House of Lords
Monday 11 June 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Prisons: Women with Dependants
My Lords, we recognise the significant impact that the imprisonment of a parent has on their children. Approximately 60% of women in custody have children but we do not collect data on the age of the child or whether they were dependants at the time of the mother being taken into custody. The average length of stay for women in prison recorded as having children is 1.5 years, versus 2.6 years for women not recorded as having children.
I thank the Minister for her reply but is it not the case that we have more women going to prison, the vast majority of them for non-violent offences and many of whom have dependants? These children are being sent out of their homes to stay with relatives or into the care system. The cost of these broken homes to the children and to society as a whole should surely be of concern to us all. I urge the Minister to reflect on more family-friendly policies in future.
My Lords, as at 8 June there were 3,886 women in custody. That is approximately 5% of the total prison population, and that figure has remained relatively stable over recent years. So it is not the case that there are more women in prison, but it is true that most—73%—are there for non-violent crimes. When an offender gets to the court they are asked whether they have dependent children and, if they do, that is taken into account in sentencing.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is of course our aim to provide the best rehabilitative regimes, specifically tailored to women’s needs. To that end, the noble Lord is quite right that we have a female offenders strategy in progress at the moment. The department is working very hard on it and it will be published as soon as we are able.
My noble friend raises a number of complex issues. I shall address the issue of TV licences because this is very important: 109,000 women are given a fine for not paying their TV licence, versus 42,000 men. It is not the case that they are then put in prison for not paying the TV licence; that happens occasionally if they do not pay the fine, and many poor decisions have to be taken in order for them to go to prison. I agree, though, that it is wrong that more women than men are being given fines for this offence, and we know that the BBC will be updating the Public Accounts Committee on this issue very soon.
My Lords, the Ministry of Justice has produced clear evidence that women’s centres are effective at reducing reoffending, provide joined-up community services to support physical and mental health needs and give more opportunities to women to have access to their children. What assessment does the Minister make of the need for increased funding to sustain and open more women’s centres?
My Lords, women’s centres and women’s services in general play an incredibly important role in supporting female offenders, many of whom have hugely complex needs. Over 50% of female offenders were abused as children and 60% experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. I think noble Lords will all agree that female offenders are on average potentially more complex than male offenders and need a wide variety of well-funded support.
My Lords, 17,000 children are affected by their mother going into prison and only 50% of them stay in the home where their mother was. Moreover, one in four women sentenced to imprisonment serves only 30 days. Is it not time that the Government and the judiciary looked at the effectiveness of imprisonment for these women, taking into account the fact that there are only 12 women’s custodial establishments? This puts a further geographical distance between the child and the mother. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will act to rectify these difficulties?
The noble Lord will have seen recently that the Lord Chancellor is focusing on short custodial sentences for both women and men. It is important that we increase the confidence of judges and magistrates in community sentences. We are working hard to improve this. The noble Lord is right to say that there are 12 female prisons across the country. The average distance from home for female prisoners is currently 54 miles—down from 68 miles in 2016. We are making progress and some of those numbers will be boosted by certain offenders needing to be far away from home to access specific services, such as psychological services.
My Lords, the Howard League for Penal Reform recently found that only 5% of children whose mothers are sent to prison remain in their home. I wonder who is being punished here. Will the Minister take back to this long overdue strategy for female offenders a presumption against prison for short-term sentencing of women?
My Lords, there is already a presumption against short-term sentencing. Custody is imposed only when an offence is so serious that only custody is merited. We are looking at how we can strengthen this particular guideline. Families as a whole play a very important part in a child’s upbringing so of course we must look at getting rid of short sentences for women, but we must also look at getting rid of them for men too.
My Lords, 94—or maybe 96—women have died in prison since my noble friend Lady Corston’s report was published. This recommends precisely what the Minister has just talked about—that custodial short sentences for women should be stopped and phased out. Has the Minister read the recent report from Inquest on the deaths of those women? How often in the last year have Ministry of Justice Ministers met the families of those who have died in prison?
If the noble Lord is happy for me to do so‘, I will write to him with the information he requested. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to read the report he mentioned, but I certainly will do. Female suicide is a very serious and tragic issue. Thankfully, we have had just one death in custody in the last 12 months; in the previous year it was 10. However, we are talking about a smaller number of female prisoners as a whole. There is also the issue of self-harm. Women are five times more likely than men to self-harm in prison. We are well aware of this and are doing whatever we can to make sure that they are protected.
My Lords, between 2015 and 2021, we are investing £2.6 billion in managing flood risk, including 1,500 flood defence schemes using both hard engineering and natural flood management solutions. As a result, 300,000 homes, 690,000 acres of agricultural land, 279 miles of railway and more than 5,000 miles of roads will be better protected. A further £1 billion is being spent to maintain defences.
Will my noble friend look favourably on the report to be published next week, entitled Bricks and Water, by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum, the two central conclusions of which are that that the new environmental body will have real teeth when it comes to upholding environmental standards in flood protection and that farmers could be reimbursed for public good, such as retaining water on land? I know that my noble friend and the Department are keen on natural flood defences such as Pickering’s Slowing the Flow, and I hope that that will be the model.
