I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of serious violence.
Serious violence is a national emergency that we are tackling head on. It is all too common to wake up to the heartbreaking story of slaughter on our streets. Like many parents, I fear for my children. I lie awake worrying when they go out, waiting to hear the key turn in the door, desperate to know that they are safe and back home. Tragically, for some, that moment of relief never comes. They never hear that welcome jangling of keys. Their children never come home. Many are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are seeing an epidemic of senseless violence to which anyone can fall victim.
Since becoming Home Secretary, I have done everything in my power to help end the bloodshed. It has been my top priority, and we have responded to the crisis with urgent investment and additional powers, but, while lives are still being lost, it is clear that more must be done.
Has my right hon. Friend watched any of Channel 5’s “Police Code Zero”? If he were to do so, he would share the frustration of so many of our constituents who write to us complaining about the leniency of sentences even for violent attacks on the police, notwithstanding the powers we have given to the courts to deal with that. Why will they not use them?
I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the programme to which my right hon. Friend referred, but I absolutely understand the issue he raised. It is important that we do everything we can to support our brave police officers. I and the Policing Minister have made a number of announcements in the past 12 months to do just that. We continue to work with police officers and their leaders across the country, including talking to frontline officers about what more we can do.
Serious violence is often—not always—caused by organised criminal groups. Does the Home Secretary share the head of the National Crime Agency’s assessment that, without more resources, we are in danger of losing the fight against organised crime?
I share the concerns around serious organised crime. I welcome the National Crime Agency’s national strategic assessment, which says that the cost of such crime to society is at least £37 billion a year. Clearly the work the NCA is doing with police forces around the country is vital. It is important that we continue to work together with the NCA and the police. It was welcome that this year we increased resources to the NCA to fight serious organised crime. We will certainly look at longer term resource need in the spending review.
I have discussed this with the Policing Minister before: despite the increase in funds to recruit more policemen, funding is not sufficient. That is the message my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) referred to just a moment ago. Violent crime is increasing, particularly in places such as Coventry and other parts of the west midlands. The police have been reduced to firefighting in an area for two or three months, before the resource goes to another area. The vacuum is then filled by more crime. Can the Home Secretary not do a bit more about that?
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come to resourcing: both general police resourcing for all activities and resourcing dedicated to serious violence. He will also welcome that it is not just about resourcing; it is also about powers. I will talk about that in a moment, too.
The Home Secretary will realise that, in the £2.1 billion ask, Lynne Owens also raised the role of the Border Force. As the Home Secretary and I have discussed, of the young offenders I have met who have been involved in a gang or who have used or carried a knife, many have no idea where Colombia is or about the trafficking of cocaine and where it comes from. It comes because there are adult gangsters organising that traffic through Amsterdam and Spain. Will he say a little more about the role of the Border Force, which he knows has also been subject to cuts during the austerity period?
Let me first take this opportunity to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work he has done and continues to do to help fight serious violence, particularly that done on the Serious Violence Taskforce. From that, he will know that a number of issues have been and continue to be looked at. He is right to raise the issue about Border Force and drugs coming into the country. I understand that last year Border Force had a record haul of class A drugs. There is still more to do, but it is good to see that it is stopping more and more drugs reaching our shores.
The Home Secretary is being generous with his time. This week at Killingholme docks a truck with £3 million-worth of cocaine hidden in it was stopped and prevented from coming into the local area. I wonder how many trucks with that amount of drugs get through. He will be well aware that Grimsby suffers from a significant county lines issue. This week, a man was stabbed after drawing out money in the evening, presumably by people wanting drug money. So much in this area is scaring people in smaller towns such as Grimsby; it is not just in the big cities. Is he giving all the attention he could to areas such as Grimsby?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of county lines, which I will talk a bit more about in a moment. In the last few years, many towns like Grimsby across the UK have been seriously impacted by the growing county lines problem. The NCA has published more information on it. We estimate that there are probably at least 2,000 county lines. She is right to mention the problems that that is causing Grimsby and elsewhere. When I talk about these issues later, I hope she will see some of the action we are taking and the results coming about because of that.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way yet again; he is being most generous in giving way to both sides of the House. Does he agree that we also need to look at the oversight of police and crime commissioners and how they are spending and managing their money? For instance, in the west midlands the PCC has managed to accumulate £106 million in reserves, and there has been a record rise in the precept, yet he is closing and flogging off Solihull police station. Now we have real uncertainty about whether 160,000 people will have a police station that they can call local.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Whatever resources are available to police, the public expect them to be spent efficiently and used in a way that will ultimately help. He talks about the west midlands, which has one of the forces that is most affected by serious violence. I have met the force’s leaders a number of times. He is right to question whether funding is being spent properly and appropriately.
My eyes are open to the scale of the challenge. Last year, we saw the highest number of knife murders since records began. Already this year we have seen 30 fatal stabbings on the streets of London alone. These are stark figures, yes, of course, but to truly understand what they mean we must look beyond the statistics to the lives they represent. Over the last year I have made it my mission to understand the real impact of the rise in serious violence. I have met with the families of victims and heard their harrowing stories; I have spoken to the doctors and nurses who fight to save lives; I have talked to youth workers, who try to turn people away from violence; and I have consulted our police, who are at the frontline of the battle against knife crime.
The Home Secretary mentioned the 30 murders in the capital so far this year. Last autumn, two young men—one a 15-year-old child—lost their lives through stabbings in my constituency. Just a few weeks ago, a 15-year-old was seriously stabbed on their way home from school. He talks about meeting various people to discuss this problem, but the reality on the ground is that locally our youth services have been cut, our school budgets have been cut and our local government budgets have been cut, so the resources going in to tackle this serious violence are being diminished all the time. What does he have to say about that?
Members of the Youth Parliament representing Central Bedfordshire are campaigning to make young people aware that a person is in much more danger if they carry a knife. It does not protect them. How can the Government help these excellent Members of the Youth Parliament get the message out to other people that they are much less safe if they stupidly carry a knife?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One way the Government are trying to get that message out is through the #knifefree campaign, which I will come to in a moment.
From having all these conversations and meeting people, including the families of victims of knife crime, one message is loud and clear: there is no one single solution to stopping serious violence. To tackle it properly will require action on many fronts and joined-up action across Government. With our serious violence strategy, we are fighting on all fronts with all partners to try to stop this senseless violence. Our united approach is starting to see some progress. National crime statistics for the last year show that the rate of rise in knife crime is starting to slow. The most recent figures from the Metropolitan police show a fall in the number of homicides in the past 12 months, and the number of knife injuries among under-25s fell by 15% in the capital, with over 300 fewer young people being stabbed, but still far too many lives are being lost and I remain resolute in my mission to help end the bloodshed.
Mr Speaker, allow me to update the House on some of the work that is already under way. First, we are empowering police to respond to serious violence. I have joined anti-knife crime patrols and met senior officers from the worst-affected areas. They are the experts, so I have listened to what they say they need. They told me they needed more resources, so we have increased police funding by almost £1 billion this year, including council tax. As a result, police and crime commissioners are already planning to recruit about 3,500 extra officers and police staff.
The Prime Minister told me at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week that £1 billion was going back in, after she had cut 21,000 officers. In Ealing, Acton and Chiswick, where the number of aggravated burglaries and muggings has rocketed, how many officers will we have at the end of this year, compared with the number now? If they like, the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister would be welcome to visit; senior officers in Ealing and Acton would be happy to host them. We have lost both our police counters, but we would be happy to sit down and thrash this out. Our door is always open.
My understanding is that this year the Met plan to hire at least 300 additional officers. I cannot tell her how many there will be in Ealing, because that will be an operational decision for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, but that increase can take place because of the rise in funding—the largest cash increase since 2010.
In my constituency, we are seeing stabbings on a weekly basis. It is difficult to find exact numbers, but both boroughs that I cover—Redbridge and Waltham Forest—have lost about 200 officers each. How will the increase the Home Secretary is talking about plug the gap left by so many officers leaving the service?
One thing that will certainly help in our capital is the violent crime taskforce, which is dedicated to fighting violent crime in London, as well as other measures that I will come to in a moment—for example, the resourcing specifically for fighting serious violence, in the Metropolitan region and elsewhere, including new police officers specifically dedicated to that fight.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for what he has just said, but I would like some clarification. He said the increase was the biggest since 2010. Will he confirm that it is the only increase since 2010 and that the figure has otherwise been cut each year since I was Policing Minister in 2010?
It is not the only increase. In the previous year, I think it was around £460 million—something over £400 million, anyway—and this is double what it was the previous year, so I cannot confirm that because it is not correct.
The police also told me they needed more powers, so we are changing the law through the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is expected to gain Royal Assent tomorrow. The Bill will make it harder for young people to buy knives or acid and will introduce the knife crime protection orders that police asked for. They also told me they needed urgent support to deal with the immediate challenge. They asked for £50 million, but I doubled it to £100 million, with two thirds going straight to the police. Last week, I announced that £63.4 million of that had been allocated to the 18 worst-affected forces. It will pay for surge activity and additional patrols. A further £1.6 million will help to improve the quality of data to support planning and operations, with the remaining £35 million being used to support the creation of violence reduction units.
The police also told me they wanted targeted stop-and-search—because it works. The Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has linked its increased use in hotspot areas to the fall in youth stabbings. For that reason, I have made it simpler for the police to use these powers by relaxing the rules on section 60 searches in seven of the worst-hit areas. At least 3,000 more officers can now authorise searches in areas where violence is anticipated, which will help to take more weapons off our streets.
Last year alone, police in England and Wales made nearly 8,000 arrests for possession of weapons and firearms following a stop-and-search, so it undoubtedly works, but we will continue to work with the police and communities to ensure its use remains targeted and intelligence-led. Of course, officers should never search people based on their race or ethnicity. This is not about any specific community; it is about protecting those most at risk. A black person is four times more likely to be a victim of homicide than a white person. In London, 53% of knife crime victims are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. If the targeted use of stop-and-search can save any one of these victims, it can only be a good thing.
I am concerned about the impact on the community of the police’s increased ability to use section 60 and how innocent black young boys will be affected. I worry whether young people will feel encouraged to go to the police for protection and support if they feel victimised by them because of a blanket section 60 stop-and-search.
I understand why the hon. Lady raises this point, but she might be interested to know that the increase in stop-and-search in London in the last year has resulted in very few complaints, and one reason is the increased use of body-worn cameras. Police forces across the country are telling me that thanks to digital technology and evidence gathering they are seeing very few complaints about stop-and-search, especially compared with the levels of the past. She was right to mention innocent young black men—I think that was the phrase she used—but the increase is saving their lives. No innocent young person, no matter who they are or what their colour or background, should be faced with serious violence on our streets. Stop-and-search saves lives. That is why it is being used.
Secondly, we are investing in our young people’s future. Yes, a tough law enforcement response is essential, but by the time the police are called the damage is often already done. To save more lives, we must stop the violence before it starts by helping young people to avoid a life of crime. Giving teenagers more opportunities can transform their lives. I saw that at first hand last week—just a few days ago—when I visited a new OnSide youth zone in Dagenham. That is why we are investing £220 million in early intervention work, the largest investment of this type that we have ever made. Last month I announced that our £200 million youth endowment fund would be run by a charity called Impetus. The 10-year programme will deliver long-term help to those who are most in need, and young people will soon start to benefit, as the first funding round is expected to be launched shortly. The £22 million early youth intervention fund has already supported 29 projects.
I would like to thank the Victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). She is unable to join us at the moment, because she is chairing a roundtable on migrant workers and domestic abuse, but she will be here later.
An analysis of the Government’s funding programmes, produced for the Home Affairs Committee, points out that the programmes for youth investment are spread over 10 years. If the Home Secretary looks at the annual funding and adds together the early intervention fund, the trusted relationships fund, the youth endowment fund and the communities and local government fund, he will see that—according to my calculation—the total is only £35 million a year, and that is set against a £760 million cut in youth services. Can he tell me whether those figures are correct?
A number of providers of those programmes with whom we have already worked have said that one thing they value deeply is certainty of funding. If the funding is not confirmed and people have to wait year by year, an endowment fund that provides security for up to 10 years can make a big difference to the delivery of services.
I have talked about intervention programmes in the Home Office, but cross-Government work, about which I shall say more shortly, means that there are a number of programmes that aim for similar outcomes resulting from early intervention and efforts to prevent young people from turning to a life of crime in the first place. For example, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has a troubled families programme, and has focused on knife-related crime. Work has also been done by, for instance, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice.
I appreciate what the Home Secretary has said about certainty. However, I included many of those other cross-Government programmes in my calculation, and I came up with the figure of £35 million a year—and that is only 5% of the scale of the cuts in youth services. Can the Home Secretary tell me how many young people will be reached by the programmes that he has announced, and how many placements have been lost as a result of the cuts in the youth service? Knowing those basic facts about how many young people we are reaching and how many we are not reaching is crucial to our ability to assess whether his strategy will work.
What I am talking about specifically is targeted youth intervention to stop young people turning to crime, in this instance serious violence. The right hon. Lady was, I think, referring to youth services more broadly, perhaps those provided by local councils, which are more universal in nature. My focus is much more targeted. As I said a moment ago, I went to see the OnSide youth zone project in Dagenham, which is supported by the local authority and others. That is a much more universal project. I welcome that kind of work as well, but I am not sure that we are comparing like with like when we talk about universal versus targeted services.
If we do not engage with young people in the first place, how can we target them? I have seen the amazing work that youth services do in my constituency. I have particular praise for Llanrumney Phoenix boxing club and Tiger Bay boxing club, which are doing brilliant work with youth services and partners across the piece. They are also working with South Wales police, helping hundreds of young people in my constituency.
However, the facts are exactly as they were presented by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Between 2012 and 2016, 600 youth centres have been closed, 139,000 places have been lost, and £760 million has been cut from youth service budgets. Half the youth service in London has been lost under the Home Secretary’s governance. How on earth will the little pot of money that he has announced offset that huge cut, and that huge lack of engagement with young people?
I do not think that this is a small pot of funding. I have referred to the £200 million that is targeted at early intervention, and I think that will make a difference. For example, I am supporting Redthread, whose work in trauma units in hospitals will be extended to London, Birmingham and other places.
We have lost 3,600 youth workers, along with the places mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). We have also lost nearly 7,000 of the community support officers who play such an important role in preventing crime. Is the Home Secretary aware that the National Citizen Service, a flagship Government-funded programme initiated by the former Prime Minister, sucks up most of the youth service budget? I am not denigrating its work—it does good work—but some of its spending is deeply concerning, such as the £10 million spent on a rebranding exercise, which could have been spent on tackling youth crime.
The National Citizen Service does some very important work. We should recognise the way in which it helps young people by giving them activities, bringing them together and, potentially, turning them away from what could be a difficult life involving crime. As I said earlier, the early intervention youth fund is already supporting 29 projects across England and Wales, and it is estimated that by the end of March 2020 it will have helped at least 60,000 children and young people. I think that demonstrates its reach.
I appreciate the efforts the Home Secretary is making in describing the wonderful work that a very few limited projects are doing, but I would suggest that they benefit—and I am sure that they do benefit—a relatively small number of young people.
When I was lead member for children and youth services in Hounslow about 12 years ago, I was told by young people, including so-called vulnerable young people, that they appreciated the good, specialist work that youth workers and others were doing with them, but they did not want to go into a facility with other young people and be labelled vulnerable. They wanted to participate in a universal youth facility, to be seen as part of the crowd, and perhaps to do some specific work, as and when, with those specialist workers. Effectively, the only youth work that is currently being done is for those so-called vulnerable young people. They feel labelled and separated from others, because the universal provision has all but disappeared in most of our local authorities.
I am afraid it is simply not the case that the only funding that is being provided is for—to use the hon. Lady’s words—vulnerable young people. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) mentioned the National Citizen Service. That is open to everyone. A moment ago, I referred to the onside youth zones, including the £5 million youth centre that has just opened in Dagenham and is supported partly by taxpayers’ money. It too is open to everyone, and I suggest that the hon. Lady go and take a look. I think that she will see all types of young people there.
OnSide is setting up 100 youth zones. They are not youth centres, because they are trying to do something different, and to be a bit more welcoming to younger people rather than using the traditional and somewhat tired format. It is interesting to note that where those zones have been opened, youth-related crime has fallen by 50%. Does that not also demonstrate that there is a role for those who look at things differently?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. The first OnSide youth zone was in Bolton. He is right about the fall in crime and the positive impact that that has had on the community. The new youth zone I mentioned in Dagenham is just opening, but I was incredibly impressed by what I saw last week, because it is open to all young people from the age of 11 to 18, and because it can make a difference with the hours that it is open and the facilities that are there. Again, it is a universal youth service available to everyone, with all sorts of activities, so I agree with his comments.
I have come slightly late to the debate. I opened several OnSide youth centres, but I also think it is a shame that we have lost some good youth facilities. The trouble was that the youth service was too much of a nine-to-five service for the convenience of people who worked in it, rather than of the kids whom we desperately needed to engage. OnSide makes a difference because it is a partnership between local authority youth services, children’s charities and business, and because it provides a variety of services at a variety of times to a large variety of children. It is a great model and we need more such models.
