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Knife crime

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

[Relevant Documents: e-petition 634860, Make knife crime prevention a compulsory requirement for all school curriculum; e-petition 563199, Increase sentences relating to knife crime; e-petition 300054, Introduce a minimum sentence for carrying a knife, equal to carrying a firearm.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of knife crime.

It is a pleasure to be able to bring forward this important debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee, of which I am a member, for granting it.

I know Members on both sides of House take the matter of knife crime incredibly seriously, as do the Government, and I am sure the debate will demonstrate that. I appreciate that it has felt like a very busy week and many Members are starting to think about their families, constituencies and Christmas, so I am grateful to those Members who supported my bid for the debate, especially those who are in the Chamber. On other occasions, many more people would have joined us.

It is apt that I have secured the debate today, because back home in my borough of Walsall, which is in the constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills, “The Knife Angel”, a powerful sculpture crafted from surrendered knives, is standing tall in Walsall’s Gallery Square until the end of this month. Those who have already seen it will know that it is an incredibly poignant symbol. It is symbolic of Walsall’s ongoing commitment to combating knife crime and promoting unity. This afternoon, members of the community, of all faiths and none, have been invited to come together in Walsall for a walk of peace to reflect on violence and knife crime. The event, along with “The Knife Angel”, will give Walsall residents and visitors an opportunity to pause and reflect, and it will send a powerful message from the borough to challenge and confront the consequences of knife crime.

In the year ending March 2023, there were approximately 50,500 knife crime offences in England and Wales. Sadly, data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in 2022-23 the west midlands recorded the highest rate of offences, at 178 per 100,000 of population. With a population of 2.9 million, that equates to a staggering average of 5,197 knife crime offences in the west midlands each year or 14 offences every single day.

However, it is important to remember that this issue is not just about numbers, especially where lives are lost, because behind every number there is a story, and behind every story there is a devastated, grieving family and loved ones, friends and colleagues. All too often, there is also a shocked and shaken community. I think of my own constituency, where James Brindley fell victim to an unprovoked fatal stabbing in 2017 as he walked home from a night out. His attacker was aged 17.

There are questions behind every number, and a search for the perpetrator and for answers to a life needlessly lost. My reason for securing the debate is to ask the Minister some of the questions that have been raised with me, as well as raising the questions and problems that so many, including the Government, are seeking to tackle. I also want to highlight some important ongoing work and the fact that much more needs to be done. Identifying and tackling the root causes is crucial.

There are common themes that we cannot ignore, around demographics and socioeconomic factors, including age, race and sex. Much work and research has been done and is ongoing in that space. For example, in the year ending March 2023, across England and Wales there were 3,420 cautions and convictions for possession of a knife or offensive weapon among young people aged 10 to 17. In the west midlands, between January and September this year, 565 under-18s were arrested on suspicion of knife-related crimes. All too often, children and young people who are not engaging can be lured into street gangs, violence and, sadly, even child criminal exploitation. I spoke to the Wave Trust to get a deeper understanding of the work it does and we discussed the need for a long-term approach to tackling issues around childhood trauma and parental violence and influence.

The right hon. Member is making a powerful speech. On her point about child criminal exploitation, she will be aware that I chair the all-party parliamentary group on child criminal exploitation and knife crime and that we made the decision to change the name of that APPG. Does she recognise that a number of groups, including the Wave Trust, have been calling for a statutory definition of CCE?

The hon. Lady should be applauded for her work and the work of the APPG that she chairs. I am conscious of that call for action, to which I hope the Minister will respond.

We recognise that work on knife crime cuts across several Government Departments, including the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Home Office. I appreciate that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) is now a Minister in the Home Office, but I am sure he will do his best to address a range of issues while recognising that they have implications across Government.

Typically, 90% of attackers and victims are male. In London, 90% of knife crime offenders were male, and across England and Wales 91% of people admitted to hospital for assault by sharp objects were male. Low socioeconomic backgrounds are a factor too. A YouGov poll, commissioned by Barnardo’s, found one in five parents said that they will struggle to have time off work to spend with their children, meaning children are often left unsupervised. What concerns me most is when I hear young people say they carry a knife to make them feel safe. Surely, that has to be changed.

In 2018, the Government published a serious violence strategy to look at the root causes of the problem and how to support young people to lead lives away from violence. It was described at the time as taking a public health approach to serious violence, and various funds and programmes were set up, such as the Youth Endowment Fund and violence reduction units. Will the Minister update us on what his Department is doing to go further, working multi-agency with partners and community organisations on a number of levels?