My Lords, we are consulting on the new body, but we have strong aspirations, particularly with our 25-year environment plan, to enhance the environment, and of course that involves reducing risk from natural hazards such as flooding. Given the responses to the Health and Harmony consultation on future farming arrangements, we are also exploring ways to incentivise farming methods that reduce flood risk. Slowing the Flow, at Pickering, to which my noble friend refers, is a good example of natural flood management.
My Lords, the flooding of Millbank House and its subsequent closure shows how quickly flash flooding can affect any infrastructure, particularly vital infrastructure. We know that tube stations, electricity substations and so on have been knocked out in the past. Has a national survey been done of vital infrastructure where flooding could knock out services, what steps are being taken to ensure that we protect it from flash flooding, and when can we be assured that the things that keep the country moving will be protected in the longer term? What is the deadline for doing all the repair and protection of that infrastructure that will allow us to sleep more soundly in our beds?
My Lords, surface water is often much more difficult to forecast than flooding from rivers. Obviously, flash flooding has occurred, but following earlier floods the National Flood Resilience Review, published in September 2016, specifically examined the scale of flood risk and the resilience of infrastructure to flooding. That is why there are many examples of utility companies and other national infrastructure locations ensuring, rightly, that their assets are better protected from flooding. Much of this work will continue for the long term: adapting to climate change, changing with coastal erosion and deciding where the coast is to retreat and where we need to replenish. All this is part of a cocktail that we will always continue to consider.
Undoubtedly. To go back to Slowing the Flow at Pickering, tree planting was part of that process. It is about crops to be grown, trees and buffer zones. We are increasingly realising that there are all sorts of ways in which natural capital is a resource for us to use, and that we can work with farmers and landowners to support it.
Flooding can be devastating for businesses, homeowners and tenants. The cost to business can sometimes result in the business folding. Despite flood risk measures, many retailers and businesses have been flooded several times. As Flood Re applies only to domestic properties that cannot get insurance due to flood risk, do the Government have any plans to introduce a scheme that would help hard-pressed businesses which also suffer from the continual threat of flooding?
My Lords, whether it affects families, communities or businesses, clearly flooding is devastating and the clear-up can be very much a long-term affair for many. That is precisely why the business-led Property Flood Resilience Roundtable published an action plan in 2016. It is now working on a flood resilience code of practice—this is really important for places such as York, which unfortunately flood very frequently—and how to adapt the electricity supply, for example, so that if there is future flooding, recovery is much speedier. That is the way forward.
I am not sure whether I heard properly, but in spite of the United Nations World Water Development Report, which promotes very favourable natural solutions for water, both ecologically and financially, did the Minister say that out of £2.2 billion, we are spending only £15 million on natural-based solutions? If so, can we think again?
I did not talk about £15 million, but there are some specific projects involving natural capital and the £15 million that I did not mention. But, the £2.6 billion includes both hard engineering and the use of natural capital in the scheme. So, the £15 million is about specific, often community- led projects.
Stalkers: Electronic Tagging
My Lords, the Government are committed to exploring how technology such as electronic tagging can be used to protect vulnerable victims. We have recently consulted on this through our public consultation on the future domestic abuse Bill. In addition, the Government have supported the introduction of a new civil stalking protection order, through the Stalking Protection Bill, which will provide police forces with a vital additional tool to protect victims of stalking.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that Answer. If this scheme works, it could be very effective. Can the Minister say how the new Stalking Threat Assessment Centre, set up by the Metropolitan Police, which will involve three police forces, three NHS trusts and charities to pilot the new approach to combat stalking and protect victims will be assessed? When and how will they report on the pilot, which I understand will be for a two-year period? Will the Minister bring the report to your Lordships’ House to have a full discussion on its merits, any proposals for rollout, and funding for all police forces?
The new police civil orders will be very important in relation to stalking. As the noble Baroness will know, the police transformation fund is a police-led process, so it is the responsibility of police forces themselves to decide how to evaluate their own projects. The Home Office provides assurance through the grant agreement process to ensure that a rigorous assessment of PTF projects is conducted quarterly and a final evaluation is provided on completion of any project that has been funded. This ensures that wider learning is captured and can be shared across the country by both police forces and the department.
In 2000 Tony Blair proposed that stalkers should have electronic tagging, but 18 years on we are still waiting. There are many victims of stalking, including Tracey Morgan, who suffered over a decade of being harassed and stalked by her former partner, and said:
“When he is released, my sentence starts”.
The key thing about the proposed new tags is that they give proximity alerts to victims, which is an important reassurance. Can the Minister assure us that the results of the consultation will happen speedily, and that the scheme will be introduced to give reassurance to victims of stalking across the country?
