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Machetes: Consultation

Volume 731: debated on Tuesday 18 April 2023

Before we come to today’s statement, I remind all Members that they should not refer to cases that are before the courts. That includes ongoing inquests and criminal cases where offenders have not yet been sentenced.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on legislative proposals to tackle the use of machetes and other large knives in crime.

Knife crime causes misery and fear in our communities, which is why over many years this Government have taken concerted action to tackle it. We are pursuing a twin-track approach, combining tough enforcement with prevention and intervention as we relentlessly bear down on violent crime, and we are supporting the police every step of the way in that effort. We have given forces more powers and more resources to go after criminals and take knives and dangerous weapons off our streets, and we have legislated over time to tighten the law.

The results are clear to see. Since 2019, the police have removed over 90,000 knives and dangerous weapons through stop and search, surrender programmes and other targeted police action. Violence, as measured by the crime survey, is down by 38% since 2010, and hospital admissions as a result of injuries caused by a bladed article and where the victim is below the age of 25 are down by 24% since 2019. This is really important work: every knife or weapon taken off the streets has the potential to save lives. We have also invested significantly in violence reduction units to bring together agencies to tackle the drivers of serious violence at a local level. We have introduced Grip—hotspot policing to tackle enforcement in areas with particular problems—and have established the £200 million Youth Endowment Fund to fund innovative diversionary activities.

The combination of violence reduction units and targeted hotspot policing has prevented an estimated 136,000 violent offences in the first three years of funded delivery, and tomorrow we will launch a pilot of serious violence reduction orders to give the police an automatic right to stop and search convicted knife offenders. Every offender issued with an SVRO will face an increased likelihood of being stopped by the police and, if they persist in carrying weapons, will be sent back to prison or brought before the courts. That follows the start of the offensive weapons homicide review pilot on 1 April, which will see local partners work together to review the circumstances of certain homicides where the death of a person aged over 18 is likely to have involved the use of an offensive weapon.

Through our police uplift programme, of course, we are recruiting thousands more officers—we will get the figures next week, but we confidently expect those to confirm that we have record numbers of police officers in England and Wales. That is something that I am sure Members across the House will welcome very strongly, along with the 38% reduction in violence since 2010.

However, as the public would expect, we keep our approach under constant review, and where improvements can be made, we will not hesitate to act. It is in that context that we have today launched a seven-week consultation on new proposals to go even further to tackle the use of certain machetes and other bladed articles in crime.

The UK already has some of the strictest knife legislation in the world, and the police already have broad powers to tackle knife crime. Our new proposals to go even further have been developed in co-operation with the National Police Chiefs’ Council knife crime lead, but also in consultation with Members of this House who have brought forward constituency cases illustrating the need to go further.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), who brought forward an example of a knife that was legal that was used in an offence in Southend. That knife will be illegal once these changes are made. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes)—I see him in his place—who also highlighted constituency cases of knife crime. Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) raised the case of one of his constituents, who was robbed using a machete in broad daylight on the streets of Chelsea. I thank those Members and others for bringing these issues to the attention of the Home Office, and it is in response to their constructive campaigning and to the police that we are taking even further action today.

We have identified certain types of machetes and large outdoor knives that do not appear to have a practical use and appear to be designed to look menacing and to be favoured by those who want to use knives as weapons. We intend to ban those weapons, going further than the weapons ban already introduced in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, particularly under section 47, with which I am sure Opposition Members are familiar. That means it will be an offence to import, manufacture, sell or supply any of these weapons. We also believe that the criminal justice system should treat carrying prohibited knives and offensive weapons in public more seriously, to better reflect the severity of the offences, and we are consulting on that point.

In addition, we are proposing to toughen the current penalties for selling prohibited offensive weapons and for selling bladed articles to under-18s. Under our proposals, the maximum penalty for those offences would be increased to two years’ imprisonment. We are also consulting on whether to provide the police with additional powers to enable them to seize, retain and destroy bladed articles of any length held in private where they are intended for criminal use, or whether the powers should be limited to articles of a certain length. We consider that to be a proportionate response. When discussing it this morning in Brixton police station with the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead, they certainly strongly welcomed those additional powers.