Let me take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his work as a children’s Minister. He speaks with experience. He is absolutely right to talk about the model that OnSide represents. It is a vital partnership between local authorities, and therefore taxpayers, and people in the local community, including local businesses and local benefactors. In many cases, they have come from that community and have a stake in it, so they want improvements to be made. It is exactly the kind of model that has a strong future.
I appreciate the effectiveness of the work of universal youth services, such as OnSide, but unfortunately they are few and far between. OnSide presented its proposal for Hammersmith, and I asked whether my constituents would be able to attend. It said, “Ah, no—it’ll only be for young people who live in Hammersmith.” Surely the Home Secretary is saying that we need something of the scale of OnSide in every community so that every young person can go to one nearby. Is that not about reinserting the funding for universal youth provision in every community, which has been cut by such devastating amounts, as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said?
I must make some progress.
We also continue to refresh our national media campaign, which I referred to earlier. The #knifefree campaign warns young people about the dangers of carrying a knife.
I want to highlight a third action, which is the multi-agency public health approach, and how it can help to tackle violent crime. It involves all parts of the public sector working together to stop serious violence. To make that happen, we are consulting on a new legal duty to ensure that every agency plays its part. Our teachers, nurses and social workers already work tirelessly to protect our children. It is not about asking them to do any more, because they already do so much; it is about giving them the support and the confidence they need to report their concerns, safe in the knowledge that everyone will close ranks to protect that child. It is also about ensuring that all agencies share information to ensure that no one slips through the cracks. To support the multi-agency approach, we are investing £35 million in new violence reduction units to bring local partners together in hotspots. Work is under way to finalise those plans; I hope to provide an update on the proposals in the coming weeks.
Finally, we are investigating the root causes of violence so we can tackle the problem at source. We know that social media plays a part, with gangs trading weapons and taunting each other online. Our new “Online Harms White Paper” sets out our expectations for internet companies to do more. Later this month, the Met will launch a new social media hub to enhance our response.
The changing drugs market and the growth of county lines gangs is another key factor. The National Crime Agency estimates that there are about 2,000 active county lines fuelling serious violence. Last September, we set up the national county lines co-ordination centre. It is already showing results, with more than 1,100 people arrested and more than 1,300 people safeguarded following national intensification weeks.
Does the Home Secretary agree that one way to gain intelligence and to detect county lines, gangs or vulnerable people and children is to have school police officers? Why, therefore, do only half the secondary schools in my constituency have a school police officer? They are not regarded as the priority, because the Met cannot recruit enough officers for the numbers leaving or the numbers it is being reduced by.
As I mentioned earlier, the number of officers in the Met and in most other forces is increasing; it is not being reduced. How those officers are deployed is clearly an operational decision. It is for the police to decide how best to use those officers. While I absolutely see the benefit of school police officers, it is right that that decision is not made by Ministers or by Parliament, but is based on the operational needs in the area. I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the increase in police officer numbers, including in the Metropolitan area.
To understand the issue of drugs further, I have appointed Dame Carol Black to conduct an independent review of drugs misuse. She will examine what the market looks like, the harms it causes and what more we might do to combat drugs.
Yes, it has been ruled out.
The Home Office is looking at how data can help us understand some of the pathways into crime. We will develop proposals for a new crime prevention data lab to bring together information and enhance our ability to make more targeted interventions.
The Government are all too aware of the devastating impact—
I may have missed it, but I do not think I have heard the Home Secretary refer to the public health approach. Will he confirm whether that is still the approach of the Home Office, because it is welcome? The definition of a public health approach states that it should be focused on a “defined population”. He will be aware that when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), was before the Select Committee she was not able to tell us what the Home Office’s assessment was of the number of young people at risk of being drawn into crime. Does he now have that assessment, and can he tell us how many people live in the high-risk areas—the hotspots—he has identified?
I can absolutely give the right hon. Lady a sense of that. I did mention the public health approach, but I am happy to confirm again that the Government are absolutely going ahead with it. The consultation is going on at the moment, and I hope that when the proposals come to the Floor of the House they will get cross-party support.
The right hon. Lady asked how many people might be at risk. Our serious violence strategy has already set out the risk and protective factors that can increase the likelihood of a young person becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence.
There is a range of numbers, depending on where someone comes from and what risk factors we are looking at. For example, the Children’s Commissioner estimates that 27,000 children are at risk of gang involvement, and 7,720 pupils were permanently excluded from school in 2016-17. It is estimated that almost 500,000 children live in low-income households.
It is important not to oversimplify this when we look at the risk group. Evidence suggests that those with multiple risk factors are most at risk. Equally, young people with certain risk factors never commit or become a victim of any crime at all. This is a complex area, and the right hon. Lady is right to ask about it. I would be happy to write to her with a bit more information, but I hope that what I have shared with her has been helpful.
I want to refer briefly to the Prime Minister’s serious youth violence summit, which she set up to explore the public health approach further. I joined her at the opening session, which brought experts, politicians, young people and community workers together to tackle the issue. The four-day summit saw real results, including the creation of a new PM-chaired ministerial taskforce, which met for the first time last Wednesday. This will drive forward work across Government, supported by a new Cabinet Office team to help to deliver key actions. Alongside this, I will continue to chair our serious violence taskforce, which has met nine times over the past year, with members including the Met Commissioner and the Mayor of London. The taskforce will complement the work of the PM-led group, providing fresh ideas and external challenge as we unite against serious violence.
We are acting on every level to try to stop the senseless violence. It is my duty as Home Secretary to keep our streets safe, and serious violence is a threat that I refuse to ignore. Much has already been done, but we cannot fix this problem overnight. It is vital that we remain united against this deadly threat. Every child deserves a better future and the freedom to live without fear, and we must deliver. I commend this motion to the House.
This is a very important subject, and it is at the forefront of many of our constituents’ minds. The House respects the fact that the Home Secretary chose to open this debate himself, even though we may not agree with some of his conclusions. Up and down the country, communities are haunted by the fear of the rising tide of violent crime. This is happening in metropolitan areas such as London and Birmingham, as well as in cities such as Grimsby. The fear and the concern are universal. Generations ago, young men solved their disputes with their fists. Nowadays, the same disputes—even the same criminal interactions—are settled with guns and knives.
The fear in the communities is threefold. First, there is the threat to yourself. We heard earlier about the tragic death of a man in Anglesey who was killed by a crossbow, and we hope that the Home Secretary will look into the regulations on crossbows. Secondly, there is the fear that your child could be the victim of violent crime. As a long-standing east end MP, I have sat with too many mothers who had said goodbye to their son in the morning as they saw him off to school or college, only to get a call from the emergency services later telling them that their son was dead. When you have sat with so many of those mothers, you understand how harrowing violent crime is for our communities. Thirdly, there is the fear that your child could be a perpetrator. It can be almost as traumatising to discover that your child is involved in violent crime as it is to find that they have been a victim. It is almost inevitable that there will be more deaths from violent crime this weekend in one or another of our great cities.
I have to begin by talking about the effect of the Government’s policies in the round. Violent crime does not happen in a policy vacuum, and the Opposition contend that the Government’s austerity policy has contributed to the causes of increased crime in almost every conceivable way. That is one reason why the Government have presided over a rise in violent crime. Ministers cannot be right in saying that the rise in violent crime is all down to better recording. If someone is a victim of violent crime, that is one crime that they will report and that will be recorded.
We have heard about some of the extra money being spent on different initiatives, particularly the £22 million for the early intervention youth fund. However, as Opposition Members have said, that does not begin to offset the cuts in youth services up and down the country. I stress to Ministers that it is not a choice between targeted intervention and a properly funded general youth service: we need both. If the money goes into just targeted interventions, the danger is that those young people feel stigmatised and do not want to engage. Ministers talk as if, on any given estate, a couple of guys are on the verge of committing some terrible violent atrocity, and for all the other young men on that estate, everything is just fine.
In our communities, on our estates and in other communities, young people need a properly resourced general youth service, not just because someone is on the verge of committing a criminal atrocity, but because, sadly, in the 21st century, with the break-up of the nuclear family and many mothers out of work who might not choose to be out of work, many young men—and women—need to interact with role models, particularly male role models. That is what the youth service offers. It is not just a question of dragging somebody from the brink of violent crime.
I speak as a former Connexions manager. The Government have cut £880 million from youth support services. Those cuts have consequences. They come on top of the several hundred million pounds cut from public health—the Secretary of State spoke about a public health approach—and the loss of 21,000 police officers, 7,000 police community support officers and 15,000 police staff. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those cuts have consequences?
I sense that the shadow Home Secretary will not agree with me, but to try to take the party politics out of the discussion, it is worth considering that back in 2008, when there was no austerity, there were 272 knife-crime-related homicides—too many. Last year, there were 285—too many. By 2015, when the right hon. Lady could argue that austerity was at its height, the number had gone down to 186. I am appealing to her to look at the subject a little more holistically rather than considering just financing.
This is not about party politics for me. It is about the lives of people I live among—my friends’ children’s lives and the lives of some of the women and children on the street where I live in Hackney. The hon. Gentleman denigrates the issue by reducing it to mere party politics.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was not making a party political point. My point was that we do not need to be party political because the figures have fluctuated under different approaches. I think that perhaps the shadow Home Secretary is confused about my point.
That is not a point of order. I think the hon. Gentleman will try to catch my eye later and he could deal with the point during the debate. I really do not like points of order in the middle of debates—they just disrupt the proceedings. We are having a serious debate, so let us get on with it.
My right hon. Friend is making a moving and powerful speech. On the subject of party politics, does she agree that this is not even a political choice for councils anymore? Councils of all political complexions are cash strapped. Youth services in Labour Ealing have been cut by 50%, but in Tory Hillingdon, the borough of the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, youth services have been cut by 85%. This Government said austerity is over; they need to put their money where their mouth is and reverse those local government cuts.
My right hon. Friend is making a strong, powerful speech, and I agree that this goes well beyond party politics. It is about our communities and the challenges faced by the young people who live in them. My dad was a youth worker for many years in Cardiff, and he trained youth workers across the city. I have three local councillors who were fantastic youth workers in my community, and the one thing I hear from all of them is that because young people spend the vast majority of their lives outside school, youth services are even more important.
Why do we not consider making youth services statutory? Instead of them being a Cinderella service that is always cut, always slashed and always bearing the brunt of austerity, with devastating consequences for young people’s lives and opportunities, we should start taking them seriously and provide a serious youth service for all young people.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the importance of having statutory youth services, and more so because most young people spend most of their life outside school, which is why a properly funded youth service is so important.
The Home Secretary has announced another pot of funding for young people’s advocates, but that does not begin to compensate for the thousands of community police officers who have been cut. I would say that community police officers, inasmuch as they engaged with families and young people in the community on a day-to-day basis, were very much the frontline against criminality, including violent crime.
This Government, and this is a fact, imposed austerity on the police, which led to falling crime detection rates. Crime prevention efforts have also been undermined, partly because of the cuts to community police officers.
Detection is obviously essential, as is getting weapons out of circulation. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner says she is in favour of stop-and-search as a means of getting those weapons out of circulation. Does the right hon. Lady back that call?
Absolutely. I have always argued that evidence-based stop-and-search has an important role to play. The Opposition fully support targeted, evidence-based stop-and-search. What has proved problematic in the past is non-evidence-based, random stop-and-search. I accept that one thing that has helped in the use of stop-and-search, as the Home Secretary says, is body-worn cameras, which minimise accusations on either side—by the person who has been stopped and searched or by the police officer. Evidence-based stop-and-search is a good thing; random stop-and-search has a very chequered history of exacerbating community tensions.
Sadly, there are still tensions in many of our communities between young people and the police. Those tensions will be easier to deal with when we have the right levels of police funding and the right number of police officers. I do not doubt that my hon. Friend is correct when she says there are young people who do not necessarily report the injustices they think they have experienced.
People should stop using that old Whips Office line. The reason we voted against the Government’s proposal on funding was that we did not think it was enough money. Hopefully, nobody will raise that point again.
Government austerity has contributed to increases in the factors underlying the causes of serious violent crime, undermined prevention and cut police numbers, so there are inevitably fewer arrests and convictions. Ministers and other Members will say that the Government have recently increased spending on the police. In real terms, if we take away the precept, and once the cost of police pensions is taken—[Interruption.] We are talking about central Government funding. The problem with the precept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) will perhaps explain to Conservative Members, is that it inevitably falls more heavily on poorer areas than on wealthier areas. We are saying that the claims about increased spending are not as impressive as they might seem, once we take away the cost of police pensions, which had to be met, and once we realise that much of that increased spending actually comes from the precept rather than central Government spending. In any event, this is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound—a wound inflicted by the Government’s own cuts.
The National Audit Office, which I hope will not be accused of being party political, has previously shown that central Government funding for the police has been cut in real terms since 2010. Offensive Weapons Bills and knife crime orders are one thing, but communities also need actual police officers in place to make use of those new legislative options.
It should be clear that Ministers are in danger of tying themselves in knots. On the one hand, they have tried to insist in the past that there is no correlation between the cuts they have imposed on the police and rising serious violent crime. On the other hand, the Home Secretary has boasted to us today that the Government are now providing more resources to the police. Which is it? Do police resources and police strength have anything to do with rising crime and falling arrest rates? Or are the recent, relatively modest resources provided to the police purely decorative and designed to get Back-Bench Tory MPs off Ministers’ backs? Are they supposed to stop the crisis in funding and police strength getting worse? If so, is that not a tacit admission of the huge damage that Government cuts have caused?
I have mentioned the overall cuts in central Government funding for the police. However, as was mentioned earlier, the head of the National Crime Agency says that an extra £2.7 billion is needed to tackle organised crime. As it happens, that is close to the amount that has been cut from the police budget since 2010. We also learn that there is now a cost over-run in the emergency services network of £3.1 billion pounds. Ministers have not yet come to the House to explain that and what they intend to do about it—and that at a time when billions have been cut from police budgets.
The effect is clear. In March 2018, there were 122,400 police officers in the police forces of England and Wales. That is a fall of 15% since March 2010, or a decline of 21,300 officers. All the new law, all the new orders, all the committees and all the reviews in the world cannot compensate for losing 21,300 officers. It is also relevant that the rate of those leaving the police force has almost doubled since 2010. Stress and overwork are taking their toll on under-resourced officers. There are now fewer police officers in England and Wales than there were in 1982. Of course, the under-resourcing of individual forces by this Government means that some forces are in an even worse position.
I thank my right hon. Friend for being generous in giving way. She is talking about the underfunding of specific forces. Does she share my concern that, as in the case of South Wales police, and particularly of Cardiff, as a capital city, which has particular challenges because it is a seat of government, hosts major events and so on, there is often a real knock-on effect on our community policing, which amplifies the effect of the cuts? That is despite the strong efforts of South Wales police, which has been arguing with the Home Office for months and months now for some additional funding for Cardiff’s capital city responsibilities to free up the capacity of community policing to deal with serious violence on our streets.
I visited Cardiff last year, and the senior police officers and the police and crime commissioner put to me the case for more funding. That case is well made.
On the question of knife crime, as of March 2011—not long after the coalition Government took office—there were 30,600 offences with a knife or sharp instrument; by 2018, that total had reached more than 40,800. That is a rise of nearly a third. In the latest year, there was a 12% increase in homicide, even if we exclude the cowardly terrorist attacks in Manchester in London. It is an appalling record; it is actually shameful. Government cuts have consequences. The Home Office’s own data shows that almost half of all crimes are closed with no suspect identified. In the past year, the proportion of summons or charges fell from 11% to 9%. That means a reduction of summons and/or charges in 41,000 individual cases. Police strength does have an impact in the fight against crime. Cuts do have consequences.
I have long taken an interest in disorder and crime—since long before I had the honour to represent my party on home affairs from the Front Bench—and my view on serious violence is, as with all policy matters, that we should focus on what works. From the inception of the violence reduction unit in Glasgow, we have seen a system that works: homicides due to knife crime in Glasgow have plummeted. We welcome the £80 million that the Chancellor has provided in funds for the new violence reduction units—it is a policy that we have long advocated on the Opposition Benches and we are pleased that the Home Secretary is copying the Labour party—but violence reduction units alone are not enough.
The Glasgow violence reduction unit was established when public spending was rising under Labour. The allocation of the latest funds takes place as austerity still rules. That means that poverty and inequality will continue to rise, as will zero-hours contracts, no proper apprenticeships and the burden of student debt. Pupils continue to be excluded, and find themselves in pupil referral units. The Government have a failed drugs policy combined with police cuts. We argue that the underlying causes of crime, and the opportunities for crime, are rising, and the prospect of criminals being caught are falling. More money for violence reduction units is welcome, but while austerity continues, they are unlikely to be as successful as they could be. As money is trickled into violence reduction units, the Government have carved a big hole in the bottom of the bucket with austerity.
