number to Members who represent city communities, but Warwickshire Police is the second smallest police force in the country and 50 officers represent an extremely important resource. We should also look not just at how many police officers we have got, but how we use them. That is important because many of the offences we are talking about are cross-border crimes; they do not recognise administrative barriers. We must ensure, therefore, that our police forces—whether West Midlands, Warwickshire, West Mercia or Leicestershire—are all working together, sharing intelligence and working with the local authorities in their areas, and that in turn the local authorities and other services are passing intelligence between each other.
I serve on the Select Committee on Home Affairs and we went to see the National Crime Agency to talk about county lines. The NCA made the point that these crimes are not just cross-border within this country, but are cross-border across Europe and the world. One of the worries about Brexit that the NCA expressed was that at the moment we can arrest people, follow people and collaborate with other countries, and if we do not get that sorted when we leave the EU, we will be in big trouble.
The hon. Lady is right from the point of view that the world has in recent decades become a very small place, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) eloquently pointed out—as did my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime—there are places from which people can send things through the post right to somebody else’s door; they no longer need a long distribution chain with items changing hands. The Prime Minister has been clear about this country and its exit from the EU and about wanting to maintain that information-sharing, working with other countries in the EU and beyond. Although we are leaving the EU, we are still very much part of Europe and we want to continue to work with our European partners to ensure that we support and assist each other in reducing the amount of crime.
In the absence of the Security Minister, and speaking as the ex-Security Minister, I can tell my hon. Friend that that co-operation is very much part and parcel of how this Government and all Governments operate. Much of it is international, and it is not limited by the European Union. The Five Eyes community is an example of such co-operation. The chances of that co-operation stopping are very slim indeed, because of the mutual interests that lie at its heart.
I understand what my right hon. Friend says. He has considerable knowledge in this area of policy, and he is absolutely right to say that the will is there to ensure that, on leaving the EU, this country will continue to be a partner of other countries within the EU in tackling the challenges that we all want to deal with.
I welcome the early intervention youth fund that the Government have announced. Our police and crime commissioners, being embedded in their communities across the country, are ideally placed to use that funding to work with local authorities and other partners, whether in the not-for-profit sector or the private sector, to deliver programmes to engage young people and pull them away from gang culture and from communities where they might be vulnerable. I certainly welcome that.
I also welcome the strategy that has been put forward today. This debate has given me the opportunity to put on record a number of my concerns about keeping my constituents safe, and I hope that, through today’s debate, through the work that the Government will do on the strategy, and through the additional measures that the Home Office is taking, particularly in its work with the Treasury, we will be able to tackle some of the underlying issues that have been bubbling under the surface. As I have said, we really must get under the surface to tackle them.
I want to begin by thanking the Minister for finally providing the time to debate this extremely important issue. It might interest the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) to know that I have been requesting this debate since 22 March, and I am grateful to everyone in the Chamber who also requested such a debate on 19 April. The Government’s strategy was published on 9 April and finally, on 22 May, we have a chance to debate it. Since I first called for this debate, we have lost 20 people to violent murders in London alone.
Before I begin, I want to urge the Minister to listen and genuinely take on board the comments that have been made by Members across the House today. This is not an issue that we can afford to play politics with. We know that the rise in youth violence has not just happened overnight, and we must realise that developing the right solutions will not happen overnight either. We will not fix violence with a few years’ worth of funding in a single parliamentary term. This will require cross-party working on a generational scale. We need a long-term strategy that Government after Government—I hope one of them will be a Labour Government—will continue to implement, no matter who is in power. We owe this to every person who has lost their life to violence, to every family that has lost a loved one and to every community still traumatised by violence.
Many Members will know that I am keen for us genuinely to address this issue, and that that has been driven by what I see locally. Since I was first elected, we have lost seven young lives: Shaquan Fearon, 17; Naseem Galleze, 17; Kabba Kamara, 23; Jamar Walker, 15; Myron Yarde, 17; Rukevwe Tadafe, 21; and Leoandro Osemeke, 16. In one school year, Lewisham Deptford has lost seven young people to violent deaths. Many teenagers in my constituency know someone who has been stabbed or murdered, and this breaks my heart. Those young people were part of our local community. They had families and friends, and those people are now grieving and hurting. Nobody quite understands why those lives were taken so needlessly and so senselessly. If this happened in a football stadium or in a workplace, we would rightly be crying out for a public inquiry.
In London we have had more than 60 murders since the start of this year, so we all know the Government need to act. We all need to act, and we need to do something different. We need to get in there and understand the root causes. What early interventions can we make to ensure that no young person carries a knife, and certainly never uses one? Prevention and early intervention are what it must be about. No young person is born carrying a knife. Something happens that leads them to feel they need to carry one, be it fears about their safety or a desire to fit in. Thankfully, we all now recognise that prevention and early intervention are better than cure.
I compliment the Government on this strategy, which rightly states that the only way truly to tackle violence is with early intervention and prevention. The strategy talks about using teachable moments to engage with young people, but I do not believe that teachable moment is when a kid turns up at A&E having been stabbed—that is not good enough. Why only then do they have a youth worker to work with them? I want us to be far more ambitious.
We need to start far, far earlier, working with families from birth by providing support such as Sure Start, which works with a child and their family from a pre-school age. Let us have that as the teachable moment, or does it not provide a good enough photo opportunity? The media and the Government, when talking about this issue, always seem to glamorise it: the media, with photos of gangsters or knives, make areas out to be the hood; and the Government with photo ops in A&E or with ex-gangsters.
Our young people are cool. They are cool because they are our future lawyers, bankers, nurses, doctors, social workers, footballers, music artists and, indeed, politicians. They can go on and achieve anything, and we have to ensure that we provide them with the opportunities so they can do anything.
To be brutal, the Government have provided an excellent analysis of the problem but, quite frankly, this is not a decent enough strategy. It is tinkering at the edges. At £40 million, the strategy just is not enough, especially when we consider that, at the same time, £387 million has been cut from our youth services.
The cross-party Youth Violence Commission, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna), the hon. Members for Braintree (James Cleverly) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), the right hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and I have been working with our academic partner, Warwick University, has been studying the underlying causes of youth violence for nearly two years.
In February 2018 we conducted a national survey of more than 2,200 young people looking at their experiences of violence. More than 70% of young people tell us they are exposed to serious violence in real life at least once a month, and younger respondents aged eight to 19 experience the most serious violence. More than 16% of young people say they do not feel safe in their own home. Thirty-eight per cent. of young people know at least one person who sells drugs and, shockingly, almost 10% know more than 10 people who do. Forty per cent. of young people agree it is easy to buy illegal drugs where they live. And 33% of young people know at least one person who carries a weapon, and 7% know more than 10 people who do.
Put simply, this shows us that our young people are experiencing adverse childhood experiences far too often. We must do more to address that. I am pleased that the Government’s strategy references ACEs and the need to have a trauma-informed approach to policing, the youth justice system and looked-after children.
I am also pleased that police forces in Wales will be piloting a public health approach. We already know from the work of the violence reduction unit in Scotland that closer integration of services and communities can produce extremely positive results, but with just £7 million allocated to this public health approach, following £58.8 million of cuts to Welsh policing, surely the funding does not even fill the gap. We have seen 59% cuts to the Youth Justice Board, but those have been countered by a 23% increase in what we have to spend on our looked-after children. We therefore have to question whether we are paying for failure, because we have not invested in youth services, children’s services and schools.
We do know that we can get dramatic results by investing in and taking a public health approach to addressing serious violence; listening to communities, not dictating to them; and seeing the evidence of how such an approach works from Scotland, as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned, from Chicago and elsewhere. With Birmingham, Reading and many London boroughs looking to replicate this, surely it is time we seek to do this on a wider scale, empower our communities to do this and look for a public health approach.
We have been listening to people and trying to find solutions that work. As part of the work of the commission, we held a series of evidence sessions where we listened to experts, practitioners and, most importantly, young people on a range of issues, including youth services, trauma and mental health, education and housing. I have visited numerous youth organisations and projects across the country. Our last session took place yesterday, and it covered policing and the criminal justice system. We had an interesting discussion on drugs. Some believed that if we legalised drugs, that would be enough to stop the drugs market. Others rightly identified the disparity between the treatment of, say, a young white kid caught with drugs at university and a young black kid caught with drugs on a street corner. The law is not implemented indiscriminately: black people are twice as likely as white people to be charged with possession of drugs, despite lower rates of drug use.
One thing we agreed on was the importance of educating people on the societal impact of recreational drug use. Many people today are conscious of where they get their clothes, coffee and meat from, but have a blind spot when it comes to the illegal drug market. Many of the people who are so careful to buy only Fairtrade coffee and wear ethically sourced clothes are the same people who do cocaine at the weekends, with no consideration of the wider impact of this habit. Perhaps if there were educational programmes on the real harm caused by the drug market, more people would treat cocaine with the same disdain they do to clothes made in sweatshops or eggs from caged hens.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent argument, which associates that middle class so-called “recreational drug use” with the normalisation of drugs and the supply lines that do so much damage. One person’s recreation is another person’s misery.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, and I think this is probably one area where we would have a cross-party consensus.
Some other clear themes emerged from the commission’s evidence sessions and the visits that I undertook. The Government’s serious violence strategy has much that aligns with our work, particularly a focus on early intervention, which is crucial. Many young people who are affected by serious crime, either as a victim or a perpetrator, have themselves been subjected to adverse childhood experiences. As a result, they grow up with unaddressed trauma and mental health issues, which can make them extremely vulnerable to negative influences, so support mechanisms are crucial. Young people need to have consistent and safe spaces where they can go for advice and support. Those could be counsellors in school, mentors or role models, community spaces, or grassroots charities and organisations. Right now, too many young people do not have access to any of those. We must do more to provide the training and funding for these types of activities. Prevention is always better than cure, and in this case prevention will undoubtedly save lives.
One thing we have definitely learnt from our work is that there are no quick fixes. The path to change will require long-term investment and an integrated approach, with public services, the police, communities and individuals all working closely together. The commission’s work has produced a lot of questions that we must address and that are beyond the current scope of the serious violence strategy, because the net has not yet been cast this wide. We must ask ourselves whether our school system is fit for purpose. Police officers in Lewisham have told me that the most dangerous time of day for stabbings among young people is after school and before parents come home from work. Should we therefore consider changing the hour that school finishes at to, say, 5 pm or 6 pm?
We must look at whether young children have enough positive male role models in their lives. Should we look into recruiting 50% male primary school teachers? Should we teach sex and relationship education at an earlier age? Perhaps we should teach primary school children what positive and negative relationships look like. Should our teachers be trained to teach in a trauma-informed way? Should we have dedicated police officers in all our schools, including primary schools, to build up trust with our young people so that they know police officers are safe people to speak to? Should we aim to have a policy of zero exclusions in schools?
Should we revisit the school syllabus, so that we can actually give young people the life skills for future employment—for example, by teaching them about budgeting, getting a mortgage or investing? Should we also teach social media classes that not only prepare young people for employment but ensure that they are safe online? Should we change our history syllabus to ensure it is much more culturally diverse and representative of our communities? Are we providing the right level of mental health support for young people in school?
There are also questions about youth service provision. How do we ensure that there is less needless competition between charities, and instead foster more collaboration? Time and again, grassroots charities see the usual suspects —the large charities that are able to afford bidding teams and that know how the system works—get funding for programmes. How do we provide long-term, sustainable funding for programmes that prove that they get results, run by smaller organisations right in the heart of our communities? As politicians, we have a responsibility to our young people and future generations to answer all those questions.
There is so much more that I could say and want to say, but I want to ensure that everybody gets to speak in the debate. Hopefully, Members can see that the youth violence commission’s work has been comprehensive and rigorous. Our initial findings will be published before the summer recess. I am grateful that the Prime Minister has agreed to meet me to discuss our work. As chair of the youth violence commission, I am aware of how many previous reports and strategies successive Governments have published that have been related to youth violence in one way or another. Many of the recommendations from those reports have never been implemented or, when they have been, progress has not been evaluated. I hope the Government’s serious violence strategy does not follow the same path, because young people continue to die on our streets. We owe it to them and to future generations to make sure that we fix this.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones). As I listened to his oration, I was struck by the comparison between his constituency—which, incidentally, I have never visited—and my own, and by how many shared experiences we have. It is of course also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). Although I do not agree with everything that she says, she speaks with such passion and is clearly so very dedicated to this most important of issues.
