[Ian Paisley in the Chair]
I am sure that hon. Members are aware that social distancing is no longer in operation, but I would like to remind them that the Speaker has encouraged us, where possible, to wear facemasks when not speaking. I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between debates.
I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive at the start of debates in Westminster Hall, and are expected to remain for the entire debate. Those Members who are participating virtually are reminded to keep their camera on as they will be seen at all times by those viewing these proceedings. If Members experience technical problems, they should contact the Westminster Hall Clerks via their email address. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before leaving the room.
There are no Members sitting in the Public Gallery, and there are four speakers for this debate. Before I call the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) to move the motion, may I suggest that I intend to call the Scottish National party spokesperson at around 3.20 pm? We do have lots of time and I do not think I need to impose a time limit at any point, but that is the time at which I would like to call the first Opposition spokesperson. I call Sarah Owen.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered tackling knife crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I applied for this debate after the recent sad death of Humza Hussain in my Luton North constituency. Humza was just 16 years old. Let me repeat that: he was just 16 years old. He had his whole life ahead of him, but he was stabbed by another young person and killed outside his school.
Over the past few weeks, people across Luton have been shaken by these events, and many people in the town rallied around all the families involved, but especially Humza’s parents, when they received the worst news a parent could ever possibly receive. My heart goes out to Humza’s family and people in Luton North who have been affected by this tragic death over the past few weeks. Today, I hope to be a strong voice for them in Parliament. I will work with whomever it takes to end this situation in which our young people are carrying knives because they are involved with things in their life and they see it as the only way out. They see carrying a weapon as the only way to feel safe. What makes this even more tragic is that it did not need to happen; every death caused by a knife is avoidable. It just takes the political will and targeted resources to stop it. Unfortunately, we have instead seen a rapid rise in knife-related crime over the past few years across the country, and Bedfordshire is no exception.
Figures from the Commons Library tell us that in 2010 there were 397 offences involving a knife in Bedfordshire. By last year, that number had climbed to 530—an increase of over a third in a relatively short space of time. It is important to say that this is not just young people; it includes knife crime committed by adults in domestic settings, as well as on the streets.
This is against a backdrop of 11 years of central Government gutting funding for our councils, forcing what few services we have left to operate on a skeleton budget or close altogether. In Luton, one of the biggest towns in the country by population that does not have city status, we have seen police officers having to operate with the budget of a rural police force. There is no single cause of the recent rise in knife offences, but in a debate like this it would be wrong not to remark that the kids who had their services closed and gutted 10 years ago are now the young adults left without aspiration, left without hope for the future, who are now falling into crime and being targeted by criminals.
Our local newspaper, Luton Today, launched a campaign after Humza’s death a few weeks ago encouraging people to “Bin Your Blade”. This is a campaign that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and I were keen to endorse, because we both want to do all we can to tackle this problem. Most people in our town want to do something about it as well, but we need support from the Government to help us to do that.
This is not a party political issue. Helping our young people make the properly informed decision not to carry a knife should not be party political. Getting knives out of our schools should not be party political. I am sure that the Minister will at least be able to agree with that.
Before today’s debate, I spoke to a brilliant officer at Luton Borough Council, Dave Collins, whose passion, after a 30-year career working on these kinds of offences, shone through. Dave told me that the public and media narrative about knife crime is often unhelpful and tends to paint a very incomplete picture. That has been echoed by many organisations working to tackle this issue, including the charity, London Youth.
Figures from Barnardo’s show that over a fifth of offences involving a knife involve somebody under 18. Last July, a quarter of Barnardo’s frontline workers said that they had supported a young person who they thought had been coerced, deceived or manipulated into criminal activity; 15% said they thought the first lockdown led to more children and young people becoming involved in serious violence and exploitation. That is exactly what it is: criminals exploiting our young people. This is a safeguarding issue. Young people, who might have experienced the trauma of early family violence, neglect or adverse childhood experiences, are put on a path at an early age—no longer with the youth services or safety net to help them break out of that cycle.
Public Health Wales research reveals that adults who experienced adversity like this in their early years are 14 to 15 times more likely to be a victim of violence or a perpetrator than those who did not. Those children are also more likely to be excluded or off-rolled by schools. From a young age, they are told that they are “naughty kids” and put on the “too difficult to deal with” pile. We have seen that pile grow over 11 years with the marketisation and academisation of our schools. When that happens, youth services play an invaluable role in reaching young people who are otherwise disengaged from statutory services.
However, spending on youth services has been cut by Government over the past decade. A freedom of information request by the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction—chaired, with real commitment to the issue, by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who is a staunch campaigner on this issue—revealed that local authority funding for youth services was reduced by 40% in real terms between 2014-15 and 2017-18. It is absolutely no coincidence that, after 11 years of cuts to those services, we are seeing a rise in exploitation and these kinds of offences.
The rise in knife crime is a direct result of Government policies, neglect and austerity, all of which are related. We have seen the mistrust of police that stop-and-search fosters among black and minority ethnic people across the country. In Bedfordshire, official figures show, black people are three times more likely to be stopped and searched, with some 70% of those stops resulting in absolutely no arrest whatsoever.
Young people in Luton are scared and often do not trust the authorities or the rest of society to protect them. We have seen that a style of policing that breeds mistrust is compounded by overstretched forces that have been held back by cuts for 11 years. Rather than policing that works with communities to prevent crimes like this, we have seen an increase of 33% in knife offences, as I mentioned earlier.
Community policing and trust take the investment of both time and money, which are two things that our police forces have been starved of. I repeat the call to the Minister, from, I think, all of the MPs in Bedfordshire, for our region to be funded to city levels and not as a rural area.
For all the brilliant hard work of Bedfordshire police in getting another knife or gun off our streets through Operation Boson, more will continue to be fed in, unless the cycle is ended. Although enforcement is important, if somebody is already carrying a knife, by definition it is already too late. We should be working with people from a young age to stop them picking one up in the first place.
In the spirit of cross-party working, I welcome the funding that the Government have given to Bedfordshire for enforcement and the violence reduction unit. However, these crimes are still happening. Our local youth services and our council need the Minister’s support to tackle this.
From conversations that I have had with people in Luton North over the past few weeks, I have a few questions to put to the Minister. What extra funding can he make available for youth services? I am not talking about services that just tackle crime but services that prevent it and that truly invest in our young people. The pandemic has added fuel to the fire of a crisis in mental health services across our country—and even more acutely among young people. What are the Government doing to tackle that? Will the Minister commit to approaching the issue of knife crime in a way that seeks to prevent it, rather than just fight it—an approach that deals with it as a public health issue and gets to the root cause of the problem?