I agree with the noble Baroness that stalking can have terrifying consequences for the victim—certainly if the perpetrator has been convicted. Part of electronic monitoring is a rollout programme that will happen as a result of the transformation fund that I just mentioned. How this is taken forward will be up to police forces, but I agree that electronic surveillance, both for the perpetrator and the victim, if it is done on a voluntary basis, is perhaps the way forward.
My Lords, there are a number of schemes available involving tags that seem to be doing quite well, but there is no clear strategy to join them together. It will be important in the future to allow the police live monitoring of these tags. At the moment, they are outsourced and monitored elsewhere, and reports of breaches of the tags are then reported to the police later. I ask the Minister to consider that as part of future strategy as these things develop.
I will clarify what I said to the previous question. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said: there needs to be much more joined-up thinking about electronic tagging. Indeed, this is what the Government are doing. It may be necessary to have primary legislation to ensure that electronic tagging can take place. What I meant by voluntary is that, at the moment, the Met can ask both the perpetrator and the victim if they wish to be tagged.
My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness answered the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. Will it be possible for the police to have real-time monitoring or will it be subcontracted to a third party—when, inevitably, the notification that a stalker is close to somebody will come much later?
The short answer is that I am not clear about outsourcing. It is right to say that, when police forces have the funding available, how they carry out that particular activity will be a matter for them. I will write to the noble Lord to clarify that situation.
Bereavement support payment focuses support in the immediate months following a bereavement, when it is needed most. It is intended to meet the additional costs associated with bereavement, rather than providing an ongoing income replacement. Unlike its predecessors, it is not taken into account for income-related benefits, thus helping those on lowest incomes. We intend to assess the impact of these reforms once sufficient evidence is available.
I thank the Minister for her response. At the most welcome announcement a few weeks ago of the establishment of the children’s funeral fund, following the brilliant and emotional campaign led by Carolyn Harris, the Prime Minister said this:
“In the darkest moment of any parent’s life there is little light—but there can be support”.
While I agree with the Government’s aim of cutting dependency and making work pay, in April 2017 the law changed and I argued then, as I do now, that the support for children of school age who have lost a parent should continue throughout their schooling and not be cut and limited to 18 months. I ask the Minister to urge her colleagues to restore the full amount for bereaved children. Clearly if a child loses a parent the child will experience dark moments, there will be little light and there should be continued support.
My Lords, my noble friend asked a Question about bereavement support payment and I have the greatest sympathy with people in this situation. However, we are talking about a system that was set up over 90 years ago to support women following World War I who would never be expected to work again and support their family, and who had no other means of support. This change restores fairness to the system by focusing on the 19-month period after a loved one dies. Unlike its predecessor, it applies to both men and women. It is not taxed and is not taken into account for income-related benefits to support children when in need, thus helping those on low incomes the most.
My Lords, we have so far been considering the very young, but bereavement is a disabling condition that makes it very difficult for elderly people to manage their affairs. Can my noble friend assure us that people who qualify will be notified in simple language about the amount of their entitlement and the time it will last? Furthermore, would it not be a good idea to issue a warning notice or a reminder for those who may have lost track of what is happening, say a month before it ends?
My Lords, when an individual registers the death of their spouse or civil partner, the registrar provides information on how to contact the Department for Work and Pensions bereavement service. That includes giving advice on what benefits will be available, including the bereavement support payment. The time limit for claiming the initial lump sum is now more generous, at 12 months from the date of death—that is £2,500 for those who do not have dependent children and £3,500 for those who do. The time limit is three months from the date of death for claiming the additional monthly bereavement support payment, which is £100 a month for 18 months for those without children and £350 for those with dependent children. We take every opportunity to encourage claimants to make a claim for bereavement support as early as possible.
My Lords, when the Government brought this in, they said that it was not about saving money—although, as it happens, it will cost less than half what the old system did. They said that the aims were to be simple and encourage self-dependency, but we are talking about people who got married, had children and thought that they would be looking after themselves as a family until the worst possible thing happened. We end up then with somebody becoming a single parent; they are themselves bereaved and having to raise children who are bereaved. That is surely the situation for which the welfare state was pretty much invented. If the Government are going to think again, would they please think really hard, recycle some of those savings and do the right thing?
The noble Baroness will know that those in need of additional income-related benefits will receive them, as well as child benefit for those with dependent children, for example. This is not a cost-cutting exercise. We are investing an extra £40 million in each of the first two years after the reform. This is a modernisation of an outdated system, which relates to a time when women were not expected to work and, indeed, there were not jobs available for them. We are spending more than £95 billion on working-age benefits to help those in need. People in receipt of the bereavement support payment can access other parts of the welfare system if they need it. With regard to being a lone parent, it is important to add that the problem with the old system was that, if one remarried or went into a civil partnership, one lost that entitlement altogether. People do not lose it under this system.
My Lords, I understand that my noble friend has her brief from the department, but I urge her please to go back to her officials and question them about what they perceive as the fairness of these changes. Money is being taken away from families with young children, three-quarters of whom will lose out and 90% of whom will receive support for less time. That money is being recycled to families without children, while the 21% of families whose parents choose not to marry or decide to cohabit receive absolutely nothing. Overall, by 2020, the cost savings will be in the tens of millions of pounds. Before the 18 month-period expires around November this year, I urge her to look into the possibility of devising a bereavement payment specifically designed for children, so that their parents can be there for them. The damage to their mental health and educational attainment has been well documented.