I think I speak for every single Member of this House in saying that there is no question but that we want to tackle and have a passion for tackling the scourge that is knife crime and youth violence. I wish to touch on a couple of specific points in respect of the serious violence strategy. Several Members have already made the case so passionately and compellingly for why it is so important to get this right: because of the impact of knife crime, violent crime and murder on not just families but whole communities. I particularly remember the cases in recent years of two young people, Nahid Almanea and James Attfield, who were stabbed to death in my constituency. They were horrific murders that really shook and affected the entire community.
I am going to focus on young people and children. Why? Because, in too many cases, children and young people are not just the victims of knife crime and youth violence but, tragically, the perpetrators, too. This problem is not unique to London and our major cities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton said. If we went back 10, 15 or 20 years, we could have probably said that. Would we have seen and heard Members of Parliament for Nuneaton and Colchester making a contribution such as this to these debates? Probably not because instances of this nature were a rarity; they were not commonplace. However, one phenomenon that we have seen, particularly in the past three to five years, is the growth of county lines. It is really concerning how this issue is stretching out further and further from our major cities. First, it was just south Essex, then it moved up to mid-Essex, and now it is prevalent in north Essex and beyond; I reference, of course, Colchester, my own constituency.
Up until there were incidents in my own constituency, I had no dealings with or knowledge of county lines. When we see some of the activity that takes place, of course, it all revolves around drugs. Colchester is just one example; there are towns up and down the country that are being affected by county line operations. When we talk about the individuals who operate these county lines, they are not, in effect, the drug dealers; they are the kingpins—they are the people who never touch drugs. It is the people further down the line who are actually peddling the drugs and bringing to our towns, up and down our country, not just their drugs, but their violence and the intimidation that comes with it.
In one particularly striking incident in the town that I represent, there were six knife attacks in one evening. It was not particularly late—I think that it was about 6 pm in the evening in Colchester. Interestingly, all six were committed by, and perpetrated against, individuals who were not from my town; they were all from London and they were rival drug gangs. They came to Colchester, bringing with them that violence and intimidation to sell drugs on what they saw as a fertile patch—a market that was not, and is not, saturated in the way that London and so many other places are.
The other concerning development, which is also related to county line activity, is cuckooing. This was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton. Again, it was not something that I had come across until a constituent raised it with me on a Friday in my constituency office. Without being over-disparaging, I could see that he was clearly a drug user himself. He said that his flat had been taken over by individuals from London whom he had willingly let in. They were threatening him with a firearm, had huge quantities of class A drugs and were using his property as a base from which to deal and to peddle their drugs over the course of a week, and sometimes two. Sadly, we are seeing that pattern of behaviour repeated.
More worrying than that is whom these vicious drug gangs are preying on in terms of their targeting for the cuckooing activity. It tends to be prostitutes, people with mental health issues, those who are in social housing and particularly isolated and existing drug addicts. They know that these individuals are vulnerable and can be targeted.
That is worrying enough in itself, and an issue that we should tackle, but the greatest concern is the use of children in county line operations and cuckooing—whether it is blackmail or bribing them with money. They may initially be bought a pair of trainers, at which point they have been bought. Seemingly the trainers are a gift, but at that point those children are forever indebted to the drug dealer. There may be threats to their family, or intimidation and violence either on their family or on their person. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) said, it may be that the young person wants to reach out and look for somebody who will give them that sense of belonging. It does not really matter; these are young people who are victims.
I want to give the House a hypothetical example—it could easily be real; it is real up and down the country—of a cuckooing activity in which an individual preys on a vulnerable drug user or prostitute. They will pick on social housing, because they know that there are a lot of comings and goings in such blocks of flats and that the dealing of drugs would not be noticed in the way it would in a regular residential property. In that block, there is a young child—perhaps as young as eight, nine or 10—who may have been, as I said, offered trainers or a small amount of money as an inducement to help the individual to sell drugs. The child may have been threatened personally, but more commonly the threat will be against somebody they love, such as their mother, who could be the person in the corner who has just had their hit of heroin. The drug gang targets the one person on whom the young person relies more than anyone else in the world. That threat is enough to force the child to go out and sell drugs, because they are terrified.
We must intervene. What should we do when we get the opportunity? I am not pretending that this is easy, but why are we still treating young people—in many cases, they are children—as criminals? Yes, they have gone out to deal drugs, but what message does it send out when we criminalise a child who has been groomed, threatened, abused and blackmailed with threats against their mother, for example? We need to send out a clear message that children in such situations are not criminals, but victims. Until we treat them as such, things are not going to change.
Of course, that has to be within reason and we need caveats. If a young person or a child has committed a serious offence, particularly one against another person, such as a knife attack, it is right that the police and the criminal justice system take appropriate action. However, it is not hard to identify where these children and young people are clearly victims. It is important that we treat them as such, if no other reason—although there are many—than that the cost of getting things wrong is so great. Not only would the young person or child be set on the wrong path for the rest of their life, but we are labelling them as a criminal. What are their future life chances if they get a criminal conviction at a young age for trafficking or selling drugs? What message does that send out?
We know that drug gangs are increasingly using children as young as eight, nine or 10, as I said, because the gangs know that they are less likely to be stopped and searched and that they tend to be more vulnerable and easier prey for grooming. We know that such things are increasing, and we know that we must break the cycle and intervene. The question is how we intervene.
I welcome the £11 million for an early intervention youth fund, the £3.6 million for a national county lines co-ordination centre, and the cross-party taskforce, which is a good thing, but I encourage close working between police forces up and down the country and the Metropolitan police to break the county lines, which are effectively phone lines up and down the country that are bought and sold like franchises. I also encourage the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who is hugely passionate about this issue, to work with the Ministry of Justice so that we ensure that we treat the young people and children whom we identify as victims as victims, not criminals.
Moving quickly on to sentencing, I am sure that none of us wants to throw vast swathes of young people and teenagers into prison for possession of a knife or an offensive weapon. We all know that it is far better to rehabilitate them in our communities, but that has to be meaningful if it is to work. I would like any under-18s who are convicted or cautioned for a first-time knife-related offence to be sent on a mandatory weapons awareness course as part of any caution or sentence.
I am not making a direct comparison, but we already do this when people are caught speeding at a low level. Instead of paying a fine, people can go on a day’s course. I have not done it yet—I wonder how many Members across the House can say that—but those who I know have been on the course have told me that it is quite hard-hitting. Attendees are shown, very graphically, why it is important not to speed. This includes seeing the impact of drivers doing over 30 mph in areas with a 30 mph speed limit if they were to hit a pedestrian, including a child. The point is that the course is a graphic reminder of why we should not speed. Why should we not send under-18s who are convicted—or indeed just cautioned—of knife possession on a mandatory course, so that they have to see at first hand the impact that their actions could have?
I get where the hon. Gentleman is coming from—it is wholesome. My young people tell me that they carry a knife because they cannot be found lacking. We do not keep them safe, and they therefore feel that they have to keep themselves safe. Although I can see where he is coming from, I am not sure that we are really getting to the root cause or understanding of the problems that we are facing in the inner city.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. I entirely understand where she is coming from, but I respectfully disagree. I will come to exactly why I disagree in just one minute. I first want to touch briefly on weapons awareness.
The hon. Lady is right when she says that young people carry a knife because they believe that it keeps them safer and they have to carry a knife because everyone else is carrying one. Yet we know that that is a hugely ignorant position because every single statistic out there tells us that people are more likely to be the victim of the knife crime attack if they are carrying a knife themselves. We have to get that message across to young people through numerous mediums—not just in schools and not just to people who are caught carrying a knife. We have to show them what it looks like to be stabbed with a knife and what it would look like to see their mother crying over their body. People need those hard-hitting lessons. As much as I agree with the hon. Lady, we have to give it a go. I think that the bang for the buck would actually be worth while.
That is where I was a few years ago, but time has moved on. My little sister is a solicitor. She used to take people into schools to talk about the unlucky stab—that is, when people did not mean to kill somebody, but they cut an artery and so on. These people would talk to kids about the impact of the unlucky stab on their lives and the lives of others. But I am not sure that that is actually where we are now, because of what the hon. Gentleman is talking about: county lines and organised crime, which have changed the whole gang situation entirely.
The hon. Lady again makes a very valid point. I do not disagree with her. She is almost certainly right when we are talking about mid-teenagers, late-teenagers and people in their early 20s, but we need to reset the dial and start this education in primary and secondary schools now. I am not suggesting that this is a panacea. I am not even suggesting that it is a quick or easy fix, but it has to be part of a solution and a package of measures that will help to eradicate knife crime in the medium to long term.
There is an organisation in my constituency called KnifeCrimes.Org, which is run by a lady called Ann Oakes-Odger. In the neighbouring constituency, a lady called Caroline Shearer runs another organisation called Only Cowards Carry. These inspirational women each lost a child to a knife crime attack—hugely tragic—but they have harnessed that energy and set up charities that are doing such great good around weapons awareness, particularly in schools. I look to the Minister because these organisations need funding in order to survive. In some cases, that comes via the police and crime commissioners, but I want to see more central funding made available for these organisations, which do such good work at a grassroots level.
I have been on one of the courses. I sat in a school and watched one of the presentations, it was really hard-hitting. Everyone leaves thinking, “Wow.” We were shown on a huge projector what numerous knife wounds look like. We learnt about the impact on families. If I had watched one of those presentations as a seven, eight, nine or 10-year-old, or even in the early stages of secondary school, I would have found it quite compelling.
Too many young people are carrying knives, and we need to understand why that is by getting in early. That is why primary schools are so important. We need to show these young people, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), that a knife does not keep them safe; statistically, it makes them far more likely to be the victims of a knife crime attack. We must hammer that message home—not just in schools as part of weapons awareness education, but as part of social media activity and in TV ads like those being run in Scotland. There has to be an overall package of measures to show them how it feels to have a life shattered by a member of their family losing their life through a traumatic weapons attack.
May I gently push the Minister on a couple of things? We need weapons awareness classes in school. We must support the organisations up and down this country that are providing that and support the creation of new ones. I would like to see mandatory weapons awareness sessions as a condition of a conviction for someone caught carrying a knife. It is not acceptable just to give them a caution, a slap on the wrist, and an “Off you go”. We have to do more by sending them on a mandatory course. Yes, there is a cost to that, but I think it would pay dividends in terms of the number of people for whom we could break the cycle. I also encourage the Minister to push for closer working between local police forces and the Metropolitan police to tackle the growing issue of county lines, which we desperately need to resolve.
Finally, probably the most important message that I can impart to the Minister is this: please, please can we treat the children and young people who are caught up and groomed, victimised and intimidated into county lines activity and drug dealing as victims, not as criminals?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). The House is indebted to him for a speech that showed great understanding of the problem of county lines and how this new way of distributing drugs is harming individuals, families and communities; and also for the fact that he had some very constructive proposals to put to the Minister. I support him in that. I dare say that he might not like this comment, but it almost sounded like a Liberal speech. He was right to focus on county lines. I think that the strategy is very good on that problem. His point about co-ordination between different police forces is really important.
I will be very interested to see whether the Minister has any comments to make about the drug dealing telecommunications restriction orders that are now being rolled out. In his opening remarks, the Security Minister talked about some initial signs of real success in that they are seriously disrupting county lines. We must hope that they will continue to do so. I hope that Ministers will be able to report to the House about the success of those orders as we go forward in tackling county lines.
I wanted to start my remarks by remembering the victims of the terrorism in Manchester last year, as spokespeople for the other parties have done. I very much agree that those victims should be in our thoughts today, not least as we discuss this particularly important issue. We saw the tragedy of the families who were bereaved—the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. That must be in our thoughts. The fact that the people of Manchester responded so powerfully together in their unity is something that we should celebrate.