Will the Government end the short-term approach of the past and really invest in early-years support and funding from a primary age for families at risk? Will they give schools the funding necessary to be able to support children to stay in education as long as possible and to support families through that process? Will they commit to looking again at the funding formula for Bedfordshire police, which covers my constituency? As it is, that force is currently funded as a rural force, yet Luton North has very little in the way of rural crime.
The final question I give to Qazi Chishti, the imam at Jamia Islamia Ghousia Trust in Luton, who said last week: “Knife crime has become one of the most widespread issues affecting not only our community but the UK as a whole. It affects not only the lives of the victims and perpetrators, but their families and communities. In the 40 years I have served my community, I have presided over the funerals of three young men who were the victims of knife crime. Each one has remained with me. Unfortunately, knife crime has only increased over time and it is now rife within our communities. The most recent attack left a family and an entire community in shock and pain. A barely lived life was lost and another will be lost to prison. The Government must take steps to tackle this issue. More must be done for those living in areas with high levels of knife crime. I urge the Government to fulfil its promise of tackling this issue and ridding our communities of this.”
Is the Minister able to tell me, Imam Chishti and the entire community of Luton North, that he will fund and take the necessary steps to give our young people hope and better opportunities than picking up a knife? I will work with whoever it takes in Luton North and across our town to end this problem. The will exists in our community to fix it, but we need the support from people in power and those with the purse strings in this place to make it happen.
Without a big, comprehensive plan to take on what is an all-encompassing issue for our communities, the Government risk just tinkering around the edges and allowing this form of exploitation to grow even stronger roots. It simply cannot go on. No parent deserves to be on the end of that phone call, hearing their child has been killed. No other child deserves to have their life ended before their time.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) on an excellent introduction. I feel for her constituents. She told a heartbreaking story about her 16-year-old constituent who was murdered. I am afraid that I shall give some examples of very similar stories from my constituency.
In Sefton and across the Liverpool City Region, we have very good practice in the prevention of violent crime, including knife crime—in stopping people being stabbed in the first place, which we would all agree must be the absolute priority. It means working with young people. It means working with parents, as my hon. Friend said, right from the early years, all the way through. It means challenging gang culture in the Liverpool City Region and the carrying of guns and knives. It means addressing in young people the kind of risk taking and antisocial behaviour that is synonymous with what leads to taking and using a knife and, indeed, with carrying a knife in the first place. It means disruption; it means redirecting. It means finding other interests for young people to be involved in, so that they do not want to be involved in crime in the first place.
The projects that Sefton Council for Voluntary Service is responsible for co-ordinating are life-changing for those involved and they save lives, but building relationships takes time, because a relationship of trust is critical, especially for young people. That takes time, and more than a year of funding. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North said, this is a public health approach across numerous agencies in the public, private and voluntary sectors.
I fully support the Merseyside police and crime commissioner, Emily Spurrell, in her work. She is reversing some of the significant cuts in police numbers, such as the 1,500 police who have gone in Merseyside since 2010. She is working with partners across all those sectors, building alternatives to crime for young people. This is not just in one borough, but across multiple boroughs, or in one region. Of course, we know the way that criminal gangs and organised crime like to engage with young people to get them to cross county lines, particularly with drugs.
Emily Spurrell and Sefton Council for Voluntary Service need help from the Government, because, as I alluded to before, funding is often too short term. It is often last minute, in response to the latest problem that has come up. That is not a basis on which to build the kinds of relationships, services and successful partnerships that are needed to redirect young people from serious and violent crime in the first place, or to prevent them from picking up a knife and getting involved in crime longer term.
In order to have those resources, the cuts made since 2010 have to be addressed. The cuts have to be reversed; that is true for the police and for local government, as well as for grants in the voluntary sector. Those cuts have made it much harder to tackle the causes of knife crime, as well as knife crime itself. The consequences and the human side of knife crime are utterly devastating.
Take what happened to Sam Cook from Crosby. Sam was on a night out celebrating his 21st birthday. His girlfriend, Charlotte, was assaulted and Sam intervened to protect her. Sam was stabbed through the heart. Sam’s grandad died of a broken heart hours after a court convicted Sam’s killer, Carl Madigan, of murder. Sam’s mum, Gill Radcliffe, told me she found it difficult every single day, for months after Sam’s murder, just to get up and get on with her day. That is the human side, both for the person who dies and for their families and loved ones left behind.
Talking of love, Sam loved football and in his memory his mum has been involved in the Liverpool No More Knives campaign, which talks to young people after football matches to encourage them not to use knives. Using sport to get people away from the danger of becoming involved in violent crime is a great example of an effective intervention.
What happened to Sam is the reality of knife crime, as is what happened to Jacob Billington and Michael Callaghan, friends from primary and secondary school, also from Crosby. They were two of the eight people stabbed in Birmingham city centre in September last year by Zephaniah McLeod. Jacob sadly died but Michael was saved, despite the fact that the knife had severed his carotid artery, his jugular vein and his vagus nerve. The quick thinking of their friends saved Michael, but sadly they were unable to do the same for Jacob. I cannot begin to imagine what Jacob’s family have gone through and I know from talking to Michael’s family just how difficult it has been for them.
In 2001, 21-year-old Colin McGinty was stabbed 15 times. His killers have histories of violence and were part of the Liverpool underworld of the time. Colin’s sister, Laura Hughes, is an amazing woman I have had the privilege to get to know a bit recently. Laura and his mum and dad are all dedicated to saving the lives of knife victims in Colin’s memory.
I mentioned the way Michael’s friends saved his life. They stopped him bleeding to death while waiting for the paramedics. Laura and Colin’s parents want bleed control kits to be available in public places so that more people can be saved if they are stabbed. Laura is asking for funding for the kits. They were designed by Liverpool surgeon Nikhil Misra as part of the Liverpool KnifeSavers project, and they cost about £95 each. Laura is looking for places to put the kits, which can be used to reduce bleeding while waiting for an ambulance or paramedic. They can of course be applied to any situation where someone is bleeding heavily—for example, a road traffic accident.
We can only imagine the devastation caused to the families of knife victims. The lives of Sam, Jacob and Colin all ended in violence, and Michael’s life changed forever. He was in a coma and suffered a stroke. He is recovering slowly 10 months after the attack, but as he says,
“In time I will recover, but I can’t get Jacob back.”
Jacob was his best friend from school.
