(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on knife crime.
This weekend two teenagers, Jodie Chesney and Yousef Ghaleb Makki, were stabbed to death. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express my deepest condolences to their families and their loved ones; two young lives, tragically lost. They are the latest victims in a cycle of senseless violence that is robbing young people of their lives right across this country. There is no hiding from this issue. Serious violence is on the rise. Communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children. Last year, 726 people were murdered in the UK, 285 with a knife or bladed weapon, the highest level since records began.
After the horror of this weekend, I welcome the chance to come to the House and address this issue. We all wish that there was just one thing that we could do to stop the violence, but there are no shortcuts and there is no one single solution. Tackling serious violence requires co-ordinated action on multiple fronts. First, we need a strong law enforcement response. This includes the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament, which will introduce new offences to help to tackle knife crime. We also need to give police the confidence to use existing laws, such as stop and search.
Secondly, we must intervene early to stop young people becoming involved in crime. We have amended the Bill to introduce knife crime prevention orders, which will help to prevent young people from carrying knives. Alongside our £200 million youth endowment fund, the £22 million early intervention youth fund has already funded 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners.
Thirdly, we must ensure that the police have the resources to combat serious violence. I am raising police funding to record levels next year—up to £970 million more, including council tax. On Wednesday, I will meet chief constables to listen to their experiences and requirements.
Fourthly, we must be clear on how changing patterns of drug misuse are fuelling the rise in violent crime. I launched the independent drugs misuse review, under Dame Carol Black, in response to that.
Fifthly, we need all parts of the public sector to prioritise tackling serious violence. That is why I will very shortly be launching a consultation on a new statutory public health duty to combat violent crime and to help protect young people.
We must all acknowledge that this is an issue that transcends party lines. Politics can be divisive, but if there was ever an issue to unite our efforts and inspire us to stand together, then surely this is it.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting today’s urgent question. I thank the Home Secretary for making time to respond to it.
Today, the House is united in grief and shock at the tragic toll of the past couple of weeks, adding to the hundreds of children murdered in our communities over the past year. In Birmingham, over the space of just 12 days, three teenage boys have lost their lives: Sidali Mohamed and Abdullah Mohammad, both 16 years old; and student Hazrat Umar, 18 years old. On Friday, Jodie Chesney was killed in a knife attack in an east London park as she played music with her friends. She was 17. Yousef Makki was stabbed to death in a village near Altrincham. He was 17. It adds to a 93% rise in the number of young people being stabbed since 2012.
These senseless murders are a national tragedy that must cause us to reflect on how the promise that these young boys and girls represent could so senselessly be extinguished. But it must also be a cause for action. One life lost in an act of violence is one too many; one mother who will never see her son or daughter again is one too many. This is a national crisis, and it requires national leadership from the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to provide whatever support is necessary to help the police investigate and fight this outbreak, and to provide communities and services with whatever resources are necessary to protect our increasingly vulnerable young people.
May I put the following questions to the Home Secretary? Back in 2000, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took the decision to activate the emergency Cobra committee and set a target for bringing violent street crime, which was then at a peak, under control. We need to see similar leadership today from our Prime Minister. Will she step up and convene a crisis summit backed with emergency funding? Will the Home Secretary confirm that that will take place this week? If not, why not?
Underpinning the cross-Government effort the Home Secretary mentioned has to be a public health approach to tackle the root causes of violence. This was something we thought the Government favoured too, encompassing youth services, school exclusions, housing, social services, mental health and health as a whole. It was therefore shocking to hear the comments from the Health Secretary on LBC this morning, when he did not appear to know that this was the approach adopted by his Government and criticised the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for using public health terminology. Will the Home Secretary confirm whether the public health approach to tackling knife crime has been discussed at Cabinet, what action has been agreed as a result of this cross-governmental approach, and how the Department of Health and Social Care is supporting it? He has further committed to legislation to underpin the public health approach; when exactly will that be brought forward?
Finally, we cannot pretend that the cuts to policing have not made our country less safe. Sadly, the Prime Minister and other members of her Cabinet continue to deny this crucial link. In the coming weeks, police will have the heavy responsibility of running investigations into young lives lost and bringing perpetrators to justice. The funding settlement that we voted on last month is completely inadequate to allow them to do that, especially for the forces hardest hit by violent crime. Will he urgently review the funding settlement to ensure that the forces that have seen the biggest increases in violent crime are given whatever they need to fight this outbreak?
This country is facing a crisis. It is time for leadership from our Prime Minister and our Home Secretary, for clear action and a united vision from all arms of Government, and for emergency funding for the police and prevention programmes to keep our children safe. Warm words are no longer enough.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. She started, quite correctly, by talking about how the House is united in its grief with regard to all the deaths that we have seen, particularly of young people, not just in recent days but over the last number of years, when we have seen an increase in these tragic crimes that are dividing communities and causing so much pain for so many people.
The hon. Lady asked me three questions. First, this is a huge priority across Government. That is why, almost a year ago, the Government set out a serious violence strategy with over 60 actions taking place that involve not just Government but other public agencies and bodies. To help implement those actions, we also set up a serious violence taskforce, which is cross-party and includes people such as the Mayor of London, so that we can make sure that we are working well not just within central Government, but across public bodies.
That brings me to the hon. Lady’s second point: the public health approach, which I announced towards the end of last year. Again, that came through listening to experience both from other parts of the UK and other countries that have seen a similar rise in serious violence. We should learn from wherever we can. It is important to have such an approach, which requires all Departments and agencies of Government to treat serious violence in the way we would treat, for example, a disease—to prioritise it and make that a statutory duty. That is why I welcome the support for that approach from hon. Members across the House. As I said, because it is a statutory duty, it will require legislation. That begins with a consultation, which is about to take place shortly.