I also want to talk about real people in the rest of my speech. In my constituency we have had people suffering from the effects of knife crime. I have been particularly engaged with a family who lost a son in June last year. Derick Mulondo was in his 30s. He was stabbed by a former partner. He was one of those people who everyone loved. He was a community activist. Young people would see him as a leader. He would go and organise football matches at the local park. After he was taken from us, the young people would go to his mother’s door and say, “Now Derick’s gone, who do we look to?”, so we doubly suffered as a result of that awful murder.
His mother, Sophie Kafeero, is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. She is still suffering, and she goes to her son’s grave very regularly to talk to him. She, in her grief, has had support from Derick’s friends to set up a campaign called “Drop a Knife, Save a Life”. That campaign is in its infancy, and I hope that in due course it will make an application to the Government’s community fund, because it could do a lot of good work with other organisations such as Oxygen in my constituency, which is also tackling the problems of knife crime.
We must learn from these victims and listen to them—listen to their pain and their strength, and listen to what they are saying about what needs to be done. The Government have done some good things to support community initiatives, but I urge them to go further, because I am afraid there are too many mothers like Sophie.
The strategy has many positive aspects. I will come to some criticisms in a minute, but the positive aspects are worth focusing on. Some of the analysis in it, written by good Home Office officials and with lots of evidence, is definitely worth reading and debating, because we need our policies to be evidence-based. I wish more of the Government’s policies were evidence-based. Let us hope that this one will be.
The fact that the strategy puts prevention high up the agenda was welcomed across the House and the country. There are some issues with putting money behind that, but ensuring that prevention is a priority is important. A few Members have touched on the international aspects we are facing, which we need to say more about, and I will come on to that.
Some of the Government’s initiatives deal with new aspects of the debate, including not just county lines but social media and its link to drug distribution, and the glamorisation of drugs; young people are told about the money they can make, but they are not told that they could lose their lives. Social media is having such a big impact. I think the Government are taking that seriously. I may question their judgment and their decisions at times, but I do not question their motives on this at all.
As other Members have said, two big things are missing from the strategy. The first—I am sorry to say this to the Minister, but I have to—is the lack of acknowledgment of the impact of police cuts. If we look at the evidence printed in The Guardian, which was not published and which the former Home Secretary said she had not read, it is absolutely clear that the cuts were likely to have been a contributory factor to the rise in violent crime.
The other key problem, linked to that, is resources. This puts a challenge to the Government. They talk about the need for prevention, but a lot of the activities in local government, the health service, schools and the police that were focused on preventing crime in the first place have been cut, and the Government’s welcome extra funding mentioned in the strategy does not come close to replacing the money that has been lost.
Let me return to some of the policies, which are important. The strategy refers to the
“large potential benefit to preventative intervention”.
It talks eloquently about the need for both universal preventive interventions and targeted interventions, and that is worth focusing on. The strategy talks about looking at young people and families where there is a combination of high-risk factors, and where it is very beneficial for the local authority, Government and police to come together to intervene really early. We hear about early intervention on so many subjects, but here it is about saving lives. The Government should talk more about that and then put the money behind it. Other Members have touched on the importance of helping children who have had chaotic lives, whose health and education have been affected and who are so vulnerable to the drug gangs that prey on them. Unless we intervene to help them, we are setting the whole of society up for failure.
I have been working with mums whose children are or have been involved in county lines, and one of the messages they are very keen to get across is that this could happen to anybody, whoever they are. A police officer who spoke to me the other week told me about how the child of one of their colleagues had got involved. I want us to be very aware of the fact that this could genuinely happen to anybody, and we should not stereotype any group of people we think may be involved.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point. She has actually anticipated what I was going to say next. One of the other groups who are very vulnerable and are preyed on are those with mental health issues. As she said, this could happen to anybody or any family. That comes back to the crisis in child and adolescent mental health services. As I am sure is the case in colleagues’ constituencies, CAMHS are absolutely on their knees. If we are talking about prevention, we really must tackle that as quickly as possible.
I want to talk about the positive international aspects of the serious violence strategy. Some of the statistics, particularly those on pages 19 and 20, show that Britain may not be alone in experiencing such a rise in violent crime. I know that the Government are planning an international symposium in the autumn, and that is very important. It may well be that issues such as austerity—the cuts in state spending not just in the UK but in other developed countries—have had an impact. Let us be frank about that. Linked to this are the growth in social media, strengthening organised crime, bumper coca crops in Colombia and the reduction in prices. All these international elements wash up on our shores and affect our communities as well as other countries.
We need to work with other countries; in doing so, let us learn from them—their successes should be shared with the House—and remember the importance of international co-operation. I forget which colleague said that Brexit may undermine such co-operation. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) brushed that aside, but he is totally wrong. I had the privilege of going to Eurojust and Europol in The Hague 10 years ago to see how with them, and tools such as the European arrest warrant and joint initiatives, we could be far more effective in catching criminals and bringing them to justice. Let us remember that the sort of criminals Eurojust and Europol go after, using the European arrest warrant, are the organised criminals who span boundaries. I know that colleagues who think Brexit is a terribly good idea will say, “Don’t worry. It’s in everyone’s interest to work together”. Yes, it is, but we will not be in the room or making the rules for Eurojust and Europol’s use of the European arrest warrant. These are relatively young tools that will be more and more developed in the future, but we will not be in the room.
Anyone who goes to see how Eurojust operates will find that there is just one representative from each member state, and when there is an investigation—such investigations often involve drugs—a representative just calls those of the other member states through which the investigative forces will have to travel to arrange the right warrant and so on. Such co-operation can happen at lightning speed so that we can catch the criminals who try to escape justice by playing people off against each other and going across jurisdictional boundaries. By not being in the room, we will undermine our ability to take on such organised criminals, so although the Government are right to talk about international co-operation, they are not really in a very good place.
My final point about international co-operation concerns the Border Force. We often think about the Border Force in terms of stopping illegal immigration, but it is actually critical in stopping drug trafficking. The Border Force has been devastated, particularly when the current Prime Minister was Home Secretary, which is not a good policy if we are trying to tackle serious violent crime, county lines and the Mr Bigs behind such vulnerable people. We should be most worried about the Mr Bigs, but dealing with them requires an international response.
Before I finish, let me talk a little more about some of the problems in the strategy. I have talked about resources, but I want to come back to that issue. The strategy itself says:
“The recent downward trend in arrests and charges for some crimes lessens the certainty of punishment.”
In other words, because there are fewer police officers, fewer people are being arrested and charged. [Interruption.] I accept that the strategy does not say that, Minister, but I quoted it directly initially. The downward trend in arrests and charges has come only because there are fewer police officers. I say to the Minister that we need more detectives, as serious crime is rising and we need to go after the perpetrators. Not only that, but if we cannot arrest the perpetrators in the first place because there are fewer officers, that will reduce the deterrence against crime because people will think that they will not be caught. That is a real issue.
I lament the fact that the Government have not reacted quickly enough to the uptick in serious crime over the past two years. We have learned how to use police officers more efficiently, particularly with the new technique of hotspotting. The evidence shows that that can be very effective against drug dealers and all sorts of criminals. We know more about getting the best value for money out of the police, and reducing their numbers at this time just does not make sense. The shadow Home Secretary quoted Cressida Dick, and Ministers should be learning from her.
Finally, I know that the strategy includes an inter-ministerial group but, as other colleagues have mentioned, if we are going to take the approach that the Government rightly set out in the strategy, we have to see more cross-departmental work. This will come from the top only if Cabinet Ministers are sitting around the table regularly chasing the issue and making sure that their departmental officials see this as a top priority. I am afraid that I will not be convinced that the Government are treating this as a top priority in the cross-Government way they should until we start hearing the Secretaries of State for Education, for Health and for Housing, Communities and Local Government talking about it. When they talk about it, we will take the Government seriously because they will really have got the message.
Let me end by reminding the Minister—I am sure that she knows this, but I will remind her anyway—about why we need to take the issue seriously. Families out there are grieving and they want to know that we are responding as a Parliament and Government to the crisis; and it is a crisis. People have been taken aback by the rapid rise in violent crime, whether that involves knives, guns or acid. There is a sense that things are slipping out of control.
The serious violence strategy and the Mayor’s measures could not come early enough, but we have to redouble our efforts. When Ministers are sitting around the table with the Chancellor making representations, they really have to see that this must now be the top priority. They will have the support of the whole House if they do that. They will certainly have the support of the British people.
Order. We are not doing very well on the target of 10 minutes per speech, which Members were asked to aim at some time ago. Speeches have ranged in length: 15 minutes, 16 minutes, 18 minutes, 19 minutes and 17 minutes—quite a lot more than 10.
Indeed it is!
I am glad that the hon. Lady approves of my arithmetic. I am sure that we can manage this debate without the need for a formal time limit, which limits how the debate works. Will colleagues please try a little harder to stick to around 10 minutes? Then everyone will get in and it will be fair and equal.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I now feel under a significant degree of pressure. I will crack on.
I welcome the strategy. Right from the start, and peppered throughout, the strategy makes the point that the issue cannot be resolved by just arresting people. That is absolutely key. Police intervention must form an important part of the solution, but it is not the only solution. I will come on to my thoughts about police intervention, and, in particular, I will address the points about police resourcing that were raised by the shadow Home Secretary.
In the years immediately preceding my election to the London Assembly, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) being voted in as the Mayor of London, the murder rate in London reached unacceptable levels. Without a shadow of doubt, the previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had not taken the issue as seriously as he should have done. Indeed, he accused the reporting of murders in London of being a media construct, with the particularly vile and inappropriate line
“If it bleeds, it leads”,
implying that the murders were being reported only because they were sensationalist stories.
In 2008, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and I were elected to London government, getting a grip on the unacceptable level of violent crime in London was a priority. It was done in two parts. First, Operation Blunt 2 was immediately initiated. The shadow Home Secretary, I think quite fairly, ran through some of the question marks over Operation Blunt 2. It is always very difficult to measure the exact implication of a policing strategy. She asked what message or signal it sends when politicians do or do not take action. Under Ken Livingstone, the message sent was that City Hall did not take this as seriously as it should have done. We were very clear that the message we wanted to send was that this was absolutely a priority for the incoming Conservative administration in City Hall.
Operation Blunt 2 was a very high profile, visual, police-led operation which made it completely clear that knives were unacceptable and that people carrying knives would be arrested and charged. I do not row back from the importance of such visual policing operations, but we were also very well aware that a policing response on its own could not and should not be the only response to knife crime. That is why, in addition and in parallel to Operation Blunt 2, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and I worked together to produce the Time for Action youth violence strategy, which addressed a series of potential intervention points in the lives of young people, up to and including rehabilitation of offenders.
There was a programme in Feltham young offenders institution to get young men who had been incarcerated after involvement in knife crime on to rehabilitation programmes, with a gateway to employment with a number of employers directly from the gates of that YOI. While they were on a ROTL—a release on temporary licence—they would be able to start working for their future employers before they had completed their sentence, so they had the incentive to stay on the straight and narrow when they came out of prison. We also considered looked-after children who, unfortunately, still disproportionately find themselves involved in criminality. The sad truth to this day is that looked-after children are still more likely to go to prison than to university. That is an unacceptable truth, but we worked to address that.
We looked at community programmes and diversionary programmes in communities. As the Mayor’s youth ambassador, I visited numerous programmes that were doing fantastic work around London. We also looked at such things as uniformed youth organisations, including the Scouts, the cadets, the Boys’ Brigade and Girl Guides. Why? Because in many parts of London, they became the quasi-parents of children who often led very dysfunctional lives. I had the pleasure of meeting the air cadets squadron not far from this place. They have an amazing mix of young people, from some of the most wealthy and privileged families in the country to children of recent refugees and some impoverished people. They rub shoulders, mix together and work in that military structure, which we know so often develops the kind of life skills that help to keep people out of trouble. Why did we do these things? We did them because we knew that we had to work upstream and had to do them to prevent young people from getting into trouble.
The shadow Home Secretary, who is not in her usual place, although she is in the Chamber, made the point about police resourcing. It is worth remembering that we halved the number of young people who were murdered on the streets of London between 2008 and 2016 against the backdrop not just of tightening budgets, but of having to deliver the policing operation for the Olympic and Paralympic games, which imposed a huge operational burden on the police. Yes, police officers, police numbers and police funding matter, but—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I want to put on record that the 2011 riots happened during that period. Against the backdrop of the riots, many of those young people were put in prison and that reduced the numbers, because the whole subject was about gang violence—he forgets all the media coverage at that time.