We have heard of the importance of prevention and of investing in the long-term activities needed to disrupt potential knife attacks, and of the need for investment in services and support across organisations and sectors. It is not just a policing matter, or a matter of responding when an attack happens. I have also given the amazing examples of how Michael Callaghan’s friends saved his life and how Colin McGinty’s inspirational sister, Laura Hughes, is campaigning for bleed control kits, which improve the chances of saving lives. Laura does not know whether a bleed control kit could have saved Colin’s life—or Jacob’s, or Sam’s, or the thousands of lives of knife victims across our country—but she knows that bleed kits would have given them a better chance, had the kits been available.
My plea to the Government and the Minister is for long-term funding for prevention to support the long-term relationships that develop the trust that is needed to ensure young people decide not to be involved with serious and violent crime in the first place. I also plead with the Government and the Minister to take a good look at what Mr Misra of Aintree University Hospital has developed. It is very similar to battlefield first aid and it uses the same principles, with gauze and shellfish enzymes that help blood clotting. We need funding for prevention and funding to save lives when things go wrong. Tackling knife crime is about both. It is about prevention and response, but we need the Government to intervene, reverse those cuts and provide support for prevention and response.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) for securing this important debate. Knife crime is a deeply sad fixture of our society. It destroys lives and can tear them apart. My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) has given us some sad and distressing, but very pertinent and important, examples.
In order to truly tackle knife crime, we must do more to support those who fall into it. The victims and perpetrators of knife crime are varied, but today I will speak about children and young people. In London, the victims and perpetrators are children and young men, often from black backgrounds, who are used by drug lords. Many of them are victims of growing up in Tory austerity. They have been stuck in overcrowded housing and have lived in poverty. Crucially, their access to youth provision has been stripped away from them and their local authority budgets have been slashed.
Statistics provided by Barnardo’s show that funding for youth provision fell by 40% between 2014 and 2018, and it has only got worse. My constituency, which is one of the most deprived areas in London, does not have any youth provision at all except what has been provided by faith groups. The media and the over-policing of black children and young men in London and other regions of the country contribute to crushing the dreams and aspirations of these people. They are told they will not amount to anything—except, in some situations, a criminal. That is a lie, and we need to change it.
When an experienced criminal manipulates or threatens a black child or young person into delivering jobs and carrying knives, it means that that child or young person is helpless and controlled by the criminal masterminds, and pressurised by their peers who are already involved in this awful way of life. Who is behind the criminal masterminds? Where are the drugs coming from, and what is being done to stop this trade? We do not have enough answers to these questions. What does our country need to do? What do our families need, and what does the child need?
First, they need a Government who care enough to want to make the right changes and to invest in young people, not just a Government who want to build more prisons and put pressure on police officers to boost data, arrests, charges and imprisonment. Our Government need to focus on preventing the exploitation that leads to gang involvement early on, rather than tackling the crime when it is too late. We need more women’s centres and community alternatives to custody. We need to invest in after-school clubs in school holidays. I remember going to after-school clubs in the school holidays. What has happened to them? They have disappeared. We need youth services so that young people have a safe place to go and safe people to speak to, and so that they are supported physically and emotionally in their development from the early years to older ages.
We need schools to be resourced and teachers to have new skills, new passion and new aspiration. They need the support and the confidence to be able to support young people, to keep them safe, to keep them out of crime and to keep them away from people who put pressure on them. We need our teachers to be supported with the skills to keep young people safe. We need better solutions than putting young people in prison and forcing them to grow up there.
There must also be recognition of when the perpetrators of knife crime are also victims. If our Government are serious about ending knife crime, they must seek to end the social and economic deprivation that leads people into crime. Crime ultimately comes out of poverty, and we need to do more to tackle poverty. If we tackle poverty, we help to tackle crime. The Government must protect young people so they can confidently go to the police for help. In the main, they find it difficult to go to the police for help, because they experience hurt from the police. The police can hurt them with abusive words, and by using handcuffs on the streets while doing stop and search. The police hurt black children and young black people by humiliating them in public, and by making them turn out their pockets or get partially undressed. They feel intimidated, embarrassed and like a criminal. Often, the parents know none of this.
What do we need to do to bring about change? It has to be through adults, not children. A child growing up in prison is not the answer to ending crime in our society. A child’s brain stops growing at the age of 25, so why are we expecting children to behave like adults? We need a compassionate society that cares for the vulnerable. The Government must put strategies in place to protect young people and their families. I am convinced that children and young people and their families will come forward to say who the real criminals are and who is carrying knives, because nobody wants knives and drugs in their society and their community. I will be more than happy to further this conversation and to help in these matters where I can.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) for her powerful speech, which highlighted how important this subject matter is, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) for their powerful contributions. They set out some of the statistics and facts, and I am sure that the Minister was quite aware of them in his former role as deputy Mayor for policing.
As the MP for Vauxhall and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I see the devastating impact that knife crime is having on our families and the communities of those affected. We see life-changing injuries that victims have to live with for the rest of their lives. Most tragic is the avoidable loss of life—mostly among young, male black people. Just two weeks ago, the latest stabbing occurred in my constituency. On 5 July, a short walk away from my constituency office near the Oval, 16-year-old Keane Flynn-Harling was stabbed.
We know the journey towards committing knife crime starts from a young age. More than a fifth of offences involving knife crime were committed by children under 18, some as young as nine years old. I have a six-year-old. She will be nine in three years. It is impossible for me to imagine a scenario where a nine-year-old child could be charged with stabbing somebody. A nine-year-old is just a child, but a 17-year-old is also just a child. They may look and sound more mature, but they are still a child, both in the eyes of the law and according to our values as a society. However, the criminal justice system does not see that those children and young people are as much victims of child criminal exploitation as perpetrators who have committed a criminal act. We have to recognise that, as victims, these children need our help and our protection.
The National Youth Agency report “Hidden in Plain Sight” highlighted that gangs have been running recruitment drives of vulnerable children, especially girls, because they are less likely to be stopped by the police. We know that young people were coerced into dressing as key workers during lockdown so that they could move around freely with a supply of drugs. These criminals will stop at nothing to exploit people. They will stop at nothing to exploit young children.
At the all-party parliamentary group, we have heard from many frontline workers and experts in the field about measures that the Government can take to help tackle this epidemic. We have to acknowledge that it is an epidemic—children are dying. We cannot put this in the “too difficult” box, as unfortunately we have done for many years. A number of those practitioners call for a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation. We know that agency safeguarding responses differ from area to area because there is no overarching statutory definition. This is an area that the Government are looking into, so can the Minister tell us what progress has been made?
Secondly, it is essential to look at the measures to tackle knife crime and make sure they are co-ordinated in a multi-agency approach and across a geographical area. A number of practitioners call this the public health approach. I congratulate the Government on introducing serious violence partnerships in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and I welcome that. However, those duties do not specifically cover criminal exploitation and serious youth violence. The practitioners could provide a clear partnership and a vital means of support for children who present with signs of exploitation and serious violence. Can the Minster confirm that the serious violence partnerships will cover child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence?
