(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the crisis of knife crime.
The Home Secretary flew to Brussels last night to participate in the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, the significance of which at this time I am sure colleagues across the House will recognise. He asked me to respond to this urgent question on his behalf.
The senseless killings in recent days, and the too many others before them, have rightly shocked the country. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of all the victims and everyone affected. There is no denying the urgency of this issue. Day in, day out, we are acting to end the bloodshed. At the start of the week, the Home Secretary came to the House to set out our approach to serious violence. He said there was no single solution and that we had to unite and fight on all fronts to stop the slaughter.
We are taking a tough law enforcement approach with our Offensive Weapons Bill, which is going through Parliament, and we have listened to what the police tell us they need and at their request are introducing knife crime prevention orders in that Bill. We are also increasing police funding by up to £970 million next year, including council tax, and police and crime commissioners are planning to recruit hundreds of new officers as a result.
We recognise, though, that we cannot arrest our way out of this. In the serious violence strategy, we announced a multi-agency approach, and we will consult very soon on a statutory public health duty of care to ensure that all agencies that can and must work on this play their part. We are also investing more than £220 million in early intervention projects to stop the most vulnerable being sucked into a life of violence and addressing the drivers of crime, including the drugs trade, with the launch of our independent drugs review.
Day in, day out, we, the police and others are acting across the country to try to stop the bloodshed. We continue to look for new ways to tackle this epidemic. Yesterday, I attended a serious violence summit with senior police officers hosted by the Home Secretary as part of our continuing work under the serious violence strategy. Consulting those on the frontline is vital to making sure our next steps are effective. While lives are being lost, we are determined to do even more to stop knife crime and serious violence. We owe it to our young people and our communities to get this right.
We have had several days of newspaper headlines on knife crime, but does the Minister accept that for families and communities up and down the country this is not just a few days of newspaper stories; this is their lives? It is every mother’s worst nightmare: they say goodbye to their son in the morning and the next call they get is from the emergency services telling them their child is the victim of violent crime.
On police numbers, does the Minister accept that it is a question not just of police officers on patrol, but of community policing, safer school partnerships and police officers working with our diverse communities? Does she agree with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who says there is a clear correlation between the fall in police numbers and the rise in violent crime, including knife crime, or does she agree with her Prime Minister, who denies any such correlation? Does she agree with the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who said of the Prime Minister:
“I don’t think she listens, quite frankly, to what she’s being told”?
Does the Minister accept that many people will find the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s suggestion that the police only have to move resources from other areas to fight knife crime, monstrous and an insult to grieving families? The police are under pressure in nearly every area. Our constituents know this from the delays in responding to 999 calls—not just a few hours, but sometimes the next day—and they know when they ring up to say they have seen people selling drugs or other criminality on the street that the police do not have the resources to respond. We need more resources for the police, and we need them now.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary met police chiefs from seven forces and others. Since 2010, Tory Governments have cut more than 9,000 officers from those forces alone. Did the Home Secretary apologise to them? Did he offer them extra resources? Is the Minister able to tell us?
In 2009, the Home Affairs Committee published a comprehensive appraisal of what needs to be done to fight knife crime. We know about the success of what has been done in Glasgow. Does the Minister accept that what frightened communities, families and mothers need is not more hand-wringing, not more summits, not more committees, and not more reviews? They want the Government to put the necessary resources into the youth service, into work with excluded children, into strengthening mental health services for young people and adolescents, and, above all, into the police service. Only then will the public believe that the Government are taking the knife crime epidemic seriously.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She knows from the many debates that we have had on this matter, and the many occasions on which she and I and Home Office Ministers have discussed it, that we all recognise the great fear, worries and concerns of mums and dads in certain parts of the country that have been suffering from these crimes for some time. That is precisely why we issued the serious violence strategy last year. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady is chuntering at me. I am trying to answer her questions.
It is because of that fear that we are putting so much effort into supporting local charities, through both our anti-knife crime community fund and our early intervention youth fund, to help young people and children and their families. We are also working on the youth endowment fund, which will invest some £200 million over 10 years to support projects to intervene on young people and protect them from being ensnared by gang leaders.
The right hon. Lady was right to raise the issue of resources. Only a couple of weeks ago we voted to increase police resources by nearly £1 billion, and I am sorry that she did not feel able to vote for that. Police funds were increased last year, and will be increased again next year.