Thirdly, the hon. Lady asked about funding and resources. As I mentioned, I have long recognised that in tackling serious violence, there is no one single course, but having the right amount of resources is vital. That is why we set out in the House earlier this year an increase of up to £970 million for policing—almost double the increase in the year before and the largest increase since 2010—which will lead to a significant rise in capabilities, including in the number of officers. Finally, alongside that, we have announced a record allocation to early intervention, especially helping young people through the £200 million youth endowment fund, which is the biggest such investment that any Government have ever made.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
The other day I went out on patrol with the police in my area. In two and a half hours in the borough of Waltham Forest, we attended two knife attacks, one threatened knife attack and a shooting, and that was not even prime time. None of those made it into the media, by the way, so what is being reported is only the tip of the iceberg.
I want my right hon. Friend to ensure that we do this. There is enough evidence now of what works and what does not work. The Glasgow concept—of this being a public health issue—is not just about public health; it is about the co-ordination between the police and all the local authorities. Will he direct someone to co-ordinate the actions of all 32 London boroughs, focus on the safer streets process, which allows action to take place, and agree to immediate expenditure for voluntary sector organisations that can get children out of the gangs?
I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work, particularly through the serious violence taskforce, which he regularly attends. He made an important point about being led by evidence, and he pointed to the public health approach and rightly mentioned Glasgow. He also rightly highlighted the importance in a capital city of greater co-ordination. It is to ensure just that that we are working closely with the Mayor of London, local authorities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The recent spate of murders by stabbing of children and young people across Greater London and England has shocked and horrified everyone. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I extend our deepest condolences to all those bereaved by these senseless acts of violence.
We are acutely aware of the problem of knife crime in Scotland, because until recent years it was a terrible scourge, but, as others have alluded to, as a result of a radical change of approach to the problem, the incidence of knife crime in Scotland has greatly reduced, and crimes of handling an offensive weapon decreased by 64% between 2007-08 and 2016-17. I think we all know now that this occurred because of a holistic approach that involved the creation of a violence reduction unit, initially in Glasgow and now for the whole of Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, that treats violent crime as a public health problem and a social problem.
Scotland has also employed a whole-systems approach to young people at risk of offending that, rather than criminalising, labelling and stigmatising young people, provides early and effective interventions that keep young people out of formalised justice settings, and this includes the No Knives, Better Lives youth engagement programme.
All of this has been a huge success, which is why the Mayor of London, senior representatives of the Metropolitan police and senior representatives of the UK Government, including the Solicitor General, have all been up to Scotland in the last year to explore what lessons can be learned. The public health approach to knife crime is also advocated by the World Health Organisation. What specifically have the Home Secretary’s Government colleagues learned on their visits to Scotland? Can he tell us the precise extent of his plans to follow the Scottish model? If he is planning to do it, when is he going to do it?
The hon. and learned Lady rightly points to Scotland and its own experience. It is important in tackling serious violence that we learn lessons from across the UK, and indeed the world—the public health approach she talked about has been tried in other countries and cities as well. I said we needed action across multiple fronts, but it is hugely important that we pursue that. It will require a consultation, because it is statutory, which is important to make sure that hon. Members and others have the opportunity to have an input, mould it and make sure it is as effective as it can be. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the consultation, but there is a strong sense of support. The cross-party serious violence taskforce, which I referred to earlier, had a presentation on this last year where we heard from experienced people about how it can help, and it is something that we plan to pursue. I look forward to working with friends and colleagues in Scotland to see how they can help.
Will the Home Secretary ask the Mayor of London to consider as a matter of urgency adopting the plan put forward by Shaun Bailey for funding an extra 2,000 police officers through reducing waste at City Hall and public affairs spending?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to ensure that everything is being done throughout the United Kingdom, including our capital city, to deploy as many resources as possible to law enforcement and efforts to prevent young people from turning to serious violence in the first place. The work being done by Shaun Bailey and others is important in that regard, and I hope that the recent increase in central funding will help as well.
Fatal stabbings are now at their highest level since the second world war, and the number of youth stabbings has doubled in five years. Teenagers are dying on our streets, and families are being devastated as a result. I agree with what the Home Secretary said about a public health approach, but that is why it was so concerning to hear the Health Secretary dismiss such an approach—the Home Secretary did not respond when his comments were raised earlier. That creates a feeling that there simply is not the right sense of urgency and grip across the Government on this crucial issue: this morning a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner warned of a lack of national leadership.
Does the Home Secretary believe that all the measures that he talked about earlier will lead to a fall in knife crime and in the number of serious stabbings in the next 12 months? If he does not, this is not a good enough plan.
I welcome the right hon. Lady’s comments. I do believe that the action that we are taking is the right action, but I am also very open-minded about considering what further action can be taken. I think it important to listen to police chiefs, police and crime commissioners and others, and to consider whether other measures can be introduced. The idea of knife crime prevention orders came directly from the police, the Mayor of London and others, and we acted very quickly to pursue that.
As for the public health approach that the right hon. Lady and others have mentioned, it is important for all public Departments to buy into it. I want it to be statutory because I want Departments including the Department for Health and Social Care, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education to make it a priority: I think that they all have an important role to play.
What action are the Government taking to ensure that enough resources are available and preferably targeted on this priority, and what further action can they take to spread best practice from places that have had more success?
My right hon. Friend has raised an important issue involving co-ordination and the need to make the most of the resources that are there. Last September I launched the national county lines co-ordination Centre, which was intended to ensure that police forces and the National Crime Agency worked together. It is early days, but, having visited three police forces across the country over the last few weeks to see how the system was working, I know that it is bringing real results through co-ordination.