I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. The idea that somehow the police response to the 2011 riots swept potential murderers from the streets and locked them up is just statistically wrong. [Interruption.] No, the big drop in teenage murders in London happened in the operational year—
No. There was a massively significant drop in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 elections—in the 2008-09 year followed by the 2009-10, preceding the 2011 riots. [Interruption.] I am going to try to make some progress, because I promised Madam Deputy Speaker that I would.
The philosophical underpinning that works with the Time for Action strategy and the work that we did in London is exactly the same as the one that works here. That is why I welcome this strategy so much. I am very pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), is responsible for driving this through. We have spoken about it previously, and I do not think I am giving away any trade secrets if I say that I know her personal passion for getting this resolved.
As I come to my conclusion, I want to say—this has been mentioned by others—that we have to educate our young people, and I have discussed plans for doing that. However, we also have to educate the people who think that drug use—that occasional line of coke at some middle-class party—is a victimless crime. It is not. There is an absolute causal relationship between that so-called victimless crime at some party or some club and the kid that lies bleeding out in the stairwell of a block of flats in south London. Until we look people in the eye and remind them of that fact, this problem, as much as we try to mitigate it, will not go away. That might be a difficult conversation to have. To have celebrities bragging on social media about their drug use is unacceptable and it needs to be called out.
My final point is not explicit in the serious violence strategy, but it is implicit in what it says about some of the preventive measures that the Government are pursuing. It is that we need to find a way—I do not pretend that it is easy or that a solution would be perfect—of capturing the downstream savings of preventive activity, so that they can be recycled to fund those preventive activities. For example, typically, the layer of government that takes responsibility for diverting young people away from crime tends to be local government, which often funds community projects and so on. If it is successful, the bit of government that reaps the savings—through not incarcerating young people—is the Ministry of Justice, but there is no practical way of recognising the downstream saving, harnessing it and reinvesting it in the diversionary activities often discharged by charities and local government in the first place. If we could do that, I have little doubt that it would only take a small percentage of the downstream saving to put these projects on a much more stable financial footing.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister works incredibly hard—she is famous for it—and I hate loading up her shoulders with extra work, which she will tell me off for later in the Tea Room, but if anyone can come up with a plan, she can. I am more than happy to help. This is my offer and my ask. If we can find that alchemy, that way of capturing the savings and reinvesting them in front-end projects, we could really make a difference. I have little doubt about the Government’s commitment. It saddens me that some Members—unintentionally, I assume—question the Government’s commitment to protecting the lives of young people, and I urge the Opposition spokesperson, when he sums up, to be cautious about accusing anyone in the House of being uncaring on this issue.
The rise in violent crime in recent months should concern us all. Lives have been needlessly lost and the public are rightly concerned. The position we find ourselves in has many factors at play, and I agree with the serious crime strategy’s assessment that tackling serious crime is not a law enforcement issue alone, but I am firmly of the view that the cuts to our police forces up and down the country are key to the recent rise in violent crime.
The Government must surely recognise the severity of the situation when an apolitical figure such as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police suggests that Government cuts have played a significant part in increasing levels of violent crime. For far too long, the Government’s stock response has been to accuse the Labour party of playing politics. When I raised this issue at Prime Minister’s questions last month, the Prime Minister attempted to dismiss my concerns as hyperbole and even suggested that the shadow police Minister was alone in seeing a correlation between the rise in serious crime and cuts to police numbers.
Cressida Dick’s recent comments have vindicated the sterling work of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and showed that these are indeed genuine, well-founded concerns. If the country’s most senior police officer is suggesting that we are in the midst of a funding crisis for our police forces, it is high time the Government took note and reversed the chronic underfunding that has gone on for far too long.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is clearly a link between police cuts and violent crime? I represent a seat in south Yorkshire that has seen a 57% increase in violent crime in the last year—one of the highest in the country.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a link between the rise in violent crime and police cuts, and our concerns cannot be dismissed as playing party political games. As a London MP, I am acutely aware of the damage that sustained central Government cuts have had on our police force. The Met has had to make savings of more than £600 million, and more savings are required. Around my constituency, both safer neighbourhood front desks, in Catford and Penge, have closed, and across the capital officer numbers are dangerously close to falling below 30,000.
Some may argue that the Met gets funding from the Mayor of London. They would be correct, but even after the council tax precept increase, which has already been raised to the highest level by the Mayor, the Met will still need to make additional savings of £325 million by 2021. More importantly, the Met relies on central Government for over 70% of its funding, and this shortfall has been caused by successive Conservative Administrations. The reality is that there is nobody for them to pass the buck to when it comes to the issue of police funding.
Yet while we have seen funding continually fall over the past few years, there has been an irrefutable rise in serious crime. In London, knife offences now total over 12,000 each year, which is a 17% increase since 2013, and firearms offences are up 34% to over 2,000 a year. When I spoke about serious crime in London during Prime Minister’s Question Time, the number of murders in the capital this year stood at 57. Now, five weeks on, the number is approaching 70, and 41 of those murders have been stabbings. Since my election last year, I have met a number of constituents who have been directly affected—most tragically, the families of two young men who were stabbed to death.
Only cross-party efforts can help us to fully rectify the horrendous rise in violent crime. Political decisions can change the situation for the better. The Mayor of London has done his part, allocating an extra £110 million to the Metropolitan police through a rise in the precept, but we have a Conservative Government who are still blind to the fact that chronic underfunding of police forces has its consequences. The serious and organised crime strategy choreographed by the former Home Secretary—the present Prime Minister—raised some important points, but they are meaningless if our police forces are unable to carry out their day-to-day duties because of reductions in central funding. It is another case of the Government’s giving with one hand and taking with the other.
The strategy raised several points about youth involvement that are entirely valid, and the aim of spending £40 million on early intervention and prevention is welcome, but it is set against a backdrop of sustained long-term cuts in youth services and schools since 2010. The cuts in services that may have previously helped young people at risk of being involved in serious crime are symptomatic of the “cuts and austerity” culture that the Government have normalised, with utter disregard for the results of their actions. Moreover, the Government can come up with as many strategies for combating serious crime as they like, but unless our police forces are given appropriate levels of funding and resources, they are wasted exercises filled with hollow words.
The Government can do something, and they should do something. They should do something today. The Conservative party has previously positioned itself as a party of law and order. That rhetoric has long ago worn thin, and it is patently obvious to many in the House and beyond that increasing police funding from central Government is crucially important if we are to deal effectively with serious crime in the long run. More funding would see more officers and better resources. Do it today: do it now.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves). She made some very good points, and made them passionately—and I know that she is passionate about the security of the community she serves.
For the past year, my community in West Ham has been haunted by violence. Since the start of 2017, nine young people have been killed in my constituency alone, and today I want to remember them. They are Titu Miah, Pietro Sanna, aged 23, Ahmed Deen-Jah, aged 21, Beniamin Pieknyi, aged 21, Taofeek Lamidi, aged 20, Abdul Mayanja, aged 19, Sami Sidhom, aged 18, Lord Promise Nkenda, aged 17, and Corey “CJ” Davis, aged just 14, and shot in a playground.
That is not the final roll-call. There have been so many more children and young people with life-changing injuries caused by the dreadful, almost unrestrained violence over the past 18 months—saved just by luck, or by our amazing national health service. I want to think about all of them today.
Our latest young man to die needlessly and tragically was Sami Sidhom. He was stabbed last month on the street outside his home when returning from a West Ham game. He was a bright, well-loved, quiet young man, studying at Queen Mary’s College in London. He was doing really well, and was not involved in any crime or any gang. His neighbours rushed out of their house to help him. They were talking to him and comforting him when he died from his wounds. I have seen the pain, the anger and the fear of the community in which he lived. His father’s heart broke in my arms.
The whole community are traumatised. Their only outlet so far is talking to each other, because there is absolutely no support for them. There is no aftercare. The young man who told me about how the blood was running through his fingers, how he did not know what to do and he could not save Sami’s life: there is nothing available to him today. There is no one I could pass him to, who could take some of that trauma away. So people in the community are gathering together for comfort and looking for things to do, but I think we can do better than that, which is why I agree with many who have spoken today that this is a joined-up cross-Government issue; we need somebody from the health service to help us out, give us some money and make sure proper counselling is available for those who are traumatised.
We in this place need to face up to some truths, too. All of us of all parties have allowed these circumstances to be created. Those who are dying are so young, and so are many of those who have blood on their hands, but they did not create these circumstances for themselves; effectively, all of us—I am gesturing a huge circle now—helped to create them. We as adults, we as people in authority, we as policy-makers, we as budget-holders, we who did not see what was happening, have allowed our streets to become what they are.
Let us face some facts. Too many of our children now live in fear, convinced that the authorities cannot, or will not, protect them from harm. Too many of our children have no trust whatsoever in the systems we have created so they simply do not engage. Too many of our children believe their potential will not be recognised or nurtured by our society. Quite simply, they have so little hope that they see no future for themselves. That is why they take such massive risks.
These facts make our children far more vulnerable to exploitation by criminals, including those who run county lines. These people have created a cruelly efficient business model to distribute and sell drugs, using our children as expendable cheap labour to enable large profits. It is a cycle of exploitation and grooming that has become an industry. Often the children targeted are bright and charismatic with such promise, and that is why the gang leaders want them so much—because they make such great sales people. We need to find a way to empower our young people so they know how to recognise the power and the tactics of the groomers who are using them to sell the drugs. They need to know how to say no; they need to be given the skills and tools to resist the manipulation of the groomers.
As has been said in the debate, for many of our people who end up selling drugs, or even killing or dying because of a drug gang, the downward spiral starts with something simple like being befriended by a cool older boy—a new best friend who gives them chicken and chips or new trainers. They take the older boy’s gifts and respect, but it does not take long before those gifts become debts and that respect becomes domination. By the time realisation dawns, it is too late. We must find a way of giving our young people the resilience to resist grooming, and that requires peers, teachers, youth workers and role models making them aware of where accepting that gift of chicken and chips may lead. That will take resources; it will require improving training for teachers and social workers so that safeguarding becomes as much about looking for signs of gang grooming as about spotting child sexual exploitation.
In truth, we do not have a handle on the scale of the exploitation and grooming that drug dealers are engaging in. Even if children and social services are aware of the scale of the problems and the tactics deployed by those running the county lines—and some of them, woefully, are not—they are already massively overstretched. We need to expand their role and give them the training, and that, again, is going to require some resources.
Some young people know or suspect who is responsible for some of the terrible crimes I am talking about, and they might well hold evidence or be able to provide eyewitness accounts that would be helpful to us in a court of law. The information is out there that would help us to catch the people responsible, but the young people who have that information live in a really uncertain, dangerous and deeply scary world. They do not trust; we have done nothing to earn any trust.
I say to the Minister that we need to find a safe space where young people can report this information, and I do not think that that safe space is Crimestoppers, however much my local police encourage people to use it. Young people simply do not believe that it will be confidential. They assume that, if they ring, their call can and will be traced and that a police officer will come knocking on their door. They know that if that happens, they and their families will be punished for snitching by the gang members and drug dealers. They do not trust us to keep them safe, and who can blame them? Third-party reporting, run by a trusted organisation, would be a really good step. It would help us to gather information and address some of the unsolved murders in our communities.
We also need to have a genuine, believable and appropriate offer for those young people who do the bravest of things—namely, give evidence in court against gang members and really serious nasty criminals. They need to know that we will look after them and their families and keep them safe afterwards. They need to know that we will help them to make a new life. We do not do that at present. I know a young man whose life was completely destroyed because he did the right thing. He gave evidence, and then he ran. He was terrified, and he ended up in a community that was completely different from home. He was lost and frightened, and then he was attacked one night. He fought back, but he did so disproportionately, according to the court. So despite the fact that it was he who was attacked and the initial victim, he is now serving time in jail, and I understand that he could well be deported to a country that he has never known after he has served his sentence. We should have done better by him. We owed him that much. His story is known in my community, so why should other young people put themselves at risk in order to give us the information that we need? Why should they help, when that would only make their lives and their families’ lives much worse?