The right hon. Lady talked about summits and meetings and so on. The point of those is getting the right people into the room to tackle this issue together. As we all know, there is no single simple solution. I wish that there were, but the issue is very complex. That is why there are both short-term and longer-term measures in the strategy, which meets with the approval of the police and others with whom we engage to try to crack this problem.
I very much hope that today we will yet again hear fruitful, constructive and non-partisan comments about this topic, because it is affecting every single one of our constituencies. We need to work together to get it right, because when I meet victims and their families they want to hear what we are doing, not what our conversations across the Dispatch Box are about.
Many police in London now use body-worn video cameras. Does the Minister agree that that should help to give them the confidence to use stop-and-search in all circumstances within the law as part of a concerted effort to end the terrible tragedies that are afflicting our city?
My right hon. Friend has made a very important point. The use of body-worn cameras enables officers to use their stop-and-search powers with even greater confidence than they had before. Interestingly, the chief constable of Merseyside told us yesterday that since his officers have started using body-worn cameras, the volume of complaints about stop-and-search has decreased dramatically: I think he said that there were about seven last year. This is the point of stop-and-search. If we target it correctly and officers are stopping people when they believe that a search meets the test of being proportionate and necessary, that will not just help them to catch those who are carrying knives, but will, I hope, give confidence to communities.
I thank the Minister for explaining why the Home Secretary is not here to answer this question, but there can be no doubt that the Home Secretary faces a massive crisis on his doorstep. We have heard repeatedly in recent weeks about how the public health approach to knife crime has worked not just in Glasgow, but across Scotland, where knife crime has greatly reduced and crimes of handling an offensive weapon have decreased by 64% over the last 10 years. The evidence speaks for itself, and the World Health Organisation has commended this approach, so I want to know why there is not more of a sense of urgency on the part of this Government about following the public health approach.
The Prime Minister’s comments that police numbers on the streets have not been a factor in this crisis have been met with significant criticism and fly in the face of what experts such as Cressida Dick have told us. By contrast, Scotland has a better record on police numbers: in 2018 in Scotland there were about 32 officers per 10,000 of population, compared with only 21 officers per 10,000 of population in England and Wales. So does the Minister agree that the Home Secretary should take immediate steps to match the ratio of police to population figures that we have in Scotland?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. I understand there are reports of a stabbing in Glasgow last night, and I am sure the condolences of the House are with the families and those concerned.
We are determined to act on the public health multi-agency approach. It was in the strategy published a year ago, and we are due to consult very soon on whether we should put into law that relevant agencies have the duty to collaborate and work together on this. One listens to doctors working in A&E departments talking about the data they can gather and provide to the police, which will then help the police target particular houses on streets in huge cities; precision policing is what it is called in New York and Chicago and places overseas. This sort of data can really help to protect those who may be victims, but also frankly help go after those who may be perpetrators and the gang leaders we are all determined to crack down on.
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her support on this. We talk a great deal about the Glasgow model, and I for one am very pleased to be learning from it, and also from the experiences in Wales, where great work is being done on adverse childhood experiences.
A national newspaper this week featured a smirking criminal outside court having been given a suspended sentence for a second knife offence. Will this Minister, whose tenacity is matched by her talent, disregard those who are blinded by the soft soap of self-righteousness and see what in the eyes of those living on the frontline of crime is as clear as crystal: that more of the thugs and gangsters who, through their criminality, punish the innocent, should be stopped, searched, charged and locked up for as long as possible?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words, and I am reminded of the many comments made about him in celebration of his recent knighthood. He makes an important point about sentencing. Of course, it is the judiciary who decide the sentences they impose on defendants as they appear before them in court, but we really must emphasise the importance of the public message on this for local communities living in the sorts of circumstances outlined by the shadow Home Secretary, where people fear for their sons and daughters. That is why we have introduced mandatory minimum sentences for those caught in possession of a knife on more than one occasion. We have asked judges to apply a minimum of six months’ imprisonment to such people to send out that very clear message that holding a knife is not acceptable, is not normal, and if you hold a knife in a public place not only do you put other people at risk, you put yourself at risk as well.