Lastly, we know that youth services and activities at the local level are a vital tool in the box to reach young people who are disengaged from statutory services. In my humble opinion, if we view social care as the fourth emergency service, youth services are the fifth emergency service. The basis of youth work is built on trust, with professionals working with our young people. They are in such a unique position in building that trust with those young people, who some people describe as hard to reach. They are not hard to reach; we just have not found a way to reach them. Youth workers do, and in many cases, their work saves lives. They have the vital information that the police, our teachers and social workers need, so they should be supported.
I have long campaigned for youth services to be a statutory provision so that all young people can access free, high-quality youth services to help to develop and support them in their formative years. Youth services must be part of the holistic approach, linking up with public health, children’s social care and housing. I pay tribute to the youth workers, voluntary groups and community groups across Vauxhall and right across the country, who are working flat out to support our young people day in, day out. When we are all away, at home with our families or on vacation, they are working—some of them on a shoestring budget, and some of them chasing application after application to support our young people.
Over the last decade, we have seen severe cuts in this sector, leading to reductions, and in some cases closures, of vital youth provision. Cuts to youth services are a false economy, because young people will continue to be exploited and violence will increase. I ask the Minister to work with the Treasury to look at how we can truly restore funding to youth services and invest in our young people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) for setting the scene so well, and I associate myself with all her comments. As I always do, I am trying to put myself in the hon. Lady’s position in relation to her constituent, and I would have found it very hard to deal with that situation. It is never easy.
This is a topic that I feel we have been discussing and debating for years and, sadly, it seems to be an ongoing issue, with crime figures still on the higher side and continuous calls for the Government to act. I am of a certain age, and I was a member of the boy scouts. I remember well that we each had a small penknife. What did we use them for? To make bows and arrows, to carve sticks and for all the innocent purposes a boy scout would. Today, however, in the society we live in, things are very different.
I want to go back to basics and ask why knife crime is such an issue to begin with. Knife crime is a complex social problem, as hon. Members have said when they have spoken about the issues in their own constituencies. It is a symptom of toxic environments that are created around younger children. Socialised by their peers from a young age, these children grow up to become the perpetrators of such violence. Knife crime figures may be higher in certain sections of the United Kingdom, but such crime impacts on all regions of the United Kingdom, including back home in Northern Ireland.
I will give an example. I told you this story at the table last night, Mr Paisley, and I told it to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) beforehand. My son is the manager of a shop in Newtownards. I met him on a Monday morning when I went to collect the paper as usual, but he was outside and the shutter was down. I asked, “Jimmy, what’s wrong?”, and he said, “Dad, I was robbed last night at five to 10.”
The guy who came to rob him had a long-handled fish-knife, and in all honesty he was probably spaced out. Jimmy said to him, “Look, the tills are cleared. We clear them early. All we have here is the £50 float.” The man pushed by him with the knife, and Jimmy said, “If you want the float, take the float; don’t stab me. Take the two bottles of Buckfast and move on.”
As I said to the hon. Lady beforehand, in this case, the better part of valour was to do nothing. It is not as if Jimmy is not courageous or does not stand up for himself; he was also a manager of a shop in a different part of Northern Ireland and he got to know people like that quite well. On other occasions, when he knew who the people were and they tried to rob him but they did not have knives, he took them on. In many cases, the police were called to arrest them.
The point I am making is: why do these people use knives? The knife this man had was a large fish-knife. We have a fishing community in our area; did the knife come from there? Those knives are incredibly sharp. One wrong move, and we could be looking at a very different situation. The point is that it is not just a problem in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Luton North, for Lewisham East, for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). It is a problem across the whole of the United Kingdom, and it is particularly worrying. It is worrying because a person can get a knife from their kitchen. They can take one from their job down in the fishing ports in Portavogie. They can lift one up in a shop, or from the hardware shop two or three doors up. That is how easy it is.
Recent police recorded crime figures published by the Office for National Statistics show a 2% increase in the number of knife offences recorded: from 35,146 in the year ending March 2019 to 35,815 in the year ending March 2020. It has continued to increase since 2013. I am looking to the Minister—I am not being critical, by the way, and I always try to be constructive in my comments—but the frustration is, how do we stop this crime? That is the question we are all asking. How can we stop it happening? I look to the Minister in the hope that he will give us some encouragement. I know that the Government are doing lots of things; I always like to give credit where credit is due. They have lots of strategies and policies, but I want to put forward something for down the line, which I hope the Minister, in conjunction with other Ministers, will take on board.
We have proof that current ways, means and legislation are not working. I say that really respectfully. Across mainland England there is an increasingly concerning issue with knife crime in schools. In 2019, 45,000 young people aged 10 to 17 were sentenced for carrying a knife or offensive weapon, with more than 1,000 of these weapons found on school property. In my day, school was always a safe place to be. We have to ask how we can make it the safe place that it was before. Every one of us today wants to make sure that that can happen again. Why do they carry knives? I cannot fathom why they do. If they carry one, the use of it is not too far away. It is easy to pull it out and then the inevitable can happen. We want to stop that.
The police recorded 275 murders involving a knife or sharp object in the 12 months between April 2019 and April 2020; 23 were children under 17 years of age. Why are under-17s being stabbed to their deaths, and what further action can we take to stop that from happening? The Ben Kinsella Trust, a leading charity in tackling knife crime, has also revealed that from April 2020 to July 2020 there was a 54% increase in hospital admissions for those who were victims of knife crimes. What discussions has the Government had with the Ben Kinsella Trust? There are charities working on the frontline. They must know the symptoms and must have an idea of how to respond to try to control it.
As a possible way forward, there should be more mandatory resources available, particularly for young people, where the danger of knife crime is brought to light. If it happens in a certain area and if it happens on a regular basis, we need to put resources and time into trying to address the issues. All too often, children are blamed and stereotyped for societal issues surrounding knife crime, but the bigger picture is not evaluated. It is all very well to sometimes point the finger without looking at the source of why the problems happen.
For example, I stated earlier that these situations are created around younger children. Ultimately, it can be said that they do not know any better. In some cases, they might not, but they have to be taught what it means to carry a knife. Growing up, we were all taught to do as we were told and to obey our elders. Again, that is a generational thing. I think a lot of us will subscribe to that. Can we really place full blame on the young people?
I believe there is a partnership for the Minister on schooling and education; I hope we get an assurance on that when he replies. This is a crucial element in the debate. It is critical. It is not just the responsibility of the Minster here today; it is the education Minister’s, too. A partnership of the two together could try to address the issue.