This issue is also recognised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb). She cannot be in the Chamber today, but she often speaks on the topic of knife crime. I wish to highlight to the Minister the first knife summit that she held recently, which joined together local community organisations, the police and the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity to discuss the need for a whole-community approach.

In August, the Home Office made a very welcome announcement on the banning of machetes and Zombie-style knives. It also said that the police were to be given new powers to seize and destroy any weapon that they find. I, along with others, will continue to call for that to happen and I look forward to seeing the necessary legislation pass through this place—I believe that it is coming in the Criminal Justice Bill, but perhaps the Minister can confirm that. Locally to me in the west midlands, the Express & Star newspaper has been actively campaigning on the issue, too. We need to see that legislation in place sooner rather than later.

In addition to the work of Ministers and the Government, it is important that we recognise and reinforce other routes to tackling this problem. For example, in Aldridge, following the tragic death of their beloved son, Mark and Beverley Brindley set up the Brindley Foundation to bring about positive social change and to reduce youth violence. Their campaign includes LifeOrKnife and the setting up of 12 knife amnesty bins across Walsall Borough for people to throw away their knives anonymously. Recognising that young people need support and that they need to be part of the solution includes education, mentoring and training. The Brindley Foundation initiative also has support from local businesses.

Another way would be to look at relationship, health and sex education in our schools so that children can learn about positive change and consequential thinking. I urge the Government to look again at this, because currently there is no national programme of education for children and young people and no targeted guidelines in the curriculum for such behaviours or prevention.

My right hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech on the importance of the whole community approach to this matter. Will she also join me in thanking the Mizen Foundation, which was set up by a family in Sidcup? Following their own grief from the death of their son, the family go in and out of schools across the country, encouraging that positive change in behaviour.

Absolutely, I commend the work that the family do. Yet again, it is a poignant example of how, when tragedy hits, so many families seek to find answers and ways to help themselves deal with the loss of a loved one through helping others. I absolutely recognise the work that they do.

A petition to make knife crime prevention a compulsory requirement on the school curriculum has attracted more than 10,000 signatures. Locally in Walsall, our Conservative councillors are also working hard with partners to tackle knife crime, recognising the need for a broad and holistic approach. Central to that is the need for a partnership between police and crime commissioners, local authorities and the third sector. I am pleased and proud that Walsall Borough Council, under the stewardship of Garry Perry, one of my local councillors, is working closely with the third sector and with organisations such as the Brindley Foundation to ensure that this issue receives the attention and prominence that it deserves.

Political leadership matters, too. Sadly, I do not always feel that we are seeing enough of that in the west midlands, where we have some of the highest rates of knife crime. There is often a void when it comes to working with local authorities and the third sector across the whole region. I am pleased to see the role of PCC being rolled into that of the West Midlands Mayor. This creates an excellent opportunity to bring together strong political leadership with—and this is important—a targeted and effective use of resources.

The first knife bin was rolled out in Aldridge, and Mayor Andy Street joined us that day, recognising the need both for a holistic approach, and for us to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, to rise to the challenge of tackling the problem. He also vowed to put a stop to plans to close 30 police stations across the region, including my own in Aldridge, which is also an important part of the solution.

Another area that I would like the Minister to consider, perhaps with his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, is the role of licensing committees. I have seen examples where those committees need to work better and more effectively with the local police, for instance, when it comes to requests for curfews as a method of public protection in town centres with challenging night-time economies. The installation and enforcement of knife arches in night clubs and the provision of bleed kits are practical measures that could and should be mandated for specific venues, and I would like to hear the Minister’s views on that as well.

At this point, I would like to mention and pay tribute to those at The Queens pub in Pelsall. Back in January, they began fundraising for a defibrillator and a bleed kit. This autumn, after numerous raffles, a collection tin in the pub and generous support from people across the local community, both of those were installed in memory of local lad, Reagan, who, sadly, lost his life to knife crime in 2017.