The public health approach in Scotland also involved a cross-party approach, with much of the work beginning under Labour and continuing under the Scottish National party. The whole House wants the Home Secretary to succeed, but we have been on alert since Tanesha Melbourne-Blake was killed in my constituency on bank holiday Monday almost a year ago.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for allowing me to be part of the taskforce in that cross-party spirit, but the questions today are really about the Government’s grip, because of what we heard from the Health Secretary this morning. What more can the Government do? I ask that question particularly because county lines is being driven by a demand for drugs, and we have cut our Border Force as a result of austerity.
First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work that he does, in the taskforce and elsewhere, in combating and helping to combat serious violence. He is right about the importance of a cross-governmental approach, and of ensuring that all parts of Government are joined up.
The right hon. Gentleman understandably raised the issue of drugs and drug seizures, and he mentioned the Border Force. Last year, the amount of class A drugs seized by Border Force was threefold higher than in the previous year, so it is up. That said, the volume of these types of drugs across the world has increased dramatically, and that is leading to some of the gang warfare we are seeing, especially the spread of county lines. So more needs to be done: more needs to be done both through the public health approach but also the other interventions I have just set out.
Ah yes, an Altrincham knight: Sir Graham Brady.
May I first give my deep condolences to the family of Yousef Makki, the young man whose life was tragically taken in my constituency on Saturday evening, and may I also thank Greater Manchester police for their rapid response to give some reassurance to the community?
The Home Secretary has spoken of increased resources going to the police. When he meets senior officers in the coming days, will he urge them and seek to persuade them to make sure as much as possible of that new resource goes to increasing the numbers of frontline officers, to give greater reassurance to communities the length and breadth of our country?
I join my hon. Friend in the condolences he just expressed; it is a truly senseless loss of life. He is also right to commend the response of Greater Manchester police to the tragedy.
My hon. Friend asked about resources. In terms of the increase in funding I referred to earlier—£970 million this year—it is good to see that almost all police forces across the country, including GMP, have responded by saying they will be hiring a significant number of officers to add to the frontline. The figure is almost 3,000 in total so far, but it is good to see that police forces across the country are looking to see what they can do to make a real difference.
No one doubts the Home Secretary’s desire to do something about knife crime across the country, but does he not recognise that for months this House has been crying out for the Government to get a grip: it has been crying out for the Government to do more about this? Belatedly, we all seem to be recognising that it is a national crisis—a national emergency. In the face of national emergencies—whether terrorism, flooding, or foot and mouth—the Government convene Cobra, because Cobra drives the Government forward with an urgency and passion that is lacking at present. Will the Home Secretary go back to the Prime Minister and say that we need to convene Cobra—we need to bring the right people together to drive forward with the enthusiasm and desire that this needs to be tackled as the national emergency that it is?
This is a hugely important priority issue across the Government: it was discussed very recently, just in the past few weeks, in the Cabinet, and just a couple of weeks ago we had a debate in this House on serious violence, both to set out the Government’s plans but also to listen to hon. Members across the House on new initiatives that can be taken forward. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about this being an urgent priority, and it is important that we all work together to see what more we can do.
Are sentences served long enough?
My right hon. Friend will know that, as recently as 2015, changes were made to sentencing for serious violence crimes, including with bladed weapons. While it is right that the courts make decisions on sentencing based on the evidence and the facts in each case, we have seen a rise in custodial sentences. That is important, too, to make sure the right message and right deterrent are set out for these horrible crimes.
A primary school in my constituency recently told me that the three and four-year-olds who are likely to be vulnerable to gangs can be identified in the nursery, often because they have grown up in households afflicted by domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse, or where other family members are in gangs. Yet our school budgets and Sure Start centres have been cut, making early intervention far more difficult. Has the Home Secretary had any conversations with the Treasury about proper funding for very early intervention, and if not, why not?
The hon. Lady raises the important issue of early intervention, including very early intervention. A ministerial taskforce is looking at this issue and trying to do more in this space, and work is being done. Through my Department, work is already being done on the early intervention youth fund, which has made allocations to more than 20 social enterprises, including those that are helping people to exit from gangs. Also, the draft Domestic Abuse Bill sets out to help young people who are more likely to be vulnerable to committing crimes themselves, perhaps because of their own life experiences.
I, too, extend my sympathy to the families affected by those two ghastly crimes. Has my right hon. Friend asked the chief constables how many more officers they all need to put on to our streets? Has he ever asked that question, and as he had an answer? How many officers are needed to physically patrol the streets of our country?
I regularly speak to chief constables across the country about their needs, in regard not just to serious violence—although that is of course a priority for almost all of them—but to the whole host of crimes they are trying to deal with. The information that we get from chief officers will then feed back into the annual police settlement. This year, as I have mentioned, the police settlement has the largest cash increase since 2010.
I should also like to add my condolences to the families of the recent victims. I am a mother of four, and I cannot even begin to understand what those families are going through. Extensive research now shows that adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect or a parent in prison, can severely harm a child’s development. Too many children with multiple adverse childhood experiences are excluded from school, which in turn can lead them to become involved in gangs and violence. If we are to tackle this epidemic of youth violence, we need an approach—perhaps we can call it a public health approach—that is trauma-informed to care for children with ACEs. We also need much lower numbers of school exclusions. Will the Secretary of State liaise with the Department for Education on school exclusions, please?
I agree with the hon. Lady’s points about young people suffering from trauma and who may have witnessed abuse, including in their own household. She is absolutely right to raise this. We talked earlier about experiences in Scotland, and there have also been some valuable experiences in Wales, especially on trauma-based therapy. She is also right to mention school exclusions. I welcome the independent work that is being done on this by Edward Timpson, and we will be working with the Department for Education to take that forward.