Schools are a safe place for children, and the correct facilities should be in place to reassure them that they can talk about issues surrounding knife crime. How do we do that? We need to have teachers available to engage with children and look out for them. I am not saying that they are not doing that; teachers are very responsive to their pupils. However, if young people are worried about getting mixed up with the wrong crowds, support needs to be available.
If a pupil tells a teacher that their friend carries whatever it may be, we need to be able to respond, to take that pupil away and to address the issue for their friend. I therefore call again on the Secretary of State for Education—it is not the responsibility of the Minister—to ensure that schools in England have the funding to add that support for children, so that partnership between schooling and policing can work successfully.
I would also like to mention the relationship between local communities and our policing systems across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We need to focus on maintaining a steady and trusting relationship between the two. It is really important that local communities and the police come together—another partnership—to work out how we can provide safety for our young people, as opposed to provoking violence and hatred.
The hon. Member for Luton North referred to the “Bin Your Blade” campaign, and I commend her for supporting it. I hope that it encourages people to come forward, discard weapons and seek help to become better people. It is the second time today that the hon. Lady and I have been in a debate: we did the first one this morning, we are doing another this afternoon. These are important issues that we are dealing with on behalf of our constituents.
There is no time for complacency when it comes to any crime, but especially when it is a crime that is killing hundreds of our young people. It cannot go on. When I read about cases in the press or see them on the TV, I do not know the cases, but I always see the pictures and they tell me about a family that is devastated because their loved one has been killed by knife crime. That has a lasting effect on everyone in the family. Mr Paisley, you and I, coming from Northern Ireland, know that the ripples from those things go long and deep. I cannot begin to imagine the harrowing phone calls that parents must face.
I therefore call on the Minister to encourage the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary to work in partnership. I encourage the Minister to ask communities groups and police to engage together in a more effective way. All those bodies, Ministers and local bodies must get together and take all the steps that they can to reduce knife crime in the United Kingdom.
If we can save one life, and we can stop the heartache of others, we will have done a good job. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response; I look forward to the SNP spokesperson’s and shadow Minister’s responses as well. What the Minister has heard today is a small capsule of what we all think: what we need is something more effective. I hope that the Minister will have answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley, for the first but hopefully not the last time.
Knife crime, crime involving an object with a blade or a sharp instrument, is a persistently worrying concern, especially as it disproportionately impacts our young people and the disadvantaged. Worryingly, knife crime in England and Wales has risen each year since 2014. In the year ending March 2020, there were around 46,300 offences involving a sharp instrument, 6% higher than in 2018-19 and 51% higher than in 2010. That trend is obviously a cause of great concern.
I bring to the attention of Members some positive news and hope for optimism in the fight to reduce violent crime overall, including knife crime: the success of the Scottish violence reduction unit. Less than 20 years ago, knife crime was the basis of Glasgow’s unenviable reputation as the murder capital of Europe. The Scottish violence reduction unit was established with funding from the Scottish Government in 2005 to stem the tide of homicides, gang violence and knife crime. Its strategy, based on a public health approach to violence, treated it like a disease and dealt with the causes, rather than the symptoms, which was motivated by the belief that violence is preventable, not inevitable. It has been hugely successful. This approach refers to a whole school of thought that suggests that, beyond the obvious health problems that result from violence—the psychological trauma and physical injuries—violent behaviour itself is an epidemic that spreads from person to person.
In the last 16 years, the number of homicides in Scotland has more than halved, from 137 in 2005, of which significant numbers involved knives, to just 64 last year. The approach has received worldwide attention and is endorsed by the World Health Organisation. It is a strategy that works. The deputy Mayor for policing and crime in London, Sophie Linden, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, visited Scotland in 2018 to learn about the successful public health approach deployed in Glasgow. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has already incorporated elements of that public health strategy in his knife crime strategy. It was announced in 2019 that London will echo Scotland’s approach to tackling serious violence by treating it as a public health issue. A violence reduction unit has been set up in London, which includes public health staff, police and local government. Through that violence reduction unit, the Mayor is investing in programmes that can tackle the causes of violence and promote opportunities.
A key programme focuses on reducing school exclusions, keeping young people in education and enabling youth practitioners to reach out—a point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi)—visiting people in A&E and in the custody suites, providing support for parents or carers and creating resilient home environments, and providing young people with positive opportunities to develop skills and broaden their prospects for employment and life chances.
It is very welcome that Scotland’s world-leading approach is being replicated in other areas across the UK and the world, but there is more that we can do as politicians. We can fundamentally change the underlying conditions leading to knife and violent crime. The violence reduction unit in Glasgow and the trainers at the College of Policing, know only too well that the causes of knife crime are complex and numerous, but poverty and lack of opportunity play a large part, brutalising lives and making them in turn prone to brutal responses.
Just last year, researchers at Birmingham University found that one of the most important factors in the significant increase in knife crime is unemployment. They found that a 1% increase in unemployment on the previous year increased knife crime by 1% to 2%. In terms of numbers, a rise of unemployment levels from 5% to 6% would lead to more than 3,600 more knife crimes annually.
Unemployment, though important, is only part of a much bigger story and according to analysis by the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence, the rise in knife crime can be linked to austerity budget cuts, which have dramatically scaled back youth services in parts of England and Wales. The hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to that point. The link between inequality and homicide rates has been shown in as many as 40 studies and the differences are large—there are fivefold differences in murder rates between countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia compared with those in Scandinavia, which is all related to inequality.
The most important reason why violence is more common in more unequal societies is that it is often triggered by people feeling marginalised, hopeless and without the opportunity to improve their lives and life chances. There is much that the police and other public services can do to manage and even reduce violent crime, but we as politicians have a bigger task on our hands in countering the effects of poverty and deprivation, which is inevitably linked to the prevalence and increase of not only knife crime, but all crime.
Violence is preventable; it is not inevitable. We need to continue to develop strategies that adopt a multi-agency approach to the reduction of crime, rather than dealing with it just as a criminal justice matter.
Recently, having sat on the Public Bill Committee on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—now with the House of Lords—I was pleased to see measures are being introduced to reduce violent crime through the introduction of a legal duty for local authorities, the police, education authorities and others to collaborate, plan and share information to prevent and reduce serious violence, including knife crime. As politicians, we need to do all we can to reduce knife crime by tackling poverty and inequality and addressing the factors that cause knife crime by providing hope and opportunity for all in our society. That, along with other measures, will I hope bring significant reductions in knife crime in this country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. Apologies for my tardiness at the start, coming in a bit late. I had made the schoolboy error of going to Westminster Hall itself, but of course we are not there.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) on securing this debate and on her speech. I congratulate everyone who has spoken on the knowledgeable and thoughtful way in which they approached a difficult topic. It is easy to have a sense of moral panic, which does not lead to solutions. I hope that the Minister has listened to everything that has been said by Members today on what needs to be done.