As I draw my contribution to this debate to a conclusion, I wish to acknowledge the work that the Government and others are doing on this topic and the fact that they have shown themselves willing to undertake more to address the issue of heinous knife crime. I commend and welcome the actions to date, but it is clear that further action is required, and is required now, to avoid more lives simply becoming a number on a data spreadsheet, and also, importantly, to strengthen our communities. With that, I stand committed to the cause.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for sponsoring this critical debate and for her powerful opening speech. I declare an interest as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on child criminal exploitation and knife crime, which used to be called the APPG on knife crime and youth violence. Therein lies the problem: knife crime is often seen as an issue that affects just young people, but that is not the case. After I took up chairing that all-party group, with the support of its members we changed the name to reflect the nature of the crime and the number of young people who are being coerced and criminally exploited to the point where they are carrying knives. I hope that, in his summing up, the Minister will tell us how the Government will address that.

Knife crime has gone up by more than 70% in eight years, and the devastating impacts of this rise are being felt right across the country. My constituency of Vauxhall, just across the bridge from here, lies in the borough of Lambeth. Sadly, we saw more than 700 cases of knife crime in Lambeth in just one year alone, and over 200 of those cases caused horrific injury. It is important to offer some of the cases behind those statistics to understand the complexity of the trauma of knife crime.

In the summer, two men were victims of a suspected homophobic knife attack outside the Two Brewers in Clapham. Thankfully, the two victims were discharged from hospital shortly afterwards, but this attack was highly disturbing to many people in the LGBTQ+ community in Clapham and across London. Although serious injury and physical trauma were avoided, there was a huge amount of emotional and mental trauma attached to those attacks, and we must acknowledge that when we talk about knife crime. As the right hon. Lady said, we also have to consider the impact that it has on communities, the potential that it has to amplify violence against marginalised groups and the general fear that that can create.

There was another case in my constituency, very close to my church, very close to my old primary school and very close to where I used to live. On 1 May, in broad daylight, 31-year-old Johanita Dogbey was stabbed from behind by someone who was unknown to her. Since then, her family have been dealing with the devastating impact of losing their daughter, while fighting for justice and waiting for justice to come. I have referred to this before, but when you sit with grieving families in their front room, and you look at the pain and despair in their eyes, and glance over their shoulders and see the smiling, happy pictures, you just think, “Why?” Nothing can prepare you for that in this role. It is one of the hardest things that a number of us have had to do as elected representatives.

Every time I hear about another stabbing, or get a text from the police or an email update, I just think, “I hope this isn’t fatal.” Johanita’s death will leave a hole in the hearts of her family, but there must be support to deal with the personal trauma of such cases. The two cases that I have referenced show the diversity of the impact of knife crime. It creates trauma, worry and violence, but we must understand that the trauma will function differently in virtually all the different knife attacks that we have seen, not just in Lambeth but across the country.

We all recognise that dealing with knife crime cannot be party political. Every day, another community and family have to bury their loved one. They do not want us to bring party politics into it. For them the pain is raw. They just want answers, and to know how we can stop people carrying knives. No one-size-fits-all policy will stop all knife crime, or manage the trauma that it creates. We have to take a holistic approach, whether that means recognising the impact of knife crime on the LGBTQ+ community when they are targeted, recognising the true shock of knife crime for families and how we can provide support to loved ones, or recognising that we cannot fall into stereotypes about the causes, perpetrators or victims of knife crime when developing policy.

In my former role as the Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, I authored a report on gang-associated girls and the impact it has on them. I was shocked to see from Metropolitan police data that just six girls and young women were identified in the Met police gangs matrix, and how limited the piecemeal provision was for helping to deal with the trauma that impacts women and girls. In our response to knife crime, we need to think a lot more about the psychological trauma, and recognise the signs of that trauma when dealing with cases—trauma from the incident, and the trauma that leads people to carry a knife in the first place.

I referred to child criminal exploitation. Childhood trauma has a specific impact from and on knife crime, and we need a specific holistic approach within our justice system to child criminal exploitation. It is painful to see children—some as young as seven—going through the criminal justice system. If we look back at the patterns, we see that those children have probably witnessed a stabbing, and have probably been coerced to carry drugs in county lines. If a child as young as 10 or 11, who should be in school in Lambeth in my constituency, has been arrested in Peterborough with a package of drugs on him, we need to ask ourselves how he got those drugs.

I think we all recognise the importance of the early years. This debate had originally been scheduled on a Thursday to follow a debate on the early years, which would have been timely. Does the hon. Member agree that it is important to recognise the link with the early years and what happens in the family, which can be so influential on children as they grow up?