When it comes to law and order, the Government cannot take with one hand, with the big cuts in local authorities, and give with the other, through individual pots of money for things such as violence reduction units and the youth endowment fund. Those individual pots of money do not begin to compensate for nearly a decade of cuts to policing, to youth services and to mental health services for young people and adolescents, and Ministers should not pretend that they do so. All the summits, the committees, the reviews, the new legislation and even a new statutory duty cannot compensate for an overall lack of resources.
As for the public health approach, in her evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Chief Constable Sara Thornton stressed the importance of strong drive, co-ordination and a concerted approach, if the public health approach was to succeed in England. Chief Constable Dave Thompson of the West Midlands police pointed out that, although the Home Secretary’s strategy alludes to a public health-based approach, it is not yet a public health-based strategy. There is next to no mention of violence in Public Health England documentation, including in Public Health England’s outcomes document. I understand that there is a consultation going on, but people will not take this Government seriously on a public health approach until that begins to be reflected in the actual practice and the actual close working between Public Health England, education and the NHS.
Violent crime haunts our communities. We argue that it is not just a failure of individual boys, young men and, increasingly, women, but an overall failure of Government policy, and it is partly caused by austerity. When it comes to violent crime, words are easy, but providing the proper resources and taking the right actions are difficult. I argue that, as we move into a weekend where, inevitably, we will hear about more violent crime and more knife crime, it is well past time that the Government left behind words, good intention and pots of money and showed genuine intent and provided the genuine level of resources that are needed.
I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. In respect of the question relating to the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations, the Ayes were 294 and the Noes were 184, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
It is a great pleasure to be called so early in this debate.
Violent crime is a matter of serious concern to every Member, and increasingly so to my constituents in Solihull. Although we rightly cherish our town’s reputation as a fantastic place to live—it often tops the polls of the best places to live in the United Kingdom—there is no getting away from the shadow that such offences cast over my community, and that has increasingly been the case in recent times.
Since the start of last year, the local press has run a series of stories on a spate of terrifying armed carjackings across the wider borough of Solihull—not just in my constituency but in that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). I mentioned in Prime Minister’s questions the murder of a mother and daughter in Shirley. Just on Saturday, a man and a 15-year-old boy were shot in broad daylight. Fortunately, in this case, the police reported that the pair received only leg injuries, but it could easily have been very different.
These are not isolated cases. The west midlands has some of the highest knife crime figures by population in the entire country—98 offences per 100,000 people against a national average of 69. The 2,850 recorded knife crimes represent a 72% increase in just four years. Meanwhile, earlier this year, new figures revealed that gun crime across the region had risen to its highest level in years, with 681 recorded instances—the highest figure reported since 2010-11. Sometimes the sterility of raw statistics hides the true human cost of this sort of crime, but there was no masking my horror when, in March, The Guardian revealed that there were almost 700 child victims of knife crime across the west midlands last year, as well as more than 800 young people caught with a knife. Of course, this problem is not confined to the west midlands, and the Government are right to make the matter a national priority. The serious violence strategy, backed by tens of millions of pounds of Home Office funding, is just the sort of broad-spectrum approach that we will need to make the sort of progress that this country expects, nay demands.
The emphasis on prevention and early intervention is particularly welcome. As I know from my experience with the efforts to combat homelessness in Solihull and the wider west midlands, it is nearly always more effective—not to mention more cost-effective—to solve a problem before it starts. We must pair these measures with a renewed commitment to effective rehabilitation. I am all for putting public safety first and helping those who deserve it, but we have a duty to ensure that the criminal justice system does not just erode someone’s prospects of legitimate employment while honing their criminal skills. We need to look again at strategies such as stop-and-search, ensuring that we are not allowing good intentions and dogma to undermine effective policing.
The serious violence strategy is a chance to lead the way, and I look forward to giving it my full support, but these things cannot be solved by Whitehall alone. Any effective strategy will require the full participation not only of the Government and the police but of devolved decision makers, third sector specialist organisations, local communities and volunteers. I pay tribute to the many volunteers in my constituency who play a role in trying to stop this epidemic. It is almost as if my town exists because of a sea of volunteering—it is awash with volunteers. Yet in Solihull, too often all we get from the police and crime commissioner is excuses. I know from speaking to people on doorstep that local residents are deeply concerned by persistent rounds of cuts to local frontline policing, and they do not understand how the PCC justifies it while sitting on enormous cash reserves of, as I understand it, over £100 million.
People are also furious at the decision to sell off our town’s last police station, with no commitment that the money raised will be reinvested directly in policing in the town. I urge the Minister once again to reconsider that decision, especially in the light of the promises made to the people of Solihull during the closure of Shirley police station only a few years ago. Just to put this into context, 160,000 people face direct uncertainty over the future of policing provision in their borough. I understand that the site itself is potentially very valuable, and that it is frankly not as well used as it once was. I have also been given assurances by the chief constable that there is an intention to effectively migrate services to another front desk in the constituency, particularly in the town centre. However, the reality is that the services in the main police station have been wound down over time. That is key when it comes to intelligence, which is vital in combating knife crime and serious violent crime. I hope that this speech will be a further message to the police and crime commissioner, the authorities and the town of Solihull that we need a guarantee of a police station in Solihull to combat the rising tide of serious violent crime, which unfortunately seems to be coming over the border from Birmingham.
The concentration of police resources in Birmingham has continued despite the Government providing a funding boost to the West Midlands police. One of my constituents’ biggest fears about devolution was the risk of seeing Solihull overshadowed by Birmingham, and it is difficult to argue that that is not the case given the actions of the PCC, who is taking police resources from Solihull and placing them in Birmingham. My constituents are doing what they can to plug the gap, with groups such as Shirley Street Watch bringing residents together and giving them a chance to make a difference, but they cannot hope to compensate for the sale and potential closure of all on-the-ground police bases in Solihull. The serious violence strategy will be seriously undermined if the police and crime commissioner does not reconsider his policies and listen to the people of Solihull.
As we have heard in the contributions so far, serious violence is always an emotive subject for the public and for Members of this House. Sadly, given the recent knife crime epidemic in London and many other parts of England, it is an issue that we have had to discuss far too often in recent times. Of course, the adoption of the public health model to tackle serious violence in Glasgow and Scotland is not news to Members—indeed, it has already come up in this debate—but thanks to Police Scotland and the work of the violence reduction unit, levels of non-sexual violent crime have reduced significantly in Scotland, and the approach has been welcomed and advocated by the World Health Organisation. That reduction has been most apparent in west and central Scotland, and in Scotland’s cities more generally. Glasgow used to be known as the murder capital of Europe, yet it is now one of the safer cities in these islands. But despite this undoubted success, there is still a long, long way to go, and the Scottish Government are committed to tackling violent crime head-on, whatever form that takes.
It appears that the Home Secretary may be leaving this debate while the hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important contribution on the public health approach. Does he agree that that is a very disappointing thing to see?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am not surprised, sadly, that the Home Secretary has left. I was surprised, though, that in his very long speech, much of which we can agree with, he made very little mention of the public health model. It took interventions from Opposition Members to try to draw out his opinion on the public health model, and that was a shame.
She is not here, but as the SNP spokesperson in this debate, I am not here to answer for the Labour Front Bench, to be perfectly honest. I shall move on from the issue of where Ministers and shadow Ministers are.
As I said, the public health model requires multi-sectoral co-operation. Violence is a complex issue that comes in many forms and encompasses, but is not limited to, verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Only by tackling the causes of violence, not just the symptoms, can we break the cycle of violence and reduce the impact that it has on individuals, their families, and all our communities.
The Scottish crime and justice survey shows, as of 26 March, a 46% fall between 2008-09 and 2017-18 in violent incidents experienced by adults in Scotland. Violent crime is rare, with just 2.3% of adults experiencing it in the latest year—down from 4.1% in 2008-09. Police-recorded non-sexual violent crime remains at one of its lowest levels since 1974. Emergency admissions to hospital due to assault have more than halved since 2006-07—down by 55%. Emergency admissions due to assault with a sharp object have also fallen substantially in that period, and the number of homicides has more than halved.
Those stats clearly highlight some fantastic progress on this hugely important issue, but it is not enough. Too many people, particularly young people, are still being admitted to hospital and still dying. We must do more; we cannot simply rest on our laurels.
My hon. Friend has made excellent points about the statistics on hospital admissions and hospital visits. Does he agree that the Navigator part of the violence reduction unit’s programme, whereby interventions are made in hospitals and people are given the option to get out of a life of violence, has contributed to the reductions he mentions?
Absolutely—I could not agree more. That speaks to the multi-sectoral approach that I indicated. Although police numbers and so on are important, it is not just about police—it is also about how we tackle this in our schools and our hospitals.
We know that crime is experienced disproportionately across the population, with the poorest and most disadvantaged being far more likely to be on the receiving end. The Scottish violence reduction unit is working with partners to develop innovative approaches to improving outcomes for individuals, families and communities. In the past decade, the Scottish Government have invested over £17 million in violence reduction programmes, including over £3.8 million in the “No Knives Better Lives” campaign. We have invested £12 million since 2008 in the violence reduction unit itself, which includes funding to deliver the mentors in violence prevention programme, which encourages young people not to stand by and allow violence to happen to them and those they know.
The Scottish Government’s implementation, with cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, of an ambitious twin-track approach of pioneering violence prevention programmes, coupled with enhanced penalties and tough enforcement, has helped to deliver huge falls in violent crime over the last decade. Penalties for possession of a knife are higher in Scotland than in England and Wales, with a five-year maximum term, versus four years in England and Wales. The average length of custodial sentences for knife possession has increased by 85% since 2007-08, with the average sentence now being 421 days, up from 228 days in 2007-08.
As I said, a large part of our success in Scotland has been down to the violence reduction unit, which aims to deliver that reduction by working with partner agencies. Its motto, “Violence is preventable, not inevitable”, is simple but thus far has proved accurate. Influenced by the World Health Organisation’s 2002 report on violence and health, the VRU became the only police force in the world to adopt a public health approach to preventing violence. That includes prevention activity such as education and early intervention, coupled with appropriate law enforcement as necessary. In treating violence as essentially a disease, the VRU sought to diagnose the problem, analyse the causes, examine what works and for whom and develop specific and bespoke solutions that, once evaluated, could be scaled up to help others. That approach has undoubtedly helped and been admired elsewhere.
I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the public health approach. Does he agree that there is a lot to be learned from the devolved Administrations? In Wales, there is excellent partnership working between South Wales police and our local health boards on a series of issues relating to violence—not only violence in our cities at night but domestic violence, with thousands of women now being protected as a result of partnership working between the health boards and policing.
I could not agree more. As I will come on to say, the Scottish Government and Scottish politicians are always looking elsewhere for better ideas and fresh thinking. In recent times, the UK Government have started to open their eyes and mind a lot more to policies of other Governments, including potentially looking at a presumption against short sentences. It is a shame that the Secretary of State has moved on from the Chamber, so we will have to see whether that progresses, but the Government are to be commended for moving on from their closed approach.
The public health model and the violence reduction unit have worked so well that they are now being tried and tested elsewhere. Most notably, Sadiq Khan has taken forward a VRU here in London, which we very much welcome. I hope it is allowed to be effective and is resourced appropriately, as far too many young people are losing their lives on the streets of London.
Any legitimate and full discussion of serious violence must recognise the scale of gender-based violence. Scotland is not exceptional in the sheer scale of this disease, but the Scottish Government are committed to tackling it root and branch. Conviction rates in this area sit at their highest ever levels. Clearly there is still work to do, but victims are now more likely to come forward and report abuse and violence.
The 2017-18 recorded crime statistics included 421 new crimes of disclosing or threatening to disclose an intimate image. The recording of those new crimes is due to the enactment of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament. About 25% of the increase in sexual crime in 2017-18 can be directly attributed to the new intimate images offence. The Scottish Government set up an expert group last year to identify fresh actions to prevent sexual offending involving children and young people, after commissioned research found an increase in cyber-enabled sexual crime between 2013-14 and 2016-17. Those crimes, such as communicating indecently or causing others to view sexual images, typically have younger victims and offenders when committed online.
Police Scotland has a national rape taskforce and rape investigation units within every division, dedicated to investigating rape and serious sexual crime. The Scottish Government are investing an additional £1.1 million to improve how sexual offences cases are handled and improve communication with victims, and a further £2 million to speed up access to support for those affected by rape or sexual assault. That will bring total investment in Scotland in tackling all violence against women and girls to at least £25 million over the next three years.
Sexual crime is a crime of the utmost seriousness, and a type of crime that disproportionately, perhaps overwhelmingly, affects women and girls. Often sexual crime and gender-based violence stem from ignorance, because of a lifetime of unchallenged views and attitudes among men—attitudes that are often exacerbated by peer groups. We need to challenge the sexist attitudes that support this most heinous behaviour.
I am proud to chair the all-party group on the white ribbon campaign and to be an ambassador for White Ribbon UK and White Ribbon Scotland, which is to be commended for its recent work with bookmakers across Scotland in educating customers and getting them to sign the white ribbon pledge. I urge everybody, particularly all the men present, to make sure they sign the white ribbon pledge never to commit, condone or excuse gender-based violence.
The SNP Scottish Government are leading the way on evidence-based, progressive policy in tackling serious violence. The scale of Scotland’s success is in many ways astonishing. Much of the credit goes to the violence reduction unit—including its co-founders, Karyn McCluskey and John Carnochan—and of course to Police Scotland. However, this success itself comes with a recognition that we must keep trying harder. Indeed, John Carnochan has himself said recently:
“There is a danger people think Scotland is fixed—it is far from being fixed”.
He is right. As I said earlier, too many young people are still being ostracised and too many young people—too many people—are still being killed. We have made fantastic progress, but there is still a lot more to do. The public health model, when implemented and resourced properly, is effective. I am confident that it will continue to grow and develop in Scotland, but we are always looking elsewhere for fresh thinking about and approaches to many of the challenges we have heard about and undoubtedly will hear more about as the debate develops. In that spirit, I hope that Members and Ministers from elsewhere will continue to look to Scotland and learn from our experience.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). It is important that he highlights the success, as others have, of the violence reduction unit in Scotland. As he says, it is a model that has been praised across the country and across the world.
Importantly, we must recognise that it is not the answer to all our problems. I do not think that that is what he was suggesting. When I questioned witnesses at the Home Affairs Committee, it was clear that we can learn from it—there is no doubt about it—but to say that it is the answer to all our problems would be gravely wrong. We look at good practice across the country and across the world, which is important, but we should not just say, “Well, if it works in Glasgow, it can be moved down to London”, because, for example, things that Police Scotland does in Glasgow do not have the same positive impact in my constituency of Moray. We have to remember that there are different solutions for different problems across the country.
It might seem strange for a Scottish Member to be speaking on an issue that is largely devolved, but I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and this is an issue that the entire Committee takes very seriously. I look forward to listening to the Chair, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and other members later.
I did think that it was important to contribute to a debate on this subject. It is important that this debate is being held on the Floor of the House of Commons. I agree with the shadow Home Secretary that it is welcome that the Home Secretary led this debate for the Government and the shadow Home Secretary led it for the Opposition. Only when we get the top players in this entire Parliament discussing this issue of great importance will we give it the respect it is due. The fact is that we have dedicated so much time to it on the Floor of the House of Commons, and there is clearly interest across Parliament and from various different MPs across the country.
We listened to the Home Secretary, and in multiple interventions he was challenged on what the Government are doing. We also listened to what the Opposition are doing. This is a serious issue—it is a matter of importance for the entire country—but I will be honest: I have been disappointed by the contributions so far from those on the Opposition Benches. [Interruption.] I am sorry if that disappoints the shadow Home Secretary and if my disappointment in her is disappointing, but I have to say that all we have heard today is problems, not solutions. She says there is not enough funding for x, y or z—I intervened on the shadow Home Secretary when she was saying we need more police officers and more funding for the police—yet the Opposition vote against such funding because it is not enough. It might not be enough in the eyes of the Opposition, but surely it is better than what they are currently saying is not enough. Any increase should be supported across Parliament. It seems very hollow outside Parliament for them to try to explain that they believe there should be more funding for the police—more resources going into the police, more officers employed, more youth workers, more x, y and z—yet when there are opportunities to support the Government on a cross-party basis with increased funding for these vital resources, Opposition Members vote against that.
I shall speak briefly about the public health approach and the joined-up approach. When, last week, the Minister appeared before the Committee, I put it to her that it is positive that we can get Departments working together on such a crucial issue, but that there is a risk that when a cross-Government approach is adopted there are too many people in charge and no one takes overall responsibility. Is violent crime the most important issue for the Education Department or the Health Department or the Home Office? At times there is a need for leadership, and I worry that by taking too much of a public health approach—by combining all the Departments to say “this is a priority”—we could lose some emphasis and some leadership.
I nevertheless support the Government’s approach. We have joined-up working so we can also have joined-up understanding and joined-up solutions. On balance I think it is the right way to go, but we must always remember the potential pitfalls. I worry that if an issue becomes a priority for all areas, it can become a priority for none.