The Home Office has told me in a written answer that it does not collect statistics on the association between knife crime where people are killed or maimed. However, the serious violence strategy that was published last year tells us that in 57% of all homicides, either the victim or the offender is either a drug dealer or a drug user. The Secretary of State has asked Dame Carol Black to carry out an honest assessment of our capability and capacity to address this threat, but she is not allowed to consider whether we can take this threat out the hands of criminals altogether. The Americans learned a very hard lesson in the 1920s and 1930s when they prohibited the drug alcohol, and the entire world has learned a very hard lesson in the global war on drugs over the past 50 years. Why cannot we carry out an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of prohibition?
This Government do not support the legalisation of these types of harmful drugs. I respect my hon. Friend’s firmly held views, but the class of drugs that we are talking about is hugely harmful to anyone who takes them, especially young people. The answer is to look at how the misuse of drugs is driving violent crime and other crimes, and that is exactly why we have asked Dame Carol Black to look into the misuse of drugs. There is no question of legalising any of those harmful drugs.
While I appreciate the Home Secretary’s tone, I am unsure whether the reality totally matches up with what he is talking about. On school exclusions, he talks about an evidence base and following the evidence, but the overwhelming evidence is that those who are excluded from school end up getting involved in drugs, youth violence and gang activity. The Timpson review is long overdue, and we are not expecting it to be all that powerful. Given that we have been raising such issues for a long time, will the Government now look at the powers that local authorities need to ensure that children in their communities are getting an education? This atomised, fragmented school system means that too many are falling through the net.
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is vital that the whole issue of exclusions, alternative provision and pupil referral units is looked at properly, and it is vital that we follow the evidence. She seems to prejudge Edward Timpson’s report, but I have a great deal of confidence in him. He is an experienced individual who will take the issue incredibly seriously, and we need independent evidence. However, if the hon. Lady is suggesting that we do not need to wait for that to do more work, she is right about that, too. Work is already ongoing between my Department, the Department for Education and others, but the report will certainly help.
Following on from the previous question from the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), although I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, the fact is that 40 children are excluded from our schools every day, either on fixed or temporary exclusions—4,000 such children have special educational needs—and a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said that that is a major cause of knife crime. We know that excluded children are twice as likely to carry knives and that children are being off-rolled. We must ensure, as the Education Committee report suggested, that schools are accountable for the pupils they exclude, that there is transparency and that this approach is the No. 1 priority for dealing with knife crime.
My right hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge of this issue, and I welcome the work that he and his Select Committee have done. Like the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) before him, he is right to raise the issue, which is critical if we are to deal with serious violence and drug misuse properly. The number of exclusions seems to be heading in the wrong direction, and it is important that we look at the links between that and crime. I welcome what my right hon. Friend says and the work that he is doing through the Education Committee.
Following another tragic wave of violence over the weekend, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care dismissed treating it as a public health issue, contradicting the Government’s apparent plans to tackle violence with a public health approach. Has the Home Secretary spoken to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at all about the Government’s plans to adopt a public health approach?
I mentioned earlier that serious violence and the priority of tackling it was discussed in Cabinet in the past few weeks, and the matter is being taken seriously in every Department. The Department of Health and Social Care is key if the public health approach that I have talked about is to be success.
The impact of knife crime across London has been horrific in recent months, but has the Home Secretary seen the recent extraordinary comments from the Mayor of London? He said that it would take him 10 years to deal with the London knife crime epidemic—longer than anybody has served as Mayor—yet his website says that he has responsibility for the “totality of policing” in London. My constituents and other Londoners will not wait 10 years, so what discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Mayor of London?
The Mayor of London is an important partner in this, and he is a member of the serious violence taskforce. We do not have 10 years to deal with this, of course not. There are certain things that will take time, but there are also things that could be done that would have a much more immediate impact, such as some of the legal changes that will be brought in by the Offensive Weapons Bill. My right hon. Friend highlights the need to work together in partnership.
The public health and public education approach, together with more police officers, is obviously right, but was not the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner correct this morning when he said that, ultimately, our young people need to know they are better off not being in possession of a knife than having that knife? Therefore, is it not time for us to have clearer mandatory sentencing for those caught in possession of a knife without just cause?
When the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Hogan-Howe, speaks, it is important that we listen. I have great respect for him and for others who have served in our police. The issue of sentencing is very important—I mentioned earlier that there have been some changes in sentencing—and it is also about making sure that we have the right laws in place, which is why I welcome the support across the House, including I believe from the hon. Gentleman, on the new Offensive Weapons Bill.
The Home Secretary has outlined some important measures, including this year’s police settlement, which means 100 extra officers in Leicestershire, but what role does he see for longer sentences and stiffer penalties for knife possession as part of his strong plan?
Changes were made to the sentencing regime in 2015, but it is right that, when we consider the responses to the rise in serious violence and, especially, the tragic deaths that have occurred, we make sure our sentencing is right. That is why, through the work being done across the Government, it is time for us to look again at sentencing.
I grew up under the cloud of gang violence in Birmingham. When I was a teenager, it was really quite bad. It was dangerous for us when we lived there, and in the years since, I have found myself working tirelessly to try to improve the situation, which we had managed to do. Now I receive letters from my children’s inner-city comprehensive school about how to spot whether my children are in a gang. We have gone straight back to day one. Nothing the Home Secretary has said allays my fears as a parent of a teenage boy in Birmingham. There used to be a police officer based at almost every inner-city school in Birmingham. None of them is there now. Why is that the case?
I hear what the hon. Lady says very clearly, and I am listening carefully. I also grew up in a place that, sadly, had lots of gangs and crime, and no one wants to see that in any community. I understand what she says. She specifically asks me about policing, and just last week I went to see some of the work that West Midlands police are doing with other police forces. Much more resource is going into fighting both gangs and drugs. As I mentioned earlier, the increased resourcing will directly lead to many more officers on the frontline.