I thank the right hon. Lady for that powerful intervention, which takes us back to childhood trauma and the childhood link. We need to start to have a holistic, wraparound approach with families and children—in some cases, those of primary school age. At the moment, a lot of support and funding is focused on secondary school children. In some cases, that is far too late; those children have been coerced to the point where they have joined gangs, and it is too late for them to turn their life around. Sadly, some of them will end up dead, so it is important that we tackle knife crime from a young age, teaching our young children about the dangers and why they should not carry a knife.

We know that some young people are scared. They are scared of the adults who are coercing them into a dangerous lifestyle. They are scared because, in some cases, they come from a dysfunctional family and their parents have broken up. They are scared because of the mental trauma from what they have witnessed. They are scared because they have received an embrace, and an older person from the gang has taken them in, as a family. These children want to be loved and to belong, yet they are belonging in the wrong place. It is important that, instead of criminalising such children—some of them from an early age—we recognise that they are being exploited. We should have a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation.

Members of the 2019 intake celebrated four years since being elected earlier this week. In January 2020, shortly after I was elected, I referred in my maiden speech to having been one of the first people to turn up when a young boy was stabbed, just across the road from my constituency, on De Laune Street in Kennington. That late afternoon in January, I was on my way to pick up my son from nursery. My daughter was in the back of the car; I had picked her up from reception. I mention that because I did not know what had happened, but someone was slumped on the road. As I got closer in the car and pulled over, it transpired that he had been stabbed.

I mentioned in my maiden speech that people were walking past us. That was really painful, because we are allowing ourselves to become desensitised to knife crime. I do not claim to be a first aid responder or anything —I am petrified of the sight of blood—but along with another lady who came out from the block of flats, I folded up a blanket, I think it was, and stemmed the blood. The long and short of it is that the ambulance came. My frantic call to the emergency services probably did not make sense because I was just screaming, “You need to get here now!” The poor call handler would have been thinking, “What is this woman rambling on about?” I was scared. I was just thinking, “This boy is going to die.”

Thankfully, the boy did not die. We manage to stem the blood, and he was lucky. During lockdown, I received an email from his teacher, who it turned out lives in my constituency. He said, “The young boy is making a good recovery, but thank you.” I know how frightening it can be for anyone to be in that situation, but we need to look at how we can help people to have the skills and means to stem the flow of blood as quickly and effectively as possible, because every second will make such a big difference after a trauma or stabbing.

I echo what the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said: I hope that the Minister will look at raising awareness of stab kits and the first aid response to knife crime, and how to distribute more of those stab kits in shops and other areas. I hope that he will recognise the value of a number of youth organisations, not just in my constituency but across the country, that work with some of the most vulnerable children and young adults, and help them to turn their lives around. The reality is that those organisations are working on a shoestring budget. Youth services are still not deemed to be a statutory provision. In London, with the support of the Mayor of London and City Hall, there is funding for a number of youth projects, including in my Vauxhall constituency. Those youth groups make such a big difference to the value of people’s lives. For a number of young people, the intervention of those groups, and the trust that the youth workers build with them, makes the difference between that young person living or dying.

That is the power of a valuable, well-funded youth service, so I hope that the Minister will recognise that the cuts to local government have had an impact. Many youth clubs have closed. Young adults should not be able to access such provision and extra-curricular activities only if their parents, carers or grandparents can afford them; they should be available to all young people, so that during those crucial hours between 3 pm and 7 pm after school, which is when a number of these incidents happen, our young people have something positive to be engaged in.

I will finish by saying that this year marked the 23rd anniversary of a stabbing that I think we all remember: that of Damilola Taylor on 27 November 2000. As I posted about him on the anniversary, we all remember the grainy image of the young boy skipping along outside Peckham library in the silver puffa jacket—a young life taken so tragically. I mention that case because I think it was a turning point when, no matter where people were in the country, they wanted to see an end to knife crime and an end to stabbings. It pains me that here in 2023 we can recount so many other tragic cases that have happened since that one, and we still do not have a grip on the situation. Yes, in some places the figures have gone down, but every knife crime, every stabbing that results in someone dying, every grieving family is one too far. Those families do not want to be known as a statistic; they just want us all to work in a cross-party way to address this scourge.

It is genuinely a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). She gave a powerful and thought-provoking speech; I would struggle to find anything in it that I disagreed with, and I suspect the whole House would join me in paying tribute to her for stepping in to help a victim of stabbing in her own constituency. She may well be terrified of blood, but it took real courage to be there and to provide assistance, and she has given us all an awful lot to reflect upon.