I do not doubt the Minister’s good intentions on this, and I think the whole House would agree on many of the things that can make a difference. The problem is that she could have been saying most of these things about a year ago. There is no real sense that the Government are doing anything on the scale that is needed or with the urgency that is needed, whether that is on extra policing, early intervention, youth intervention or tackling exclusions from schools. One summit is just not enough. We want to know what the Home Secretary is doing. Is he holding weekly meetings, either in Cobra or in the Home Office, to pull everyone together and get some action by the end of next week or by the end of the month? Let us see something that actually makes a difference and saves lives.
I take the right hon. Lady’s point about meetings and summits and so on. As she knows, the way in which we get things moving in Whitehall and then across local government and local areas is through drawing everybody together into rooms. We have been working on this day in, day out since the serious violence strategy was launched. We are already funding 29 projects through the early intervention youth fund and working with police and crime commissioners to reach those young people who need help. We have already funded many programmes through the anti-knife crime community fund, which involves smaller projects, and I hope that many Members of Parliament will have received letters from me about the projects in their constituencies that have benefited from it. We have a media campaign called #knifefree, which we in this place are probably not aware of because frankly we are not the people that the campaign is targeting. It is targeting young people in a very direct way on social media, through catch-up television and elsewhere, and it is supporting the message that it is not normal for people to carry knives.
I want to put out this plea: there is more that we as a society can do to press this message home. I am due to meet representatives of the Premier League to ask whether they can encourage their football legends to do even more as role models to get the message out there that carrying a knife is not normal, that people do not have to do it, and that if they do, they are putting themselves at enormous risk. There is a great deal more that we as a society can do to get that message out there to young people about carrying knives, but there is also a huge amount of work going on involving police officers. We have weeks of intensive activity in which police forces across the country make tackling knife crime the priority for that week. I went to an operational briefing on Friday where the plans for the following week were being laid out. Those weeks have extraordinary rates of success: in the last one, 9,000 knives were taken off the streets of our country. The more of these surge operations we can have, the greater benefit there will be in the immediate term on this very complex issue.
My right hon. Friend yet again attempts to skewer a Minister with a short, direct question. He knows that I must, and will, defend the independence of the judiciary, but my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and I do emphasise the point to the judiciary about the public messaging of sentences. We impose mandatory minimum sentences for those who are found in possession of knives precisely to get the message out there that this is simply not on.
Can I tell the Minister what the country is saying to the Government? It is saying, “Get a grip of this, and get a grip of it urgently.” Let me give her an example of what I mean. We had a crisis meeting yesterday where the police chiefs demanded emergency funding. The Home Secretary supported that and said that he wanted £15 million of emergency funding. The Chancellor then went on the radio this morning and said that it was a question not of additional resources but of re-prioritisation by the police. Absolutely pathetic! It is about time the Government listened to what the police chiefs are saying. This should not be a matter of debate. They want emergency funding so that they can surge police numbers into those areas where there are real problems. In the short term, that is what works, although of course we need a public health approach in the longer term. Surging police numbers into those areas requires emergency funding, so the Chancellor should be told where to go and the Home Secretary should be supported by the Prime Minister. The whole of this House will say, “Give the police the money they need to tackle this scourge.” The public of this country will have no idea what we are doing if we do not do that, so get a grip and give the police the money they need.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, although I might not have employed all the language that he used. Yesterday’s meeting was not a crisis meeting; it was part of a programme of meetings that the Home Secretary has regularly with chief constables, precisely as one would hope.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about resourcing, we voted recently to provide just under £1 billion to police forces, with the help of police and crime commissioners. We are actively looking at what the chiefs are saying and what more they need. We are conscious of the need to ensure, over the long term, that in the surge exercises that they conduct regularly as part of their operational policing powers, they can get their officers to the places where they need to be. So I do not think there is any disagreement here about operations; about how the police can crack down on this. The Home Secretary discussed that in detail yesterday with the chiefs precisely because we want to listen to their needs and take the matter forward.
We know that, when children go into care, they are more likely to join gangs. In Essex, we know that early intervention works; the number of children in care has fallen from 1,600 to 1,000. We also know that stop and search works. We have put 390 more police on the streets in Essex, and the number of stop and search encounters in my constituency has risen from 80 to 500. That is resulting in arrests, which mean that those at the top of the gangs are being taken off our streets. Will my hon. Friend congratulate all those in Essex and look at whether some of the lessons we have learned in our county can help the rest of the country?