My noble friend does not have the facts correct. May I make it absolutely clear that this payment is designed for people after the terrifically difficult loss of a loved one? It is not intended to be equivalent to the period of grief following spousal bereavement: it is designed to support people with the additional costs associated with bereavement rather than to provide an income replacement. Income-based benefits are more suited to provide that longer-term assistance with everyday living costs. With this benefit, the Government are therefore seeking to provide financial support through the acute period to facilitate the process of readjustment. This is nothing to do with families losing money. Noble Lords should take care before seeking to scaremonger in this way.
In reply to an earlier question, the noble Baroness suggested that Brexit would make no difference to the circumstances that have been discussed. As the Minister responsible for Brexit has failed to give us clear answers on almost every aspect of Brexit, can she now spell out for us the specific basis on which she gave the House that assurance?
To the best of my knowledge—it was and still is my understanding—through the whole process of leaving the EU, we seek to transport into UK law all those laws that impact on EU citizens and on British citizens living abroad. During that process, there is no question of us impacting on this important payment.
Serious Violence Strategy
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very pleased that we are having this debate in the House today and that there is a strong willingness, across both Houses, to tackle this most challenging issue of serious violence.
We have been extremely concerned about the increase in the rates of knife crime, gun crime and homicide, and the horrendous attacks involving acids and corrosives. Since the beginning of the year, there have been—sadly and tragically—74 reported homicides on London’s streets alone, and many of these have been stabbings. It is, however, not a London issue alone. Tragically, for example, we have also seen fatal stabbings in Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Sheffield in recent days. The Office for National Statistics has reported that, from December 2016 to December 2017, police-recorded knife crime increased by 22%, the possession of knives increased by 33%, offences involving firearms increased by 11%, and homicides increased by 9%.
Too many young people have, sadly, lost their lives in needless violence, and it simply has to stop. This is clearly unacceptable. We are determined to end this deadly cycle of violence, and that is why the Government published the Serious Violence Strategy in April this year. Anyone committing these acts of violence must feel the full force of the law. Our absolute priority is the safety and security of our citizens, and my heart goes out to the victims and their family members and friends who have been affected by this senseless violence. It is incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to help tackle it in every way possible.
On 9 April this year, as I said, the Government published their Serious Violence Strategy, which set out the action we are taking to address serious violence and, in particular, the recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. The strategy sets out an ambitious programme involving over 60 commitments and actions, supported by £40 million over two years to back the initiatives in the Serious Violence Strategy.
It is very important to stress that the approach to tackling serious violence set out in the strategy is a multiple-strand approach. Law enforcement remains very important, but the strategy is not solely focused on law enforcement, as it depends also on partnerships across a number of different sectors such as education, health and the voluntary sector. In particular, the strategy stresses the importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes of serious violence and to provide young people with the skills and resilience to lead productive lives free from violence.
The scope of the strategy is concerned with specific types of crime such as homicide, knife crime and gun crime, and the use of acids and corrosives as weapons. It also covers areas of criminality where serious violence is inherent such as gangs and county lines drugs dealing. Serious violence extends to other forms of serious assault, of course. We know that a significant proportion of violence is linked to either domestic abuse or alcohol, but these two important elements are not driving the increases we are seeing in violent crime. The strategy does not address specifically sexual abuse, modern slavery or violence against women and girls. They may all involve forms of serious violence but there are already specific strategies that address those important issues, and so they are not included within the scope of the strategy.
What is behind the recent increase in serious violence? Our analysis shows that about half the rise in knife and gun crime is likely to be due to improvements in police recording of crime, but for the remainder a major factor behind the increase is changes in the drugs market. Crack-cocaine markets have strong links to serious violence, and the latest evidence suggests that crack use is rising in England and Wales due to a mix of supply and demand factors, such as increased supply of cocaine from overseas and the spread of county lines drugs dealing which is associated with hard class A drugs.
In addition, drugs-market violence and gang-related violence is facilitated and spread by social media, which has become more and more accessible and part of everyday life through the widespread adoption of smartphones over the past decade. Social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram are used to glamorise the gang or drug-dealing life, to taunt rivals and to normalise weapons carrying. Sadly, it leads to tit for tat.
Through our analysis in the strategy, we have also identified that the increases in violence have been accompanied by a shift towards younger victims and perpetrators than earlier in this decade. We have also identified that we are not alone in seeing recent increases in serious violence. The US, Canada and a number of other European countries have seen similar long-term trends. This suggests that there is a global component to the trend and so our strategy includes a commitment to hold an international violent crime symposium in autumn 2018. This will bring together academics and experts to explore the trends in serious violence in different parts of the world.