Finally, we are consulting on whether it would be appropriate to mirror firearms legislation and introduce a separate offence of possessing a knife or offensive weapon with intent to injure or cause fear of violence, with a maximum penalty higher than the current offence of straight possession. In addition to publication on, I will place in the Library copies of the consultation document and the accompanying impact assessment, and I encourage Members on both sides to respond to that.

Knife crime is a menace that has no place in society. It can destroy families and leave lives devastated. We have shown time and again that this Government will always put the interests of the law-abiding majority and victims first. We have given our police forces more officers, we have given them more powers, and now we are seeking to go even further. We are relentlessly focused on driving down crime, and I trust that Members on both sides of the House will support these measures.

Order. Can I just say to the Minister that the copy of his statement that I have does not relate to what he was saying to the House? Some part seems to be missing.

There were one or two points I added in reference to Members here, but in substance no. I am happy to try to work out what happened afterwards.

Normally, I see a full copy. I was looking to where we had got to, and then we picked up somewhere else. I think it is important that we try to keep as near as possible to the script that we expect the House to reflect on. I just make that point. I have had it before, and it is easier, especially when the Opposition are going to reply, if things are there. When you go off script for a while, we do wonder what is coming next. I call the shadow Minister.

The additional extracts were not in my copy of the statement either. Labour supports measures to ban zombie-style knives and machetes. Knife crime devastates lives and rips families apart, but this is too little, too late—a smokescreen to distract from the Government’s appalling record. Knife crime has risen across the country by 70% since 2015, and the whole country is affected. Since 2011, knife crime has doubled in Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire and Derbyshire. It has trebled in Norfolk, Essex and Sussex, and in Surrey it has risen tenfold. There are serious problems in Swindon, Milton Keynes and Rochdale. With a serious violence strategy that is five years out of date, the Government do not have a plan to tackle knife crime in our towns and suburbs.

The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 was hailed by the then Prime Minister as the big answer to what is a national crisis, but it has not worked. A year and a half ago, I called on the Government to act on getting these knives off the streets entirely, but they have done nothing. Why the delay? We have heard it all before. In 2016, the former Home Secretary pledged a ban on zombie knives. In 2017, the next former Home Secretary pledged another ban on zombie knives. In 2018, the then new Home Secretary pledged another ban. In 2021, the Home Secretary after that promised yet again to ban zombie knives. Now, déjà vu, we are promised yet another ban. The Home Secretary says today that it cannot go on, but it has and it is; it is going on and on. Who on earth do they think has been in power for the past 13 years?

This is personal for me. Just last month, I sat with a grieving mother in Rochdale, traumatised after the murder of her little boy. I have seen the destruction that knife crime causes with my own eyes, and it is getting worse. Total knife crime is up 11% in the past year alone. Knife-enabled rape and knife-enabled threats to kill are at record levels. Knife possession is up 15% on pre-pandemic levels. The Minister said that violent crime is down, but serious violence is up, not down, and that should be his priority.

The proposed ban does not go far enough. It is already an offence to sell knives to under-18s, but the Government have utterly failed to enforce the law. Just last year, a boy was murdered in east London with a knife bought with fake ID. After the Minister’s changes in the consultation, will I still be able to buy a 49-cm sword online? Only swords over 50 cm are banned. Will I still be able to purchase the 40-inch samurai sword for £100 or the 16-inch “Deluxe Rambo First Blood” knife for £40 that I found this morning on The consultation does not seem to include any of those.