I note that some 50 officers were recently sworn in to serve the good county of Essex. We are all learning about, and determined to do something about, the link between exclusions and participation in or victimisation by gangs. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who is sitting next to me, is awaiting delivery of the Timpson report on exclusions. We need to make sure that if children are excluded—if that is what a headteacher believes to be appropriate not just for the child, but for the wider school community—they have excellent provision of services outside mainstream schooling.
I think we all recognise that the demands on policing have changed and intensified in recent years, not just in the realm of serious violence but, for example, in the investigation of historical sexual abuse. There has been a rise in the recognition of modern slavery cases, and in the reporting of domestic abuse cases. That is happening because we are trying to help people to understand when they have been victims of crime, and it has added to the existing pressures on the police. That is precisely why the Home Secretary has said that police funding is his priority for the next spending review, and it is why we have increased the funding to police forces for next year by nearly £1 billion with the help of police and crime commissioners.
The Minister has already mentioned the link with exclusions and the report by the former children’s Minister, Ed Timpson, which I gather has been completed. When will it be published, and when will the lessons be learned? What lessons have been taken away from the “Positive for Youth” report, published in 2011 by the then children’s Minister, about better engagement with young people?
We expect to publish the Timpson report shortly. There are lessons to be learned on youth engagement. When I talk to youth workers and former gang members, I find it is about listening to people with lived experience; it is about former gang leaders and former gang members explaining to young people who may be at risk or already ensnared in criminal gangs, listening to them and advising them about their life chances. That has huge benefit.
Yet again, I ask role models in the sporting world and the music world to help us to send out the message that carrying a knife is not right.
The Home Secretary has tried to use the threat of prison to stop young people carrying knives, and it clearly has not worked. I passionately disagree with the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes): short-term prison sentences do not work, and I include six-month sentences in that. Why are the Government creating more mandatory short-term prison sentences in the Offensive Weapons Bill, including for breaches of the new knife crime prevention orders?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising knife crime prevention orders, because it gives me an opportunity to explain what they are. Some of her colleagues in the other place may have misunderstood, because this is not about criminalising young people. We have put these prevention orders in the Bill at the request of the police to help to provide wraparound support to a small cohort of young people who have not yet been convicted of a criminal offence, and who have not yet entered the youth justice system.
Where the police receive intelligence from teachers, families or friends that they think a young person is carrying a knife, and where one of these civil—not criminal—orders is obtained, we will have the structure to wrap services and support around that young person. That might include, if appropriate, banning them from entering a certain postcode—the hon. Lady will know of the sometimes competitive nature of postcode gangs—or from using social media to incite violence. All these requirements can be included in an order to make sure that that child does not continue down the path of criminality, blighting not only their life with the harm they may cause but their life chances by having a criminal record.
I am glad the Minister sees this as not just a London problem. The number of people carrying knives in Thames Valley has doubled in the past five years. Has she considered what role MPs can play in this process so that we are not just observers but participants?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are leaders within our communities. If colleagues would like to speak to me afterwards about how they can help to lead the message on knife-carrying in their constituencies, I would be delighted to work with them. Members can google our #knifefree social media campaign, which provides all sorts of information about what one can do if one is worried about a young person or if a young person wants help and advice. There is so much that we as a community can and must do to tackle this.
We know that the rise in knife crime is multifaceted and multi-layered, we know that we need to adopt a public health approach—increasing community policing, youth work and early years intervention—and we know we need it to be a long-term approach. How will the knife crime summit be determined? Who will attend? Will it be long term, sustainable and cross-party, like the work of the Youth Violence Commission? How will the Government report back to the House?
As I say, the Home Secretary has his meetings with the chief constables. I hesitate to give the House a diary of my engagements in the next couple of weeks, but I am meeting police and crime commissioners. We also have the serious violence taskforce coming ahead of that—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is not letting me finish. I am about to get there. I am just trying to lay out the plan of work. I am meeting PCCs, because they are obviously vital. We have the serious violence taskforce, which, as she knows, is a cross-party body that brings everyone who can help nationally and locally into the same room. The Prime Minister has announced her summit, which will involve not just Ministers, but external stakeholders—victims, youth workers and others—to help to cement the work that is happening under the serious violence strategy.