The Home Secretary and others mentioned drugs. In some parts of the country there has been significant success in tackling drugs. However, as a constituent mentioned to me recently, when there is a big drugs bust and drug dealers are brought to task by the police, sentenced and removed from the community, we should not suppose that demand for drugs has reduced, because it has not—it is simply that the supply of drugs at that point has reduced. Our local papers, certainly in Moray, understandably write very positively about big drugs busts that succeed in getting drug dealers. Such busts are very rare in Moray—we live in a very safe part of the country—but when they occur the local papers praise how much the police have done to remove those people from our streets. However, we have not removed the problem. More must be done to enable us to understand the underlying reasons people use drugs and why there is a need to tackle those drug dealers. As I say, a drugs bust does not get rid of the demand; it only reduces supply at that point in time.
County lines took up a large part of the speeches by the Home Secretary, the shadow Home Secretary and others. The problem seems to have increased unbelievably over the past few years. As the Home Secretary mentioned, the current estimate is that in 2019 there are 2,000 county lines in operation across the country. Just four years ago, in 2015, the National Crime Agency was saying that only seven police forces were affected by county lines. By 2017, that had increased to every police force in the country, and it is incredible that there has been such a large increase in county lines in such a short time.
I welcome the approach the Government have taken to tackle that issue, because it affects every single constituency. A crime that begins in London can rapidly end up in Aberdeen, and if it is in Aberdeen it can quickly spread to Moray and other parts of the country. Something that we believe is a crime problem in the south of England can, because of county lines, quickly become a crime problem across the country.
Young people are intrinsically involved in the problems we are experiencing with serious violence and, I believe, in the solutions to serious violence. At the Home Affairs Committee about three or four weeks ago, one of our fellow MPs was appearing before us as a member of the panel of witnesses, and she made it very clear that Members of the Youth Parliament had voted knife crime their top campaign issue. Despite that, we, as members of the Committee—I would be interested to hear the remarks of the Chair of the Committee—have not questioned or listened to young people. We take panels of senior police officers or experts in their fields—the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner and others—but we do not hear directly from young people.
Yes, it is important that we, as Members, can stand up in Parliament and express young people’s thoughts, and pass on what they have said in the Youth Parliament, and the fact that they have made knife crime their top priority, but surely we should also be listening to them directly—listening to their concerns, listening to what they have to say, and listening to their solutions. It would be very useful to hear from the Youth Parliament in this inquiry and in other inquiries going forward. When some young people gave us a confidential briefing, that was perhaps one of the most enlightening aspects of our evidence session on serious and violent crime.
That brings me to my final point. I often refer to my interest outside Parliament in sport. The young people we heard from, who were involved in the programme and wanted to speak to the Committee anonymously, felt that sport could have done so much to take them away from a life of crime. When they got into a life of crime and serious violence, it was sport that they were able to focus on to ensure they got out of that habit.
My hon. Friend may have caught the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on the social impact of sport. It can help young people and it can help with reoffending. One issue I have is that there is not enough joined-up thinking in the criminal justice system in relation to participation in sport and its help in reducing reoffending.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s point. The focus on reoffending is most important. When the Minister gave evidence last week, I think she had recently been speaking to the Premier League about how we use sport as a tool to work with young people. So much sport goes on every day of the week all across the country. There is untapped potential to use sport as a key to improve our relationship with young people.
I know the hon. Gentleman is a recent addition to the House of Commons, but in the 2010 Parliament the Government cut school sports funding, a provision that benefited all children up and down the country. It feels like we are back to square one. Conservative Members talk about the merits of school sport and sport generally, but we have actually gone backwards because of those cuts.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but we have to be very careful that we do not just rely on the Government to pay for everything. For example, we have extremely rich football clubs in this country. Surely they can put their resources, which they gain from fans week in, week out, back into the communities they serve. One of the most disappointing things we heard from the young people who spoke to us was that they could see the major football stadiums from the communities they lived in and were victims of crime in, but could not find a way into those football stadiums to get any benefit from them. I sometimes think we rely too much on Government intervention, when the private sector—clubs and so on—could do far more to work within communities.
I know that many Members wish to speak in the debate, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion. I agree with the Home Secretary that this is a national emergency. It is right that the Government have highlighted it as such and are working across Departments to deal with it. It is right that we are debating it on the Floor of the House of Commons today. I hope that communities affected by serious violence—individuals, families or communities at large—take some comfort from the fact that this issue is being debated in the House of Commons and is of such serious importance for Members on both sides of the House that something is being done. Unless we work on this issue within Government, across Government and across Parliament, we will not make an impact.
We have seen that just one life lost is one too many. We are seeing too many lives lost as a result of serious violence. I believe the Government’s strategy and their emphasis on getting it right will save lives in the future. That is surely to be welcomed.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee. I apologise to the House that he and I will probably have to leave shortly, as we have an evidence session with young people this afternoon. He rightly says that we should do more to make sure young people’s voices are heard, not just in our Committee but in all Committee inquiries and in all the work we do across the House.
This is a deeply serious issue. Lives are being lost and families devastated. Too often, parents end up fearful and children at risk. In West Yorkshire, knife crime has doubled since 2010. It has gone up by 20% in the past year alone. Across the country, we see a similar picture. It is not just in our biggest cities but in our towns, often spread by county lines. The most disturbing figures are those showing that since 2012 the number of children and young people under 16 admitted to hospital for knife wounds has doubled. One of the NHS consultants we heard from said that the peak time was between 4 and 6 in the afternoon—after school, when children have just finished a French, history or maths lesson and should just be going home, but find themselves caught up in violence instead, and do not make it home.
The Home Affairs Committee launched its inquiry into serious violence before Christmas. We will draw our conclusions together shortly. I will not pre-empt the conclusions, but I will reflect on some of the evidence we have heard. I start with evidence from young people and youth workers, who told us how many young people do not feel safe on the streets after school and think the only way to feel safe is to carry a knife. They do not see the police as people they can turn to. They do not have police officers that they know in schools. They do not have outreach workers, youth services or safe spaces to go to. The greater risks are for those young people who have been excluded or who might be vulnerable in different ways; those who get caught up in drug networks, county lines or gangs.
We were struck by the evidence from the police, who evidently are working immensely hard to tackle the problem but are undoubtedly overstretched. They can operate targeted, intelligence-led policing, but they find it much harder to provide and resource the neighbourhood police officers or school-based officers who might help to prevent some of the violence in the first place. Having seen their work over the years, I find it particularly troubling that we have lost so many school-based police officers, because they can often build up trust and relationships, gather intelligence, and simply work on prevention and practical messages for young people about how they can stay safe and build their confidence in their lives and not fall into patterns of violence or become vulnerable. I was struck, too, that although the Met has had big reductions in its number of school-based officers, it is now trying to increase the number of officers based in schools because it sees their value. In the west midlands, they told us that they did not have any police officers based in schools and had no prospect of being able to provide them.
There is undoubtedly an issue about whether the resources going into tackling serious violence match the scale and urgency of the problem, and whether the scale and pace of the early interventions the Government have talked about match in any way the scale of the violence and the number of lives being lost. We have seen many worthwhile targeted projects, but they have simply too narrow a reach; they do not reach enough young people or communities, so they cannot tackle enough of the problem. Equally, although the police do some excellent work in tackling some county lines networks and drug networks, that is not able to match the scale of the problem.
I want to talk in particular about co-ordination and leadership concerns. Whatever the level of resources, there are key challenges around co-ordination, drive, urgency and leadership. We heard considerable evidence from a range of witnesses who believed that the Home Office should do more. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), gave evidence, I asked questions about how many young people the Government were trying to reach. The Government have rightly talked about a public health strategy, and the definition of such a strategy is that there is a defined population and an intelligence and data-based approach. I therefore welcome the points the Home Secretary made about increasing the level of evidence and data we have, but I was concerned that, in that evidence session, neither the Minister nor the officials gave us a clear sense of how many young people the Home Office is trying to reach with its strategy and what scale of intervention we should expect to see over the next three months, the next six months and the next 12 months. This problem is acute—lives are at risk—so we need clear objectives, a clear sense of progress, a clear sense of direction, and action to make sure things are happening and being delivered.
We were concerned to discover that there was no clear sense of who would be responsible in each area. Who in the west midlands, in West Yorkshire, in Bedfordshire will be driving the action to tackle serious and violent crime in their area? Will it be the police and crime commissioner? The chief constable? The Mayor? The leader of the local council? The chair of the safeguarding board? There is a clear need for co-ordination in every area if we are to bring all these different organisations together.
I welcome the Government’s talk about a duty on public sector institutions to have regard to the risk of serious violence and the impact of knife crime, but simply having a duty when there is no framework to co-operate and co-ordinate is not enough; there mustbe practical mechanisms to make sure things change. There has to be someone the Minister can ring up to say, “We’ve seen your figures are going in the wrong direction. There is a growing problem in your part of the country. What are you doing to sort it out?” The Minister needs to be able to ring someone up, ask what is happening, get the feedback and make sure action is being taken to protect young people.
I know the Minister was going to a meeting after the evidence session, so she may well have made further progress. I hope so. If the violence reduction units—in those areas where they are to be introduced—are not to be in place for another six months, I would like to know who will be leading the work in the next six months to make sure young people are protected and that action is being taken in a co-ordinated way between the police and other organisations to tackle some of these awful crimes?
Let me quote some of the witness evidence to the inquiry. Sara Thornton said:
“I think that where we have so many young people dying in our streets, we need a much more concerted response from Government.”
Sir Denis O’Connor, who is a former chief inspector of constabulary and was involved in previous programmes to tackle knife crime and street crime, thought that the strategy was
“much more concerned with its narrative and less with action”.
The Met Commissioner told us that
“we are not yet seeing real cross-Government action being delivered in a meaningful way on the ground and in our communities.”
Dame Louise Casey, who was also involved in previous Government programmes, described the Government’s strategy as “woefully inadequate”.
The Government have some very good intentions on this—they have set out a strong sense of concern and commitment to tackling knife crime—but the challenge for the Home Office is to make sure it has enough urgency, that its sense of determination matches the scale of the problem and that the partnership between all Departments is tight enough and strong enough and has enough follow-up to deliver action on, for example, the number of young people being excluded from school—some of whom are very vulnerable—and to take action in hospitals. The Redthread programme is extremely good, but are enough hospitals involved in such early intervention programmes? We need partnership working in communities and investment in wider universal youth services, as well as some of the targeted work.
In the end, we will save lives only if organisations work together, but for them, working together, to have an impact there also needs to be strong leadership from the Government and the Home Office. I hope we will see that leadership over the next few months. The Select Committee looks forward to scrutinising this work further as part of its work.
It is an honour to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
I welcome this debate, which is timely—in fact, it is overdue. We need to debate this subject regularly because it is something that our constituents around the country are focused on. They see people in their communities, particularly young people, being badly hurt and losing their lives because of this terrible epidemic of serious violence. That is not to say that such things have not happened before, or that serious violence is something new; of course it is not, but it is right there now, and it is affecting our constituents throughout the country. It can be seen in the broader context of serious crime, and I hope we will have a full-on debate on that. Although that often results ultimately in serious violence, it does not always do so, but it affects our constituents nevertheless,
In Staffordshire, we have seen an in increase in knife crime over the past few years. In 2017-18 there were 1,175 knife crimes, an increase of 22% on the previous year. Staffordshire police, whose area also covers the Stoke-on-Trent city authority area, have done a great deal to tackle the problem, and I congratulate them on that, but there is a huge amount more to do. In March this year, in Operation Sceptre, the police concentrated on both enforcement and education, and in my speech I want to focus on education and prevention.
Staffordshire has the same problems with county lines that are being experienced in other areas up and down the country. I do not pretend to have great knowledge about the whole issue of drugs. I believe that there are many views on what is best, and I am willing to listen to the evidence, but we need to debate that issue more in this place. The criminality surrounding drugs is a huge problem for the country, and it needs to be discussed. We need to see resolute action and a policy that is stuck to over the years, so that the scourge of illegal drugs, involving both the users and those involved in the trafficking, are eliminated or at least minimised.
If we look across the Atlantic to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, we see that they have a number of helpful proposals for prevention. I shall list them all, because they are brief, and I shall then concentrate on two of them. They are prioritising the family environment, which has been mentioned by several Members; quality early education and early intervention; strengthening young people’s skills; connecting young people to caring adults and activities; protective community environments—the physical environment as well as the more general community environment—and intervention to lessen harms and prevent future risks.
Let me start with strengthening young people’s skills and connecting young people to caring adults and activities. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned the importance of a holistic approach to the provision of young people’s activities, and I agree. When I was a little younger than I am now, I worked in and supported two youth clubs in Hackney. One was a statutory, open youth club in Homerton, which provided a very good, if sometimes difficult, environment. The other, a voluntary youth club in a church in Clapton Park, was open to many young people experiencing severe challenges. Both those clubs—difficult types of club—really helped. They were not run on a nine-to-five basis; the youth workers were there for the young people at all hours of the day or night, and that is absolutely vital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) mentioned football clubs. With colleagues, I helped to run a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award youth programme at Arsenal football club for a number of years, and that was very good. Other football clubs around the country commit great resources to such programmes. However, this is not just about providing a good environment, although that is very important; it is also about strengthening young people’s skills. That can, of course, be done in schools, and I am passionately committed to seeing life skills taught much more in our schools, but it can be done in youth centres and youth clubs as well. As the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said, youth clubs also connect young people to caring adults, and to the role models, some of them male, that young people so desperately need. In that regard, they play an extremely important role.
The second area is prioritising the family environment. I welcome the work that Sure Start centres have done over the years, which is being progressed in family hubs. Those family hubs will be important. The work that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has done alongside Lord Farmer, David Burrowes and others is vital.
I urge that all of us, across the House, see family hubs as incredibly important parts of our local communities, where not just children from zero to five but young people all the way up to 19 are given the opportunity to come together with their families, and perhaps mentors, to discuss the problems in the families and to see the opportunities that are available to them in a positive and affirming environment. So often, young people are given a negative approach. Most—I am sure all—hon. Members present feel a real sense of hope about the future of our country when they see the qualities of the young people they come across on a day-to-day basis. They must be affirmed, however, and family hubs are a place to do that.
As I have said, we need to debate serious crime and serious violence more often. If we do not, we are failing our constituents and particularly our young people, on a matter that causes heartache and heartbreak every day, week and month in communities across the country.
Through my work with the Youth Violence Commission, I have spoken with many young people whose friends have been stabbed; with the grieving families of victims; and with the traumatised friends of perpetrators. If we trace the lives lost to violence, or to long prison sentences, back to childhood, we hear familiar stories of domestic abuse, neglect, childhood trauma and school exclusions.
Let us take one child, who I will call Jack. Jack’s father is unpredictable and often violent. His mother self-medicates to cope. She has few friends in the area where they live. She does not know her neighbours and she is financially dependent on Jack’s father. From an early age, Jack witnesses his mother being beaten and abused by his father. As a small child, he is withdrawn, anxious and has trouble sleeping.
When Jack starts primary school, his teacher notices that he struggles to concentrate most days. Sometimes he seems utterly sleep deprived. He is often late in the morning and falls behind with his school work. Jack struggles to keep up with his classmates, and feeling anxious about that, he starts to become more disruptive.
By the time Jack starts secondary school, things have become worse. The police have been called to the house on several occasions, and Jack has been referred to social services. At 13 years old, things have become so bad at home that the courts grant a court order and Jack is taken into care. He is placed with a foster family, which costs the council approximately £27,000 a year.
Jack struggles at school. He finds it hard to concentrate and he is behind his classmates, so he increasingly skips school. When he is there, he has a reputation of being disruptive and aggressive. That behaviour leads him to be suspended on numerous occasions until, at the age of 14, he is permanently excluded from school and sent to a pupil referral unit, which costs an average of £17,000 per pupil per year.
Shortly afterwards, Jack assaults a boy who ends up in hospital with various injuries. He is now known to the police and receives a warning. The cost to the police and the criminal justice system of responding to a single such crime is approximately £2,500. The immediate cost of health services for the victim is nearly £900. Jack is then referred to a youth offending team, which costs about £1,500. For a while, things get better. After moving placements several times, he settles with a foster family and he does not reoffend for a year.
Shortly after turning 16, however, he goes to a party and a heated argument quickly descends into a fight. Jack struggles with how to handle his emotions, and he stabs another boy. He did not expect this to be fatal, but two days later the victim dies in hospital from his injuries. Right now, at this point, we have lost two young lives. The devastating loss of these two lives is felt not just by the families but by the whole community and across society as well.
The overall cost to the hospital is more than £2,000. The cost of services to the victim’s family is about £6,000. After a trial by jury, which costs upwards of £150,000, Jack is sentenced to 15 years in prison. The average cost per place per year in a young offenders institution is £76,000. The average cost of a single homicide to the police is more than £11,000, and to the criminal justice system it is more than £800,000. Then there are the further hidden costs of a homicide. They include the lost earnings of the victim and the perpetrator and of their families, as well as the cost of the impact on the victim’s family and friends’ mental health, and the cost of the fear of violence and the trauma of the wider community. In total, the Home Office estimates that one homicide costs society more than £3 million. We have one boy dead and another boy in prison. By the time he is 18, Jack has cost the state nearly £4 million in interventions from the police, social services and youth offending teams, and in costs to the NHS, the local council and the criminal justice system.