Practical measures, for example, include what my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) said about bleed control kits. I have heard about and seen that campaign, and I have talked to Emily Spurrell about the great job that she will do and about the support that she needs. My hon. Friend and all Members present are doing an incredible job on behalf of their constituents, trying to reduce violence. That has to be the first job of us as politicians, to keep people safe. What more important job do we have?
We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) who, like me, are from south London constituencies and have particular issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East talked about relationships with the black community. It is of course incredibly important to understand that although I might feel that if something happens to me I can go to the police as my place of safety, there are communities that do not feel that. That needs to be fixed.
I pay tribute to my police force in Croydon. Every single week on Friday morning, the community and the police meet. They have built relationships ever since the death of George Floyd, to the point where there is a new trust and respect on both sides and a much better approach to things like handcuffing during stop and search. On that front, some brilliant activities by the police are going on. We need to harness and replicate those.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, who now chairs the APPG, which I founded and was absolutely my baby for three years; these things are so important. She is doing a brilliant job keeping up the campaign.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made an interesting speech. He was talking about what I was talking to some police officers about the other day: people who are in the Scouts learn how to use pocket knives. People should learn how to use knives and what the implications might be, the knock-on impact, of using them wrongly and stabbing somebody. Many young people I have met have no concept of what might happen if they stab someone in the leg. They think, “They will be fine”, but of course they are not—the chances are, they will die. If we had more uniformed organisations teaching people how dangerous those things are, but how to use them safely, we might have a slightly different approach to some of the issues.
The spokesperson for the SNP, the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), talked about the Scottish approach, which I know well. I visited and spent a long time with people from the violence reduction unit in Scotland and with others in America who have done similar things. The public health approach is absolutely the right one. There is plenty of evidence, which the Government are yet to pick up or act on, sadly.
Yesterday, I was with a senior police officer who said to me, “We are in a perfect storm. We have had years of cuts to services.” My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North, I think, said that the children who suffered the cuts 10 years ago are now the teenagers who are involved in knife crime, and that is exactly what the police officer was saying to me yesterday. He added that, on top of that, we have had a year and a half of covid restrictions with people in lockdown. Now potentially we face a summer of violence.
Knife crime reached its highest level on record in 2019-20, at more than 50,000 offences. That is an extraordinary number, which has doubled since 2013-14, when there were 25,000 offences. Between 2010-11 and 2019-20, knife crime rose in every single police force in the country. Since 2014, there has been a 72% increase in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds admitted to accident and emergency for knife wounds and the most common age group for victims of homicide recorded in the year ending March 2020 was 16 to 24-year-olds. That was followed by 25 to 34-year-olds. While the effects of lockdown saw a fall at the beginning of the year ending September 2020, there were still 47,119 offences: an average of 120 knife crimes a day.
Last week, the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner found that for the first time more children than adults were identified as potential modern slavery victims last year. The commissioner’s annual report found that of the 10,689 potential victims referred to the national referral mechanism, 4,849 were children. The unrelenting rise, which Members have discussed today, in county-lines drug dealing, where criminal gangs exploit children, is fuelling violence. and the Government are simply not doing enough to stamp down on criminal drug gangs. The Minister for Crime and Policing said last November:
“Back in the early part of the previous decade, we thought we had beaten knife crime, but unfortunately it is back.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 595.]
He may be good at acknowledging that there is a serious problem with serious violence in this country, but not so good at actually doing something about it.
More than 20 teenagers have been killed in London this year and many more have had their lives cut short across the country. How many children will die before the Government recognise this as the violent epidemic that it is? I came into the House in 2017 determined to tackle the scourge of rising levels of serious violence. I set up and chaired the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, and it is very sad to be speaking in the House today when yet another young life has been lost in my constituency. Two weeks ago, a 16-year-old boy called Camron Smith was murdered in his own home in front of his mother in a horrific murder that could have been avoided.
Last week in the Chamber, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), whether the Government would commit to helping every vulnerable child this summer. She replied by saying that they were doing that through increased investment through the Department for Education funding over the summer, but that funding is limited. It amounts to a few pennies per child and excludes a large number of children who might otherwise need safeguarding support. The Government’s education recovery proposals are one tenth of Labour’s offer and, unlike Labour, contain no money for breakfast clubs or extra-curricular activities. The Under-Secretary referred to the Youth Endowment Fund, which is welcome, but it is £200 million over 10 years. Again, statistically, if we look at the number of children we need to help, that sum is small fry in comparison with what is needed.
I do not need to repeat the level of cuts to youth services that we have seen over this period of government, as well as the cuts to local government, policing, police staff, domestic-abuse risk officers and forensic officers. We have not just lost police officers on the beat; we have lost the whole apparatus behind that of people who actually help prevent and solve crime. We have 8,000 fewer police staff now than we did 10 years ago and more than 7,000 fewer police community support officers. We know that PCSOs were a key link between communities and the police: people we know, see and understand, and we and know their names. We have a relationship with them and they might talk to someone’s mother if that person got into trouble. That has been decimated by the Government.
We have heard many solutions and I think we would all be happy to sit down with the Minister and talk about those further. We know it is possible to reduce violence. As the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) says, violence is not inevitable. We know that things can be done. We know that knife crime goes in peaks and troughs and when there are interventions, violence goes down. However, those interventions need to be long term and rooted in communities.
It is important that the Government, local authorities, the police and the voluntary sector are able to join together to prevent, recognise and respond to violence. Central to that is the need to prevent the criminalisation of children, as well as early intervention to prevent young people from becoming involved in violence in the first place. So many cases of youth violence tell the same sad story in which the victim and the young person inflicting violence have both had adverse childhood experiences.
We need to look to authorities such as Lambeth Council. Over the summer, Lambeth has taken the approach of identifying the most vulnerable children—the 100 most vulnerable, say—who are at risk of getting involved in crime or who are already involved in crime. The council has a plan for what each of those children will be doing over the summer and where—for example, this week, that child will be going to this activity; the following week, they will go to that one, and so on. That is a really interesting and important approach, and one that we can look at replicating. The amount of money that we spend on interventions with our young people— social care, council and police interventions over the years—is probably absolutely extortionate, but all those interventions do not actually amount to the protection we need to give those children so that they are not getting involved in crime.