Most of the people in this place have grown up knowing that they have choices and that many opportunities will be open to them. Tragically, most childhoods in my community are just not like that. Sixty-five per cent. of the children in Newham grow up in poverty, knowing that their parents are always thinking about how to pay the rent and the bills and how to put food on the table. Children live with that stress. They watch their parents struggle day in and day out, and they see their future as being the same. It chips away at their dreams, because they know that their parents are working every hour and trying so hard but that it is not bringing them prosperity or security. Our children need some hope for the future.
In West Ham, we have had the worst of it. My community is, as I say, traumatised. We need to work together to make real changes so that we can keep our children safer than we have managed to do thus far. But we also need the resources that we currently lack if we are to destroy the criminal base that is blighting our communities and provide the hope and opportunity that our children deserve. I will work with absolutely anybody in order to get that.
I have sat here throughout the afternoon listening to many people, and I look forward to the contributions that are to come. We have heard descriptions of what has happened in our country, not least from my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) just now. We have heard about children and young people being murdered on the streets. We have heard of county lines and of the horror they bring. We have heard of the desperation in communities about what can be done about that.
As someone said at the beginning of the debate, why are we debating this only now, perhaps months after we should have been debating it? Why has not the House—all of us, including me—been roaring about this for months? My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is an honourable exception, as are one or two other Members, but why has this House not been at the heart of the nation?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has been speaking up about the black community and about some of these issues for years, but why have we, as a collective, not been roaring about it? A massive 67 people have been murdered in London this year. That is an unbelievable figure. Imagine if the figure were aggregated and spread across the country—astonishing.
Serious violence is rising everywhere. It is not just about policing, but policing is part of it; it is about all of these things. Of course everyone cares, but this is a national emergency. This is a crisis for our country. If this were happening in any other context, there would be emergency statements by the Prime Minister and calls from both sides of the House to do something about it. The county lines are a relatively new phenomenon, and who knows how many children they affect? Children in our country, some as young as 10 or 11, are being exploited by criminal gangs to move drugs. I do not know what law it will take or what should be done, but I do know that that is totally and utterly unacceptable to every single Member of this House of Commons.
I know the Minister wants to do all she can, and I know the Government want to do all they can, but I honestly believe that we all have to wake up. We all have to say this really cannot continue. After this debate, people out there expect to be able to see something being done. Early intervention, schooling and parenting matter, and all of that is right, but what are we going to do now?
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) talked about the long summer evenings. A young person was stabbed to death in Islington at 6.30 pm last night. It was not down some murky alleyway at 1 o’clock in the morning; it was on the streets of Islington in front of people going about their everyday business. This cannot be acceptable, and it cannot be right.
I passionately argue for us not only to debate the issue and not only to show to the people out there who might be watching that we care—I think everybody does care—but to show that we get it and that we understand it. We must tell the mothers, the families and the communities across this country who are crying that we will stand with them and do something about it.
I was a Home Office Minister when we were faced with some of these problems before and it is a sterile argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has argued about police numbers. She has not said that that is the only solution—nobody on either side of the House has said it is the only solution. Of course it is also about youth services. The best people to get involved are the reformed gang members. Get the people in who understand what is going on. Get them in to talk about it—once they have been subject to the law, I hasten to add.
I want to make two more points. This is from the Government’s own evidence. We can see this in the documentation that the Government have published in their serious violence strategy. It totally vindicates what my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has said: targeted stop-and-search is absolutely a part of what we should do, but there is no evidence, even from the Government in their serious violence strategy, that blanket stop-and-search makes any difference. It is in the document the Government have published. What is crucial, it says—I know this as a teacher who dealt with fairly minor instances—is that there is certainty of a consequence. The strategy states:
“We also know that the certainty of punishment is likely to have a greater impact than its severity.”
That is the Government’s own evidence. People have to know that they cannot just act with impunity—
Because they are going to get caught.
Exactly. They have to know they will get caught and be held responsible for what they have done, be it carrying a knife, smashing a window, swearing at somebody or acting in a racist way. If they do not know they will get caught, it is like a kid at school, or your own son or daughter: they will mess you about, but in a much more serious way. So we need certainty of punishment. The Minister has to get hold of the Ministry of Justice, or whoever is responsible, and say, “Get it sorted out. We are the Government.” We are the Parliament. If we cannot sort it out, who is going to sort it out?
We have heard the argument about police numbers. Of course police numbers are not the only reason for this situation, but policing makes a big difference and police numbers make a big difference. It is obvious. Do not accept what my colleagues have been saying; the Government’s own serious violence strategy says exactly that. It says the fall in police numbers is partly a driver—not the only driver, as I totally accept—for the rise in serious violence.
I will finish with this in order to keep to the 10-minute limit. I wish to make one plea to the Minister. This is what I want to happen in the short term. The longer term will sort itself out, but the communities I represent in Nottinghamshire—in Nottingham and around there—and those represented by other Members need something to hold on to now. So I say to the Minister: go to the Treasury and demand, to deal with a national emergency, a pot of money that will allow hotspots to be identified across the country, where police resources can be targeted. That is what works, according to what the Government themselves say: putting money into hotspot areas, so that the police can increase their resources, target those resources and work with youth services and with the community, brings down crime. Crucially, again according to the Government’s own evidence, not only does it bring down crime—it does not result in a displacement of crime from one area to another. Would that not be a price worth paying, Minister? Would that bill not be worth the Government’s picking up? We are talking about a bill of tens of millions of pounds to give to the hotspot areas in London and around the rest of the country where we know the majority of these offences occur. What a statement it would be to those communities to say to them, “We are going to provide some additional resources for the police you need, and to support the youth services in the community alongside them, in order to target what we now accept is a national emergency and a national crisis.”
On Friday, I will attend the funeral of Tanesha Melbourne-Blake, who was shot dead at the age of 17 in my constituency on Easter bank holiday Monday. It was her death that triggered a national conversation about why 67 young people have lost their lives in our capital city. It is important to say that many of those young people who have lost their lives are black-British in their description. It is also important to say that this debate must, as it already has done, quite properly land on the issue of whether in fact black lives matter in this country. It is sad and depressing to have to say that, but all resources should be brought to bear to deal with this problem, and there is a feeling that had 67 young people lost their lives in a leafy shire, much more attention would have been paid.
It is important to say right from the beginning that if any of my three children picked up a knife and took it to another child, I would be absolutely horrified and, frankly, the response that I would have as a father would be tougher than that of the police or the law. Of course these issues come back to parenting and to neighbourhoods, but it is also the case—we get used to it in this Chamber—that some Members have been to the best public schools, and that experience is not only about education, because one way in which those schools achieve all that they achieve is the fact that there is the most fantastic extra- curricular work at the end of the school day. If someone is lucky enough to go to one of our public schools, for that 30 grand a year, the rugby, cricket, football, drama and swimming are tremendous. It has always surprised me that some of those very same Members—not all, but some of them—do not realise that a black child in my constituency deserves exactly the same after school. If the Government cut local authorities in the way that we have seen, so that there cannot be the sport or youth services, how do we support a parent to raise her child?
It is just like a doctor facing a patient and assessing whether the illness in front of him has got worse. Is it about the same, or is it getting better? When we look at youth violence, which has now been with us for well over two decades—certainly for the two decades that I have been a Member of Parliament—we have to ask ourselves whether it is the same, about stable or getting worse. The answer is that it is getting worse. Why is it getting worse and what will the strategy do to deal with the problem?
The central issue, about which we hear so little and which the strategy does not really deal with in depth—we did not hear enough on it from the Minister when he was at the Dispatch Box, either—is the work of the Home Office and the National Crime Agency on serious organised crime and serious gangsters. According to the EU’s drugs agency, this country is the drugs capital of Europe. The UN has said that the global drugs market is thriving and London is the capital of the cocaine market in Europe. Some 30 tonnes of cocaine come into our country every year. Our illegal drugs market is worth at least £5.3 billion. The National Crime Agency says that drugs trafficking costs our country £11 billion per year.
The Home Office’s own data shows that at least 1 million people in this country have taken cocaine in the past year, so there is a seriously lucrative market. If there is a lucrative market worth billions every year, that is worth fighting, so why are we not hearing more about cutting off these gangs at source and stopping the flow of drugs and firearms into our country? Why has the Border Force been cut by 25%? How is the Border Force to deal with the drugs coming into our country if there are not the personnel to do it? I have been to the National Crime Agency and had briefings from senior officers. They are being asked to do more with less. They are being asked to deal with cyber-crime; they are being asked to deal with terrorism; and they are being asked to deal with child sexual exploitation and many other issues. They are not being told that drugs are a priority. We have not had any statements from this Home Office on drugs policy. Many people think that the war on drugs has failed, but we have had nothing to replace it, and because we have had nothing to replace it, there is a growing market. Foot soldiers in my constituency and others are being recruited to feed the demand that exists across our country.
In the serious violence strategy, there are no new announcements on organised crime. In the summary on the Government’s website, there is no mention of organised crime. In the four themes of the serious violence strategy, there is no mention of organised crime. When we read the strategy, we find out that, apparently, there is “ongoing” work to tackle serious and organised crime, thanks to the 2017 drugs strategy that has promised to “restrict supply” by criminal gangs, “disrupt domestic drugs markets”,
“respond effectively to the threat posed by organised crime groups”
and make our borders “more resilient”. Well, it is not working.
The strategy is linked to ongoing work on serious and organised crime, but there is not just a link; the two issues are the same. Serious organised crime drives violence, so we cannot have a serious violence strategy without a strategy to deal with serious organised crime. It could get worse. The National Crime Agency has been clear that eastern European organised groups are bringing guns into this country. It is worried that they are actually beginning to supply some people with grenades—grenades! You heard it here first in Parliament. When will we get serious about this? When will a grenade go off to protect a county line?
The Government strategy recognises the following fact:
“Serious violence, drugs and profits are closely linked. Violence can be used as a way of maintaining and increasing profits within the drugs markets.”
The Government’s own strategy tells us that the share of homicides that are explicitly linked to drugs stands at 57%, yet, again, there is nothing new here on organised crime.
I have been passed a document by the Metropolitan police showing that half of the homicides that we saw in the capital last year were linked directly to gang activities and turf wars, but we are hearing very little about breaking that cycle—that cycle of protect and serve to sell drugs—and the myriad organisations that sit well above the youth crime on the ground.
Let me put this bluntly. Very, very sadly, because of poverty and a lot of the issues in many of our constituencies, recruiting young people is much easier than it should be. We have to cut off the demand for the drugs that they are selling and the violence that it is driving in communities such as mine.
This document is not a strategy; it is a wish list full of jargon. It is not sufficient—not even close. Let us look at the key actions and commitments. They include to undertake “nationwide awareness-raising communication activity” and provide £175,000 to deliver support to children at risk in schools and pupil referral units. The Home Office is apparently to provide £1 million to help communities tackle knife crime and provide £500,000 for a new round of heroin and crack action areas. Am I really supposed to believe that if 50 or 60 white middle-class young people were killed in Surrey or Kent in space of five months, we would just have an “awareness-raising communication activity”?
If innocent children were being gunned down on the streets of Richmond or Guildford, would we have a £175,000 fund to deliver support to at-risk children? A person cannot buy a house in London for £175,000, and that is what we are spending on at-risk children. Really? It is not good enough. Of course Ministers have been quick to celebrate the £11 million early intervention youth fund, but what will that fund deliver when in my borough alone—the London borough of Haringey—the local authority has had to cut £160 million since 2010, when funding has fallen by almost 50%, and when there has been a 45% cut in staff? Unison has calculated that youth services have been cut by almost half. Will that £11 million meet the gap? Really? The Mayor is putting in a fund of £40 million, but that will not meet the gap and, going back to what I said originally, it gets us nowhere near the extra-curricular activities that some young people in our country who go to certain schools get, when the poorest young people who need as much, if not more, are getting less.