Our analysis points to a range of factors driving increases in serious violence. The issue is complex, but our analysis is that changes in the drugs market are a major factor behind the recent increases. While there is good evidence that enforcement can play a vital role in tackling these offences, most academics agree that big shifts in crime trends tend to be driven by factors outside of the police’s control—such as drugs trends and markets, changes in housing, vehicle security and so on. Available evidence suggests this latest shift in serious violence is no exception. We are aware of, and have noted, though, what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said recently about police resources, and the Home Secretary has committed to making police funding a priority at the next spending review, which will set budgets for the longer term.
As I have said, the Serious Violence Strategy puts a greater emphasis than previously on early intervention and prevention. It is at the heart of the approach in the strategy and has been informed by our analysis of the evidence of what works and is most effective with young people. The work on early intervention and prevention focuses on steering young people away from crime and tackling root causes. As we all know and accept, we cannot arrest our way out of the issue, so we are clear that we must prevent young people from committing serious violence by developing their resilience and supporting positive alternatives to a life of crime, with timely interventions.
The Serious Violence Strategy sets out a range of universal and targeted interventions, including the early intervention youth fund, which will be launched this summer, to which police and crime commissioners can apply. The fund is designed to help local partnerships support early intervention and prevention activity with young people. It has £11 million available over two years to support such local activity and will link up with existing programmes.
We will also provide support additional support for organisations such as Redthread to expand and pilot its youth violence intervention programme outside London in Nottingham and Birmingham and continue to develop its service in London hospitals. The Redthread programme is based on the concept of the “teachable moment”. This means that hospital emergency department staff will ask a youth worker to speak to a young person who has been admitted with violent injuries caused by stabbing, for example. If they need help, the youth worker will help identify and refer them to where they can get help to leave a gang for example.
I now move on to how the strategy will tackle specific areas of violence, beginning with county lines, because drugs are a major factor behind the recent increases in violence. What are county lines? Gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas in the UK, use dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use violence. This is a major cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, child criminal exploitation, modern slavery and missing persons, and it involves the police, a wide range of government departments, local government agencies and voluntary sector organisations.
We are particularly concerned about the county lines issue because of the violence and exploitation of children and vulnerable people that it involves. That is why we are supporting the establishment of a new £3.6 million national county lines co-ordination centre to help bring together the law enforcement effort. The links behind county lines are complicated, and the threat crosses police force boundaries. The centre will support the police operationally, help build the intelligence picture and support police forces to close down mobile phone numbers used for county lines drug dealing.
The strategy also sets out how we will work with the Department for Education on the support and advice offered to children educated in alternative provision, including those who have been excluded, to reduce the risk of them becoming victims of county lines exploitation and being drawn into crime.
We are taking a range of actions to tackle knife crime focused on operational enforcement, work with retailers, legislation and early intervention and prevention. In March, we launched a major media advertising campaign, #knifefree, which is aimed at raising awareness among young people and young adults about the risks of carrying knives. This was chiefly delivered through social media targeted at young people. We are currently evaluating the campaign, but it has had a very positive response from our partners.
We are also providing up to £1 million for each of the next two years for our anti-knife crime community fund. This fund, which was launched on 18 May, provides support for local initiatives which work with young people to tackle knife crime. It includes early intervention and education, as well as mentoring and outreach work. Last year, we supported 47 projects across England and Wales through the community fund.
We are also taking action to improve legislation and practice in relation to the ownership and licensing of firearms. We are actively strengthening controls on legally owned firearms to mitigate the risk of them coming into someone’s possession illegally and being used for criminal purposes. It is clearly important that the controls are as robust as possible to prevent firearms getting into the hands of criminals, and we are taking action including the greater regulation of antique firearms, statutory guidance to be issued to the police on firearms and shotgun licensing, and improving the arrangements for the use of medical information in licensing decisions.
Attacks on people involving acids or other corrosives are a serious matter that can result in huge distress and life-changing injuries. We are taking action, with proposed new legislation to make it an offence to sell the most harmful corrosive substances to someone under 18 years of age. Although the strategy places a new emphasis on early intervention, we are clear that, where individuals commit serious violent offences, they must be met with a robust law enforcement response.
Taking effective action means that the issue needs to be understood and owned locally. Communities and the relevant partners must also see tackling serious violence as their problem. Police and crime commissioners have a vital leadership role to play through working with and across community safety partnerships. Other local partnerships can also play an important role.
Our strategy also sets out how we will continue to support communities to build local resilience and awareness by continuing to match-fund local area reviews. The reviews help to identify the resilience and capability of local areas in responding to gang-related threats, with follow-on support to help partners. To date, we have funded 28 local reviews across England and Wales and two strategic reviews in Bedfordshire and Thames Valley. In turn, MOPAC has to date supported 16 reviews since 2016. We are increasing our offer of support to local areas this year with further local and strategic reviews, with follow-on operational support available.
