My Lords, for the past few months, we have been developing knife-referral schemes that will enable young people caught in the possession of knives to face up to the consequences of their actions. Schemes could include weapons awareness workshops, where information is given on what happens when someone is stabbed and the consequences for them, their families, the victim and the community are brought home.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but do the Government recognise that knee-jerk reactions to serious issues are not helpful? Will the Minister reassure us that even the Home Secretary’s adjusted and diluted position on this matter will not entail doctors’ valuable time being used to give pep talks to knife thugs? Does he accept that knife violence is a role model problem that correlates directly with the grandeur of drug barons and their ruthless henchmen on estates and in our prisons? Will the Government consider whether it is time for these drug barons to be isolated and put in a special prison, where their ability to corrupt other young people is not so great?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that one should not have just knee-jerk reactions. That was why I pointed out in my first Answer that this has been developing for some months. On 5 June, the Prime Minister stated that anyone over the age of 16 caught in possession of a knife could expect to be prosecuted on the first offence. We also announced the eight areas in which we will do particular programme work. Interestingly, according to the crime statistics today, 66 per cent of knife incidents happen in those eight areas. We have produced a whole raft of measures with the Youth Justice Board to find ways of resolving these issues. It is no good just banging these people up all the time. That does not help, although it must be there as one of the things that can be done.
The noble Lord touched on a few things such as drugs. This issue goes far wider than just carrying knives. It is a much greater issue, and we have to tackle every aspect of it.
My Lords, I did not gather from the Minister’s first Answer whether he was saying that the Government intend to allow people who have committed attacks to visit in hospital the people whom they attacked. If they do intend to do that, does he think that the people will like meeting the people who have stabbed them, and might the nurses also enjoy meeting those kinds of people in hospital?
My Lords, the intention has never been to trail in people to see some poor chap, whom they have attacked with a knife, lying in a bed surrounded by his family. This got distorted somehow over the weekend. It is not something that we would do. It would be extremely counterproductive and might lead to rather more violence. It would not be a good thing to do. However, in certain targeted ways, there is sometimes merit—depending on the person involved; let us say that he is under 16 and has not actually used the weapon—in the person being able to talk to people who are experts on these things so that he can see what the impact is when a knife is used. There is a benefit in that in some cases. It is part of a whole package of measures. One noble Baroness asked why we did not put them in a mortuary and padlock them to the body overnight. That is probably more than we need to do, but we need to consider all possibilities, some of which may fade away and some of which will be of great use.
My Lords, the Minister talks about criminals meeting their victims, which of course is what restorative justice is about, but does he realise how much frustration there is in the police forces that are successfully using the scheme to turnaround criminals’ minds? As restorative justice currently does not count as a sanctioned detection method, those forces’ performance against their targets looks poorer than it is, even though they are implementing such a good scheme.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report, Who is My Neighbour?, which was recently published by Churches Together in England? Addressing the issue of knife and other violent crime, it emphasises that what is really needed are long-term strategic partnerships between churches, community groups, the police, criminal justice partners and local authorities. How will the range of initiatives to which the Minister referred be truly integrated into such a long-term strategic approach to this very difficult problem?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: it needs to involve all of those. I cannot easily give an answer on exactly how it will happen, but we are undoubtedly putting in place a raft of measures that ranges, as I say, from putting people in prison, to using many more search wands and search arches at places such as Streatham station—where they suddenly appear and people are asked to walk through—to applying various so-called softer measures that have the same impact. This has to involve all the groups that the right reverend Prelate talked about, and although I cannot easily say exactly how that will be done, it is the intention. This is a long-term programme and will take time, but we have been thinking and working on it for months. The first announcement was on 5 June. There may have seemed to be some knee-jerk reactions this weekend—I do not like knee-jerk reactions—but the next phase has clearly been on the board, and these things will be done as well.