It is time that we looked at the justice system and sentencing. That is a really difficult area because we are talking about children. We know that prison is not the answer, but the police would say that if a vulnerable and exploited child becomes involved in a criminal gang, and he carries a knife, no one will tell the police, so they do not know. If he stabs someone in the leg as part of the criminal activity, that person will go to hospital, but no one will tell the police, so they do not know. If he then gets caught with a knife, the police know, but there is no intervention to take him out of that situation. He will be referred to the youth offending team and there might be some kind of intervention.
This is very difficult, but I know of cases where young people have been caught carrying knives and, because there was no intervention at that point, they have gone on either to commit murder or to be murdered themselves. This conversation is very difficult because they are young children. Of course, we need to do all the prevention and intervention, but we also need to think about when we do it. I know of a case where somebody was caught carrying a 3-foot zombie knife and nothing happened as a result. I think the Minister needs to look at that.
That is exactly what knife crime prevention orders are for.
As well as prevention, at some point, we need to think about wrapping our arms around those people. I do not think that knife crime prevention orders are the answer, but they are being piloted. [Interruption.] The Minister talks about them from a sedentary position. He announced them with great fanfare in the middle of the knife-crime panic a couple of years ago, but nothing has actually happened yet. They are being piloted now, two years after they were talked about as the answer to everything. I am just saying that we need to have a conversation about the pathway and about exactly what happens to young people when they come to the attention of the police.
As I said in the Chamber last week, our summer holidays should be full of opportunities, including youth work, mentorship programmes, sports clubs, mental health support, as well as good neighbourhood policing, of course. In the medium term, we need proper wraparound support for at-risk children, including different housing when it is needed—moving people away from the area where they are susceptible to violence is a huge issue—people to talk to, mentoring, and proper youth services. In the longer term, we need to completely change the way that we tackle violence. The Government need to do more work in schools to better detect, prevent and eliminate violence, and they need to work with the NHS to properly treat the epidemic and immunise our society.
Under this Government, criminals are getting away with it, pathways to crime are wide open, and our children are being exploited by criminal thugs and groomed into violence. Our justice system is not taking the right response, and our Government are not taking the problem seriously. My question to the Minister is: where is the emergency summer plan to stop our children fighting and murdering one another over the summer holidays, and how does he plan to stop riots over the summer? Knife crime prevention orders have not been piloted yet; the education recovery plan is one tenth of what it needs to be; the Youth Endowment Fund is spread super-thin over 20 years; and the summer activities fund amounts to pennies per child. We need action. The scale of the problem needs to be matched by a proper response, because at the moment, drug use is rising, crime is rising, and the Government have no summer plan.
Minister, it is your opportunity. You have lots of issues to respond to.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I should begin by recognising the important reason that the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) referenced for raising this particular issue in debate, and expressing my condolences to the family of Humza Hussain on that horrendous event, recognising that his family are sadly going through something that too many families have gone through. Like the hon. Lady, I have sat with too many of those families over the years and seen the devastation that is wrought by these terrible acts, within the family, among friends and loved ones, and in the wider community that is affected by these events.
It is clear from today’s debate that this is an important issue to lots of Members from across the country, as indeed it is to me and to the whole Government. It should come as no surprise that it is an issue of importance, given that the Prime Minister was previously Mayor of London and dealt with a similar knife crime epidemic in the capital, which was reflected across the whole of the country, and he dealt with it successfully over that period, if I might say so. It is not enough, but we managed to get the number of teenagers stabbed and killed in the capital down from 29 in 2008 to just eight in 2012, and kept it at a low level. That is obviously eight too many, but nevertheless we learned a lot during that period, and we are trying to put that learning into effect as we do our work now.
We are taking significant steps, and I had hoped that they might be recognised across the House, because a number of Members here represent areas of the country that are particularly affected by knife crime—areas where we have been both putting in significant extra resources and galvanising effort to try to achieve a step change in the response of all the partners who are required to tackle knife crime: not just the police, or indeed the Government, but everybody else as well. That has involved personal effort as well as investment across the piece, not just with the police but in local government.
I will begin by reflecting on the police. As Members know, we are recruiting a huge number of police officers at the moment: the latest published figure is approaching 9,000. We are well ahead of schedule on getting 20,000 extra police officers, with many parts of the country back to where they were pre-2010 in terms of numbers. In important parts of the country, of course, police-officer numbers have remained high. For example, in London—we have three Members representing London here today—the number of officers in the Metropolitan police has been consistently higher than it was at the all-time low for murder in the capital, which was 2014. That number has been consistently higher ever since; much of that has been down to Government funding, and obviously, that number will go higher still. We believe that those police officers will make a big difference—including the 74 in Bedfordshire so far, with more to come—and that by having a significant police presence in a focused way, we can do an awful lot of preventive work tonight.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) has referenced the experience of Glasgow. I met Karyn McCluskey, who was leading the charge in Glasgow all those years ago. It is often forgotten that police enforcement played a very significant role in the fight against knife crime in Glasgow. Certainly in the early years, it was the use of heavy police enforcement, identifying and removing knives from the street, that created the space for some of those other, more supportive, therapeutic interventions to take place, and police enforcement still has a part to play. Although Scotland has had success on knife crime, sadly it is still plagued to a certain extent by this offence: we have seen machete gangs openly attacking people in the street in recent times, as we have across the rest of the United Kingdom. The experience of Glasgow is obviously something that we would love to learn from and benefit from across the whole of the country.
Critically, we are rolling out significant resources to police forces across the land as we speak. Over the past couple of years, there has been a surge fund focused on those 18 forces in whose areas knife crime and violence is most prevalent, and that funding has been used to good effect by the police. We are bringing a sharper focus to it this year, with the allocation of what we are calling GRIP funding, which is looking at hotspots where we want police to take a very targeted, analytical, data-driven approach towards dealing with violence in particular parts of their geography. That is now embedding and will be in place during the summer. It is part of our plan to deal with a possible resumption of violence, post release from lockdown.
The hon. Lady is right that we saw a significant reduction during the past year, with a spike in August as we were released from lockdown. We have put in place comprehensive plans with the police to ensure that we stay on top of any such repetition over the summer. That funding is rolling out now. I am personally driving that programme, and I have met lots of those forces to talk about how they are going to put that funding into place.
We are now in year three of violence reduction units, which similarly received significant funding as part of our £130 million package this year. In my experience of year three, we are seeing a much greater sophistication in violence reduction units, and a much greater level of partnership in areas that receive that funding. For example, I sat down with representatives from Greater Manchester this morning, to go through their plans and look at their violence reduction work. It was very powerful and a sign that those units have matured in terms of the identification of individuals and what they are going to do to support and assist them in turning away from knife crime.