My right hon. Friend talked in the past of suspending social media accounts as one tool to help tackle this dreadful scourge and the needless loss of life we are seeing. How are his discussions going with the social media companies, which are integral to achieving that aim? Does he think we need to look again at sentencing policy?
My hon. Friend raises another important issue on the role that social media might be playing in spreading serious violence. Late last year, I provided £1.4 million of funding for a new social media serious violence hub so that the Metropolitan police can work with social media companies and specifically focus on this very issue. He knows that the Government will shortly be publishing an online harms White Paper, which will also look at this important issue.
I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that behind every fatal stabbing and shooting is a young person’s future cancelled, and a family left grieving and wondering for the rest of their life, “How could this have been prevented?” He has demonstrated that he knows what needs to be done—it is about interrupting the drugs industry, early intervention and having more police on the street—so why on earth we need yet another consultation is beyond me. What we do need is for him to come back to this House, within the next week, with a definite plan about how to deal with this and proper resources behind the plan. I ask him to do that, because he already knows what needs to be done.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he talks of the tragic deaths, lives being cut short, all those opportunities that are forever gone and the impact on those families. I think he was referring to the public health approach and asking why it would require a consultation. That is because it is supposed to be a statutory approach. We could have taken the non-statutory route. That would have been quicker, frankly, but I think it would have been less effective because I need every Department—colleagues have mentioned the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education—to make this a priority. We have talked about the experience in the other parts of the UK and in other countries. It has been a statutory approach. With very few exceptions, there is a requirement with such an approach to have a consultation to make sure it is legally watertight.
Warwickshire police are currently recruiting an additional 150 officers and extra officers are part of the solution here. My right hon. Friend has talked about a wider cross-Government approach and using resources of the whole of the Government. Can he say more about how we can get those resources and that approach down to the local level, where it is really going to make a difference?
I welcome the announcement by Warwickshire police. On other resources, a vital one that I mentioned earlier is support for organisations, mainly community organisations, to tackle the issue early on, through early intervention, especially to try to turn young people away from what might become a life of crime. The early intervention youth fund has already allocated funds to more than 20 projects, but the new youth endowment fund, which I said I would be publishing information on very shortly, will be allocating some £200 million very shortly to do just that work—early intervention.
Jodie Chesney, Charlotte Huggins, Tudor Simionov, Nedim Bilgin, Lejean Richards, Dennis Anderson, Aliny Mendes, Simbiso Aretha Moula, Sarah Ashraf, Asma Begum, Kamil Malysz, Bright Akinleye, Glendon Spence, Che Morrison, David Lopez-Fernandez, Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck, Brian Wieland and Jaden Moodie—I am not sure that that is a complete list of everyone who has been killed by a knife in London this year alone, but I can tell the Home Secretary that the taskforce, the consultations and the more reports are not working. What on earth will it take for him to recognise that this is an emergency that requires an emergency response?
The hon. Lady reminds this House that this is such a tragic loss of life. She talked of those lives cut short in London. There are colleagues here representing seats across the country where we have, sadly, lost lives. She is absolutely right to highlight this but, as I said, I really wish standing here that there was just one simple answer—just one single thing that could be done. We require action across multiple fronts and the best way to achieve that is for all of us to recognise that and to work together to deliver it.
As I regrettably advised the House earlier today, on Friday night, 17-year-old Jodie Chesney was murdered in my constituency. She was a bright, beautiful and kind young woman and she did not deserve to die in this way. The public are losing faith in our ability to control our streets and they need to see and feel a step change in our response to public safety concerns. Can the Home Secretary tell me what he is doing at all levels of governance—at Home Secretary level, Prime Ministerial level, Mayoral level and local council level—to draw together our response to these tragic incidents? Will he join me in paying tribute to the members of the community and the police officers who came to Jodie’s aid when she was lying there in her final moments?
I thank my hon. Friend for what she has said and remind the House of the tragic loss of life when Jodie was murdered this weekend. As I said earlier, the whole House will want to send their condolences to her family and loved ones. My hon. Friend is right to point to the work of the police and emergency services and how they responded to that tragedy, and of course I join her in commending their work.
My hon. Friend asked specifically about the work being done across Government. This issue is a priority for all of Government, across all Departments, some of which are more important to this issue than others. Obviously, I am starting with my own, but we have also heard in the House about the work in the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care. We have also heard about the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—for example, the extra funding that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced for the troubled families programme, to try to help to reduce violence. That kind of approach is what is going to be required to make a huge change and to reduce this senseless violence. It is going to be necessary for all Government Departments and public agencies to work together, and that means in respect of not only resources and co-ordination, but this new statutory approach, which will make a big difference.
Lord Hogan-Howe said today that the Government do not have a grip on this national crisis. Given the fact that there have been more than 100 knife offences every day over the past year, he is of course right. The Home Secretary said that he needs every Government Department to take part, but there is a silence from the very heart of Government: the Prime Minister has made no speeches, she has held no crisis meetings, she has not called Cobra meetings and she has not led any kind of serious cross-party campaign. In the past, Prime Ministers have activated Cobra because of crime levels and led cross-Government programmes that have successfully changed big societal issues of the kind we face today, and we know the evidence for what works, so does the Home Secretary not think it is now time for the Prime Minister herself to step up and lead?
I mentioned earlier that the issue of serious violence and what more can be done to tackle it was discussed in Cabinet this year, so very recently. The Prime Minister herself is making sure that all Government Departments are playing their role and is very supportive of the measures that have been set out, and also the measures I am taking to make sure that we are listening to the chief officers, police and crime commissioners and others to see what more can be done.