The Government are trying to legislate their way out of a problem caused by their cuts to police—cuts that have left us with 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and police community support officers on our streets since 2015—and cuts to everywhere from mental health to youth work. Does the Minister think it is okay that adults can buy dangerous banned knives on online marketplaces that come from abroad? There is nothing today to tackle that, and the online harms Bill will not stop that. Does he think that tech execs should be responsible for what is on their sites? Apparently not, because his party opposed Labour’s plans to make technology execs criminally responsible when they consistently fail to remove illegal content. Does he think it is acceptable that knife seizures have collapsed at the border? Why is the serious violence strategy now five years out of date? Why are the Government failing to prevent young people from being drawn into crime in the first place, opposing Labour’s plans to outlaw the criminal exploitation of children and cutting a billion pounds from our youth services?

Is it any wonder that the public have lost faith in this tired Government, who are weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime? The next Labour Government will take action, making it our mission to halve knife crime within 10 years. Labour is the party of law and order now.

I certainly admire the shadow Minister’s sense of humour. Let me pick up some of the points she made. She asked about police numbers. As I have said, the figures that will be released on the 26th will show, I am confident, that we have more police officers than at any time in our country’s history, including more police officers than at any point in the time in office of the last Labour Government.

The shadow Minister asked about crime figures. I will repeat the point I made before: only one dataset is considered reliable by the Office for National Statistics and that is the crime survey of England and Wales. It shows that, since 2010, violent offending has dropped by 38%, criminal damage is down 62%, burglary is down 56%, robbery is down 55% and overall crime, excluding fraud and computer misuse, is down 30%. When will the shadow Home Secretary, who was a Minister in that Government, apologise for the fact that crime was double the level it is now under this Government?

The shadow Minister asked about the changes we are making today. This Government have been progressively tightening the legislation over the years, including the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. We have been continuously reviewing that legislation. Where we find opportunities to make it stronger and more effective in response to Members of the House and the police, we will take those opportunities, and that is what we are now doing. If there are some specific comments on the length of knives, that is exactly what the consultation is designed to capture. I strongly urge the shadow Minister to respond to the consultation. I look forward to receiving the extremely considered and detailed submission that she is no doubt working on already.

Finally, in relation to recent trends in the data, the most reliable source of information on serious violence is hospital admissions where the victim has received a knife wound. Over the past three years, for victims under the age of 25, those have reduced by 24%. There is a lot more to do, but the direction of travel is clearly right and this Government are committed to going even further.

If I can make a non-partisan point for a moment, the whole House knows that our late friend and colleague Sir David Amess was murdered with a bladed weapon, so I would like to pay tribute to his proactive successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), for campaigning on this issue, evidently with some success. Can the Minister assure us that, on so-called zombie knives—many of which are now purchased online and some of which, I understand, we can only ban because of what is written on them, rather than what they can do—this new legislation will materially restrict the ability, and ideally end it, for people to buy those weapons online, either domestically or from abroad?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point and is right to remind the House of our much-loved former colleague Sir David’s tragic death at the hands of a knife-wielding attacker. He asks two questions. First, yes, I can confirm that zombie knives that do not have any writing on them will be covered by the proposals. Sub-paragraph (iii) in section 47(2) of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 has a requirement that there are threatening words on the blade, and we have reached the conclusion that that is unduly restrictive. It is not something that anyone, including the Opposition, complained about at the time the Bill passed, but on further reflection and following input from colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, we think that that change needs to be made, and I can confirm that it will be.

In relation to my right hon. Friend’s question, and the shadow Minister’s question, about sales online, people directly selling online prohibited items is obviously just straight-up illegal. In relation to selling on marketplaces, following discussions with colleagues in the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, I have been assured that the Online Safety Bill will cover online marketplaces when it comes to selling items like this, so with the passage of the Online Safety Bill, the kind of provisions he is asking for will apply.

I know that there is widespread concern about this issue on both sides of the House. In 2019, the Home Affairs Committee published a report on serious youth violence, following a 70% rise in knife crime over five years. The Home Office had failed to give the Committee at that time any assessment of how many young people were at risk of being involved in knife crime. The Committee called on the Government to treat this as a social emergency and warned them that the serious violence strategy was inadequate. Four previous Home Secretaries have made announcements in response to knife crime. I wonder if the Minister could set out why he thinks those approaches have not been effective. What is different about the approach that he has announced today and will that be effective?

