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Knife Crime Prosecutions

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 8 October 2019

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Attorney General on the prosecution of people who carry knives. (912594)

I work closely with the Attorney General and Home Office Ministers to ensure that the criminal justice system commands public confidence and tackles crime effectively. To address this and other serious crimes, we are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers, investing £85 million in the Crown Prosecution Service and building an additional 10,000 prison places, and this is together with the work of police and crime commissioners in setting up violence reduction units.

The best way to prevent knife crime is to take knives out of circulation and off the streets. What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking in conjunction with the Attorney General to ensure that people who carry knives are prosecuted?

Of course, the prosecuting authorities take knife crime incredibly seriously. In 2015, minimum custodial sentences of six months for repeat knife crime possession were introduced, and in the year ending March of this year 83% of offenders received a custodial sentence for that type of repeat offence.

Does the Justice Secretary agree that the sentence should reflect the serious nature of knife crime and the serious damage it does to our communities? Does he support the work of organisations such as Only Cowards Carry, which help to highlight the devastating damage knife crime does to the individuals involved, on both sides?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the hard work of that local organisation and many others, such as the Ben Kinsella Trust, which do so much to educate young people about the folly of carrying knives. The new knife crime prevention orders, introduced by this Government as part of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, will be a key tool in preventing knife crime, and we are working with the Home Office to develop operational guidance, because we want to get on with introducing that programme.

Yesterday, it was reported that knife crime in my relatively safe constituency has risen by 50%, which is extremely worrying, particularly for parents with teenage children in Darlington. Will the Justice Secretary look at the fact that since 2010 funding for youth offending teams has been halved?

The hon. Lady, like all of us in this House, whether we are parents or not, shares the worry about young people either carrying knives or coming into contact with people who do. The truth about the trends in knife crime offending are these: there was an alarming rise 10 years ago and there was then a decline, but we are seeing a rise again. We are taking a twin-pronged approach, which is about not just sentencing, but intervention. That is why announcements about youth funding at last week’s Conservative party conference are welcome and indeed this is part of the work our youth offending teams are doing all across the country.

The Secretary of State may be aware of the recent murder of high-flying teenager Yousef Makki from Manchester. His killers were found not guilty of either manslaughter or murder, coming as they were from affluent Hale. The case stands in stark contrast with many I have raised here recently involving groups of young black men from Moss Side, who are all serving mandatory life sentences under joint enterprise. Given that the Secretary of State’s Government’s own race audit and Lammy review found that there were burning injustices in our criminal justice system when it comes to race, background, class and wealth, what are the Government doing to address these very different outcomes in the same cases?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I think she would agree that it is difficult to extrapolate trends from an individual case, however concerning and deeply distressing that case was. I think the lesson is that knife crime respects and knows no class or race boundaries. We should not stigmatise this, particularly outside London, as a crime that is exclusively based upon any racial profile—that is wrong. However, I take the point that she makes and clearly we need to look carefully across the piece as to whether we are sometimes being a bit shy—institutionally shy—about addressing knife crime in some of the less typical places.