Just over five years ago, Hollie Gazzard was murdered in the hairdressing salon where she worked in Gloucester city centre. In an extraordinary act of courage and determination, her family created the Hollie Gazzard Trust, which worked with the police, the Gloucestershire constabulary, to learn lessons from their handling of the incident and then to fund and deliver an education programme to schools, to advise young people on the early warning signs of abusive relationships. So positive things can be and have been done at a local level to share best practice.
I am particularly interested in what my right hon. Friend had to say about Dame Carol Black’s forthcoming report, because it seems to me that, in Gloucester, as elsewhere in the country, there is this huge link between drugs and drug dealing and serious knife crime that leads to deaths. The more we can learn about what best practice is in the handling of such incidents, the better we can try to tackle it in our own constituencies.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned the work of the Hollie Gazzard Trust and reminded us of how, through that tragedy, the family and friends came together to try to turn it into something that could help others. Indeed, I think the victims Minister met Mr Gazzard as well.
My hon. Friend asked me about the work that is being done to look into the drugs markets and drugs misuse. That is vital work because one thing that is clear is that sadly the changes in drugs markets seem to be driving much of this violence. If we can understand those changes better, we can come up with even more policy responses.
Has the Home Secretary tasked any individual to drive through the co-ordination, the prioritisation and the expenditure and to report back to Ministers? I simply say this because, when we faced this challenge in Government 10 years ago, we appointed the chief constable of Warwickshire to drive forward, across Government, a knife crime reduction plan, which reduced knife crime incidents through co-ordination and reporting to Ministers. He should look at what was done then and replicate it.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions an important issue about leadership. This is such an important issue that it requires, as we are seeing, leadership across different levels—not just at national level, but in local government. We have talked today about some of the mayors and their responsibilities, the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables. It is important that all that work is co-ordinated as well. The work of the serious violence taskforce, for example, is important in this, as is the work that the National Police Chiefs Council co-ordinates and the work of the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre. So leadership at many levels is required.
The gangs operating on our streets are
“complex and ruthless organisations, using sophisticated techniques”—
to recruit children—
“and chilling levels of violence to keep them compliant.”
So says the children’s commissioner in an important report published only last week. That report identifies 27,000 gang members in England and a further 34,000 children who know gang members and have experienced violent crime. That is 61,000 young people, yet only 10% of that number are known to the authorities. The children’s commissioner identifies serious failings among local safeguarding boards, which, in too many cases, have not made any serious attempt to understand the level of risk in their area. I understand and recognise the Home Secretary’s commitment to tackle this issue, but it seems that we are starting from a very long way back if we only know now 10% of the children who are most at risk from knife crime. How are we going to improve that intelligence picture?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. He has referred to the report just last week of the children’s commissioner, who is on the serious violence taskforce. I very much welcomed her report. She is absolutely right to look at this whole issue of vulnerable children who have been drawn into these gangs. Hon. Members have talked about the pupil referral units in that regard as well. There are some very sensible recommendations in the report and we will be working with her and others to see what more can be done.
The past two years have seen six tragic knife murders in my constituency, including, in the past month, the murders of Dennis Anderson in East Dulwich and Glendon Spence, who died after being chased into a youth centre in Brixton. For every tragic victim, there are countless families who are living in daily fear. One mother told me recently of her teenage son. She said:
“I pray when he leaves the house and I don’t breathe until he is home again.”
The public health approach cannot be implemented by public services—whether health, education, police, social services, youth services or housing—which have been decimated by nine years of austerity. When will the Secretary of State commit to not just piecemeal pockets of limited funding, but a reversal of the devastation of our public services, which is resulting in our communities living in fear?
What I have outlined today, or summarised again for the House, are what I think are some very significant increases in resourcing: the increase in police resourcing, the largest since 2010, and the record amount invested in youth intervention, including the £200 million endowment fund. Those are very significant investments. I am not suggesting for a second that the hon. Lady cannot be right that more resources might be needed. If that is absolutely necessary, of course, that is what will happen, but it would be wrong to say that they are piecemeal resources and in some way insignificant.
When I asked the chief constable of Bedfordshire what was driving the increase in knife crime in my county, he mentioned the fact that there were too many homes where there was not a father telling young boys that carrying a knife was wrong. I hugely welcome the 160 extra officers in Bedfordshire this year, but what more can we do to support parents and families to tell all young people that real men do not carry knives and that this an unacceptably evil thing to do?
I will give my hon. Friend two responses. First, last year, we started our #knifefree campaign, which is about sending messages to young people, on the social media they use and in more traditional advertising, about the dangers of carrying a knife. Secondly, we are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, through its troubled families programme, to see what more we can do with those families, who are perhaps going through family breakdown or facing other issues, to get across the message that there is never an excuse to carry a knife.
The call from my hon. Friend the shadow Minister and others for Cobra to be convened is not just about recognising this as a national emergency, which it is; it is also about ensuring that the cross-Government approach, which the Home Secretary says he recognises, is actually delivered on the ground, right across the country, with the resources needed to back it up, whether through early intervention work to identify the young people most at risk of getting involved in gangs and knife crime, or by reducing the level of school exclusions, which in all too many cases is a route into knife crime. I put it to him that what he said about resources rings pretty hollow in the west midlands, given that we have lost 2,000 police officers over the past nine years and are facing nearly 300 incidents of knife crime this year already. Will he now respond to the call from the West Midlands police and crime commissioner for an emergency funding package so that we can address this problem in a consistent and effective way?