Now, let us start the story differently. Let us add in some true early interventions. Imagine that we have another child in similar circumstances: let us call him John. When John’s mother is pregnant with him, she attends a Sure Start centre in her local area. The family centre gives her advice on family health, parenting, employment and training, and it is a good place for her to meet other expectant mothers. When John is born, she continues to attend the centre regularly, to see her friends and to get advice on parenting and child health. On average, the programmes cost around £1,000 per year per child.
Things at home are not easy. John regularly witnesses his father being physically abusive to his mother, and he is an anxious toddler as a result. At the children’s centre, one of the health visitors notices that John’s mother has signs of physical abuse and reports this to social services. The centre is aware of this and keeps an eye on her, and the group of friends that John’s mother has made at the centre are supportive. Unfortunately, she ends up in hospital, but the centre still supports her in leaving her partner. It refers her to a refuge, and the training on offer at the centre helps her to find a part-time job. The place in the refuge costs £52 a day, and the training costs £1,000.
The children’s centre is connected to a maintained nursery school, which John attends when he is old enough. At nursery he develops his communication skills, and by the time is four he is seen as school-ready. He is more independent, and has strong social skills for his age. As a result, he settles in quickly and makes friends, and he can keep up with his peers throughout primary school. Generally, things with John and his mother are much more settled by the time he starts secondary school. His mother is working full time, and after having had to move several times between friends and temporary accommodation, they have now been living in the same place for a year. The secondary school that John attends has a school nurse and strong mental health support, meaning that the teachers have time to work with and support all the children. The school has a zero exclusions policy as a result. The school nurse costs the school around £40,000 a year.
John’s mother works late, so after school he attends the youth centre down the road with his friends. As he gets older, the youth centre is also able to provide him with skills training and advice on work experience. The school has a dedicated police officer attached to it, who John and his friends occasionally play football with at lunch and confide in if they are concerned about something. The partnership between the local police force and John’s school has also been beneficial for the police. In building up trust with the pupils and their parents, they are able to obtain information about vulnerable children who are at risk of being groomed by gangs. This partnership usually costs about £50,000 a year.
John still suffers with anxiety and occasionally has problems controlling his temper, but the school has the internal resources to support him and he receives mental health support for managing his temper.
When he reaches the end of year 11, John leaves school with five good GCSEs. He has a part-time job and has got into a local college to do business studies. He has also become a peer mentor in his youth centre and supports other young people. Based on the crude estimates I have outlined in this story, the cost of that early intervention is about £170,000. The cost of failure for Jack is more than 20 times that amount.
An early intervention approach will not only save money; it also has the potential to save many lives. We know that early intervention is key. A strategy based on very early intervention and wraparound support would not only reduce violence but have wider benefits for society and the economy.
Research shows that adverse childhood experiences or traumatic incidents in childhood can have a lasting impact in adulthood. Compared with people who have no ACEs, those who have four or more are seven times more likely to be involved in violence, four times more likely to have a low level of mental wellbeing and 11 times more likely to be incarcerated. As MPs, we need to be far more aware of this. In an attempt to raise the profile of that, I am writing to all MPs to ask them to complete a short online survey on how many ACEs they have. I hope that that will focus some minds.
We have to stop just talking about early intervention and start genuinely resourcing and delivering it. A true public health approach should focus on that, because every life is precious and our young people deserve the best start in life.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). I was going to name-check her at the start of my speech, but as she has now spoken, I can express my thanks not just for the way she tirelessly campaigns and demands that we debate the matter in Parliament, as we are doing today, but for her speech. She brings so much substance, experience and ideas to the debate and I am very grateful to her. In that spirit, I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), who is not here. She chairs the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and has brought so many people into Parliament for us as MPs to listen to. She deserves tremendous credit.
If I may spread my love to the Scottish National party Benches, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), whom I was able to introduce to my constituents when she gave her views on the public health approach in Glasgow to them. I also thank Government Front Benchers. The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, who is now on her own on the Front Bench, has given me a lot of time and shown a lot of patience, it is fair to say, with some of my ideas, and I am grateful to her. Her shadow, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) also brings much passion, compassion and intellect to this arena. I therefore believe that, cross-party, there is an opportunity for us to try to drive for more.
My reasons for speaking on the matter are my huge concern about where we are and my desire that we do more. I spent five years working in Brixton and Camberwell Green for a youth centre where I was a manager and a trustee. We were able to make strides in interventions for young people who were either going off the rails or were likely to do that due to their family backgrounds. We were able to intervene and provide them with a safe space and activities such as sport, art, environmental activities and horse riding. We had some great successful groups.
The youth centre was interesting because it had no Government or local authority funding. We fundraised. I spent all my time, in the days before the internet, going through the books, seeing whether I could get money from, for example, the Guinness Trust, Peabody and other groups that would fund us. We were successful in getting the funding. We did not want to be funded by local authorities. Lambeth offered us a small amount of money but we realised that all the entrepreneurship and the way in which we wanted almost to be run by our young people would be sucked out if we had to tick all the local government boxes.
I am therefore genuinely reflecting on the fact that youth centres and the current model are perhaps not the best model. The Home Secretary mentioned the 100 new OnSide youth opportunities. That gives us a chance to set up youth organisations that young people really want rather than what they are told can be provided.
I am also mindful that we have talked about cuts and austerity. Of course I recognise that there is an implication if the funds are not there, but I have cause to reflect on the situation in 2008 when the then Mayor, Ken Livingstone, lost his position very much as a result of the anger that knife crime had got out of control. A new approach was brought in, and I was chatting earlier with the Minister for Housing, whose role it was under that Administration to drive the Met police to do more. He had great success in helping the police to set up Operation Trident, and he made sure that the police’s feet were kept close to the floor. He had photos in his office of all the young people whose lives had been tragically lost, so that when the police came to meet him, they were reminded of exactly what their duty should be, which is of course to protect the public.
As well as talking about resources, we should talk about how current resources are used and whether we are getting everything out of all the responsible organisations. Of course, in addition to resources, it is a question of powers, and I welcome the fact that the Offensive Weapons Bill is about to become law. I am particularly interested in the knife crime prevention orders, which are undoubtedly a roll of the dice. They are unproven, but the key thing is that the Met police and the Mayor of London have asked for them. There is a feeling that if we do not make an early intervention to stop people being in certain spaces where we have evidence they should not be, or to stop people organising themselves on social media, where we see huge issues of people being inflamed and provoked, we will lead ourselves into endemic knife crime. I am very supportive of these initiatives and, in her summing up, I am keen for the Minister to tell us when we will start to see those orders being used.
I am also a firm advocate of the use of section 60 stop and search powers. We had 1.5 million stop and searches in 2008, which is arguably too many. They have now been targeted but, at 300,000, there is an argument that there are now not enough. We know that 17% of stop and searches lead to an arrest, so they do have some impact.
I will give some time back to the House, because the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, quite rightly having been such an earnest campaigner, took a little more. I am grateful to the Government for taking the steps they have taken, and I want to see us continue with the public health approach. It is exciting to follow what has been done in Glasgow and, looking back 20 years, in Chicago, where the public health approach was first pioneered. There are some great steps.
We need to make sure that we work with all the providers and establishments, particularly the public sector key workers who will be so critical to whether this is a success, in order to join up the schools, the health service and social services. That will take a lot of time and we need to take them with us, particularly when it comes to their new duty to inform.
I am grateful for the steps that the Government have taken, and I hope we can continue to work on a cross-party basis to make sure that more lives are not blighted. We talk about Brexit far too often in this place, and the Benches are packed when we do. If we look around the Chamber today, we see there is hardly anyone here. These issues cost lives and ruin the lives of families, and the fact that MPs are not taking it seriously enough to be here to speak up for their communities is not a good look for this House.
It is clear from this debate, and from the experience of our constituents, that the Government are losing the war on violent crime. A generation of young people in urban and rural areas is growing up in fear of violence, in fear of knife crime and gun crime, and in fear of losing their lives on the very streets on which they live.
Knife-related homicide is at its highest level since recording began in 1946. Some 285 people were killed with knives and sharp instruments in 2017-18, and there were 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or a sharp object in the year to September 2018, as well as 3,000 threats to kill. It is not just knives, but guns too. Last year, gun crime increased by 11%, to 6,604 recorded offences, compared with 2016. It has not always been like this. In the past eight years, knife crime in Tower Hamlets has increased by 34%, from 794 offences in 2010-11 to 1,065 offences in 2017-18.
Each and every incident is horrific, as has been highlighted by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. Each murder creates a shattering lifetime of grief for the friends and family of the victim. Each wounding can change lives forever, causing physical disability and mental trauma and reducing life expectancy. However, these incidents also have a deeper impact on our society, as others have mentioned. The increase in violent crime creates a climate of fear and suspicion. It adds to anxiety and has an impact on mental health. It creates a divide between the generations and between communities. It drives a wedge into our society, and makes us distrustful of our fellow citizens and apprehensive about entering public spaces.
Why is this happening? There are those who claim that it is all down to an increase in reporting, as the shadow Home Secretary pointed out. Of course, that would be entirely welcome, but it does not explain the spike in numbers. A number of my hon. Friends have pointed out some of the underlying causes, and we do not need a degree in criminology to understand what is going on here. In particular, there are major factors in play that, whether the Government recognise it or not, relate in part to the erosion of the resources and support available for young people, which can be seen from Sure Start to youth services, school sports, education, further education, those with special needs, children in care, and children at risk of being excluded from school. In those and a number of other areas, young people’s support networks and the resources available to back them up, help them achieve and help them realise their potential have been shattered. Instead, young people are victims of crime and, at worst, face death as a consequence of knife crime and other violent crime. That is a waste of talent and potential in our society, and it creates fear and has an impact in the wider community as well.
Funding for local authority children’s services has fallen by £3 billion since 2010. Since 2010, hundreds of millions of pounds have also been axed from youth services; as has been mentioned, there has been a reduction of 138,000 in the number of youth service places and an overall cut of £760 million. Some 3,600 youth workers have been lost from our communities; those people help to support our young people, but they are no longer in those roles. Central Government funding for youth offending schemes has also halved, from £145 million in 2010 to £72 million in 2017-18. So it is not by accident that we have ended up here. These catastrophic cuts have contributed to undermining support, and they are underlying factors in what has happened and in the rise in violent crime.
That is not to mention the significant cuts in policing. In London, numbers have fallen below 30,000 officers. There has also been a cut of 6,800 in police community support officers, who have been the backbone of community policing. They spot problems early and work with young people and other services in a multi-agency approach to support young people before they get into further trouble and face the threat of violence, or end up being groomed by organised criminal gangs and drugs gangs and facing the same plight as so many young people who have lost their lives. In London, we have lost a third of police staff posts as well.
In my constituency and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, we had 125 police community support officers in 2010, and the number went down drastically to just 27 in 2017. That is a 78% cut, and such cuts have consequences. Combined, the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney—they have had to merge into a borough command unit, partly because of the cuts—have lost 500 officers in the past nine years. That has a consequence. The idea is that by adding a plaster to the wound with some additional funding here and there the Government can reverse the damage that those massive cuts have had over the past few years, but frankly that is tinkering around the edges. It is just not going to address the major problem of violent crime that we face in our society.
We need to look into where legal changes might be necessary, but it is really important that the Government do not respond in a kneejerk way and return to disproportionate stop-and-search policies that end up turning communities, particularly the black and minority community, against the police. The use of stop-and-search must remain proportionate and safe, people must be protected, and innocent people must not be caught up in it. We have to make sure that we invest in police services, and in our young people through youth services, Sure Start centres, children’s centres, holiday projects, boxing clubs and other sports facilities, on the scale that is required. We need to invest in drugs action teams, which have lost funding. In constituencies such as mine, they have been doing incredible work to prevent young people from returning to gangs. We also need to deal with addiction issues and mental health projects, because funding for child mental health programmes has been cut. All these are interconnected issues. The joint approach—the public health model—is important, but it has to mean something. Just calling it the public health approach without backing it with resources is not going to work.
There is rightly general consensus that we absolutely have to deal with the terrible issue of serious violence, which is affecting our constituents and the whole of society. I am sure we all now have a greater fear of violent crime than we ever did, because this is happening in our communities. It is happening to people we know, their family members or their relatives. I know that through my work in my constituency: murders have taken place in our borough and there are reports of knife crime almost on a weekly basis. We need the Government to put in the investment and act, and we need to ensure that we do everything possible to prevent further deaths.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to this debate. There have been excellent speeches from many Members, but I wish to pay a particular special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) for her moving and thought-provoking speech, for her work in speaking out about the rise in knife crime, and for subsequently establishing and chairing the Youth Violence Commission, which has been crucial in looking into ways in which not only the Government but all areas of society can help to tackle knife crime and youth violence.
I appreciate that the focus today may be on serious violence in the major cities, but I wish to put on record what is happening in Gwent, and particularly in Newport, as sadly none of our communities are immune from serious violence. It affects us all. We are also seeing the emergence of county lines as a serious threat, and an increase in the level of serious violence that comes with that. Drug markets generate violence and a crime hierarchy, with our most vulnerable young people groomed to enter the lower levels of drug distribution.
I am grateful to be able to say that in my constituency knife crime may not be as big an issue as it is elsewhere, but serious and organised crime, and its association with violence, has to be approached as a priority. The Minister for Security and Economic Crime will be aware of some of the fantastic prevention and response work that is happening in Gwent, as he spoke at the launch of the serious and organised crime strategy at the Celtic Manor in Newport last week. I praise Gwent police and Chief Constable Julian Williams for their successes in bringing criminals to justice and taking drugs off our streets. They have dismantled a number of organised crime groups in the past six months and made 163 serious organised crime arrests, and they have seized about £600,000, 50 high-value vehicles and hundreds of kilos of class A and B drugs.
As we all know, we need to keep on our guard and invest in our young people. As our police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, said last week, serious and organised crime affects all communities across Wales and no single agency can resolve the problem alone, as we have talked much about today. That is why, in Gwent, partnership work has been so important. Dismantling crime groups has been backed up by a multi-agency approach to identify and work with vulnerable individuals at risk of criminality and violence, which is a need that the Youth Violence Commission and yesterday’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report have identified. The Home Office has funded the post of serious and organised crime co-ordinator—one of only five in the country—which will have an impact on the tackling of serious violence as well as organised crime.
Gwent police is currently working in partnership with Newport Council, Barnado’s, Newport Live, St Giles, Crimestoppers, MutualGain and the Welsh Government on prevention, intervention and community resilience. What does that mean in practice? It means that sessions have been delivered to more than 5,400 pupils in all of our Newport schools on county lines, gangs and violence, with follow-up advice encouraging people to report their concerns. There has been intensive training for youth workers, social workers, teachers, housing officers and many more. Police and local authorities are working closely together to identify those children most at risk, with early intervention work by Barnado’s, Families First and St Giles.
A large range of diversionary activities are going on through the Newport Live Positive Futures programme. Its evening sport sessions—we talked a lot about sport today—are in the right place and at the right time of the evening. They are hugely successful, with more than 20 sessions running a week in Newport alone. Some attract up to 70 young people in a session. The programme also takes referrals for one-to-one mentoring and personal development, again using sport and physical activity as a hook. They have seen young people, through sport, gain qualifications and go on to further education. The scheme is working to divert young people from a path that could lead to violence and crime.
There is a huge amount going on. I wish to put on record my thanks to all those involved in the work in my community. It is partnership work at its best. This is new work, but we are already beginning to see individuals that it has helped. Lives are changing as young people are being helped to avoid a life of crime.
There is great expectation that this early intervention work will be an investment in young people’s futures and in preventing crime and violence. Although I am proud to be able to highlight this work today, there is still the reality that we talked about earlier—that partnership working requires time, staff and resources from each and every agency involved. With these strategies in place, I hope the Government will consider the potential of just what could be achieved if the backdrop to this were not thousands of officers being cut from the police and councils having to lose thousands of staff. The point has been well made today about the lack of youth provision and the fact that crucial statutory and non-statutory services are at breaking point. With significant investment in the police and local authorities, preventative action could be one of the answers to much of the youth crime and violence that we see.
We need the urgency and determination that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke about earlier on, and we hope to see more action from the Government.
It was good to see the Home Secretary in his place today. I know he is sincere in his attempts to deal with this issue, but, as many of my hon. Friends know, what we are trying to say to the Government and to the Home Secretary, as one of the most senior members of Her Majesty’s Government, is that we do not see any urgency. The Home Secretary should be here in this Chamber week after week after week. We have been demanding that he comes here for months. Although it was good to see him, the country would have expected the senior politician responsible for dealing with knife crime to be here, and I will not stop saying that either to him or to this House.
We face a national emergency; there is no argument about it. Every single Member who speaks on this issue talks about the national emergency that our country faces. Never has knife crime been at this level since records began—never. Homicides with respect to knife crime are rampant. Young people, particularly in London, but not exclusively, are being slaughtered on our streets.