We looked at this issue in detail in the preparation of the Offensive Weapons Bill and we have maintained the mandatory minimum sentence of six months. There are colleagues across the House who do not agree with that approach, but we think it is absolutely right to send out the clear public message that carrying a knife more than once will get you into very serious trouble. I should say that on the first occasion when someone is found carrying a knife it is of course open to judges to imprison them if that is appropriate. Through the Bill, we also wanted to make sure that the law on corrosive substances mirrors that on knives, so that we do not have gangs swapping knives for corrosive substances—we know they have done that in some circumstances—because the law simply is not up to date on that.
Three stabbings have occurred in my constituency since Monday. Two young men were stabbed last night in Queen’s Park, just yards from where I live. We have lost a third of our police since 2011. London policing is at its lowest level for two decades. Three years ago, Westminster City Council pulled all funding from the youth service, after school and holiday schemes. Whatever the debate about the causes of the current escalation in serious youth violence, can we agree that that is a catastrophic decline in our capacity to respond, and that we need an urgent intervention to help these authorities to intervene with young people and stop this tide of violence before it gets worse?
The hon. Lady will know that London is seeing a reorganisation at operational level of how it is policed. I am sure she has made those representations to the Mayor of London, who is accountable for the operation of the police in London, as the PCC. On youth services, my understanding is that Westminster City Council has brought forward a programme called “family hubs”, where it is putting all the services together in one hub to try to make them as easy and accessible as possible for members of the public. I repeat that at the central level we are working to help charities across London and further afield through the early intervention youth fund and the anti-knife crime community fund—I am sure I have written to her about local funds that have benefited from that. These are charities that use youth workers, many of whom have lived experience of the problems they are trying to counteract. That sort of work is very effective in trying to steer young people away.
The Minister’s answers are comprehensive, and that comprehensive character of answer and her commitment to the House are hugely appreciated. However, may I gently say to her that we are, in productivity terms, making very slow progress? So if she could speed up a bit, that would be enormously appreciated, but I respect her commitment on this subject, as well as her unfailing courtesy, which I think everybody acknowledges.
Nineteen people have lost their lives to this in London alone this year, which comes after a record number last year. Clearly, we need to send the message that carrying a knife is unacceptable, and I agree with what has been said about the increased use of stop and search. Will the Minister talk about an amnesty for knives, so that we can take them off the streets, they can be turned into the police and they are therefore taken out of circulation?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. One of the most successful parts of Operation Sceptre, the national weeks of action to which police forces throughout the country sign up, is exactly what he mentions: amnesties and knife bins. As I said, in the most recent week of Operation Sceptre, more than 9,000 knives were taken off our streets.
This is now a national crisis, with young people losing their lives not only on the streets of major cities but even in towns like Dudley. In the west midlands we have lost 2,000 police over the past few years. The police urgently need more resources so that we can get more police on the streets to deal with this problem. We have also lost youth services, sports clubs and all the other projects that keep young people off the streets and out of trouble. Will the Minister support the police and crime commissioner’s bid for more funding for the West Midlands Violence Prevention Alliance? Finally, when people are caught with knives they should be locked up. That is what the Conservatives promised in their 2010 manifesto, but that promise has never been upheld.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have often raised on the Floor of the House the use of reserves, because police reserves are made up of money that the taxpayer has given to police forces to spend on policing. In March last year, West Midlands police’s reserves were £85 million. I am sure the police and crime commissioner would be able to explain why that money is sitting in reserves and, indeed, he may have spent some of it in the past year, but the issue with funding is how it is spent as much as how much is given. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about sentences, we have put the legislation in place, and although it is open to any judge or magistrate to imprison someone who is found in possession of a knife once, it is then mandatory on the second occasion of their being caught. If that is not being followed by judges, it is a decision of the judiciary.
I very much will. I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s Erewash constituency recently to see the use of a scheme called Radio Link, which helps to co-ordinate the activities of people in the local town centre with the police. Those types of schemes are not huge in terms of resources or their public impact, but they can make a real difference in helping the police to police our streets.
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), I am sure the House will want to send condolences for the young man who was murdered in Leyton yesterday.
Tackling knife crime requires an effective criminal justice system. With a damning National Audit Office report out last week highlighting the failures of the privatised probation services, it is clear that the system is not working. A joined-up approach is clearly required, so what discussions has the Home Office had with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the probation service is fit for purpose?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and we of course echo her condolences to the grieving family. She is absolutely right that probation needs to be part of the answer. We have talked about imprisonment, but effective probation can steer children and young people away from criminality. I am in discussion with my ministerial counterparts in the MOJ about that, but we need to ensure that the criminal justice system is able to respond quickly and robustly to those who take the very bad decision to carry a knife or, indeed, to use one.