It takes a village to raise a child. No parents or single mother can do it on their own. My wife and I certainly do not do it on our own, but we have the resources to pay for help and to bus our kids all over London to activities. Why should people on the poorest housing estates in London not have the same thing? The response is not good enough when all that the Government and the Met Commissioner want to talk about is stop-and- search or YouTube. Those two things are important, but they are not the only issues.
Given the time, I will not give way.
When asked why crime had risen, the Met Commissioner said, “We think that stop-and-search has had some bearing on this.” Let us not have another argument about the merits of stop-and-search when we reached cross-party consensus on it under the current Prime Minister. We should of course bring in intelligence-led stop-and-search where there has been a spike in crime, but that will not deal with huge amounts of cocaine or stop the death of Tanesha, who was shot in the chest. This is not about stop-and-search. Yes, we must challenge YouTube, and we have to get the drill music videos down, but if the unemployment rate in a constituency such as mine is between 40% and 50% for some young black men—they have no work—it is unsurprising that they rely on putting drill music videos online to get a little money. Why are we surprised? We should get the videos down, but they are almost a distraction, because the real issue is organised crime. I want to hear about “McMafia”, eastern European gangs, Albania and transhipment routes. I want to know why we are cutting the Border Force by 25%.
It is not just gang members getting caught up in all this. There are two other types of young people I care a lot about, because I was them once. A second group of young people are picking up knives on our estates. Why? They are picking them up because they are shit-scared. I was once one of those young people, and I am so lucky that I had things to distract me, but they are scared. We in this House have failed and the Met has failed as a police force if those young people are scared on their estates. That is why they are picking up knives. It is not because they are gang members. They are hiding knives in bushes on the way to school and then finding them on Saturdays and Sundays because they are scared. We will have failed and the Minister will have failed if we do not make them feel safe.
The third kind of young person are those who are dyslexic or have ADHD. They are not going to get access to medication, and there will be no access to CAMHS in the constituencies that we are talking about—it is not going to happen for months—so those young people are seduced into following the crowd. They get seduced by the videos, end up in a group, get arrested on joint enterprise and then go to prison. What are we going to do about that growing number?
Those two groups need a proper strategy—a much better strategy than this. I look forward to working with the Government on their serious violence strategy, because if we do not solve this problem, the figure will be over 100 by the autumn. You heard it here first. Over 100 young people—more than New York—will have died in this country. Do black lives matter or not? That is the question for the Minister.
It is a privilege to follow two deeply moving and powerful contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). They are absolutely right to be angry.
Last weekend, a 16-year-old boy from my constituency, Ozell Pemberton, bled to death on the streets of Sutton Coldfield after he was stabbed. His mother is absolutely distraught. He is the latest casualty of the rise in violent crime, which has doubled since 2013, with knife crime up by 36%.
In my constituency and in many parts of Birmingham, fear stalks the streets. It has been said many times in this debate that this not just about police numbers—I will come to that later—but I say in all earnestness to the Minister that she cannot cut 21,000 police officers nationwide, including 2,100 in the west midlands, and expect there to be no consequences. Cressida Dick was absolutely right when she made the link between reduced police numbers and rising crime. To be absolutely frank, the Government are in denial. There is a simple, blunt reality: more people will die who might otherwise have lived if we do not reverse this deeply damaging policy of the biggest cuts to any police service in western Europe.
What is happening on our streets is truly frightening, affecting young people but not only young people. We recently had a public meeting in my constituency, following a litany of stabbings and shootings in the preceding three months: two men stabbed in Tyburn Road; guns going off in Gravelly Lane; a robbery in the Greggs store on Kingsbury road involving a two-foot-long machete; shootings in Dovedale Road; two men stabbed on Edgware Road; and a gang of 30 men with machetes attacking a local shop on Witton Lodge Road. Only last month, three sixth-formers from St Edmund Campion School were standing at the bus stop outside their school, when they were attacked by two men with machetes. One boy had his armed chopped from his shoulder down to his wrist.
It is not just about the young people who are directly affected. Fear is being generated by growing gang crime and gangs on the streets. A 60-year-old woman in Slade Road said, “I’ve lived here for 55 years, but I’m now afraid to leave my home.” A woman who has lived on the Perry Common estate for 48 years said, “I don’t go out after dark.” Young men are saying to me, “We are afraid to go outside of our estates.” One young man is even afraid to go to school unless he is escorted, because of the risk of becoming a victim of gang crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and other speakers have catalogued why this is happening. It is despair; there is often no hope of getting a decent job. It is deprivation. It is mental ill health; my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham was absolutely right about access to CAMHS for those struggling with forms of mental ill health. It is family breakdown and, sometimes, housing problems. It is also the pernicious influence of the internet providers, which in my view are literally getting away with murder. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham was absolutely right that it is the fear that can drive young people into gangs so that they feel protected against gang violence. Of course, there is also the rapid growth in drug crime and the pernicious county lines strategies of drug dealers. All those issues need to be tackled, and not just by way of additional police numbers.
Let me give an example of what is happening in the west midlands. The police and crime commissioner, David Jamieson, has established a commission on gangs and violence, injecting £2 million into a very welcome initiative that includes: a team of expert negotiators set up to difuse violence between gangs and to help individuals escape gangs; a mentoring scheme to help young people at risk of offending; a package of support measures to rehabilitate ex-offenders; and a set of programmes designed to provide alternatives activities for young people at risk of school exclusion and offending. That is all deeply welcome. We need an integrated, public health approach, as several hon. Members in today’s debate have mentioned. But, crucially, such an approach will be limited in its impact without the necessary resources. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) were absolutely right that it is crucial to provide adequate resources at the next stages.
Police numbers matter, particularly in the role of neighbourhood policing—the building of relationships with communities. I can give an example of that from my own constituency. Sergeant Simon Hensley set up a canoeing club on Brookvale Park lake, and 200 young people joined it. He helped some of them by way of signposting the various forms of assistance they needed in their lives. When there was an outbreak of burglaries in Stockland Green, young people with whom relationships had been formed came forward and said, “Simon, we think we know who the burglars are.” Some might say, “What are the police doing setting up a canoeing club?”, but it was an excellent way of reaching out to and involving local young people. Sadly, though, such initiatives are becoming ever more difficult because neighbourhood policing has been hollowed out as the numbers of police officers have fallen.
On resources, the Government talk in their strategy about the role of council youth services, family support, mental health services, and schools. In Birmingham, the problem with that is that the council’s budget has been cut in half. We have seen the biggest cuts in local government history—£700 million. Youth services have been decimated, family support has been cut back and mental health facilities likewise, and schools are struggling with their budgets. All those things are absolutely vital to underpin a policing response, and the social fabric of the city is increasingly under strain. All the services that are vital in terms of effective early intervention are under pressure.
Of course there are some welcome steps identified in the strategy, but I ask the Minister to listen to the wise words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, who said that they are wholly inadequate to rise to the challenge of what is confronting us now in this country, and the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, who said that this is a national emergency. These are young people—the best of our country who are being cut down in their prime. It is fundamentally wrong, and the Government have to rise to that challenge.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who speaks with great knowledge on this subject. I have been pleased to work with him in the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime.
I speak as the chair of the all-party group but also as the Member of Parliament for Croydon Central, where we have had a significant issue with knife crime, as have many other places across London and across the country. I want to respond, although he is not in his seat, to the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), who questioned the conversation we were having in this debate about whether we care or not. I do not think it is an issue of whether we care but of whether we care enough. I do not doubt the Government’s compassion on this issue, but I do doubt the choices they have made about what we care about more. It is the Government’s role to prioritise, and this issue is not prioritised enough.
Most of the debate so far has been very good, and we have recognised most of the issues at play. We know that this is partly about policing and partly about prevention. Those issues have been rehearsed and I do not need to go over them again. I just want to make one small point to add to the overall picture: it is not just the individuals involved who are suffering deeply as a result of this violence, but the families and communities. I have in my constituency the family of a boy who was murdered. The boy’s brother, following the murder of his brother, got into trouble at school. There started to be issues, and the school was looking at whether it should perhaps expel him. He then got access to some mental health treatment. It transpired that this boy had very severe post-traumatic stress disorder and needed counselling. We then had to go on the CAMHS waiting list for the treatment that he needed. It took months for him to get that treatment, and who knows what damage will have been done in the interim? It is not just about the individuals, but their families, communities and schools that are also suffering.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) on her repeated requests for a debate on this subject, not least in asking the Leader of the House every Thursday morning for many, many weeks. She has done well to get a debate. As many others have said, it is a great shame that it has been so long in coming. We should have had a proper debate, with the Home Secretary, as soon as the strategy was published, and that has not happened.
Before the publication of the strategy, I, along with 12 other chairs of cross-party groups from both sides of the House, wrote to the then Home Secretary to call for a clear and ambitious target to halve the number of deaths from youth violence over the next 10 years. We were disappointed that the Government chose to ignore that call and not to set themselves any kind of goal, but given the resources they have put in place, that is not surprising, because the resources are simply not enough to achieve a target. The Government talk of a different approach, focusing on early intervention, but those are frankly just words; we need more action.
I want to make one main point that will hopefully add to the debate. I think we all agree that this is a very serious issue that we need to do something about. Everybody is talking about how the public health response can help. I want to mention my friend and former boss, Tessa Jowell, whom we lost recently to brain cancer. I want to pay tribute to her trailblazing work in this area, as the first Minister for Public Health. Almost 20 years before public health became part of our discourse around this agenda, Tessa was putting in place a strategy that was called by one commentator “the success story of our time”, and there are strong lessons to learn from it.
The teenage pregnancy strategy is an example of the sort of long-term, integrated public health approach that we so desperately need now to tackle knife crime and violent crime. It was an evidence-based programme. It had a 10-year goal, it had funding and it had leadership. The strategy did not simply attempt to crack down on teenage pregnancy but sought to understand and prevent its underlying causes. There were tough national targets, but there were local strategies. There was a central team in Government—that was key—who co-ordinated the response across Government. The Prime Minister took a keen interest in the strategy and was regularly given reports on progress, and it was taken seriously. It was not just about telling girls not to have sex; it was about the underlying issues of aspiration, jobs, training and support.
That strategy succeeded. It halved teenage pregnancy rates and is now used as a blueprint by the World Health Organisation. Speaking in this place 20 years ago, Tessa Jowell criticised
“the rather pathetic hand wringing about moral decay that characterised so much of the debate about teenage pregnancy in the past.”—[Official Report, 23 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 1127.]
Sadly, the debate about knife crime remains full of hand wringing about moral decay, with not enough focus on the social conditions that underpin it. Of course offenders must be caught and punished, and the police without any doubt need more resources to do their job, but every single police officer will tell you that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.
We know what a lot of the answers are. We just need to have the will. At the moment, the Government are not showing that they have the will. I think everybody on both sides of the House would work with them, if only they would publish a proper strategy, with proper resources, focused on prevention.
Twenty-two years ago, I was up in the Gallery watching proceedings on the Family Law Act 1996. It was the first time I had ever been in this place, and I watched Members on both sides of the House debate fiercely, furiously and passionately, just as we have this afternoon. I also watched Members find common ground where they could. I watched a Government who moved when they realised that the arguments had been well put by Opposition Members, and I watched an Act come into being that helped save thousands, if not millions, of lives through reforming the law on domestic violence.
Although domestic violence is not the subject of the serious violence strategy, I want to mention it. The strategy quite rightly says that it does not address topics where other strategies are already in existence, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) reminds us every International Women’s Day, two women a week are still being killed by a violent partner, and there are lessons to learn for this strategy from the way we tackle domestic violence.
I am not going to repeat what others have said. I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) for working so hard on securing this important debate and for what she is doing on the Youth Violence Commission, which could be transformational and could well reflect what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) said about a long-term strategy that looks at underlying causes and does not just go for quick fixes.
While we are talking about long-term strategies and not just going for quick fixes, one of my main asks of Ministers—both of them are now in their places—is that we look at the benefits that could accrue from implementing, early and well, compulsory personal, social and health and economic education, with sex and relationships education, for all children, whatever their background and wherever they are at school. This is not me as a Labour MP asking for more money, although I have that on my list as well, but me asking for something that could have a transformational effect.