Finally, to support delivery of the strategy, the Home Secretary has established a serious violence task force to drive implementation of the strategy and support delivery of its key objectives. This task force brings together Ministers, Members of Parliament, the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Director-General of the National Crime Agency, other senior police leaders and the public and voluntary sectors’ chief executives. The task force met for the first time on 26 April and discussed the issue of county lines and what more could be done to tackle this issue. The task force also met again this morning to discuss the challenge of serious violence material on social media and again considered what further it could do to support action on this issue.
The multi-strand approach set out in the strategy, with a greater emphasis on early intervention, will address the increases in serious violence and help young people to deliver the skills and resilience to live happy and productive lives away from violence, as well as ensuring that people feel safe in their communities and their homes. I beg to move.
I thank my noble friend for his statement. I recognise that both those factors are an important part. I alluded in my opening speech to the importance of support. However, I recognise that other noble Lords will be speaking today and, in order to keep my speech short, I thought I would include those issues in my concluding remarks.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I do so, however, with a heavy heart. As many in the House will be aware, I speak from the unenviable position of having been widowed because of violent crime. I am a mother of three children—of whom I am really proud—who have no father because of violent crime. As the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, I have spent the past six years travelling around the country listening to and standing up for other victims of this devastating crime.
Overall, crime in this country is falling, but homicide, knife crime, gun crime and robbery are up. Reading about this on what seems to be a daily basis in our newspapers, I am saddened and hurt to see the faces of mothers who are broken-hearted at the death of their sons. We need to do more. Signs that a child is at risk of gang involvement or involvement in youth violence can be identified in children as young as seven. However, no child is born with a knife or a gun in their hand. We must do something in the intervening years before those weapons become essential accessories attached to their hands. They have weapons already—hands and feet. Any strategy must start long before the children have been sucked into gangs and a hostile and violent culture.
If we are going to ask schools, youth services and local authorities to help spot and support these children, then the £40 million committed in the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy is to be welcomed, but I fear it will be a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem we have to tackle.
The challenge to tackle this issue is obviously for government but it is also for perpetrators. However, let me be clear that when I say perpetrators I do not mean only the children armed with knives or the gang leaders causing terror in our cities but also the middle-class drug users who are funding this wave of violence. City workers who drink their fairtrade coffee out of a reusable cup during the week think nothing of the supply chain of the stuff they snort up their noses at the weekend. In my view, they are as guilty as the moped riders.
We need to change social attitudes and to stem the increase of crack cocaine use. For example, the south-east and eastern England have seen a rise in cocaine users of a fifth in recent years. We also need to understand that the impact of this crime is not just a London problem, nor is it limited to our inner cities.
The franchising of drug supply across our country, called “county lines”, has brought violent crime into provincial towns and villages—indeed, right into the heart of our countryside. It is a symptom of the rotten supply chain of middle-class drug-taking. For example, some of the most rural areas in the country have seen the biggest increase in violent crime. Let us be clear what that means. Let us remember what the consequences of violent crime are. It means more families in Durham, Devon, Cornwall and Cheshire are now missing a loved one or dealing with life-changing events.
The county lines issue is, however, a symptom of a rot that goes far beyond drug use. Why are these children so vulnerable to exploitation? They are getting money that they could not dream of earning waiting tables in cafes, and the attention and respect that they are getting in the home. Never has it been clearer that this must be a whole-government response and a committed response from the enablers—the technology and social media companies.
It will be 11 years in August that I will have been thinking of my husband and my three young daughters. I have travelled around the country. I have been in prisons; I have been in youth offender centres; I have done documentaries and spoken to young children. All of them say, in no matter what circumstances, that they do not feel safe where they live, and they want to talk to somebody without a threat.
That is why I stand here today with a disappointed and a saddened heart because we need to look at positive alternatives, and we need to be more creative. I stand here as well as patron of Warrington youth zone, which will be built next year. What is a youth zone? It is not a youth club—it is a youth zone built with respect for young children, designed by young children, because we are giving them a top-notch building.
Bolton Lads and Girls club is 10 years old, with a better David Lloyd gym than we pay hundreds of pounds for. They get a hot meal; they feel safe; they can have peer mentoring and they get an education. More importantly, they feel they have a future.
I ask the Government to be more creative in what they do. Last Thursday His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, even spoke about how he was involved in OnSide. He said that it,
“showed me how well we can do this on a scale and a level of ambition”,
that His Royal Highness had never seen before—young people safe in a safe space. It is fully inclusive, culturally empowering and enriching all who come into contact.
That is what we need to create. We need a sustainable programme, and we need something that will give respect to the children; in that way, we will get respect back.
My Lords, I declare an interest, in that I am a patron of St. Giles Trust. It cannot be declared as a business interest, but it is relevant because it is mentioned in the serious crime strategy.
I will talk mainly about police and law enforcement, although I accept that the strategy is more broadly based, and very properly so. This Serious Violence Strategy is well thought through and has much to commend it. It is good to see that the Government have created a strategy rather than just a task force, and by creating a task force to lead the strategy it has created a mechanism for implementing that strategy to achieve the best effect. In the past we have not always seen those two elements together. We sometimes see the strategy; we sometimes need a task force; but seeing them together is a positive development.