I thank the Select Committee Chair for her question. I do not accept that the previous initiatives have been unsuccessful. I have already pointed to the steady reduction in hospital admissions as a result of knife wounds and the steady reduction in violent offences, as measured by the crime survey for England and Wales. The Government have successively tightened the law and we are tightening it further today. We have also put more and more resources successively into tackling the social problem that the Select Committee Chair rightly highlights. For example, the violence reduction units are now putting a great deal of money into the 20 police force areas where violent crime is most serious. The Youth Endowment Fund has £200 million to spend on targeted, evidence-based interventions to help young people into a better future. I have visited some of the programmes that have been run—by Everton football club in Merseyside, to give one example. I was in Brixton in south London earlier today, hearing about the community work that happens there. I think the process we are following is successively increasing resources, investing in diversionary activities for young people and successively strengthening the law where evidence emerges that that is necessary. It is over time yielding results; I set out the data at the beginning of my answer.

Following a recent meeting with my local chief superintendent, he set out that it is a matter of course for many young people in Bury to carry a knife. I will just state that fact again: it is a matter of course for young people to carry a knife. The excuse, when they are stopped, is that it is for self-defence purposes. What happens then? The police take the knife, but there is no prosecution. The problem, and we always do this in this House, is that we talk about words on a piece of paper. Unless the police actually prosecute and take action against people for possession of weapons, this problem will never be sorted out. It could be any type of knife that you want. Does the Minister agree that we have to have an approach from the police where there is no nonsense and no taking a knife—people are prosecuted and put in front of a court if they have a knife, end of story?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The laws we pass here, whether on this topic or on any other, are only meaningful to the extent that they are properly enforced. It is my view, as it is his, that when the police arrest somebody in possession of a knife, they should follow up. There should be a prosecution and, where appropriate, there should be custody as well, or there should be rehabilitative work, where that is appropriate, as well. So I entirely agree with him. With the extra resources and extra officers the police are getting, they have the bandwidth now to do that. Our expectation across this House—on both sides—and certainly in the Home Office is that the police do do that.

Knife crime is taking a devastating toll on our communities, with young lives cut short and families torn apart and living with the heartbreak for the rest of their lives. Last year, my constituent Ronan Kanda was killed in a knife attack just yards from his own front door. Ronan was only 16. He had his whole life in front of him. His mum Pooja, his sister Nikita and his wider family miss him every day; I spent time with the family on Friday evening. Can I urge the Minister to bring in this ban on the sale of machetes and similar knives as soon as possible, as one step towards tackling knife crime and trying to ensure that fewer families have to face the grief felt by the Kanda family over the loss of Ronan and the many other families carrying a similar burden of grief?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his moving and powerful description of the awful tragedy that has affected the family of his constituent. The way he described that incident illustrates powerfully to the whole House why it is so important that all of us work to eradicate the scourge of knife crime. Yes, I can give him the commitment he asked for: we will proceed as quickly as we possibly can. Some of the proposals can be done in secondary legislation. We will do that as quickly as we can following the conclusion of the seven-week consultation—it is quite a short consultation, because we want to get on with this. Where primary legislation is needed, we will aim to do that as quickly as we can in the following Session, so, yes, I can give him that assurance.

I am absolutely delighted to hear this announcement today, because machetes and knives have been used in my constituency with tragic consequences, quite apart from what happened to Sir David. The devil is always in the detail. I am delighted to hear that we are going to consider tightening up the definition of zombie knives, which is obviously needed. I am also delighted to hear that, once they are prohibited, their importation, manufacture and sale will be illegal. But reckless retailers are expert at circumventing the law and that is what has happened here. So could I urge the Minister to consider going even further and having a licensing scheme for machetes in this country similar to gun licences? There are some legitimate uses for machetes, but not many. That way, at least we could make sure we get every machete off the streets and out of homes, and prevent these appalling crimes and tragedies.