I agree with the Minister that there is no one single solution to knife crime. As we heard earlier, knife amnesties are used right across the country, but there are often press reports questioning whether they are actually useful or working. Surely every single time we take a knife off the street, that is a good thing. Will the Minister confirm that knife amnesties do work?
Since the Minister’s party came to power in 2010, knife crime in Wales has risen by 50% and in north Wales by 86%. Yesterday, the Chancellor told the Home Office that extra emergency policing resources would need to be found within the Department. Will she state today that she will not be finding those resources from rural forces, because knife crime is affecting communities everywhere?
The hon. Lady knows that I represent a rural constituency. She is absolutely right to emphasise the fact that this issue not only affects the larger urban areas, but is reaching out across our rural and coastal areas through county lines. I am afraid that I cannot comment on resources or ongoing discussions, but I very much take on board her observations.
Following on from the previous question, one issue that affects all of us who represent rural parts is that though our police community support officers do a phenomenal job, they are not trained to the level of a police officer and they do not have the same defensive equipment as a police officer. Will the Government explain what they will do to make sure that PCSOs across the United Kingdom are adequately protected and adequately backed up for the vital jobs that they do?
My hon. Friend understands the value that PCSOs can bring to their local communities, not least because they can often be a very good way of engaging with young people who may be at risk, or who may know others who are at risk. He will be pleased that police and crime commissioners have pretty much universally said—there may be one or two exceptions—that they intend to use their increased funding to recruit more officers. Some have also said that that includes PCSOs. We leave it to local police and crime commissioners and chief constables to work out what works in their local area, and I welcome and support those plans.
We already know what works in tackling violent youth crime because we have done it before. For instance, the public health-type approach that I and others introduced in Lambeth in 2008, more than 10 years ago, dramatically cut violent youth offending at the time. It included services such as better family support, tackling school exclusions, better youth provision, more community engagement and leadership, support for the voluntary sector and better mental health care targeted at young people. This Government came in and cut the funding for all those services, and now we see more young people dying on our streets. Will the Minister finally acknowledge the scale of the Government’s mistakes in cutting funding, think again about the fair funding formula, which will target precisely those services and precisely those community for further cuts, and urgently restore funding so that we can tackle the complex root causes of violent youth crime?
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is supporting our multi-agency approach under the serious violence strategy. He will, I am sure, welcome the fact that part of the troubled families programme, which he knows funds a great number of vital projects across the country to help those who are most deprived, has been apportioned by the Secretary of State specifically to tackle knife crime. It is exactly that sort of approach that will not just commend itself to the House, but have real, real effect on the ground.
The Minister knows that this is not just a London problem. In cities and towns across the country, including in Nottingham, people want practical answers on this, not politicking across the Chamber. Yes, it is about police officer numbers and, of course, a public health approach is necessary, but may I ask her about the availability of knives and how people, young people in particular, are purchasing them, possibly evading age verification by buying online. There was a time when the Government promised action on that. Will she commit to report to the House on how the Government have cracked down on the online purchasing of knives?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, it was a pleasure to open the services of Redthread in Nottingham’s hospital recently. Youth workers are situated in the A&E services so that they can reach out to young people at the teachable moment when they come into A&E with injuries. The Offensive Weapons Bill is in the other place at the moment, and it is through that Bill that we are cracking down on those online retailers who are not conducting proper checks as they should be. It has been the law for 30 years and they should be abiding by that law. It is precisely through that Bill that we are addressing the matter, and I look forward to discussing it with the hon. Gentleman when the Bill comes back.
It is all very well the Minister referring to attending meetings and summits, but police bosses this week demanded an extra 10,000 police officers to deal with this absolutely dreadful problem. More children may well die this weekend. If the Government refuse to provide the 10,000 extra officers that the police bosses demand, it prompts the question: what price do this Government attach to a child’s life?