All that is taking place, yet the Home Secretary comes to this House only now and again. He talks about the knife crime summit, but I have not got a clue what the knife crime summit is. I have read the written statement, but where is the opportunity for Members of this House to ask the Home Secretary time and again what is happening, what is going on, what is working and what is not? That opportunity is not there. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and others have raised this issue time and again. It is not good enough.
Yesterday, the National Crime Agency told the Government not that it wants a few million here or a few million there, but that it needs £2.7 billion to tackle the issue. That is not the Labour party or anyone else trying to score party political points; it is the chief executive of the National Crime Agency telling the Government that it needs those additional resources to tackle the serious crime that this country faces. Two thousand county lines now exist, and the number is growing exponentially. This Chamber should be roaring with disgust at the fact that county lines are operating in every single part of our country—not just in London and the big cities, but in coastal towns and rural areas. There are 2,000 county lines, and a senior officer who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee a couple of weeks ago said that an estimated 10,000 children are involved. That is an absolute disgrace. Where has the Home Secretary been? He has just been banging his fist on the Dispatch Box, saying on behalf of the country that he is not going to accept it.
As I said two or three months ago, if there were a terrorist attack, the resources and cameras of the nation would be focused on that. This Chamber would be packed with Ministers—starting with the Prime Minister—queuing up day after day to lay out, quite rightly, how we were going to defend our communities against the terrorist threat. Nobody is saying that that should not happen. Make no mistake, of course that would be the right thing to do. But where is the same passion and urgency from the Government when so many young people and others have been stabbed to death, shot or affected by violent crime? Every single community is affected—10,000 children. Where is the passion and desire to do something about it?
When we start cutting the numbers of police officers, youth workers and so on, it does create a problem. I will just leave that point for the Government to reflect on. Every single constituency in this country is affected, including the Minister’s. She will not go into the next election saying, “We’ve got too many police officers.” Every single person in this country is saying that we need more police officers. It is a no-brainer. We do not need a review or research into the issue; we need police officers on the street.
This is a national emergency. I have said it before and I will say it again: Cobra should be meeting to deal with it. The whole apparatus of the state should be operating to get at people, not at the kids who are just carrying drugs. Of course, the kids have to be sorted out and stopped—that cannot be allowed to happen—but where is the effort to bring down the big criminal gangs and the people running these operations?
People in estates are terrified. They are more frightened of the criminal gangs than they are of the police. They are more frightened to give evidence to get these people prosecuted than they are of the legal apparatus of the state. It cannot go on. No wonder people sometimes turn around, look at me—I do not want to offend anybody, so I will use myself as an example—and say, “Does Vernon Coaker know what he is talking about? Does he know what we are facing in our community? Does he understand what it’s really like on our estate? He says that we should go to the police, but where is he going to be at 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock, when people wait outside our house and intimidate us? Is he going to be there protecting us?”
It cannot go on. I do not want to paint a picture of a country completely out of control, but in some parts of our country the situation is simply and utterly unacceptable. The whole apparatus of state should be getting in there and sorting it out. I am not prepared to see 10,000 children—children!—left operating under county lines; and the number will grow unless we get hold of it.
Clearly we need more police on the street, and £2.7 billion, as Lynne Owens has said. Where are the Government in this? The Home Secretary should have been banging the desk and saying, “As a result of this serious violence debate, I’m going to go and see the Chancellor.” The whole House will support the Home Secretary if he goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and says that he needs masses more money to deal with this problem. It is a national emergency and money should not be an object. We would support him—I would support him—in demanding that money for policing. I would also support him in demanding extra money for the youth workers and the community workers—for opening the youth centres and helping young people excluded from school. Where was he in banging on the desk and demanding that from the Chancellor? The Chancellor will come along, I guarantee, and put in a couple of hundred million here, or £30 or £40 million there, spread over five years, and people will have to bid for it. It is not enough. It is not sufficient to meet the scale of the problem.
Every single Member in this House, whichever side they are on, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker—I know you are neutral, but this applies to you as well—will have in their constituency community organisations and youth groups that work with young people who are challenged and difficult. In Nottingham, to give three examples, we have the Nottingham School of Boxing, the Pythian Club, and the Groundwork Greater Nottingham Trust. They are scrimping around for money, yet they are some of the most effective people in stopping young people becoming captured by the criminals or getting them out of criminality. They cannot get a few pounds—it is unbelievable. It is pathetic. I do not care what the Chancellor says about his fiscal rules. They are scrimping around for a few quid to keep their hall open, yet they are sometimes the most effective people at either preventing our young people from getting into crime or helping them to get out of it.
Why does the Minister not bang on the desk and say, “I’m going to look for parliamentary support to bring the urgency to this debate that is needed”? Cobra needs to be called. This needs to be treated as a national emergency. The Home Office, acting in the interests of this country in standing up to the criminal gangs who are exploiting so many of our estates and so many of our young people, needs to say, on behalf of and with the support of this Parliament, “We’re going to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and demand the resources that this country needs to fight these criminals.”
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). I can only agree with the urgency that he injects into this debate and the focus that he brings to it. We hope to see exactly that focus from Government.
I want to read to the House an email I received that is very similar to emails I get on a very regular basis. It is from the north area basic command unit, Haringey and Enfield. It says:
Please find details of a stabbing which occurred about 1347h on Tuesday 14 MAY 2019.
Venue: Durants Park, HERTFORD ROAD, ENFIELD, MIDDLESEX, EN3 5AJ
Victim: Male 17 years
Call received from the ambulance service, that a man had been stabbed. Victim was found with stab wound to his upper left leg and was conscious. He was taken to RLH”—
Royal London Hospital.
The next information usually says one of four things: if he is fortunate, his injuries are declared non-life-threatening; his injuries are life-changing; he is critical; or his injuries have proved fatal. I receive that email regularly, and often the victim is younger than 17 years of age. I very rarely received emails like that before a couple of years age.
Many of my constituents tell me how worried they are about the rise in serious violent crime in Enfield. On Saturday morning, I held a community meeting on Enfield Island Village that was very well attended because it was specifically about serious violent crime, and particularly youth crime. There is huge concern among people for not only their own safety but that of young people, who are lying stabbed or dead on our streets. They have very good reason to be concerned. Stabbings and shootings relating to drug dealing and county lines activity, as well as muggings and robberies, have seen violent crime in Enfield soar by more than 90% since 2010—yes, 90%. If I had said 10 years ago that that would be the case, people would have thought it was a massive exaggeration.
Last year, more than 20 violent crimes against the person were committed every day in the borough of Enfield. Enfield has the third highest level of serious youth violence in the capital, and we have a problem with gangs, county lines, knife crime and organised crime. I know from meeting the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, that tackling serious violence in Enfield is a top priority for the police. We have seen the deployment of extra officers from the Met police’s violent crime taskforce and the Territorial Support Group to help make our streets safer, but frankly, if an area qualifies for deployment of police from those two groups, it has a very serious problem on its streets. We should not have to rely on those specialist services. We need visible neighbourhood policing at the heart of our communities, because the best way to cut crime is to have more bobbies on the beat.
The creation of safer neighbourhood teams helped to cut violent crime across the country by over 40%, but those invaluable teams are now much reduced and under existential threat because of this Government’s irresponsible decision to slash police budgets. Since the Government were elected in 2010, the Met police’s budget has been cut by £850 million. Despite the recent police funding settlement, the Met is still expected to make further savings of £263 million over the next four years, against the backdrop of rising crime. As we have heard, the National Crime Agency director has warned this week of the “staggering” scale of organised crime and lobbied Ministers for a doubling of the agency’s budget to tackle the threat. The staggering scale is no surprise to me or my constituents; I see it in these emails, we see it every day and we hear it from young people.
Politics and governing are always about choices and priorities. When the Government force such staggering cuts to the police budget and fail to invest in the frontline, they are making a clear choice and reducing the priority they place on keeping us safe. The wholesale restructuring of London’s policing and the merging of boroughs’ resources, as in Enfield and Haringey, is a direct consequence of those cuts. That would not have happened if the resources were there to do otherwise. How is Enfield expected to cope properly with the surge in violent crime when we have lost more than 240 uniformed officers from our streets in the past nine years? That is just one London borough.
Our police are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances, but when they are spread so thinly, they can only do so much. Over recent months, we have seen shocking cases of schoolchildren in Enfield Town being mugged, including students from Enfield Grammar School and other local schools. The headteachers, the local police and the council are working hard to keep pupils safe, but parents are at their wits’ end. These are secondary schoolchildren, and parents feel the need to take them to school and bring them home to keep them safe. Groups of parents have started patrolling the area after school to protect their children and deter criminals. They should not feel they have to do that—it is not their job—but I pay tribute to them for taking this action to try to secure their children’s safety. They deserve to know that the police services will be there when they need them.
When Ministers respond to this point, will they desist from always pointing the finger of blame solely at the Mayor of London for a lack of resources? It is the Government who have shifted the burden of police funding from the Government grant to the council tax, hitting the poorest the hardest. To fight violent crime there is little choice but to increase the policing element of the council tax, but I am afraid this cannot fill the gap in funding that has been opened up by the Government’s cuts agenda. Better resourced policing will play a major part in tackling serious violence. The Government must provide more support for other services, too. Huge Government cuts to our local authority, health services, youth services and public health budgets are massively compounding the problem.
North Middlesex University Hospital is at the forefront of dealing with the fallout from serious violence. In 2018 alone, the hospital treated 1,457 victims of assaults, including stabbings and gunshot wounds. It has had to ramp up its security spend, installing more CCTV and hiring overnight security guards in its already busy A&E department. Every penny that is spent on these interventions is money diverted away from essential patient care.
Leading crime prevention charities such as Safer London and excellent projects such as the Godwin Lawson Foundation and the Jubilee centre are working in Enfield, alongside local schools, in providing early intervention programmes and mentoring schemes to educate and support young people. However, as we have already heard from the hon. Member for Gedling, these organisations are working on shoestring budgets, and they need funding and support to scale up and focus on their work, rather than continually having to go out with the begging bowl. It is the first responsibility of Government to protect and safeguard the lives of their citizens.
I want to pay tribute to Inspector Paul Dwyer and PC Mansbridge of Enfield and Haringey police, who work with our young people in the north area basic command unit of the Met. Recently, they organised a charity youth football tournament, with 200 young people taking part in seven-a-side matches all day long, and the day communicated an anti-knife crime message.
We are proud of our young people, but we are not giving them the chance they need. I hope that Ministers will think long and hard about the issues that have been raised today by me and so many colleagues. They need to make it a priority to tackle serious violence and put the funding of our police, councils and public services back on a sustainable footing. Over the past nine years, we have seen this Government’s policy put the safety of our communities at risk. Enfield residents have the right to feel safe and be safe in their homes and in their neighbourhoods, and to know that their children are safe inside and outside school and in their parks, and to know that they have good activities—with good adult role models looking after them—that they can take part in. That is what we need; it is not rocket science. We all know it, and we need this Government to step up.
I pay tribute to the excellent speakers we have heard so far, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who is no longer in her place. From the point of view of the lives of two young people, she explained the difference that adequate resources across swathes of the public sector makes to the life chances of children, as well as the cost to the public purse. I could not put it any better, and her speech will remain in my memory for a long time to come.
In my constituency in the past year, we have seen an increase in muggings at knifepoint. In March in Isleworth, a 17-year-old man was knifed and tragically died. It seems to be the case that most of the victims and perpetrators were teenagers, starting out on life. The perpetrators were known to some of the victims; they were part of a tit-for-tat feud, perhaps drugs-related. Other incidents were random attacks on young people for their phones or bank cards. Hounslow, my borough, has one of the lowest levels of violent crime incidents in London, but that does not really feel good to my constituents because violent crime has increased overall everywhere, including in Hounslow. At least the Home Secretary has admitted that fact.
The police have clearly been the focus of debates on violent crime and knife crime, which is where I am focusing my speech, but we cannot just talk about the police in terms of responses to persistent crime and crime incidents, particularly in certain areas. Those responses work well where the police work with other agencies. For instance, following a spate of muggings on Chiswick back common, the public worked with police, the council, local businesses, youth workers and so on to find solutions, and it really worked. Between a public meeting held in December in response to the attacks and the follow-up meeting in March, the number of incidents had gone down to zero. However, the problem is that the police in London are working with one hand behind their back. Extra patrols in one hotspot are viable only until another hotspot is identified elsewhere and the police have to be moved on to work there. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford described the cost to the public purse and police time of every serious injury and murder from violent crime. She asked: could not that time—that resource—be better spent? Of course it could.
We are starting from the baseline of serious police cuts—3,000 fewer police officers in London, or more than 80 fewer in the Borough of Hounslow. We have seen a similar cut in the number of local police community support officers, so that the ward teams are less than half their strength in 2010. That is all as a direct result of the one-third cut in Government grant to the London Mayor’s budget. By 2022, the Metropolitan police will have lost about £1 billion in funding since 2010. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is doing what he can and he is contributing to frontline policing, but the scale of the cuts causes delays in responding to crime, less outreach and less community policing, where officers get to know the youngsters on their patch.
I am really pleased that the Mayor of London has adopted the public health model. He has learned from the experience in Glasgow, which has been mentioned. He has put some money back into the Metropolitan police budget—£234 million—which has brought back some extra police officers, but nothing like as many as we have lost. Even if the police were funded at the same level as in 2010, we all know that credible action by the police working in conjunction with others is not the solution. It may simply move the problem. Perhaps the police are successful and lock up serious offenders, which puts them out of action for a while, but actually, by the time the police are involved with a young person, whether the victim or an alleged perpetrator, it is too late. The police are dealing with the symptoms of the problems, not what has gone wrong.
To understand the impact of cuts in my constituency, as a result of the trigger-point incidents I have met local police, headteachers, school and college students, councillors and many others. I wanted to know what my constituents felt about the rising incidence of knife crime, so in April I hosted a crime summit in Isleworth—it was already being planned before the tragic murder. I am also currently distributing a crime survey to ask local people about their experience of serious youth crime, as well as their views on the causes and solutions and on support for young people and their parents. I have already received a lot of replies. People want action. They see the impact of crime on their community and on their children. They want to make a difference, but they want the Government to take action and to commit real funding to the places where it is needed.
In one response to one of the questions, “What do you think is the cause of the problem?” was written the word “criminals”, but we all know that we cannot put people into pigeonholes and define one group of young people as criminals and everybody else as the public. I think everybody in this debate and all the other respondents to my survey understand that. In the survey, the issue of police numbers was frequently raised. People know that the police are under-resourced and they see the pressure it that is putting on services such as crime reporting, police-community engagement and so on.
The most common issue raised in the survey was the lack of and cuts to youth services. People see youth services as part of a range of solutions. They are not just something for children to do after school while they wait for their parents to come home. They are a place for children to socialise, meet responsible role models, learn a skill or a sport and touch base with somebody who can help them with their problems. They are a place for counselling services, homework clubs and so on. Those things need a base, which has to be open at the times and on days when children need them. I was very upset to hear a Government Member talk about youth clubs not being nine-to-five. Good quality, well funded youth clubs do not just open after school during the week; they are open at weekends and during the holidays.
As I said, my constituents do not label those caught up in crime as someone else’s fault or as someone else’s child. That became clear when several mothers raised with me their worries about their own youngsters, asking themselves, “Is my child at risk of getting caught up? Are they carrying a knife, whether for protection or planned use?” The reality is that it makes little difference if a children is maimed or killed. One other worrying thing we are finding is anecdotal evidence that, faced with stop-and-search, girls are carrying knives for the boys. Parents want a safe space to share their concerns about their children.
Young people told me that in almost all cases the youngsters they knew—they may or may not have been speaking for themselves—who were at risk or were involved in gang activities, carrying knives and so on, were doing so reluctantly. It was not their voluntary choice. They were often caught up in something. One example involved a young person who had no food at home because there was no money to buy food. Hanging around after school or college outside a chicken shop, somebody said, “You a bit hungry, mate? I’ll buy you a meal.” “Oh, okay, fine.” That young person was then caught up: “When are you going to pay me back?” That is just one simple example of how easy it is for young people who do not have any money, who have time on their hands or are looking for role models, to get caught up in gang and non-consensual activity. That just illustrates why we need better quality early intervention.
Every headteacher and school manager I have spoken to over the past three years, often about school cuts, has told me that the impact of the real-terms cuts on their schools, including primary schools, has meant that too often they have had to cut services such as welfare, counselling, mental health support, affordable after-school activities and so on—all the things that they know keep children positively occupied. We all remember what a teacher said the other day on “Question Time” on the BBC when she challenged the Minister. She said that teachers know who these young people are, so they would prefer that, rather than giving them more work to do, the Home Secretary supported them in the work they are trying to do with the children who are vulnerable.
The silo nature of Government does not help. It is good that the Home Office team and their Opposition shadows are leading the debate, but where are the Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education or the Department of Health and Social Care? It is not just the responsibility of the Home Secretary and the Home Office.
Funding is at the centre of this issue across the country, whether in cities or towns, urban or rural areas, for local authorities, police services, charities or other services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said that the Home Office is providing new funds of around £35 million annually, but that should be set against the £768 million cut per annum on youth services across the country. The figures for all of the Home Secretary’s wonderful new projects come to only 5% of the cuts made to youth services. Local authorities used to receive a substantial amount of their total income from MHCLG, yet those grants have been cut by more than 50%, and more in areas of greater deprivation.