Can I start by paying tribute again to my hon. Friend for her tireless and very effective campaigning on this topic? This issue is a good example of Members of Parliament raising constituency issues that have led to what I hope will very shortly be a change in the law. In relation to retailers, we intend to be very strict with retailers. The ban will apply to machetes where there is no obvious legitimate purpose, and retailers will be committing a criminal offence if they sell them. We should have no tolerance at all, as she says, for any retailer who seeks to circumvent or break the law by selling machetes that are—that will be—banned.

Machetes and zombie knives should have been banned a long time ago, given that the Government had committed on multiple occasions to banning them, but 13 years of cuts to youth services has led to a number of those services closing across the country, including in my constituency, and it is a fact that areas suffering from the largest cuts in spending on young people have seen the biggest increases in knife crime. For all the talk about prevention and intervention, why will this Government not commit to investing in more resources for young people alongside banning these weapons?

On the first point regarding existing legislation, certain kinds of zombie knives were banned under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, but as I said earlier, sub-paragraph (iii) in section 47(2) of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 banned only zombie knives that have threatening writing on them, and we are now filling that gap in response to feedback.

On the second point about youth services, I agree that prevention is a critical part of the strategy—it is not just about enforcement; it is about prevention as well, and that includes providing alternatives for young people. That is why we have set up the Youth Endowment Fund, with £200 million to fund evidence-based activity, and it is why violence reduction units and project Grip programmes are directing funding at the 20 police forces, including the Metropolitan police, where those services are most desperately needed.

I pay tribute to Pete Madeley and the Express and Star newspaper for their campaign on this issue and for articulating the concerns of their readership. Does the Minister share my surprise that the Labour police and crime commissioner seems to have made little or no attempt to engage with the public in Walsall following some dreadful knife crime recently?

I thank my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on this issue, and his local paper which I know has been raising it as well. I am sorry to hear what he says about the Labour PCC in the west midlands. I urge all PCCs to engage with their local communities and I am particularly shocked and concerned to hear that the west midlands PCC is apparently considering closing down 20 police stations.

I welcome the relative novelty of a Home Office statement, instead of Home Office Ministers having to be brought to the Chamber to answer an urgent question. If this statement is a yardstick by which statements can be expected, the House will be better served in the future than it has been in the recent past.

The measures in the consultation are eminently sensible, and I do not think there would be any challenge from Members in any part of the House, but the Minister is kidding himself if he thinks that this process is going to shift the dial at all in reducing violent knife crime. What would make a difference is visible police presence in our streets. It remains to be seen whether the Government have honoured their manifesto pledge on police numbers, but we already know that the number of police community support officers on our streets is down by 33%; when are the Government going to restore those numbers?

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman likes the statement and I will try to provide further such statements in the future given that there is clearly an appetite for them from his side of the Chamber.

On moving the dial, there is clearly no one solution to a problem like knife crime—there is no silver bullet; no one measure will fix the problem in totality—but I do think that these proposals will move the needle. I saw a knife today in Brixton police station that is currently legal; it was a zombie knife without lettering on it and therefore does not fall within the scope of section 47 of the 2019 Act. It is legal today, but under these proposals it will be illegal, meaning people cannot sell it, market it, import it, manufacture it or even possess it in private. I spoke to the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead today about the totality of these measures and he was very clear that he thinks this will make a difference. It will not solve the problem on its own, but I think it will make a difference.

On police numbers, the figures will be unveiled at 9.30 on 26 April—next Wednesday—so the right hon. Gentleman will have to bear with me until then. However, I am very confident, as I have said once or twice already, that we will have record numbers of officers—more than we have ever had at any time in the history of policing in England and Wales.

I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation, but many of my constituents cannot comprehend how such dangerous weapons can be sold and end up in commonplace use on our streets. I recognise the challenges, but please will the Minister do whatever it takes to get these weapons off our streets, prosecute those who carry them regardless of whether or not they claim it is for self-defence, and go as far as possible to restrict, and preferably completely ban, their sale?