I will talk about the causes of violence, concentrating on London, where my most recent experience has been. There are three issues affecting the serious violence rate in London, some of which is covered in the Serious Violence Strategy. Because London is such a significant part of the national picture, I think it is relevant to concentrate on it. The three issues—if I have chance in the time available, I shall speak about a fourth—are: London is getting younger in certain areas; the drugs market, which the strategy refers to; and too many people carrying knives.
London getting younger is contradictory to what is happening in the rest of the country; there are contradictions, too, within London. It is in the north-east of the capital where we are seeing more young people. This is caused by higher birth rates and migration. Research shows us that where there are more young men in society we tend to see an increase in crime generally and an increase in violence in particular. If we look at a heat map of the violence in London during the past 18 months to two years, we see a high correlation between the increase in the number of young men and the increase in the incidence of violence. Should we need any further proof of the gender effect on crime, we know that of the current prison population of 84,000, 80,000 are male, not only indicating a male-female link but confirming that men in general are responsible for committing more serious offences.
There are various options for approaching this challenge. The law enforcement response will mean permanently stationing more officers in those areas where there are younger people, and flexible deployment of specialist squads to help them. However, that challenges the present reduction in police resources, particularly for London. The past few years have seen police numbers in the country drop by around 20,000. In London, we managed to preserve our 32,000 officers by making £600 million of savings and efficiencies, but now even that number is dropping: presently, it is 30,000, with estimates of 27,000 in future years.
I know that someone like me may always be accused of asking for more money for public services, and I will always ask for more money for the police. However, I hold out some hope as to where some of that money may be found. It is not always necessary to find growth; there can be reallocation. First, the Home Office has a transformation fund just for the police service. It started back in 2012 and at that time had only £50 million in it. In the next few years, that will rise to £350 million. The fund’s original aim was to help forces work more efficiently in fighting crime across force borders—which is relevant to the county lines issue highlighted in the report. Its political aim was to do this without creating regional police forces; that is, bigger forces and fewer of them. I am afraid that it has not delivered its aim. Each force is expected to bid for its own money from the fund. This bottom-up strategy has led to multiple small projects with no strategic design or effect. Why not spend more of it on the police?
The apprenticeship levy, which I support, is 1% of the police pay bill. I applaud any attempt to match the apprenticeship standards of Germany, Poland, and Switzerland, but I propose a five-year apprenticeship levy holiday for the police. At the moment, they are recruiting in small numbers and they cannot claim the levy back for police officer training or salaries. I estimate that this takes around £150 million from police funding nationally, with little in return. The combined total of £500 million would pay for around another 10,000 police posts. This could make a significant difference at a time when we need most help.
The second issue is the drugs market. It is clear from the report and from my experience that the increase in the amount of serious violence is linked to drugs crime. The strategy suggests, without proving it, that the increase in supply of cocaine has had two effects. First, as a stimulant, it is more likely to cause violent offending and, secondly, in a bid to create demand, more expansive and aggressive drug gangs have been driven to export their product. While I agree with the analysis of the problem, I am less impressed with the remedy. The county lines phenomenon of big cities supplying rural areas will need more than a co-ordination centre to interrupt it.
Drugs in this country are policed in three tiers. While the supply of skunk cannabis has changed to home-produced in the past few years, controlled drugs are generally imported: 90% of cocaine comes from Colombia, and 90% of heroin from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The international supply route is level 1 and it is the remit of the National Crime Agency to co-ordinate this country’s response to it, working with other countries as well, of course. Drug supply around Britain and across the regions is level 2 and it is the responsibility of the NCA and the 46 individual police forces to interrupt that supply. Level 3 is street dealing. Street dealing has changed over the last few years. It was literally in the street—the client came to the dealer, or to the dealer’s home. That was of great benefit to the police, because lots of people noticed how many people turned up at someone’s house and would let the police know that they suspected drug supply. Now, the drugs are delivered to the client. Noble Lords may have seen a report in the last few weeks stating that it is now apparently quicker to get cocaine than to get a pizza, which I do not think is to anybody’s benefit in any way.
In this strategy, which force is going to interrupt these supply routes? Each force is restricted broadly to its boundaries. There is a very thin layer of regional crime units. The National Crime Agency’s mission is to disrupt this supply, but there are no clear figures on how they are enforcing the law in this vital area. I invite Members of this House to look at the annual report of the National Crime Agency, which I generally support. I fear that it is a number-free zone when it comes to enforcement, drug supply and recovering cash from the people who are making money from this. Of course, the main area we need to target is the money that the drugs generate, yet recovery levels are very low, considering the size of the market from which it is garnered. This attack on criminal assets is not explicitly recommended in the strategy, and I would have expected to see more about it, because it is the underpinning motivation for selling drugs.