As has been said in numerous debates in this place, cuts to local government have meant cuts to all services, particularly non-statutory services, of which youth services are among the most prominent. Let us have no illusions about these politically driven austerity policies. Austerity is not about economic necessity; it is about cutting the public sector. When the public sector is cut, there are cuts to youth services, police services, education and so on.
Early interventions, such as children’s centres, basic welfare and early counselling, benefit most the young people who are at the greatest risk of being victims or perpetrators of crime. We need to see them restored. We need more school nurses and specialist mental health services in schools, as well as local counselling services. Cuts to leisure services mean that pools and sports centres may stay open, but only if the price rises beyond the pocket of young people from low-income families, so again they are excluded.
Too many communities are having to deal with the heartbreaking impact of violent crime, and the Government are still being too slow to act. I appreciate that the Home Secretary acknowledges the seriousness of the issue, but Ministers cannot just offer warm words. One-off funding announcements are a drop in the ocean compared with the funding lost to youth services, schools, colleges, the police and so on. That is the real issue that needs addressing. We need sustained investment in our communities in early intervention, youth clubs and frontline policing. The warm words of Conservative Members are meaningless when their austerity is the root of the problem.
For a change.
Like the majority of hon. Members here, I have regular dialogue with my local police. Last week’s conversation was mainly about what they had been doing to tackle a noticeable spike in youth disorder in Ellesmere Port in the last year or so. Indeed, recorded crime figures for Cheshire as a whole show a rise in public order offences of 55% in one year up to June 2018, which I found astonishing.
That meeting was useful as a constituency Member to hear not only about what they considered were the local challenges and hot spots, but about their wider perspective on what they consider their challenges and the impediments to doing their job. I was left with a strong impression that the police do a fantastic job. Indeed, as a result of the action they have taken through banning orders, dispersal orders and so on there has been a reduction in antisocial behaviour. Thankfully, in my constituency we have not had the epidemic of knife crime seen in many other parts of the country, but the disturbances we have had have been hugely destructive for those on the receiving end, and they have taken up a disproportionate amount of police time. The police are essentially undertaking a damage-limitation exercise. They have the dispiriting knowledge that they can haul in a young person for questioning and even go through the youth justice system, but nothing will change the behaviour of the hard core of youths until they are fully within the criminal justice system.
I understand that we need proper processes and justice, and that for most youngsters their first contact with the police will be their last, but I also know from what my local police say that they can predict with alarming accuracy which 14 and 15-year-olds they come across will be behind bars by the age of 20. That represents a failure not only of the criminal justice system but of our society. To understand the reason for that failure we must look not just at how these kids are dealt with when they come into contact with the authorities but at what drives them to the point where at the age of 14 there appears to be a sad inevitability about where their lives will end up.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) said, we know that adverse childhood experiences can provide clues to adult behaviour, but we should also think about how decisions we make here have an impact. As we have heard from several Members, there is a clear link between the spike in youth-related violence in the last year or two and the decimation of the public sector that started just under a decade ago. It started with the culling of Sure Start centres, continued in the stretched social services, and ends with councils drastically reducing their youth provision. There is ample evidence of the damage done by austerity that does not appear on the balance sheet.
My local police have been doing a fantastic job with diversionary activities, and that has had some effect on reducing antisocial behaviour, but the point they make to me—and fairly so—is that every pound they spend on such activities is a pound less they can spend on putting bobbies on the beat. In the context of their having a net funding loss of £40 million since 2010, and with 200 fewer police officers and PCSOs since then, they know better than most that every penny counts. As we have heard, nationally we have the lowest numbers of police for three decades. Since 2010, we have lost about 20,000 police officers. It is unsustainable to carry on in this way. As the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said:
“I would be naive to say that the reduction in police finances over the last few years, not just in London but beyond, hasn’t had an impact.”
Yet here we are again talking about the same issues.
We have all paid a price for the police cuts; it is to the credit of the police that despite those cuts they have found funding for diversionary activities in my constituency. It is the sort of thing that should be provided by the council, but we know how many local authorities have had their budgets slashed in the past decade, as we have heard from many Members. On top of the increased demand on social care, such discretionary services are inevitably the ones to drop off. Figures obtained by the all-party group on knife crime show that the average council cut in real-terms to spending on youth services has been about 40% over the past three years. Some have actually reduced it by 91%. A study of local authority expenditure on youth services shows that it has fallen by £880 million in real terms since 2010-11.
There is a clear connection between where we are now and what has happened to public services over the past decade, but changes can be made that require not money but a different approach. There is a cohort of young people who feel they are untouchable, for whom the prospect of arrest holds no fear and the prospect of being taken home by the police and having to answer to their family is not a problem. These are the ringleaders, the hard core, who the local police tell me have to be taken through a series of hoops aimed at improving behaviour but for whom they know such voluntary interventions will do nothing until they get to the compulsory order stage. However, it can take up to a year before those orders can be obtained—a year during which the individual can continue to wreak havoc on their local community. We need earlier compulsory interventions: deal with the ringleaders early on and the rest will soon drop away.
We need to take a long, hard look at how we can do more to stop young people going down this road at a much earlier age. It means no more off-rolling by schools of difficult pupils; it means a joined-up approach by all those involved with families in need; and it means a more intensive focus on diversionary activities at a much younger age. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford said, we need to resource this properly and not just keep saying it is something we need to do. It is very clear what the direction of travel should be.
I want to say a bit about what is probably the most serious violence issue in my constituency, but one that happens behind closed doors. It is of course domestic abuse. It is all around us, but we do not see it. It is a sadly frustrating cycle of violence that people fall into and which seems impossible to break. There are issues around how we are unable to stop these things happening, and we ought to reflect on how we deal with them. In my police force area of Cheshire, there has been a 45% rise in violent crime in the last year. I do not know how much of that is down to domestic violence, but certainly the number of local authority safeguarding referrals which have included a domestic abuse element has increased significantly, and is well above the regional average.
If I can stand up here and say that there has been a 45% rise in violent crime in my police area in one year, that represents a crisis. It represents an emergency. It represents something about which we ought to be doing more in the House. I do not want us to reach a point at which stabbings and murders on the streets become the norm, because if we accept that as a society, we in this place have absolutely failed.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) about the empty Benches. That sends an appalling message about priorities in this place. It is clear from what Members have been saying that they believe there is a crisis that we cannot continue to ignore. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) mentioned the 10,000 children who are operating in county lines. A whole generation of kids have been written off because of Government inaction. As my hon. Friend said, this is an emergency, but because the Government have been eaten up from the inside by their own individual issues, they have become a dysfunctional, failing Government—a Government who have failed our entire country.
Crises of this kind, and the discussions that we are having now, ought to have a much better audience here, and much better action. The fact that we have such a shambolic, disengaged Government suggests to me that they have no right to be in charge of the country any more, because they have let people down completely. The idea that they are the party of law and order is an absolute joke. The messages that we have heard from Members on both sides of the House today need to be taken on board and acted on, because this is a crisis that we cannot allow to continue.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak.
I want to acknowledge the speeches that have been made by Members on both sides of the House, but I particularly want to acknowledge the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), and the work that she has done in the Youth Violence Commission. I remember when she launched the commission, many years ago. At that time, I was the cabinet member for community safety in Lewisham Council. It was a well-turned-out launch—at London South Bank University, if my memory serves me correctly. My hon. Friend has given me a nod.
I also want to acknowledge the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). One thing that he said really stuck in my mind. He said that some young people were more afraid of gangsters than they were of the police. That gave me a sense of the gravity of the situation, and of the pressure, manipulation and oppression to which young people are being subjected. We must not fall short of acknowledging that young people do not start out in life saying, “I want to get involved in crime. I want to carry a knife.” They start out in life saying, “I want to be a police officer”, or “I want to be a fireman.” They have dreams. We need to help young people to succeed in their dreams and their visions, and to make a way for them as much as possible.
When I consider serious violence, I often think about knife crime. I think about young people, their vulnerability, and the risk of harm to them and to others. However, serious violence is not just about young people, and knife crime is not just associated with young people. In London, we are seeing a lower volume of knife crime but a higher harm rate, which is affecting young people significantly and causing fatalities. Figures from the Metropolitan police show that in 2017-18 there were 14,700 recorded crimes involving knives or sharp instruments, the highest number over the last 10 years. The proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic young people who have been victims or perpetrators of knife crime—or have been involved in “joint enterprise”—has also increased, which is of great concern.
Young people and knife crime are my focus. When referring to young black people’s experience of the police, Robert Reiner, a retired lecturer from the London School of Economics, states that they experience over-policing and under-protection. I am genuinely concerned about the information that the Home Secretary has presented to us about increasing the section 60 stop-and-search powers.
The Scarman inquiry and the Macpherson inquiry talked about the tensions that can be created within communities and how they can affect our society. We need to think seriously about how we reach young people and help them to have trust in the police, so they go to them when they need their help. I do not think it is right to start on the offensive by stopping and searching young people. For me—I know there are many like-minded people and organisations—it is about building trust and relationships with young people, and about getting to know them. Only then will young people and their communities start to think and feel that they can go to the police when they experience harm or terror, which we need to encourage as much as possible.
I remember, as a young child, knowing my local bobby—I use that term endearingly. He used to come to our house and have a cup of tea. We all knew him and he was trusted in our local community. We had a very good experience of that. For that reason, we need more community police officers.
Some of the police’s attitudes and behaviour towards young black people need to change. That is not a new phenomenon. All young people need to know that they can expect help, support and protection from the police. Instead of carrying a knife for protection, they should be able to seek police protection confidently, as I have mentioned. For many young people, however, that is far from the truth. There has been some progress in many police forces across the country, but borough commanders move so quickly from one area to another that they hardly have time to implement what they have begun.
Serious violence is a complex problem that is not only about policing; there are many other contributing factors. That said, as we have already heard, young people need to feel like they have a voice and that their views are heard and valid. We must also remember that they are young, even though they can look much older.
I welcome the Government’s serious violence strategy, which the Home Office published last April. It attempts to look at the root cause of the problem and support young people to lead productive lives away from violence. Much more needs to be done, however, to support young people and their families where they experience deprivation and disadvantage in our society. Much more also needs to be done for looked-after children and care leavers, who rank highly in our prisons.
That is why we need to consider taking a public health approach for our young people. The strategy has been praised for its focus on early intervention and prevention. It is a holistic approach to truly combating the problem, which involves families and issues such as identity, a sense of belonging and young people’s wellbeing and mental health. It is about making structural changes to multiple systems and agencies, including the policing of young people, health services, youth services, housing, education and the criminal justice system.
I applaud Lewisham Council for developing its own public health approach against a backdrop of limited funds. In reviewing the public health approach, the Government might like to take some advice from our local authority about the strategy it has already developed. The public health approach needs to be taken more seriously, and there needs to be investment in youth services provision and the third sector.
Spending on youth services has fallen by 70% under the Government, which has affected the Grove Park youth club in my constituency. The club closed in 2013 as central Government cuts meant that the council could no longer afford to maintain it. Its catchment area encompasses around 7,000 young people, and it is situated in one of Lewisham’s most deprived wards. On the local estate, two incidents of serious youth stabbings have been recorded in the period since the youth club closed. Government statistics show that crime in the club’s catchment area rose between 2010 and 2015 despite an overall reduction in crime in the borough. I support bringing this much-needed club back into use; it should be given consideration as part of the Government-led public health approach.
In the meantime, I would like to pay tribute to the model of a mobile community youth service called XLP, which is being used in my constituency, and to Ubuntu, a third sector organisation that supports parents and young people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in my constituency. They are both doing well at making the kind of sustained interventions in young people’s lives that make a real difference, also against a backdrop of minimal resources. As we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, third sector organisations such as these should not be “scrimping around” for money. The funding should be in place, because they are making a significant difference in reducing serious youth crime and empowering young people and their families. The Government could learn something from those two fantastic organisations and would do well to invest further in the third sector as well as increasing spending in local government for young people’s provisions and launching a public health approach to serious youth violence.
This has been a fantastic and wide-ranging debate, with truly excellent contributions from both sides of the House. It has demonstrated the complexity of the factors and causes behind serious violence, and the genuine crisis that is enveloping communities across the country. We heard from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) about the excellent public health model that is being championed in Scotland, from which lessons are being learned across England and Wales. He also talked about the policy implications of treating violence as a disease.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who has been mentioned many times today. She is a true champion of the policy requirements relating to youth violence, and she is also the chair of the Youth Violence Commission. She made an incredibly powerful speech about the repeated patterns and characteristics of adverse childhood experiences. She gave us two “Sliding Doors” scenarios of young men growing up in vulnerable situations. One was unable to get the help he needed, but the other, who was similarly vulnerable, was able to access support structures and systems under an active, interventionist and caring approach that would prevent him from falling into violence or becoming a victim of violence himself. That reminded me of a young man in my own constituency, for whom I was desperately trying to get help. Sadly, his life was lost at the hands of another child in a similar way to that described by my hon. Friend.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), spoke about her Committee’s inquiry into serious violence. Crucially, it is taking note of the voices of young people, many of whom do not have a trusted police officer attached to their school or models of neighbourhood policing that they can respond to and get to know. She spoke about the need for the scale and pace of Government action to match the scale and pace of the violence that we are seeing. We have heard from many speakers today that the Government are not showing any signs of urgency in their response to the violence that is enveloping the country. My right hon. Friend gave examples of the evidence being given to her Committee, including quotes from senior police officers who said that the Government were more interested in narrative than in action, and from Louise Casey, who described the Government’s strategy as “woefully inadequate”.
The hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) drew on their personal experience in the youth service and emphasised the need for education and prevention. That has been a reassuring theme—the focus on the need for early intervention and prevention. I think that there is cross-party agreement that that is essential, in addition to a strong criminal justice response.
There has been a huge focus on the cuts to youth services. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) spoke about the cuts in her constituency and the increasing number of both children in care and exclusions. She pointed out that, although there have of course been spikes in youth violence under previous Governments, we have not had such a vulnerable cohort of young people at risk of falling into violence. There has been a sustained, year on year trend of growth in serious violence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) spoke about Gwent police’s excellent work. It is important to acknowledge the excellent initiatives in some police forces. I congratulate the Welsh Government on their “one public service” approach, their focus on adverse childhood experiences and their commitment to developing trauma-informed public services. She made the point, as we have all done, that resources are required to make that partnership working effective.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) gave his usual impassioned speech on the subject and called on the Home Secretary—it is great that he is here today—to come to the House more often to update us on his work and the Government’s progress, to convene Cobra and to show the urgency that the House clearly demands. There are 2,000 county lines with 10,000 children involved. The Government simply do not feel the urgency that that clearly demands.
The hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) talked about 700 young victims of knife crime last year in the west midlands and the £106 million in reserves that he believes West Midlands police are sitting on. I believe that he knows that that figure is from 2017 and that the actual figure is £43 million of available reserves, which is intended to fall to £30 million simply to balance the books. His police and crime commissioner intends to use all non-essential reserves by 2020-21.
But at that point, the police and crime commissioner already had a plan to use all available reserves purely to balance the books because of continued central Government cuts since 2010. I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would rather see frontline officers on the beat, responding to violent crime, or police stations open. That is the invidious position that sustained central Government cuts have put police and crime commissioners in.
The hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) said he was disappointed that we voted against the police funding settlement earlier this year. I am sorry to have disappointed him. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) promised him that I would explain why the precept is a fundamentally unfair way to fund police forces. West Yorkshire has double the population of Surrey and four times the level of violent crime, yet through the Government’s police funding settlement, the two can raise exactly the same amount through the precept. Through the same police funding settlement, South Yorkshire can raise 12% of the money lost since 2010, whereas Dorset can raise 32%. It is unjustifiable to for money to be raised in a way that has no bearing on levels of crime or demand on the police.
I want to be absolutely clear, because I would not like someone to read the start of the debate in Hansard and then wonder what had happened at the end. It was not me who made that point. I think that the hon. Lady is referring to someone on the Front Bench. It was definitely not the point I was making, because we do not have PCCs in Scotland.
I think that the hon. Gentleman might have misheard me. I did not say anything about PCCs. He mentioned earlier that he was disappointed that we had voted against the settlement, and I am explaining exactly why: it is a fundamentally unfair way to fund the police and has no bearing on demand.
The right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) built on her admirable campaigning work on county lines and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, talked about the excellent work of community groups in all our constituencies, but said that they were scraping by from year to year and competing for confusing and small pots of money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) spoke about the tragic deaths of teenagers in her constituency and the fact that the police are working with at least one hand tied behind their back, lurching from one hotspot to another. The system is not as effective as it could be with sustained neighbourhood policing models in place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) built on the valuable experience of speaking to frontline officers in his constituency and spoke about them telling him how, from a very young age, they can predict which children are in danger of becoming involved in gangs, which he rightly says is a failure of the criminal justice system and, indeed, society.