This is urgent. Last Sunday a 15-year-old boy was attacked with a machete in Leeds—he is being treated for a serious head injury—and the previous month a group of men had a fight with machetes in broad daylight on the streets of our city. I welcome these proposals and echo the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for them to be brought in as quickly as possible and the call from the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) for them to be made as comprehensive and loophole-free as possible, because there is no place for these weapons anywhere in our cities and towns.

I agree completely with the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments and those expressed previously by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). Speed is important: we want to do this as quickly as we can, and that is one reason it is a seven-week consultation rather than longer. As I said earlier, we will take forward measures in secondary legislation as quickly as we can, and will also handle as quickly as possible those that need primary legislation.

I agree with the point about the need to avoid loopholes, and in that spirit I strongly encourage Members of this House and people outside it with an interest in this topic—whether charities or anyone else—to reply to the consultation on those points of detail. The shadow policing Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) raised some questions about the length of particular knives; that is the kind of detail we need to get right and the consultation is the vehicle through which we can make sure the details are comprehensively captured exactly as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) suggests.

As in the constituencies of other Members, in 2018 we had a shocking incident in Gillingham in which an 18-year-old was killed by a gang using knives—the incident led to the tragic loss of the life of Kyle Yule. I met his family afterwards and said we would do everything we could to address the issue of knife crime, which brings me to asking the Minister where we go next.

In 2019, senior detectives in Newham said they had discussed with the Government a licensing or registration system due to fears that hunting knives were becoming the weapon of choice for gangs. That was in 2019 and we are now looking at new initiatives. Where are we with regard to licensing and registration? The Minister says we are looking at firearms legislation to see whether we need to move to that kind of system for the possession of knives. I was a lawyer and I prosecuted and defended many of these cases, and questions were raised then about licensing perhaps being specifically needed in this area. Are we there, and if not, why not?

Some important steps were taken through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) is in the Chamber, and in a previous ministerial post she took that important legislation through the House. We propose to go further now: rather than introducing a licensing scheme, we propose to ban completely the machetes and zombie knives that are not currently illegal. Instead of requiring a licensing regime, it will simply be illegal to sell, market, import, manufacture or privately possess those particular knives.

I obviously welcome the further steps to crack down on dangerous knives whenever they might come in, but I gently say to the Minister that when I have taken evidence from experts on the knife problems in my constituency they tell me it is about poverty and child poverty; they tell me it is about the flourishing illegal drugs trade that we just do not have a handle on; they tell me it is about the exploitation of children by county lines gangs; and they talk about the lack of access to youth services and mental health treatment. I urge the Minister to look at this in a holistic way and begin to bring real change and real hope to communities like mine which are so blighted in this way.

I recognise many of the causal factors the hon. Lady describes from her experience in West Ham. In Croydon, we see similar social problems that need to be addressed. Quite a lot of investment is now going into those areas. There is more money going into mental health. I mentioned already, in response to previous questions, the money going into the Youth Endowment Fund. The violence reduction units are designed to work with young people and get them on to a better path. I was talking to officers in Brixton in south London earlier today. They were telling me how they will use their extra officers. The sergeant from Lambeth talked about how they are going to try to work with families of young people as young as nine who are beginning to head down the wrong path. So, I agree that those are exactly the things we need to work on. Investment is being made and we are on the right path.

I, too, welcome the news today that the Government are working to close legal loopholes on zombie knives and to strengthen police powers to help make our streets safer. My right hon. Friend will be aware that many of our constituents, in Croydon but also in Old Bexley and Sidcup, are very concerned about the rise in crime, in particular knife crime, under the Mayor of London. I therefore urge the Minister to review the calls from frontline police officers to look also at the introduction of scan and search as a way of helping to get knives off the street.