I hope the hon. Lady recognises how seriously the Government take this issue. We are carefully considering the requests from chief constables and others. This is on top of the work that we do day in, day out to improve the life chances of those who may fall victim to these gangs and who may be ensnared in this criminality, or who may just be carrying knives because of the fear they have when they leave their front door. I encourage the hon. Lady to send out the message loud and clear in her constituency—as I am sure she already does—that carrying a knife is not right and not normal.
In her opening remarks, the Minister said that knife crime is particularly an issue in our larger cities, but as we have been hearing, it is also a real issue in our towns. In the last year, there have been two stabbings in Rugby in Warwickshire, one in Nuneaton, one in Bedworth and, just recently, one in my town of Leamington Spa. Does the Minister accept that when the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she was wrong to cut the number of police officers by 21,000, which meant a reduction in the number working in our schools and, most importantly, in the intelligence that we get from community police officers?
The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that knife crime happens not just in large urban areas, but in rural and coastal ones. I am afraid that I must just pull him up on one detail, which is that it was not the Home Secretary who made decisions about police numbers. That is the responsibility of police and crime commissioners, who manage budgets locally. That is the case precisely because they live in their local community so they can set their policing priorities, and they are voted in or out by the local electorate.
The Minister must accept the reality, which is that funding cuts to police forces across Wales and England since 2010 have directly contributed to the rise in knife crime. In my constituency last year, 131 knives were seized inside Cardiff magistrates court—inside a court! What are the Government doing to reassure my constituents that they will be safe on the streets?
We have launched the serious violence strategy, and we are doing a great deal of work in Wales. As I have said in previous answers, we are funding the early intervention youth fund, the youth endowment fund, knife-free campaigns in the media and small anti-knife crime charities. We are about to consult on a public health duty; we are taking the Offensive Weapons Bill through the House to strengthen the powers of the police; and a couple of weeks ago we voted to increase the police budget by up to £970 million with the help of police and crime commissioners.
May I bring the Minister back to the matter of school exclusions, and encourage her to talk to the Department for Education about adopting an assumption that there should be zero school exclusions, as advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem mayoral candidate in London? Does the Minister understand concerns over the borough command unit mergers that have seen Sutton, Croydon and Bromley merge, and the risk that a one-size-fits-all approach will be adopted in relation to knife crime when what is really needed is a targeted borough or ward-based approach?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter of exclusions. As I have said, we are awaiting the report from Ed Timpson. Instinctively, I would want to give headteachers the flexibility to exclude if they feel that a child is a danger to the wider school community, but I accept that this is for headteachers to decide, so we are very much listening to the evidence. The decisions on the borough command unit set-up are taken by the commissioner. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has made representations to the Mayor if he is concerned about this issue, because obviously the Mayor is the police and crime commissioner for London.
The Government were warned about cutting police numbers. Had the 20,000 police officers we have lost still been in place and enabled one stop and search per week, there would have been 1 million stop and searches. Had there been one a day, which is not a lot to ask, there would have been over 7 million stop and searches. If we add to that the intelligence-based use of resources, would that not have had a major impact on knife crime?
The hon. Gentleman rather highlights the reason we changed the voluntary guidance for police officers, in that we do not believe that a one-size-fits-all approach helps. Listening to communities where young people have been stopped and searched without reason—as they see it—we are very conscious that that can harm relations between the police and the community. That is why we have encouraged the use of intelligence-led, targeted stop and search. I refer to the answer I gave earlier about the huge benefit of body-worn cameras in this space, because the public and the police have that extra reassurance that searches being conducted are in fact lawful.
Why are the Government not making a real and substantial funding commitment now to address this issue, as requested by the Home Secretary? If it is a matter of priorities, why have they agreed to give £20 million of taxpayers’ money to test alternative arrangements to the Brexit backstop—a fool’s errand—while refusing to give our police an extra £15 million to tackle the knife crime crisis and save lives? We need visible neighbourhood policing at the heart of our communities. There should be a one-off fund for a surge in temporary officers targeted at knife crime hotspots, as police forces are requesting.
I assure the right hon. Lady that when we have spoken to the commissioner and her commanders about this, they say that that is exactly what they are doing on the streets of London. They are surging numbers where they are needed in hotspot areas. If she has particular issues, she should please let me know or speak to the Mayor of London. On the wider point about funding and resources, I am afraid that, as I say, I cannot comment further at this stage, but we are very clear that, with the help of police and crime commissioners, the extra £970 million next year will help with some of the issues that she raised.