The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of a cross-Government approach. It is something that is needed not just today; it has to be a long-term, sustained approach, with Departments and public agencies working together. That is why our serious violence taskforce involves Government Departments as well as other agencies and public authorities. It is also important that we listen to all levels of Government. He rightly mentioned West Midlands police, a force I have visited on many occasions—I visited it only recently to look at some of the work it is doing to combat serious violence. I will always listen carefully to all local police forces, including West Midlands police, to see what more can be done.
I welcome the overall tone of the Home Secretary’s responses to the questions asked by Members today. Does he agree that the approach needed to tackle this will vary dramatically across the country, from large urban areas such as London to places with towns and smaller urban areas, such as Devon and Cornwall? Will he commit to working with the police and crime commissioners for those areas, not only to co-ordinate national action, but to ensure that the local response reflects local needs?
My hon. Friend is right that we must ensure that we have the right approach for each area, and he has talked about the differences between some urban areas and more rural areas. Last month I was near Exeter, meeting officers from Devon and Cornwall police, including the police and crime commissioner, and I was pleased to see just how seriously they take this issue, and they talked about how the new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre is already making a real difference.
My constituent Sam Cook was stabbed to death a year ago in Liverpool city centre, on the night he was celebrating his 21st birthday. His mum, Gill Radcliffe, asked me to tell the Home Secretary to remember that this is not just a London issue, but a national problem. When he meets the police chief constables in a couple of days’ time, the chief constable of Merseyside police will remind him that the consequence of the scale of cuts in Government funding for Merseyside is that there are now 1,200 fewer police officers keeping our streets safe. He will also know of a 30% cut in probation services. Sam Cook’s killer was on licence, having committed another knife offence, when he killed Sam. The probation service had not given the monitoring of Sam’s killer sufficient attention, which allowed him to kill Sam. Will the Home Secretary please take this seriously across Government and address the concerns that have been caused by the scale of the cuts in multiple Departments since 2010?
First, the hon. Gentleman raises the tragic death of Sam Cook. It may have been a year ago, but it is still as tragic today as it was then, and he is right to remind the House of it. He talked about the importance of recognising that this is not just a London issue. Absolutely, it is not—it is across the country, as we have just seen this weekend, again very tragically, with the terrible death in Manchester. He raised the issue of probation and making sure that it is the best it can be. Again, he is absolutely right to do so. I know that lessons have already been learned from the case of Sam Cook, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point to the issue, and also to stress the importance of cross-Government work and making sure that that includes the Ministry of Justice.
For those of us who, at the turn of the century, worked in inner-city youth organisations to try to turn young people away from the dangers of crime, this latest epidemic of knife crime is not only deeply depressing but amounts to a reversal of the good work that has been done. The Home Secretary has said that he is open-minded to all solutions and that there is no one solution to this. Will he look again at the proposal that knives for sale in retail outlets are prohibited from being anywhere outside of a locked cabinet?
It is good to remind the House of the importance of early intervention. That is why we are making this record allocation of over £220 million, altogether, in early intervention projects. The retailing of knives is partly being addressed through the Offensive Weapons Bill. My hon. Friend has raised another aspect of that. As I have said, nothing should be off the table, and I would be happy to discuss it with him.
Last week, a knife attack led to the death of one of my constituents, and before Christmas three people were attacked outside a GP surgery. People are living in absolute terror. Although this is affecting young people in particular, it is affecting all communities up and down the country. Since 2010, 21,000 police officers have been taken out of our system. If the Home Secretary wants our support, he absolutely has it in lobbying the Prime Minister and the Chancellor so that we can have those police officers reinstated. The one thing he can do is to shore up our police services, because they are at breaking point and desperately need support to bring an end to knife crime. I cannot, and I know other colleagues cannot, bear the thought of having to return to this House in weeks and months to come having witnessed stories of further fatalities and deaths. That is why the Home Secretary needs to take action. Labour Members will support him to lobby for more funding, but he needs to put pressure on his Prime Minister and his Chancellor to fund our police service urgently and reinstate 21,000 officers in our system.
First, the hon. Lady rightly reminds us that these tragic crimes are of course affecting all communities—not just young people but communities of all ages. She talked about the importance of police resources. I hope that she will welcome the increase in police funding, which is the largest increase since 2010 and will help to make a big difference on the ground, including to policing in London. But I hope that she also recognises that this cannot just be all about resources. There is a need to look at police powers as well, and that is why the Offensive Weapons Bill is very important. It is also about resources in other areas such as early intervention.
The Secretary of State spoke of other countries using the public health approach. The Scottish violence reduction unit’s methods have been shared with South Africa, Jamaica and Lithuania, for instance. That unit was set up in Scotland in 2005. While we will never be complacent, as recent terrible events in Edinburgh showed, the unit’s approach has broadly been extremely successful. I want to ask him, because it genuinely puzzles me, why has it taken so long for the UK Government to take a serious interest in this proven national strategy for reducing serious violence and knife crime?
I would like to answer the hon. Lady’s question directly. The reason is probably that serious violence in England had been falling quite significantly for some time, but as I said at the start of this urgent question, we have sadly seen a significant rise in the last two or three years especially. That has rightly led my predecessors and me to work with others and look at what more can be done. It is right to look at evidence across the nation. She talked about the very important example in Scotland, which is being looked at.
I want to express my thanks to the emergency services for their rapid response to a stabbing in my constituency last week. There is a huge amount of fear and concern in the community, and people understand that this is not a problem with one solution. Does the Home Secretary understand, as my constituents do, that whether it is the legs taken out of community policing by police cuts, slower referrals because of cuts to children’s services, the conditions that children are living in in temporary and overcrowded accommodation or the fact that youth services have been gutted, there are many facets to tackling knife crime, and they all have one thing in common: the policies of this Government for the last nine years have made it harder, not easier, to tackle this crisis?