My hon. Friend and fellow London MP asks a very good and pertinent question. The Metropolitan police currently takes between 350 and 400 knives off the streets of London every month using regular stop and search, so we should be clear that it is an important tactic that keeps our constituents and fellow citizens safe. Scan and search has enormous potential for covertly or discreetly scanning people as they walk down the street and detecting those who are carrying knives. I strongly encourage police forces up and down the country, not just the Metropolitan police, to adopt that kind of technology to ensure they identify more knives and take them off our streets.

An hour and a half ago, we were able to identify and source online a machete for under £11 which could be delivered to my house tomorrow. That is totally unacceptable. My constituents do not want to hear any more words; they want action. The Minister talked about diversionary tactics for young people. The 23 villages I represent tell me the Government have abandoned them: no youth services anymore; very little access to mental health services for young people; and very often we do not see any community police officers in our villages. None of that is acceptable. The issue requires a holistic approach by the Government to tackle the sense of abandonment that so many people feel in our area, which is the breeding ground for so much violent crime.

One of the reasons we are hiring extra officers—and why we are confident we will have record numbers when the figures are unveiled next week—is to ensure we have a visible police presence not just in our cities and towns, but in villages up and down the country as well. In terms of action on buying zombie knives, the seven-week consultation launched today, combined with the provisions in the Online Safety Bill, are designed to address that problem. It is important, as the hon. Gentleman says, and that is why the Government are acting.

Recently in Thornaby we have seen feral, balaclava-clad, knife-wielding yobs riding around residential areas on off-road bikes. On Saturday, someone was robbed at knife point in broad daylight. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must encourage and back the police in the wider use of stop and search to get knives off our streets? Will he meet me to discuss the horrendous issues occurring in Thornaby?

Yes, I absolutely agree that stop and search is a vital tool. I mentioned a few minutes ago that every month in London alone stop and search takes between 350 and 400 knives off our streets—knives that could be used to injure or even kill our fellow citizens—so I completely agree with that point. And yes, of course I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend.

It is nearly three years since John Rees, then 88, left his wife in the car when he popped into Penygraig Co-op to pick up a few groceries. While he was in there, Zara Radcliffe tried to attack another person. He tried to intervene and was killed in the process. Of course, a knife was involved and it was the knife that killed him. But in the end, in a way, it is not the knife but the person who killed him. He was a phenomenal hero.

My anxiety is that if we deal only with more and more legislation and we do not deal with all the other issues, such as the mental health situation surrounding Zara Radcliffe or the problems with youth services up and down the country, we will not come to a solution. A point was made by a colleague of the Minister earlier that I think is really important: there is no point in passing lots more laws if we do not enforce them. He may not be able to answer this question now, and if he cannot I would be grateful if he wrote to me, but can he tell me how many prosecutions there have been since the 2019 Act in relation to possessing a knuckle duster, a throwing star or a zombie knife, or for that matter for the sale of a knife either in person or online without proper reason to someone under the age of 18?

I am afraid I do not have the prosecution figures to hand, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman with them. They are quite substantial. I agree with his general point that legislating is important but that, on its own, it is not enough. It is important that we legislate and that the police have the relevant powers, and it is important that we criminalise dangerous knives, as we are going to do, but we also need to ensure that there are enough police to enforce those laws, hence the police recruitment programme. It is important to have the right youth services, hence the Youth Endowment Fund and the violence reduction units that are being invested in, and the hotspot policing via the Grip programme, where the police identify particular hotspots and have surge policing in those areas. He is right that we need to do all those things. By comprehensively tackling this together, we can continue to make sure that the violent crime figures go down.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on child criminal exploitation and knife crime, I welcome any announcement to tackle knife crime. As many have said today, adequate police numbers are important when tackling knife crime. In the west midlands, we have seen the highest incidence of knife crime of any police force area in the country, but we have had the lowest increase in police numbers since 2010. When will the Government start listening to my constituents in Coventry North West, invest in policing in the west midlands and make the necessary investments to start tackling the root causes of knife crime?