It is important to recognise that nowhere is exempt from the harm caused by knives. They are a danger in rural areas just as they are in inner cities. As you may be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, prior to my election to this House I spent many years involved in the criminal justice system, including as a non-executive director of His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, as a member of the Sentencing Council, as a magistrate and as a board member of the Youth Justice Board, and it is the young whom I am most concerned about. I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on securing this debate, because it enables us to talk about the impact of knife crime on the young in particular.

According to the most recent statistics, a fifth of all knife crime is committed by those under the age of 17, who are legally children. When I was a magistrate in the youth court, I would often find young boys—they were invariably boys rather than girls—brought before the bench for carrying a bladed article. When I asked why they were carrying the bladed article, almost every young boy would give the same answer: they carried the knife for their own protection. It made them feel safe. Astonishingly, the Ben Kinsella Trust has reported that children as young as nine believe that.

Tragically, nothing could be further from the truth. Carrying a knife does not make them safer; in fact, it puts them in far more danger. As well as the threat to their own life, it risks a rapid journey on the path to serious criminality. Put simply, carrying a knife makes someone much more likely to use it or have it used against them, and the consequences can be devastating. We have seen too many awful examples in recent months and years of gangs wielding machetes and children stabbing other children at school.

We all know that prevention is better than cure, so I am very pleased that the Government are committed to tackling the horror of knives on our streets nationally, with an investment of more than £110 million in 2023-24 to fight knife crime, including a focus on 20 violence reduction units and funds for hotspot policing in the most seriously affected areas. I welcome that.

In my own area, there has been considerable success in tackling knife crime, and I put on record my thanks to the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner, Matt Barber, for his focus on that. He has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to knife crime called Operation Deter, which was launched in Milton Keynes in the middle of last year, came to my Aylesbury constituency soon afterwards and is now being rolled out across the entire Thames Valley force area.

Op Deter’s main objective is to make better use of charging and remanding offenders aged 18 and over to court, sending a robust message to anyone found in possession of a knife: “If you are caught, you will be dealt with incredibly swiftly by both the police and the courts.” Overall, since July 2022, Op Deter has seen well over 1,000 arrests, and about half of those arrested have been charged and remanded into custody. The scheme has resulted in approximately 100 custodial sentences in addition to numerous suspended sentences and community orders.

That speedy intervention and no-nonsense approach by Thames Valley police is helping to make Aylesbury safer, with a clear understanding that there is zero tolerance for knife crime in our town. I am very pleased that in some parts of the force area, the local youth offending team is immediately notified when a child is arrested for carrying a knife, and a representative of that youth offending team then attends the police station within 90 minutes to meet the young person, giving them the maximum incentive to engage as early as possible.

I would like that approach to become much more widespread. I recognise that it is resource intensive, but it is important to get help and practical advice to those young people as soon as is possible. That echoes, I think, the hon. Member for Vauxhall’s argument that the reasons young children carry knives are frequently very complex. We need to get a much better understanding of them and tackle the causes. As I have said in this place before, it is not about finding an excuse for those people, but about looking at the causes and trying to tackle them to avoid repetition.

I was very pleased to learn that Op Deter has been highlighted as an example of best practice in a recent “In Focus” report by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which concentrates on innovative and effective approaches to tackling serious violence. I hope that that article will spur other police forces to look at similar activities in other parts of the country.

In my local area, we also have other initiatives to combat knife crime, recognising that it is not just a job for the police, as other hon. Members have said. I recently attended an excellent community event to tackle anti-social behaviour that was held in Elmhurst and organised by Buckinghamshire Council, the local authority. The neighbourhood policing team there have developed strategies to divert vulnerable young people away from knives that encompass other parts of that community, and their work with children and young adults is very encouraging.

One effective initiative has been the use of three knife amnesty bins—importantly, including one that is not in the police station. It is outside Southcourt Baptist Church, where people feel much safer going to deposit their knives or their bladed articles.

My hon. Friend makes a really important point; from the learning that I have done through the James Brindley Foundation this point about anonymity and knife bins is very clear. Does he agree that we must continuously seek to create opportunities for safe disposal of those types of weapons? It must be done in the right way, otherwise it fails before it even starts.

My right hon. Friend is 100% correct. More than half the knives that have been deposited in Aylesbury were deposited at Southcourt Baptist Church, presumably because people feel safe. I know that the neighbourhood policing team in Aylesbury are looking for other sites that are away from the police station where they can install knife bins. Of course, the slight challenge is that it must be something that is absolutely secure and where other people cannot get to that bin to access the bladed articles and use them for nefarious purposes, but clearly there are places that can be found and that are successful, and I absolutely endorse what she says about encouraging that.