First, I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the emergency services for the work they have done in his constituency and elsewhere. He highlights the importance of recognising the need for a cross-Government response; it is not just about the Home Office, although we have the most important role to play. For other Departments to play that role, they need to make it a priority, which is why a statutory public health approach is very important. We also need to ensure that Departments have enough resources and that those are prioritised.
I agree in principle with multi-agency working. I know that it works, because when I got elected in 2001, it worked. When the police were properly funded, when Sure Start centres were properly funded, when youth services were properly funded and when schools were properly funded, it worked, because we eliminated gang crime, knife crime and gun crime by the middle of that decade. We worked together with the community and the police, who attended community meetings, to do that. We do not have the staff at the moment to come to those meetings, let alone attend some of the crimes. If the Home Secretary wants to do something about this, let us not talk about piecemeal funding. Let us look at the real figures about the police and community support officers we have lost and talk about how he is going to get them back, to save our future generations.
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support of the multi-agency public health approach. I hope we will have his full support for that when it comes forward in Parliament. He talked about the importance of resources. He said that there is a piecemeal increase in resources, but the increase in police resources is hugely significant—it is up to £970 million, which is almost double what was there the year before and the biggest increase since 2010—and the £220 million on early intervention is a significant increase.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) rightly said that we need a step change in response to this national emergency. There are two starting points for the Home Secretary: first, he needs to brief the Health Secretary on what a public health response to this epidemic is, and secondly, he needs to advise the Prime Minister to convene Cobra, so that we can focus properly on this issue.
If we take all the responses, especially in the last two years and since the adoption of the serious violence strategy, it is a step change. As I said earlier, I really wish that just one single thing could be done, but this requires action on multiple fronts. That is why the public health approach is so important. The Department of Health and Social Care is an important partner in that, and the Health Secretary understands that.
If this nationwide knife crime crisis is not a good reason to call Cobra, what exactly is?
Responding to the increase in serious violence requires a sustained effort, with action that needs to happen now, building on the initiatives I have already set out, and long-term, sustained action, which is exactly why we have the serious violence taskforce. It is important that it remains a cross-party taskforce to make sure that we are looking at all the things that can be done and that we sustain that effort.
Young men and women are dying on the streets—three in recent days in Birmingham alone, mourned by their families—and I meet teenagers in Erdington who are now afraid to go out at night. Of course a public health approach is vital, and we urge the Home Secretary to back the bid for a violence reduction unit to bring together all agencies to combat growing knife crime effectively.
However, that is not enough; we need more police officers. Forgive me if I say this, Mr Speaker, but the Home Secretary spoke about record resources. The previous Government put 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers on the beat. This Government have cut 21,000 police officers, including 2,100 in Birmingham alone. Does the Home Secretary not accept that there is an inevitable link between falling police numbers and rising crime, and in particular rising knife crime?
As I have mentioned, the increase in police resources this year is a record increase. It will take total police resourcing to approximately £14 billion, and the increase is the largest since 2010. It will lead to a significant increase in officers: almost 3,000 officers—I think, at least 2,700—across the country. When it comes to the local response—the hon. Gentleman mentioned the west midlands; he is right to do so, and I welcome the focus on serious violence by the local force—I am more than ready, as I have already been doing, including with his force, to sit down with the police and see what more can be done.
Sadly, Southwark is one of the communities worst affected by knife crime, with the two most recent stabbings in my constituency on 24 February. The Prime Minister has apparently said today that more must be done to tackle this problem, after nine long years in the Home Office and Downing Street. Will this Home Secretary please meet me, representatives and organisations from across Southwark that are working to tackle this problem, especially those representing the families directly affected?
First, I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. He is right to highlight what he has seen in his area. Recently, I visited one of the leading hospitals in south London that deals with patients who may be hurt through knife crime, and I saw the work of Redthread, a social organisation that helps to turn young people away from a life in crime. It is an organisation we are supporting with more funding for early intervention, and I hope he welcomes that. As I say, I would be happy to meet him.
Since the tragic murder of 17-year-old Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in my constituency, I have been meeting local community groups to see what we can do to try to prevent young people from getting involved in gangs, gang violence and drug dealing. There is a move to glamorise this lifestyle through social media, so I hope the Secretary of State can imagine my horror at discovering, just over a week ago, that films are still available on social media—showing violence, drug taking, making money out of selling drugs and, indeed, abusing young women—starring members of the gangs who are themselves currently on trial for murder. What can the Secretary of State do? Does he agree with me that he needs to work with other members of the Cabinet right across Government, and that convening Cobra will enable that to happen? We cannot afford to have this sort of glamorisation of a gang lifestyle still available on social media.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this issue and the need to work across Government. He asked about social media and the way in which some parts of it glamorised violence. I, too, have seen some of the material to which he referred, and far too much is available on social media. Some of it is generated in the UK and some abroad, but it all glamorises this type of violence.
What are we doing about it? Last year, I funded a £1.4 million project on social media capability, run from London, to look at what can be done to try to tackle some of this material online, but we need to do much more. We need new powers to do that, which is why I am working with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on a new online harms White Paper. The intention is to give the state more powers to tackle exactly what the hon. Gentleman was discussing.
I call Jim Cunningham.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You have been very tolerant. May I tell the Home Secretary that it was useful to meet the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service about a fortnight ago? I want to reinforce the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made. We need more community police on the streets—there is no doubt about that—and they could do something about youth services, but 20,000-odd police officers have been cut over the past seven years, which is a very low base on which to build.
The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, is right to raise the issue of resources. I have mentioned the increase in resources in this year’s policing settlement. When it comes to his local force in the west midlands, as I have said to his colleague, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), I am more than happy to meet the West Midlands force again. I visited them only last week—it is a force that I regularly visit—and I am always looking to see what more we can do.