We have learned from work on perpetrator programmes in the domestic violence sector. I know that the Minister is very interested in this, because she and I have conversed about it many times, and I value her support. We have learned from work on domestic violence perpetrator programmes what can be done if we invest long term in helping to change people’s underlying belief systems. She will have heard me say this before, but I will say it again. In my time, I worked with many very violent men before I entered this place, and if only there had been some form of early intervention for them 20 or 30 years previously, perhaps they would never have been forced to end up in prison and subsequently in a room with 16 other men while I and my co-facilitator told them what they needed to do differently. I really wish that we did not need domestic violence perpetrator programmes after people have already committed violence, but if we have investment in high-quality PSHE at an early stage, we can do so much to tackle the things so many hon. Members have mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said that young people think someone is their friend when they offer them chicken and chips. I have to say that a high-quality sex and relationships education and PSHE curriculum can help young people differentiate between someone who is a friend and someone who is trying to buy their favour.
The question of gender has not been mentioned, but I want to raise it. It is often controversial, but it is deeply relevant. Member after Member has mentioned people who have been killed, but behind those stories lie the people who have killed, and they are often—they are usually—male. Let us be honest about this: if we look at the statistics for murder and serious violence, it is often, although not always, men who commit those crimes. It is not just an accident that they are men; they are doing it in a culture of patriarchy and with attitudes towards gender roles that support them in thinking that they can get away with something, or that they are entitled to or should do something because they are a man. This is something else that could be challenged for the benefit of all men, as well as for women. It is for the benefit of all men to know that being violent does not define them as a man, and that trying to control someone else or to use a knife or a gun does not make them a better man. Again, I ask the Minister, in her summing up, to give us an update about where we are with PSHE, because we could explore that and make it available to all young people as part of the long-term strategy mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central.
My friends in the Avon and Somerset police force are doing amazing work, but I have to bring in the question of police cuts before I finish. Since 2010—not just since 2015, but since 2010—the Avon and Somerset area has had £65 million of police cuts, and we have lost 655 officers. They were good, specialist officers, and we have lost specialist services that knew how to tackle specific issues. We have lost them, and some of them will never come back. When I went on a ride-along recently with PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Richard Jones—thank you to them both—they showed me the impact of the cuts by introducing me to people who are being cuckooed. They are very vulnerable people, some of whom have criminal records but some of whom do not, and both categories deserve our help. The impact of cuckooing is that other people are being hurt and other people’s lives are being made a misery.
I wish to leave the Minister with a final picture. This affects ordinary people in my constituency, and I am sure in hers as well. I know her constituency well, having visited it many times. I do not think there are the tower blocks in Louth and Horncastle that we have in Bristol West—she we will correct me if I am wrong—but there will be similar issues and commonalities. The people who live in the tower blocks right outside my office tell me of the misery of knowing that someone in their block is being cuckooed: being terrified at someone ringing on the doorbell late at night, being old and feeling frightened of the drug dealer at their door, seeing someone inject heroin into their groin on the stairwell, or not being able to send their children out to play in the park right outside. It is so heartbreaking.
I am sure that the Minister would not want that for anybody’s constituents. I believe that she is honourable, and she, like me, will want all those young people to have a better life. I offer her this opportunity: I will work with her and contribute my experience of domestic violence work and work with violent men. I will help anybody interested in learning from that experience. But I ask the Minister to commit tonight to making sure that PSHE comes forward at the earliest opportunity. Also, will she please at least talk to her Treasury colleagues about funding for our specialist police officers?
It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). I want to participate in this debate principally to talk about some of the shockingly violent crimes that Great Grimsby and North East Lincolnshire have experienced in recent months, and to explore a bit more broadly the situation there to try to get to the bottom of what seems to be a spike. In Humberside, violent and sexual crime has increased by 20%. Arguments have been made that police numbers are not the only story, but there is an issue about referrals as well: while sexual crime seems to be going up, referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service across the country are going down.
I want to focus on violence and drugs. I have previously mentioned in the House the gang of hooligans who went marauding through my lovely seaside town, frightening the life out of many of my constituents. A poor man was killed by a single punch. Another man, Anthony Richardson, who was homeless, was killed in a daylight attack. Bins have been set on fire against vulnerable people’s homes, resulting in their deaths. This week, a knife was pulled on a child at a BMX track by another child.
These incidents may not be as regular or serious as those that some Members have discussed this afternoon, but they are serious and they have a lasting impact on my community. The incidents are separated by time, and I certainly do not want to paint my town as being riddled with violent crime. But this is certainly becoming an issue. In a small town and small borough such as North East Lincolnshire, the impact on the impression people have of the area can be lasting. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) talked about fear and the perception of crime, and that issue is incredibly important to many of my constituents.
In March this year, 626 violent crimes were recorded in my area. The figure has never been that high; I have looked at the figures back to 2011. The statistic does not distinguish between domestic violence and other violent crime, but I do not think that matters a great deal. I feel that the violent crime is linked to drugs. The Government’s strategy refers to crack cocaine as an issue, but the biggest issue on the streets of North East Lincolnshire seems to be Spice. Its effects are so varied and users do not really know where they are or what they are doing. The local outreach service Harbour Place notes that it is the most destructive drug it has seen on the streets of Great Grimsby.
It is interesting that the drug crime does not seem to have risen as the violent crime has. Is there an issue with drugs not being tackled early enough, so that serious violence increases? If more action were taken to deal with the drugs element, perhaps violent crime would not be happening as it is.
I do not know whether these are reported issues of drug use, incidents or charges, and perhaps some of the detail is hidden, but I am left concerned that violent drug criminals are not being apprehended despite the determination of Humberside police through Operation Impact, which has tried to deal with the issue. Grimsby is known to be at the receiving end of county lines action taking place at the moment. That police involvement seems to have been solely around engaging in that county lines operation to try to stem the flow of drugs. Colleagues this afternoon have mentioned trying to stop the big dealers from spreading drugs around the country by orchestrating efforts towards smaller local areas.
Constituents say to me that it is all well and good looking at the big picture and stopping the big fish in their tracks, but the impact that has at the local level means that the police do not have the resources to intervene on drug taking at the local street level. That has an impact on neighbourhoods. A comment was made about people injecting heroin in a stairwell. They are lucky in Bristol West to have the privacy of a stairwell. I have witnessed it happening openly in the middle of the street in my constituency and it puts people in fear. It makes them feel like the police are not intervening to stop that action from taking place. It makes them feel that there is nobody who has the power or the responsibility to stop it happening right in front of our noses. If I am seeing it and my constituents are seeing it, they wonder why nobody in authority is seeing it and stepping in to stop it from happening.
This issue does not just affect the difficult estates and other areas with greater social deprivation. Recently, I received reports of drugs being dealt from nice middle- class homes in quiet areas where the police usually have little cause to go. The criminals consider those areas to be police blind spots. As I said, the attention given to tackling the source of the drugs has had a real impact on the local community. People feel very frightened in their neighbourhoods.
In Humberside, there are 800 fewer police and police staff than in 2010. There has been excellent work by Labour’s police and crime commissioner, who recognises these issues. The chief constable has also heard my concerns about the need for a dual strategy, tackling the issue at the level of criminal gangs and dealing with the impact on people’s streets and homes. The Humberside PCC Keith Hunter recognises those issues and rather than sitting on millions of pounds in reserves, as his predecessor did, he has decided to plough them back into shoring up staffing numbers, including the recent recruitment of 200 new officers. I applaud him for that, but we have to remember that reserves can only be spent once. We need to ensure sustainability in that programme. I ask the Minister to take the opportunity to have a look at that sustainability.
I should take a moment to thank Humberside police for a genuine determination in wanting to tackle the root cause of extreme violence linked to drugs. They have, at every request I have put to them to help be a part of community solutions, given up their resources to help. Their help is not always just dealing with crime directly. Recently, a police community support officer in the Freshney ward found an elderly gentleman who had been hit by his own garage door and left unconscious on the floor. I do not know how long he had been there, but the fact that we have PCSOs who are grounded in the community and walking the beat meant that they were able to see that man and help to get him to hospital. That shows the importance of neighbourhood policing more broadly. Boots on the ground give local communities the confidence that their police are aware of the issues, however innocent and minor or serious they might be.
The police have to tackle crime gangs who are ever more inventive at operating through young people, and not just the young people I expected. In a meeting with the police last week, I was talking about vulnerable children being exploited. I was thinking about disadvantaged, marginalised and look-after children, but I was told that the young people now being targeted by gangs are those who are well dressed and look respectable. They are completely unassuming and the police would never think to stop them or suspect that they were involved in criminal activity. The police need the opportunity to provide resource into the intelligence-led work that other colleagues have talked about.
I finish on the point that activity with young people, and access to youth clubs and to youth activity, are so important. In North East Lincolnshire, all but one youth club has shut in the last eight years, and that youth club, the Shalom centre, which is run by Canon John Ellis, has been under threat of closure. It has had to turn to crowdfunding to try to source an essential £40,000 to stay open. The centre is in one of the most deprived wards. It has managed to raise £15,000 so far, which is absolutely fantastic, and I congratulate and commend him on his efforts. Another community group, Grimsby Boxing Academy, led by Andy Cox, is reopening the Trin youth club in Cleethorpes, thanks to North East Lincolnshire Council allowing it to take that property on for a peppercorn rent. I also mention the CatZero and CPO—Creating Positive Opportunity—Full Families programme, which I know the Minister is aware of, and which works to stay in touch with families who need assistance, help and support more broadly.
The picture clearly differs across the country, but all those communities are experiencing difficulties, fear, hurt and concern. The Minister has to be absolutely sure that her strategy is the right one for tackling that whole variety of different issues.
I begin my remarks by marking the first anniversary of the terrible events in Manchester on 22 May 2017. We remember all those who lost their lives and those who were injured. We think of their friends and families and pay tribute to the emergency services and first responders for the work that they did that night. I also pay tribute to the great city of Manchester for the way in which it came together in the aftermath of that awful tragedy.
We are here today to debate the serious violence strategy. There is agreement across the House on its broad themes—tackling county lines, early intervention and prevention, supporting communities and effective law enforcement and criminal justice response. The 14 speeches from Back Benchers covered a range of issues. I draw attention, in particular, to the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who has called tirelessly for this debate and spoke movingly about the young lives lost in her constituency and the importance of engaging with young people. After all, they are our country’s future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) was absolutely right to draw attention to the comments of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who said clearly that it would be “naive” to say that the reductions in police finances, whether in London or beyond, have not had an impact. I say to Ministers that her words really should be heeded in terms of how they take matters forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) spoke very movingly about those lost in her constituency and paid tribute, entirely appropriately, to the work by our national health service, whenever there are violent crimes, in seeking to save and treat people. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) spoke with great passion about the need for action. In a sense, he summed up that urgency in seven words—“what are we going to do now?” My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) also spoke with great passion. Like him, I have visited the National Crime Agency, and he is entirely right to draw attention not only to the key issue of tackling serious and organised crime in drugs and firearms, but to the cuts to Border Force.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) was entirely to right to say that 21,000 police officers cannot be cut with no consequences. The Government should not be in denial about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) spoke very movingly and appropriately about the work of the late Baroness Jowell in public health. She is absolutely right that we should bring that into the debate. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work as the chair of all-party group on knife crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) was entirely right to bring domestic violence into this debate—a key issue on which she spoke with great authority—and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) spoke well about the shocking rise in violent crime in her area. She also raised the key issue of why there had been a reduction in the number of referrals for sexual offences from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. That is something that needs to be considered across Government.
The issue of resources has been raised across the Chamber. Let me say at the outset: I am not saying that adequate resourcing is sufficient on its own to tackle these multifaceted issues, but it is necessary if we are to take all the action needed. It cannot be said that police numbers are irrelevant. If there is any doubt about that, I should remind the House of the leaked Home Office document that appeared last month, which my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary spoke of. Let us be clear—this is what the Home Office is saying to Ministers:
“Since 2012-13, weighted crime demand on the police has risen, largely due to growth in recorded sex offences. At the same time officers’ numbers have fallen by 5% since 2014. So resources dedicated to serious violence have come under pressure and charge rates have dropped. This may have encouraged offenders.”