Another approach Southcourt Baptist Church is working hard on is providing constructive activities for children to help reduce the risk of their becoming involved in criminal activities in the first place. Boxing is proving particularly popular and effective in giving young people something constructive to do with their time, so that they do not risk getting caught up with other people who would encourage them to take part in illegal activities.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making such a powerful speech. He talks about the fantastic work that that Baptist church is doing in his constituency. My first youth club setting was at my church hall. Does he recognise that we need to work with the faith communities to look at an approach to knife crime? For a number of families, their first port of call and the first people they turn to are their faith leaders.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I was saying a little earlier, it is about different parts of the community. It is not always the role of the Government or the local authority to provide those facilities, because they do not necessarily set up the right atmosphere for young people. It is interesting that people will go into a church or another kind of faith community, or indeed an alternative community area, because they feel safe and trusted there, not judged. It is vital that everybody recognises that.

To that end, other organisations in Aylesbury are having a positive impact on vulnerable children. Just a couple of months ago, I visited the Aylesbury Youth Motor Project, a special garage that provides vocational training to children. It was inspiring to see the impact on young people of that garage’s hands-on approach to courses and the strong mentoring provided by the mechanics. They are primarily mechanics rather than trained youth workers or qualified teachers, but they are people to whom those particular young people can relate—they trust the mechanics and listen to their advice in a way that they perhaps do not with what we might consider more conventional authority figures. The boys at the Aylesbury Youth Motor Project were very blunt with me: traditional education does not suit everybody, and going to that garage was keeping them off the streets and stopping them committing crimes. I did not have to put those words in their mouths; they told me clearly. Projects like that are incredibly important.

I do not think any of us would disagree that knife crime is a serious blight on our communities. Blades are used by criminals to kill and maim. They have become glamourised, but there is no glamour in death and serious injury, and there is no excuse for carrying a knife. I am very pleased that Aylesbury is seeing success in tackling that menace. I will continue to work with all the groups there to make our town even safer. I encourage Ministers, not just in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice but across the whole of Government, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said, to look at the work not only of Thames Valley police but of the likes of Southcourt Baptist Church and the Aylesbury Youth Motor Project, because it will take the whole community to stop the scourge of knife crime.

This has been an important and constructive debate. I commend the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for securing it and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. The right hon. Lady gave an excellent speech. I was particularly struck by what she said about “The Knife Angel” in her constituency. As she said, it is an incredibly poignant symbol reflecting on violence and knife crime.

Perhaps I could have been clearer. For absolute clarity, “The Knife Angel” is in Walsall borough but not in my constituency—I am on one side of the borough. It is in the town of Walsall, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz).

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for making that clarification, but her point was important none the less.

Often, we talk of the perpetrators of knife crime—it is right that we do—but we should never forget that it is too often young people who are the victims. As Members of this House, we owe it to the victims and their loved ones to come up with solutions to this epidemic, and to ensure that no child or parent faces the tragic consequences of knife crime on our streets. In that spirit, there have been a number of considered and thoughtful contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) spoke movingly about the trauma that knife crime causes her constituents and about the pain experienced by the victim’s family. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) effectively brought to bear his long experience of the criminal justice system. He made an important point about tackling the causes to avoid repetition.

I will take this opportunity to tell the tragic story of Ronan Kanda, and his family’s campaign for justice. I know that the shadow policing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), met the family alongside their local MP, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), to learn about Ronan’s story. Ronan, a beloved son and brother, was just 16 years old when he was killed while walking home in Wolverhampton. Just a few yards from his front door, Ronan was attacked from behind by two 16-year-olds carrying a machete and a ninja sword. Ronan was stabbed twice and suffered wounds to his back and chest. Tragically, he died at the scene. It was later revealed that the perpetrators of this heinous act had mistaken Ronan for someone else—

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman because this is a very sensitive and very sad matter, but I want to be certain that we are observing the sub judice rules. I am sure that he is well aware of what he can and cannot say, but I just want to be certain that nothing he says will prejudice anything that might come before the courts.

I am very grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can give that assurance. I have been incredibly careful about describing the circumstances of the case, as I will be able to confirm in just a moment. Thank you.

The weapons used in the attack had been bought online by the perpetrators, who were just 16 years old themselves, using another person’s ID. They collected the items from a local post office on the day of the attack. In July of this year, they were sentenced to 16 years and 18 years in prison respectively for their crime.