That is a critical part of our architecture in 18 parts of the country. Bedfordshire has a unit that has received funding of £2.6 million. It is a valuable hub for the co-ordination of work that is needed to fight violent crime. We have now funded eight interventions across Bedfordshire, reaching about 12,000 young people. I hope that that will have an impact in the hon. Lady’s constituency, as it will across the rest of the county. A number of Members made the point that, at the same time as looking towards the police to help with enforcement immediately—tonight, because we know there are people out there carrying knives—we must also do the long-term work that targets the crime at its root. That will be done, as the hon. Lady said, by investing in prevention and early intervention.
The hon. Lady disparaged the amount of money that is being invested through the Youth Endowment Fund, but that misunderstands what the fund is there to do. It is investing in transforming our understanding of what works, ensuring that it sits alongside other organisations, funding grants and evaluation programmes, so that they can maximise their spending, whether that is local authorities, police and crime commissioners, police forces or health services, many of which will have to work alongside one another in the fight on serious violence, once the serious violence duty comes into place later this year.
We want to ensure that every pound spent has significant impact. In my experience of talking to many of the groups working with young people to prevent crime, although they are often well meaning and committed, there is often a paucity of evidence, a lack of an investable proposition that what they are doing is working, beyond the anecdotal. There are some programmes that we are investing significant amounts of money in, which we know have an effect, and where there is evaluation.
For example, there is our investment in programmes that look at teachable moments, where young people have a moment of crisis that allows us to get into their thinking and steer them on to a different path, either in police custody or accident and emergency, hopefully the former. Investing in that holds enormous promise and the evaluation shows that it is a strong way to get people out of violence and, in particular, out of gangs, and to move them on to a better life.
We want to ensure that all the money we spend is spent on trained, professional, therapeutic intervention. There are other funding pots that can look at the more general provision around youth services, and I recognise what has been said about those over the years. We want to ensure that our crime prevention focus is sharp and targeted, to ensure that we can exactly target the young people the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) pointed to in Lambeth, to ensure that they head towards a life of truth and light.
Alongside that, there is a lot we can do from a legislative point of view.
Alongside that, there is a lot we can do from a legislative point of view. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been referenced. As I mentioned, that contains the important serious violence duty, which for the first time will put a statutory obligation on all partners in an area to come alongside the police and work to prevent violence, plan, understand the data, look at what the funding streams might be and leverage off each other.
In my contribution, I referred to the need for a strategy or partnership between the Minister’s Department and education. Is that part of the strategy? If it is, I believe that is core to changing the mindset but also to improving the situation. I just ask the question.
That is a good question. It is certainly the case that violence reduction units, which are led locally, include wider education programmes, and I have seen good examples of that. They are there to generally educate young people about the dangers of carrying a knife, and the fact that someone carrying a knife is more likely to be a victim than to protect themselves. I have seen some imaginative use of such programmes. I was in the west midlands a couple of weeks ago, where a virtual reality set-up was used with schoolchildren to indicate to them the best way in which to continue their lives.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a strong interest in the Bill. It contains serious violence reduction orders, which give the police the power, as the hon. Member for Croydon Central pointed out, to stop those individuals who are known knife carriers, and are known to have been convicted in the past and to have shown a proclivity to violence. They are designed to discourage and deter people from carrying weapons, given the increased likelihood of getting caught, and to protect offenders—to give them an excuse to move away from being drawn into exploitation by criminal gangs.
On the serious violence reduction orders, can the Minister confirm that there will be a full evaluation before they are rolled out across the country?
They have been through significant scrutiny. Obviously, they will be rolled out subject to evaluation, as we are doing with knife crime prevention orders. As the hon. Lady said, we are piloting those at the moment in London. Those orders have both a positive and a negative impact. For example, somebody subject to a knife crime prevention order can be stopped from going into Croydon town centre, but at the same time in the same order be required to attend an anger management course or some kind of training course—some positive activity that would steer them in the right direction. We will look at any innovation that comes forward and pilot it and try it. Such is the urgency of the problem that there is no monopoly on ideas; we should be willing to try everything.
We can also do more to remove knives. Last week, we commenced the provisions of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, bringing in a ban on a range of knives and other weapons: specific firearms; cyclone knives, which are a sort of spiral knife—Members may have seen those deeply unpleasant weapons for sale online—and rapid-fire rifles. Anyone who possesses these weapons could now face up to 10 years in prison. We think that this ban will help save lives and get more weapons off the street. Certainly, as part of the surrender programme, enormous numbers of these weapons have been surrendered to us.
Although I understand the desire of Members present to push the Government to ever greater efforts, I would like to reassure everybody that there is an enormous amount of effort and commitment going in, both at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and more widely at the Department for Education and among all those partners who are required to drive down this problem. I know that there has been a lot of challenge this afternoon about the amount of resources going in. I just point out that when I was deputy Mayor of London dealing with a knife crime epidemic back in 2008, that was when spending under Gordon Brown was at an all-time high. Police officer numbers were similarly high and there were youth groups all over the place. Yet still our young people were stabbing each other in great numbers. The connection between knife crime and social structure is not as simple as people sometimes portray.
Will the Minister give way?
No, because I am running out of time.
I finish by posing a question. We think this is a priority and we are putting enormous effort into it, but the challenge has been made that the issue is very much about poverty. What if it were the case that violence causes poverty, not poverty, as a number of Members have alleged, that causes violence, and that our job, in order to create prosperity in Luton, Vauxhall and everywhere else, is to clear that violence out of the way so people can build the lives for themselves and their children that they deserve?
We have covered a lot of ground during these 90 minutes and I want to touch on a couple of points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) made a point about funding being too short term. It was great to hear the Minister reel off the pots of funding that have suddenly been made available, but that is reactionary and short-termist. What happens next year and the year after? Children deserve to be invested in, which was the point that my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) made so eloquently. We are talking about children and they deserve a future that is much brighter than the one that is currently on offer from this Government.
When it comes to tackling poverty, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East said it perfectly: if we tackle poverty, we tackle crime. Our shadow spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), said precisely what the police officer had relayed to her: austerity and deprivation are a perfect storm for criminals.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) eloquently pointed out the importance of investment in youth services. Those are essentials, not additional extras. They should be an essential part of every young person’s life growing up.
I thank everyone for their heartfelt, thoughtful and intelligent contributions. I am surprised that the Minister was by himself representing the party of Government, given that we know that knife crime and serious and violent crime have increased in every single force over the last 10 years. We should all tackle this matter together, across the political divide. I know the problem cannot be solved in this room in 90 minutes, so is the Minister willing to meet me and colleagues from Luton North to tackle the issue and continue the work that is going on, but in a long-term and strategic fashion, not in the short-term and reactionary way that has failed children time and again?
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered tackling knife crime.