My hon. Friend touched on domestic abuse, which has largely been missing from today’s debate. When I visit young offender institutions meet young offenders and, one of the most consistent factors in their backgrounds is coming from a household of domestic abuse. We welcome the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, and I take this opportunity to thank all the Members who have signed my letter today calling for an investigation into domestic abuse and the family courts. If we continue to allow children to grow up in households of domestic abuse, all we are doing is creating the next generation of young offenders.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) gave a powerful perspective on behalf of communities that are over-policed, and she spoke about the consequences for those communities of failing to build trust and relationships with the police. She also spoke about looked-after children and care leavers, who are over-represented in our criminal justice system. Those contributions show the breadth of policy areas on which the public health approach undeniably has to focus.
Last month’s crime statistics reveal the extent of the crisis before us today. As we have heard, never since records began have recorded incidents of violent crime been as high as they are today, yet police numbers stand at their lowest level for three decades—per population, the lowest level ever. It is important to reiterate why police numbers are important to tackling violent crime.
First, the fall in police officer numbers inevitably forces the police to refocus their resources on reactive policing. More crucially, local policing increases the legitimacy of the police, which encourages local communities to provide intelligence, report crime and work with the police proactively. That has been a massive failure of the past nine years of austerity. The cut to neighbourhood policing has seriously damaged community relations.
Policing matters—of course it does—but, as we have heard, the Government can hope to bear down on serious violence only if they bear down on the factors that lie behind it. The story of violence, and particularly youth violence, is at its heart a question of vulnerability. Children who fall behind are now denied the speech and language therapy they desperately need. Sure Start, a lifeline for many vulnerable parents, has been cut back, and the support it used to provide has been reduced. As children grow older, they are being routinely denied the talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapies and other psychological support that we know can reduce aggression and delinquency.
Schools, crushed under the weight of punitive funding pressures, have focused their cost-cutting on exactly the kind of targeted support needed by young people who are falling behind, including teaching assistants and special educational needs. Families are being denied intensive therapies that improve parenting skills, strengthen family cohesion and increase young people’s engagement, and that are known to reduce out-of-home placements and reoffending.
Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and, regrettably, insist that the problem appeared from nowhere. We have never heard any Minister accept that a reduction in support services, a substantial cut in youth services and slashing the police to levels per head never seen before has made the blindest bit of difference. If they cannot accept their responsibility, how can we trust them to put things right?
On early intervention and prevention, what is replacing the £880 million-worth of complex provision and support for young people and the £500 million lost from Sure Start? An early intervention fund of £17 million a year and a youth endowment fund of £20 million a year. Each has been shown to be inadequate in its own way, and they are not even close to meeting the challenges faced by communities.
Some 73% of bids to the early intervention youth fund have been rejected by the Government, communities in the west midlands have been deprived of a vital project to tackle county lines exploitation, and Greater Manchester has been deprived of funding to support families against crime. In Durham, and across the country, it is the same story in violent crime hotspots. How can the Government look at this evidence and say that their efforts to tackle the problem are even close to matching the challenge?
As we have heard, the Government have launched a consultation on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, but it is far from clear how that will differ from or go beyond the duties already placed on agencies under crime and disorder reduction partnerships or under “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance. A true public health approach requires a resourced, co-ordinated, cross-Government strategy led by the Prime Minister, as we have repeatedly called for. The taskforce mentioned by the Home Secretary today, and chaired by him, has met once, and, so far no actions have been announced.
We are in a state of emergency, with the most despicable criminals exploiting the space where well-run and effective early intervention, prevention and diversion strategies once existed. The pursuit of young children by gangs is now a systematic and well-rehearsed business model, according to the Children’s Commissioner. It is a national crisis that demands a sense of urgency, but that is not being felt from this Government. We cannot allow this drift. We need Ministers to step up to the plate, we need leadership from the Prime Minister, we need resources and we need concerted, sustained action from the Government.
No young person chooses to carry a knife out of an innate desire for violence and bloodshed. Knives are carried for protection, or to belong, or because young people feel that gang membership and criminality are their only route to success and respect.
Quite rightly, we have heard from hon. Members today about the impact of adverse childhood experiences. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) gave a chilling account of the differences in life chances—what she called the sliding doors of a young man’s life. She will, I am sure, welcome the fact that the Leader of the House of Commons, who is an expert in early years work—she has spent much of her life examining the first two years of life and development—is focusing a piece of work for the Government on precisely the first two years of life. That will have an important role to play in the future, when it comes to how we as a Government ensure that young people have the chances that we all hope and expect they will.
The hon. Lady will also be pleased to know that around £7 million has been awarded to the four police forces in Wales, which, in collaboration with Public Health Wales, will develop and test a new approach to policing that prevents and mitigates adverse childhood experiences. That is just one of the 61 commitments from the serious violence strategy, which has been completed, and I am sure we will all welcome the outcome of that vital work.
Hon. Members mentioned the impact of domestic abuse. As the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), outlined, the Government are bringing forward a groundbreaking piece of legislation. The draft Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being scrutinised before a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is precisely because, when it comes before the House, we want it to be a good piece of legislation that meets the high expectations of everyone on both sides of the House, not just in helping survivors and children in the immediate term—I include children as survivors in that—but because we know that domestic abuse is a primary factor in making a child more susceptible to being a perpetrator or a victim of violence.
At the Prime Minister’s summit only a few weeks ago, we heard from a professor from Chicago—there is an international aspect to our work as well, which I will come on to in due course—who told us that domestic violence in the home, whether in the States, in the UK or wherever, is the biggest indicator that someone will perpetrate violence, or be a victim of violence, outside the home. Of course, that makes complete sense. If someone grows up in an environment of abuse, not only does that have an impact on the way in which their brain grows and develops, but it must have an impact on how they handle themselves with the wider public and outside. Of course, it also terrifies the children who live in such households.
The reason why I am so pleased that we have been talking about adverse childhood experiences, domestic abuse and so on is that this is as much about life chances as about the causes of criminality, drug gangs and so on. The fact is that young people growing up without life chances are just as likely to become a victim of knife crime as a perpetrator. They want a way out. They want the chance of a life without violence. We must give them a dream of a future. That was one of the strongest themes that came out of the Prime Minister’s serious violence summit, and that is why the serious violence strategy places such strong emphasis on early intervention, tackling the root causes of violent crime and preventing young people from being drawn into violence in the first place.
Members understandably want to debate this issue; I hope people realise that I positively welcome opportunities to be at the Dispatch Box to discuss this incredibly important topic, but I also believe that we should be listening to young people. That is precisely why I am inviting young people with lived experience, including former gang members, into this place so that they can tell us about their experiences, what they think we should be doing and what they think will make a difference.
I thank Members for their considered, careful and thoughtful contributions. I have to say that I consider this afternoon to have been the norm for the way in which Members conduct themselves in these debates. There is an acknowledgement that Members from all parties want serious violence to stop and want to work together to help to stop it, which is why it is always a privilege for me to respond to these debates, but I want to go further: in due course I shall issue an invitation to all Members, from all parties, to a roundtable at the beginning of next month to discuss further what is happening, and not only at the national level.
This is an incredibly complex policy area—I shall give the House a list of some of the things we are doing in due course, but there is so much more to this. As colleagues from the all-party group on knife crime will know from when I have discussed this issue with them, this is not just about debates in the House; it is about us talking about what we can do and about the best practice we can share. I want to understand what Members think is working in their local areas.
The Minister will have heard from Opposition and Government Members the disappointment at the lack of attendance of this debate; when she reaches out to every single MP, will she consider whether every single MP could partner with a youth centre in or around London, so that we can work closely with those youth centres and they can work closely with us? That might bring more people into this sphere.
That is a really great idea for which I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who did so much in his past to work with young people. It is ideas of that sort that can really help to make a difference. I remember that in a previous debate, or it might have been an urgent question, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) talked about how we, as Members of Parliament, are leaders in our local communities. We can help our local communities by understanding the resources available and the help and best practice that is out there, to really drive change in our local communities.
I think we all acknowledge that the creation of life chances for young people will require patience, hard work and commitment. It is not a quick fix. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, rightly asked me, as part of her scrutiny of the work of Government, about the number of children at risk—the scale of the problem. My answer is that so many factors are at play—indeed, the serious violence strategy identifies 22 risk factors for children, which are balanced alongside protective factors that can mitigate those risk factors—that can determine whether a child is at risk of serious violence.
Let me give some examples of those factors. According to the Children’s Commissioner, some 27,000 children have identified themselves as being members of gangs. Some 7,720 pupils were excluded in 2016-17. Members will know that excluded pupils are over-represented in the population of perpetrators and victims of serious violence. Some 86,000 children have a parent in prison. Now, we are not saying for a moment that each and every one of those children is at significant risk of being either a perpetrator or a victim of knife crime, because no one factor alone determines that. They may have hugely mitigating protective factors that draw them away from the web of violence, but this is the complexity of it. This is the detail that we in the Home Office—I am extraordinarily grateful to my officials—have spent so much time examining, not only in the past 12 months since the strategy was published, but in the months before that, when the strategy was being prepared. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) emphasised, this is urgent and it requires urgent action. That is why we have put in place not only immediate action to tackle knife crime and serious violence, but action in medium and longer-term strategies.
In the immediate term, we have established a National County Lines Coordination Centre to tackle the violent and exploitative activity associated with the county lines drugs trade. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) noted the exponential rise in county lines and the fact that drug gangs respect no geographical borders. That point was also emphasised by the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who again referenced adverse childhood experiences.
My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who tirelessly campaigns for a police station in his metropolitan borough, also set out the complex policing challenges that living next to a major metropolitan city can and does have for his local police force.
Let me go back to the County Lines Coordination Centre and give Members an idea of the scale of the problem.
Will my hon. Friend join me in calling on the Labour police and crime commissioner to retain Solihull police station in the light of the fact that he has recently saved the police station in Sutton Coldfield, another Conservative seat? By the way, the only two police stations that were set to close were in two Conservative seats in the west midlands.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will resist the temptation to comment about the police station. He will know that the Home Secretary meets the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner not just of the west midlands but of all the police forces, and I am sure that that message has been heard loud and clear. We do return to the fact that, of course, such decisions are a matter for the police and crime commissioner. We are often keen to make the point that the reason we have police and crime commissioners is that they are answerable to the local population that they serve.
In the few months that the National County Lines Coordination Centre has been in operation, it has already seen more than 1,000 arrests and more than 1,300 vulnerable people safeguarded. That shows not only the complexity of the problem, but the scale of it. It is one reason why we have introduced the Offensive Weapons Bill, which, I hope, will receive Royal Assent tomorrow.
If I may just continue.
The Bill strengthens the legislation on guns, knives and corrosive substances. In addition, we have brought forward amendments to that Bill to introduce knife crime prevention orders to reach those children most at risk. I came in for a little bit of criticism, it is fair to say, from Opposition Members that these were put into the Bill without enough scrutiny. The point is that we were acting urgently in response to the police who had asked us for these orders. They said, “Please give them to us. Let’s pilot them and see what happens with them.” To my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), I say that the pilot will start in London in the autumn. We will ensure that we have good guidance for these new powers, and we very much wish the police well in using them.
I am sorry that I am slightly interrupting the flow of the Minister’s speech, which is why I tried to intervene at a particular point a minute ago, but I thank her for the courtesy of giving way.
On national priorities and national agencies to tackle crime, what will she and the Home Secretary say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about Lynne Owens’s demand yesterday for £2.7 billion of extra money? This is very serious, and the Minister must not prevaricate. That is the head of the National Crime Agency saying that £2.7 billion is needed. If the Minister were to say from that Dispatch Box that that is what she and the Home Secretary will ask the Chancellor for, she would find the rest of Parliament supporting her.
Of course, we take that very, very seriously. The hon. Gentleman will know, with his experience as a Minister, that the Home Secretary meets not just the director of the NCA, but other very senior police and law enforcement officers regularly. This is very much part of an ongoing discussion. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already ensured that we have extra funding for the police and for serious organised crime. There is, of course, the spending review coming up, and the message is heard and understood. The hon. Gentleman did challenge the Home Secretary and—I think—me to bang the table a bit. I do not want to put words—or actions, as it were—into the Home Secretary’s mouth, but it is fair to say that he listened to the concerns of chief constables and police and crime commissioners, and made an impassioned case to the Chancellor, to which the Chancellor listened very carefully. In his spring statement, the Chancellor provided an extra £100 million to deal specifically with serious violence, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Gedling will be pleased that more than £1.5 million of that is going to Nottinghamshire police.
Reacting to feedback from the police, we have announced changes to section 60 stop-and-search powers to make it simpler for officers in seven force areas to use the powers in anticipation of serious violence. Hon. Members will also be aware of the ongoing Operation Sceptre events that take place across all forces at particular times of the year and have so much impact.
There has rightly been a focus on early intervention, so I will run through just some of the successes and mention the range of young people we are reaching through our efforts. The #knifefree media advertising has reached around 6 million young people each time we have refreshed it, and there have been millions of views of the campaign videos. In the latest iteration, about half a million people have visited the knifefree.co.uk website since 8 April. I encourage hon. Members to spread the word about #knifefree and the website.
Our £22 million early intervention youth fund is already supporting 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales. At least 60,000 children and young people will be reached by this fund by the end of March 2020. Through our anti-knife crime community fund, we have supported 68 local grassroots community projects across England and Wales, reaching at least 50,000 young people in 2018-19. We are also supporting targeted interventions for intensive one-to-one support for people already involved in serious violence or county lines-related exploitation, through the St Giles Trust, Redthread and our young people’s advocates. We have already supported more than 800 young people in 2018-19 through these specific and targeted interventions, and that support continues. I have not even mentioned the £920 million troubled families programme, or the many various Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport schemes, including the Premier League Kicks programme, the success of which has been described by my hon. Friends the Members for Moray and for Solihull.
I will finish this part of my speech by saying an enormous thank you to everyone who works with young people to help tackle and prevent serious violence.
I will now quickly run through the medium and long-term measures we are taking. In the medium term, £35 million of the £100 million announced in the spring statement will be used to help establish violence reduction units in the seven forces that account for more than half of knife crime across the country. Officials are working with the people who will be involved in those discussions, and we will share those proposals as soon as we can next month. However, real progress will require a step change in the way in which all public authorities work together, which is why a multi-agency approach is fundamental to supporting the battle against violent crime.
The Prime Minister’s summit, to which we invited young people, bereaved families of victims, professionals, academics, faith leaders and businesspeople—pretty much anyone we could think of whom we could include in our efforts—has already made an impact, and will have a real effect from the centre of Government. It is essential that the Prime Minister is showing such leadership on the issue because all these efforts are being co-ordinated across all areas of Government.
At a local level, this is about partners working together, which is why we are consulting on a new legal duty to underpin a multi-agency approach. The consultation closes on 28 May, so I urge anyone who is interested to respond to it. We have also announced an independent review of drugs. There was surprisingly little discussion about the drugs market in this debate, but we know that it is one of the major drivers of serious violence, which is why the Home Secretary has commissioned Professor Dame Carol Black to conduct a review of drug use in the 21st century.
On the subject of drugs, may I just make a suggestion? If we were to legalise and regulate the cannabis trade, we could raise £1 billion a year to put into policing crime. We could also make the product safer and take the trade out of the hands of organised criminal gangs. By regulating our cannabis trade in the way we do with alcohol, we would make our streets safer.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, regulation and decriminalisation are not in the review.
In the long term, it is only by offering stability and opportunity in young people’s lives that we can hope to tackle serious violence. Last year, the Home Secretary announced the 10-year, £200 million youth endowment fund. The fund is to be locked in for the next 10 years and invested to leverage up that investment. It is going to fund interventions and projects, evaluate what works, and act as a centre of expertise.
First, I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet Yvonne Lawson of the Godwin Lawson Foundation from my constituency, who lost her young teenage son to knife crime two years ago.
Nearly all hon. Members have talked about partnership working and great little projects on the ground, but all of us have also said that local authorities, which are the drivers at local level, are absolutely struggling because of the lack of resources. Does the Minister accept that local authorities’ ability to push forward partnership working is severely handicapped by the continuing lack of resources and ongoing cuts?
I thank the right hon. Lady. I am always very happy, of course, to meet those who have lost loved ones, as her constituents have, particularly those who are extraordinary in being able to found charities to help tackle serious violence.
The point of the violence reduction units is that they are bringing all the partner agencies together. As I say, we are investing £35 million from the £100 million available. I should add that that £35 million will be invested in VRUs and police forces that are most affected by violent crime—between 10 and 20 forces nationally. The details are being finalised. This partnership working will enable local authorities to play their part, in addition to the increased funding they are getting, as announced by my colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Criminals are buying children’s lives, and their misery, for the cheapest of prices. It is sometimes a new pair of trainers or a few pounds a week—and of course that is before the drug debts are called in. We have to offer them more. That is why, following the Prime Minister’s summit, I will be working with businesses to create opportunities for young people to provide them with a route away from violent crime.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford set out, no young person should grow up without hope, prospects or opportunities. There is an alternative to a life of violence. If we work together, we can offer young people a chance to make something more of their lives and stop the senseless killing. We can—and, if we all work together, we will—offer them a dream of a future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of serious violence.