Understandably, Ronan’s family have been completely devastated by his tragic loss. Courageously, they now campaign for ninja swords—the type of knife used in Ronan’s murder—to be taken off the streets once and for all, so that no other family should suffer the loss that they have suffered. The Government are right to want to give police more powers to seize and destroy such weapons, and they will have our support. However, we do not believe that the current ban goes far enough, as it still does not include the type of sword that killed Ronan. Will the Minister explain the Government’s reasoning for that, or, better still, will he confirm that the Government’s position is that such swords should be covered under forthcoming legislation?

During these debates, we must never forget the human cost of knife crime for victims and their families, as in Ronan’s case. Many families struggle to comprehend the senseless murder of their loved one. The strength of Ronan’s family in saying, “Never again should anyone suffer our pain,” should inspire us all in this House to act accordingly. That is needed now more than ever because, sadly, more young lives are being lost.

Last year saw the highest number of people killed with a knife for over 70 years. The biggest increase was among young boys aged 16 to 17. Knife crime rates remain stubbornly high. Compared with 2015, total knife crime is up 70%, including record levels of knife-enabled rape and threats to kill. Last year, 75% of teenage homicides involved a knife or sharp instrument. As a consequence, it is now thought that more than 200,000 children are vulnerable to serious violence. Between 2021 and 2022, a record number of children were victims of crime. We need decisive action now.

As I am sure the Minister would agree, the first duty of any Government is to keep their people safe. On these fundamental questions, the Government need to show leadership in turning the tide on this knife crime epidemic. Labour has, for our part, set a route forward. Our community policing guarantee will put police back into town centres and neighbourhoods to make streets safe again, with increased patrols and 13,000 more neighbourhood police and police community support officers. Too often in recent years, criminals have gone unpunished while victims have suffered the consequences. This cannot continue. Labour will put an end to that scandal.

Allied to those plans, the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), set out our proposals for a new national programme, working across Departments, to give Britain’s young people the best start in life. The “Young Futures” programme would act as a Sure Start for young people. It will also include a specific strand of activity targeted at young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime, and will deliver help for young people who are struggling with their mental health. That will support our aim of halving serious violence, including knife crime and youth violence, within a decade—tackling crime and tackling the causes of crime. Tackling the scourge of knife crime will require a cross-Government approach, new youth hubs, and proper local plans to identify those who are most at risk and help them access the support they need. It also means Government Departments, schools and local services working together so that services operate around young people and their families, rather than in separate silos. It means getting the basics right, with more police officers on the street and working in our communities to bring criminals to justice. This is a serious issue, and it requires a serious response. Those on the Opposition Benches stand ready to meet the challenge.

May I join the shadow Minister in agreeing that this has been an important and constructive debate, and in praising my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for securing it and all Members who have contributed so constructively and expertly? I will start by picking up two points in my right hon. Friend’s speech, before picking up more of the threads. I join her in welcoming the campaign by her local newspaper The Express and Star to highlight this really important issue. I also welcome the role of the police and crime commissioner being rolled into that of the Mayor of the West Midlands. I agree with her that that will be a constructive move, and I look forward to it with her.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) spoke powerfully and with authority, as she always does, and I will comment on some of the points that she raised. I commend her for the work done by the all-party parliamentary group on child criminal exploitation and knife crime, and I acknowledge the change in name that she has championed. She spoke powerfully and reflected on her maiden speech, and she mentioned some youth organisations. She had a constructive debate across the Chamber with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), who acknowledged the work of voluntary organisations, churches and other faith groups.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury for mentioning Southcourt Baptist church and the excellent work that it has done. I acknowledge his expertise as a former board member of the Youth Justice Board and a former justice of the peace. I was a youth court aficionado in my younger days—as a young barrister, I should add. Carrying a knife does not make someone safer—quite the contrary.

May I address directly the shadow Minister’s point about swords, which is a serious one? Since the launch of the consultation to which I will turn in a moment, there has been interest in extending the ban to swords, and I understand the reasoning. However, the police have told us that the greatest risk at the moment is the use of zombie-style knives and machetes, so that is the focus of the work. It will be kept under review, and I am grateful to him for raising that issue.