I have talked a lot about the measures being taken to tackle the causes of knife crime: the Youth Endowment Fund, the violence reduction units and the Grip hotspot surge policing. I think the west midlands is one of the 20 forces that receives those interventions, as we would expect given the problems. On police numbers, I believe we will hit record numbers across England and Wales. There are some individual forces where police and crime commissioners have chosen, over the last five or 10 years, not to use their precept flexibility to raise more funds, and that does have a consequence. That is an issue the hon. Lady should raise with her local police and crime commissioner.

I welcome the consultation. Let us hope it leads to urgent action. The Minister bandied around some figures to try to paint a rosy picture of crime rates, but what he failed to mention is that knife-enabled rape cases are at a record high and that, since 2015, knife-enabled crime is up 70%. I wonder if he thinks that has been assisted and aided by the fact that the Conservatives cut 21,000 police officers in that time, and whether that contributed to those rising figures? He says he may be crowing about the number of police officers next week, but where will they be allocated and will they be back on our streets in community policing, which the Conservatives decimated?

Actually, the Metropolitan police already has record numbers. The most recent published figures show that it has roughly 35,000 police officers compared to a previous peak of 33,000, so the Met already has record numbers. From talking to the commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, I know that he intends to place an emphasis on neighbourhood policing. In fact, earlier today a neighbourhood sergeant in Brixton, Lambeth confirmed that the neighbourhood policing units across the three wards he looks after have gone up already.

In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), the Minister cited the importance that he attaches to data from the Office for National Statistics. It reports that the number of people killed with a knife last year was the highest in 76 years. Did the Minister miss that statistic? How does that fit into his rather upbeat presentation?

Overall, total homicide has gone down slightly over the last three years—by about 7%, speaking from memory. We should welcome that reduction. One of the reasons for legislating is that we are concerned that some of the very dangerous knives are being used in knife-enabled homicide, as the hon. Gentleman describes. One of the issues with zombie knives is their double-serrated and jagged edges: if somebody is stabbed it causes serious internal injuries, which trauma surgeons and A&E consultants tell us are more likely to lead to serious injury or even death. Precisely for that reason, we are bringing forward these changes.

Is the Minister aware of the long-standing research by the University of Leicester on knife injuries, which found that carving knives are the most commonly used in stabbing incidents? A campaign was led by retired circuit judge Nic Madge, who has tried many knife offence cases. He said:

“my experience is that the vast majority of knives carried by teenage boys are ordinary kitchen knives.”

The campaign has made some practical recommendations such as only allowing the sale of large kitchen knives with rounded tips, to reduce serious injuries. Will the Minister engage with that work? What he announced today will make very little difference to the number of deaths and serious injuries on our streets, as perpetrators have other sources of knives available.

As I said in my previous answer, the knives that we are talking about with serrated edges and jagged shapes tend to cause the worst injuries, because of the internal damage that they cause when somebody is stabbed with them. However, the hon. Gentleman makes some valid points, and I would be happy to engage with him and others to see if there are areas where we can go further.

Sadly, on Friday evening a young teenager in Luton South was stabbed and died. Like many others, I welcome the consultation. However, like others, whether from West Ham in a city, the village of Hemsworth, the valley of Rhondda or the town of Luton, how can I trust what the Government are saying about prevention when they have stripped £1 billion from youth services?

I am sure that all in the House extend their condolences to the bereaved family in Luton for the incident that the hon. Lady described. We have talked about youth services quite extensively. Significant investment is being made via the Youth Endowment Fund, which is an evidence-based programme to put money into interventions that are proven to work using data. The violence reduction units in the 20 police force areas with the most significant challenges are funding local services to help young people in particular—in some cases as young as nine—on to a better path for the future. Those measures are working collectively. Violent crime is down by 38% since 2010, but clearly cases such as the one she mentioned mean that we cannot be complacent. There is more work to do. I am confident that by working together we can overcome the scourge of knife crime.