Home Office Ministers should be heeding the advice they are being given.
We have spoken a great deal in the House today about the 21,000 fewer police officers, but we must not forget either that more than 18,000 police support staff have been cut, in addition to more than 6,000 police community support officers. The statistics really are damning. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson), who served with such great distinction in the Home Office, highlighted the figures on violent offending for the year ending December 2017. As he pointed out, there were just under 1.35 million violent offences that year compared with 700,000 in 2009—a near doubling. The Government’s own serious violence strategy also contains some very sobering but pretty clear statistics: the homicide rate rose from 553 in 2011-12 to 628 in 2016-17; knife crime offences were up, from just over 28,000 in 2011-12 to more than 32,000 in 2016-17; firearms offences increased over the same period from just over 6,000 to 6,375 and increased by 31% between 2013-14 and 2016-17. These figures only reinforce my hon. Friends’ points about the urgent need to tackle this and save lives.
I go back to what the Prime Minister said when she became Home Secretary in 2010:
“Nobody should accept a situation where at least 26,000 people fall victim to crime every day.”
I have looked at the crime survey for England and Wales. In the year ending September 2017, there were more than 10.5 million recorded criminal incidents, which works out at over 29,000 per day—3,000 more per day than in 2010. If the Prime Minister tells us that that was unacceptable in 2010, why on earth should we accept it in 2018?
Those statistics really should make the Government think, but this is about far more than mere statistics. Every statistic I have quoted is about young lives being spoilt or endangered, young lives crying out for intervention.
I say to Ministers, “Do not dismiss the impact of police numbers.” The Metropolitan Police Commissioner makes the link with finances; the leaked Home Office document makes the link; common sense makes the link. Let me say to all Conservative Members who have spoken today that nowhere in the serious violence strategy document is there any sustained analysis of the link between police numbers and levels of crime, and indeed violent crime; it is simply not there. If there were such confidence, the analysis could have been put in that document and placed before the House, but it is not there because we all know that there is a link.
I say to the Government, “Listen to what has been said in the debate today, and act, so that we can save more young lives.”
Let me begin by saying that Manchester is a city that is very close to my heart. I grew up in Lancashire, and it was the big city that we used to visit on a Saturday to do our shopping, go to the cinema and go to concerts. I know that, across the House, we share the sorrow of the people of Manchester. We are in awe of their strength, and we give thanks for the extraordinary bravery of the emergency services and all the members of the public who ran towards danger on that terrible night to help others. Manchester is a magnificent city with great people, and their response on that night is a mark of how great its community is.
Let me now turn to the very serious debate that we have had today. I am pleased that it was called for by Members across the House, and, as a Minister, I am pleased that the Government provided time for it, because the topic is so serious. We have heard from colleagues on both sides of the House about the way in which it has affected their constituents personally. I will begin my response by identifying a couple of points on which I hope we can all agree.
One point on which I hope we can all agree is that we all want this to stop. Another is that we owe it to our constituents, to the victims of serious violence and to the families who are grieving, to put aside party politics and work together to stop it. That point was made forcefully and powerfully by the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for West Ham (Lyn Brown), and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). His speech showed that—contrary to suggestions made by one or two Members—even colleagues with constituents in rural counties a million miles from the urban hotspots can feel powerfully about this issue, and care about it.
I am very pleased that the Mayor of London and Members on both sides of the House—including the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna)—as well as police and crime commissioners, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the director general of the National Crime Agency, people who head charities, local government representatives and Ministers across the Government are joining those in the serious violence taskforce to implement the more than 60 commitments in the serious violence strategy. At the first meeting of the taskforce last month, the firm intention of everyone was to act. It is not a talking shop but a place for action, and it is gratifying that—I sense—such an approach has the support of the House today.
The most important part of my role as the Minister responsible for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability is meeting and listening to the victims of crime and grieving families. I am constantly amazed at the strength and dignity of people who are in the most trying of circumstances. It does not matter whether the incident happened a few months ago or years ago; the impact on those families is still painful to behold. I know that Members in all parts of the House have seen it for themselves in their constituencies.
It is a privilege to sit and listen to the families’ stories, to hear about their loved ones and to reflect on their views as to what more can, and must, be done. Indeed, some are somehow able to find the wherewithal to use their experiences to help others. I am thinking in particular of Ben Kinsella’s family. The pain the parents have felt over the years since Ben’s death is palpable, yet the family have put that emotional energy into setting up the Ben Kinsella Trust centre in Finsbury, which I cannot recommend highly enough to Members to visit. It is particularly effective at addressing themes that have been raised today, such as reaching out to young people from primary school age through to late teens in an age-appropriate manner. I will not give away the impact of a visit, but the most powerful part is where the horrendous impact of such murders on family members and the friends of those lost is made very clear. That is a theme that has been raised by colleagues across the House today; the effect of these murders is not restricted to the family unit but is also felt by friends and communities.
I thank every Member who has spoken today, particularly those who spoke so movingly of the experience in their constituencies. I am bound to mention the contribution made by the hon. Member for West Ham, whose constituency, sadly, features too often in our conversations in this regard. When talking about one victim, she used a phrase that struck me: “His father’s heart broke in my arms.” That sums up the feeling hon. Members have brought into the Chamber this afternoon and points to the much wider impact this has had nationally.
It is vital that we listen to the young people themselves. I agree completely with colleagues across the House who have said that, and it is why I and other Ministers visit charities across the country to listen to young people and the people who work with them; I am sure not every teenager wishes to spend their afternoon off school receiving a visit from a Home Office Minister, but certainly their youth workers do appreciate the chance to talk to us.
I visited Safer London in east London and I was so inspired by a video it showed me of one of the young people it had worked with, Reuben, that I invited him, other former gang members and members of the charity into the House of Commons. I hope colleagues will recall that I invited everyone across the House to come a couple of months ago to the event we held on the Terrace. It is important that young people are not only listened to but feel they are being listened to. It is important to hear from young people such as Reuben, who might live just a few miles down the river; I asked him if he or his friends had ever been to this part of town or to the House of Commons, knowing what the answer was likely to be, and he said that it felt like a different country and it was inconceivable that they would make that journey. This is the first of what I hope will be regular events where colleagues across the House can listen to young people here, to understand for themselves what we should be doing and what more they expect of us.
This reaching out and listening is exactly what Home Office officials did when commissioned by the then Home Secretary a year ago to draw together a strategy to deal with serious violence, because they could see the way the statistics were going. Home Office officials have reached out to the police, local authorities, charities, youth workers, teachers and healthcare providers to ask for their ideas and thoughts on what can be done to stem this flow of violence.
The serious violence strategy that has been published, which hon. Members have been kind enough to review and give their thoughts on today, has four pillars. We are looking not just at law enforcement, important though that is, but at the causes of serious violence and what can be done to tackle it. That is why we are committing £40 million to be invested to support initiatives to tackle serious violence. This will focus on early intervention and prevention and on the root causes of the violence. It will look to help young people before they go down the wrong path, encouraging them to make positive choices and to live productive lives away from violence. It will tackle head on some of the theories about why these crimes occur, and explore the reasons behind the violence, including the links to drugs and gangs.
I thank the Minister for giving way, because I forgot to mention something in my speech. Two years ago, I asked a question about Grimsby being included in a list of local authority areas that would benefit from the strategy discussed in the “Ending gang violence and exploitation” paper. Can she tell us what has happened to that paper and that strategy?
I can certainly help the hon. Lady with the “Ending gang violence and exploitation” strategy. It is one of the strategies on which the serious violence strategy has been built. I do not pretend that we are inventing the wheel for the first time here; we are building on work that has been done over the years, and “Ending gang violence and exploitation” is one of those strands of work. We have an inter-ministerial group, and I am delighted to see my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, sitting here next to me tonight, because he is one of the Ministers in that group, which I chair. It brings all the relevant Ministers into the room and challenges them to deliver for their Departments in terms of tackling these types of crime. We are now refocusing the group to deal with serious violence, because county lines and other factors have developed. I am hoping that I might get a little assistance specifically about Grimsby, but if I do not, I will write to the hon. Lady about that. I am afraid that I cannot flick through my file and find the answer in time now.
I am delighted—“delighted” is the wrong word; I am pleased—that Members across the House have understood the terrible impact that county lines is having on criminal statistics and on people living day to day in our constituencies. I hope that those who attended the debate on county lines in Westminster Hall several months ago will forgive me for repeating this powerful line from a police officer who has done a lot of work on county lines gangs. She said:
“They are stealing our children.”
That sums it up for me.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham, who I look forward to working with on the serious violence strategy, spoke powerfully about the role of serious organised crime, and I agree with him. I used to prosecute serious organised crime, and I am very alert to it. We would say that county lines is serious organised crime. That is our mindset. It is at the heart of the serious violence document. He made a point about wider serious organised crime groups, and various nationalities have been mentioned today. The National Crime Agency leads on those crime groups and on county lines investigations, because county lines is a national crime. We will also be producing the serious organised crime strategy in due course, in which—believe you me—this will be looked at. Please do not think for a moment that we have ignored serious organised crime; we have not. We have put it at the heart of the strategy, because we consider it to be part of it.
There is common ground in the House that this is not just an issue of police numbers, but does the Minister agree with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, that there is a link between falling numbers of police officers and rising violent crime?
I am constantly asked that question, as the hon. Gentleman will imagine, and I challenge my officials to tell me the answer, because I want to get to the truth and I want to ensure that we are tackling this as effectively as possible.
During the previous spikes in knife crime in the late 2000s and mid-1990s, there were many, many more officers on the street. In addition, there does not appear to be a relationship between the numbers of police officers and the national rise in serious violence. I absolutely understand why hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised this issue.
My hon. Friend makes a compelling point about the collaboration taking place across Government, and her own work on this is well understood and widely admired. Will she also look at the allocation of police resources and what I described earlier as the police culture? We need policemen who are involved in their communities and who are familiar to and respected by those communities. Such work will build the strength and social solidarity that is essential to tackling the problem.
One of the first challenges that the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, put to the police was to use warranted officers on the frontline rather than in back-office roles. I am delighted that we have seen police forces rise to the challenge and ensure that more warranted officers are used, as they should be, in frontline policing.
Will the Minister give way?
If I may, I will make some progress.
I will quickly address funding, which Opposition Members have raised. I do not want to refer back to history but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime said, we did not introduce these cuts because we wanted to introduce them. The economy was not at all good in 2010 and we had to make some very difficult decisions.
The police and others bore the burden of those restrictions, but since 2015 we have protected police funding. Indeed, this year we are seeing a further £460 million invested in policing, and it will be for police and crime commissioners to spend that money. I am delighted that some police and crime commissioners are looking to increase the number of officers in their forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) implored police forces to work more closely together, and we agree, which is why we are providing specific funding of £3.6 million over the next two years to establish a new national county lines co-ordination centre. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who brings his housing expertise to the House, dealt at length with cuckooing, which is an issue that horrifies everyone who has come across it.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) has done so much work with her Youth Violence Commission. She argues that having the teachable moment at A&E is too late, and I agree. I also agree with the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) that we need early relationship education, and I am very sympathetic to her calls on that. Indeed, the Department for Education is looking into it with great care. Interestingly, of course, domestic abuse is a theme than runs through members of gangs, which is one reason why I hope we can tie domestic abuse legislation into this important area.
Many colleagues have raised the point about youth services. We understand that, which is why the Government, in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund, have invested £80 million—£40 million in the #iwillFund and £40 million in the youth investment fund. We are also supporting the National Citizen Service and the troubled families programme, and we are setting up the early intervention youth fund. We have the trusted relationships fund and the anti-knife crime community fund. Colleagues on both sides of the House have said that we need funding for small charities, not for the big ones. The anti-knife crime community fund is doing exactly that, and bids are about to open, so please get charities to apply.
I shall turn to the subject of drugs, although I am conscious of the time. Many colleagues have talked about how the journey of cocaine and heroin into this country is plagued with exploitation, violence and death. When someone buys a wrap of cocaine, they have no idea how many children and young people have been involved. We as a House need to unite around precisely that so that when the Government introduce legislation such as the offensive weapons Bill, we will give it full support.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).