May I now turn to some of the more specific issues raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills? Both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentioned violence reduction units. He mentioned that 20 have been rolled out across the country, delivering a range of early intervention and prevention programmes to divert people away from a life of crime. The approach is working and is a good start, and the Grip hotspots are having an effect. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills will welcome that, and I can confirm that the West Midlands police receive funding, and rightly so, for both of those programmes.

May I turn to the consultation, which has been mentioned a number of times? Earlier this year, there were five proposals to tackle knife crime during the course of that consultation. We have been taking them forward and will do so in a suitable way. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills asks me how and when. As a former member of the Committee of Selection, she might like to look out in the new year for a particular statutory instrument Committee that will be of interest to her. I cannot confirm the precise date, but I know that she will have ways and means of finding out precisely how to get on to that Committee and to be a strong voice during the passage of that statutory instrument. We will introduce a ban on certain types of large knives that seem to appeal to those who want to use them as weapons. We will give the police more powers to seize those dangerous weapons, and create a new offence of possession of a bladed weapon with intent to harm, as well as increasing sentences.

May I turn to some of the other points that have been raised, and to some of the other actions that the Government are taking? Let me touch on serious violence reduction orders. In April we launched a pilot for serious violence reduction orders, with the west midlands being one of the four pilot areas. These civil orders give the police the authority to stop and search known knife and weapon carriers, and they are designed both to deter and to protect.

One of the most important things that my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills mentioned was cross-Government working. She was absolutely right to do so, and a number of others picked up on this theme. That is absolutely right, because tackling knife crime requires a truly cross-Government approach. We are working very closely with other Departments, and I shall mention just three. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently announced the new Building Futures programme, which will provide mentoring and life skills training to those at risk of falling out of education—the Minister sitting next to me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale), is nodding vigorously in support of that. There is also a new summer jobs programme targeted at 2,600 young people at risk of involvement in youth violence and crime.

I thank the Minister for highlighting those really important points. My constituency of Vauxhall is home to the wonderful south bank, and a number of organisations do powerful work in getting young people from diverse and untraditional backgrounds into the creative industry and into arts and media. They need more funding for that.

I invite the hon. Lady to lobby the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. If she stays for the next debate, she may even be able to lobby a Minister in person, but her bid has been heard loud and clear.

I turn now to the Department for Education, which is doing some work with a project called SAFE—Support, Attain, Fulfil, Exceed. There is £30 million-worth of funding for the taskforces. They are being delivered in 10 serious violence hotspots and aim to keep young people engaged in mainstream education. I will also mention the Ministry of Justice, because it has been mentioned during the debate. There is a programme called Turnaround, which provides extra funding for youth offending teams to intervene early and to ensure that children who are on the cusp of offending or being targeted are connected.

In the minute or so that I have left, may I close by thanking right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to this very constructive debate? I agree that the scourge of knife crime is not a party political issue; it is a cross-party issue. I pay tribute not just to the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, but to the parents of Jimmy and the Mizen Foundation. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) for raising that. May I also pay tribute to the family of James Brindley and the Brindley Foundation? I know how hard it is to lose a young family member. In paying tribute to James Brindley’s family and others, may I say that they are continuing to ensure that something good might come from such tragedies?

I simply want to thank the Members who have contributed to this debate after a very busy week. It demonstrates how, on topics such as this, the House comes together. We will continue to ask questions and to challenge the Government, but I think we all accept that this is a very complex problem. To tackle a problem, we need to really understand it. I feel assured that we will all continue to work together, because we know how important this problem is.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of knife crime.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier, at business questions, the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) made a factually inaccurate and outlandish claim, which he may wish to come to the House to correct. I should say that I have notified him.

Can you inform me, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether making this accusation is appropriate? I will explain further. The hon. Member alleged that the chair of the Mid Devon District Council scrutiny committee, whom he named directly, was hosting a Christmas party funded by local government funds. That simply is not true. The party that the chair of the scrutiny committee, Councillor Rachel Gilmour, will be throwing on Sunday—it is open to anyone who wishes to join—will be funded by private funds. She will be paying for it herself. I wonder whether it would be appropriate to invite the hon. Member to correct the record.

I thank hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As ever, it is not for the Chair to adjudicate on the veracity of anything that anyone says in this House. Those are often matters of opinion. It would appear that the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact. Of course, I do not know the facts. The hon. Gentleman clearly wishes to draw attention to his disagreement with the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) over the facts in question—I am pleased to hear that he notified that hon. Member of his intention to raise the point of order—and I can only say that he has done so, but it is not a matter for the Chair.