Will county lines be targeted by interception of communication warrants and then given the priority they deserve? When intelligence is gathered from those telephone lines, which surveillance units will follow up on the intelligence that is gathered? There is a very thin layer of surveillance out there—more reason, I would argue, for resources to be made more available to the police, particularly at the moment. There is no recommendation in the report that the Crown Prosecution Service should work with the police in dedicated teams. We know from experience that, when we have worked as teams, with the Crown Prosecution Service properly maintaining its independence, we have always had a better outcome in terms of detection and, more importantly, in terms of successful prosecutions through the courts—because lawyers bring a forensic approach to the application of police skills. So, in short, I do not think that the law enforcement part of the strategy is incisive enough. I do not say that law enforcement alone is the answer; I am commenting only on the law enforcement elements of the plan.
I move now to the carrying of knives. Clearly one of the large problems, particularly in London, is that too many people are carrying knives and that too often an argument is turning into a murder or a very serious event. In my time as commissioner, we reduced stop and search very significantly. I cannot blame the present Prime Minister for this, because I believe it was the right thing to do. I took over in London days after the riots of 2011. In the two years preceding the riots, the Met had stopped and searched or accounted 2.6 million people. That is a very large number and a very large proportion of the 8.4 million people who resided then in London. Members will know that obviously not everybody who lives in London will be on the streets and available for stop and search, by age or inclination. Yet even though we reduced stop and search over the succeeding four years by 60%, we arrested more people—rising from 43,000 to 45,000 people—and we saw crime reduce by 20%, including knife crime and violence. I think we now need to increase the amount of stop and search again, but it must be intelligently targeted or its risks will outweigh its benefits.
I believe that the Home Office needs to work together with the police in three areas to improve stop and search. First, it must help produce technological scanning devices to help officers find knives on individuals and in cars. It remains quite a difficult process for officers stopping people on the street. It is quite difficult in airports, but the challenges in the street are greater. Secondly, it must help develop facial recognition software to work on police body-worn cameras, which are increasing in number across the country—in London there are now 23,000 officers with this equipment. That would help officers to know who to stop. Quite often, intelligence is led by whether the person has a vehicle with them. If they have a vehicle, it is the start of identifying who the person is and whether the police should start a search. I am afraid that, if the first words from the officer, usually to a young person, are “Who are you and where do you live?”, it indicates that the intelligence may not be spectacular. They do their best in a very big city and a very complex society, but facial recognition may help, working together with body-worn cameras.
Finally, we can improve the way Crimestoppers works, particularly for young people. The Crimestoppers that we as adults may understand has always worked. It is an idea that came from America—it was brought over by Lord Ashcroft—whereby people can anonymously report who has committed a crime or where stolen goods are, and thousands of people are arrested every year from that. I do not think young people generally know about it—they prefer to use social networking sites to share information. It is not really targeting that group of young people. But my principal point is that research shows that people know who carries a knife; it is not a secret. Their friends and families know, but the question is: will they tell the police, and will the police then act quickly and go and find them in a taxi or the Tube, or wherever they happen to be, and make sure they catch the right person carrying the knife? I genuinely believe that families and friends are terrified of people carrying these knives, but we have to find a way to unlock that intelligence and then for the police to react to it.
I will mention two other things. There is talk in the report about firearms supply, and generally I agree with what it says—but it misses one or two opportunities. There are only a limited number of ways that people can obtain firearms in this country. Clearly, criminals can get hold of them by stealing from legal owners: that is mentioned. There is always a way for registered dealers, as there is in any business, to get hold of gash or extra stock. The general industry is very good—I am not saying that generally it is not—but you have to make sure that the register is controlled and this report mentions that.
There is no talk about military sources. There are two potential sources for the military. Clearly, the military have access to firearms—the same challenge about stock control applies there—and they also return from war zones with a potential for trophies to be returning with them. By working with the military police you can do something about that by bag searchers and various other things that can make a real difference to the supply of illegal firearms. Clearly, there are illegal imports and that is where the Border Agency has to work on the intelligence that is provided.
Finally, there is the control of ammunition. Guns do not work without ammunition. There is very good control of ammunition, but it can sometimes get out of control, and those are areas I would expect to have seen a little more about in the report.
The final thing I will mention is that the way the statistics are presented is very important, because it allows good analysis from which good reports like this can flow. But we are not completely sure about all the statistics in this area. We know that more people have been murdered—that is very clear—but can we say clearly how many people were stabbed? I am afraid the answer is we cannot. What we can say is how many people were wounded—but a wound is not always a stabbing. We can say how many people were arrested for possessing a knife. We can say how many people were involved in a crime that was knife-enabled—for example, where the knife was seen but not used. The critical test is how many people were stabbed.
Five years before I joined the Met, each year 136 people on average were murdered. In the five years that I was there that came down to around 106 murders a year—not an insignificant reduction. Of course, I claim it was because we in the police did some great things—I think we did. But I have to accept that during that period the health service got better, too. What happened is that people were treated on the street, not rushed to hospital. The question we have to be sure about is: are more people getting stabbed or are more people dying? It may be that law enforcement is vital for the reasons that the strategy outlines, but there may be other things that have to be looked at to make sure that the great care that has been provided over the last few years is maintained. The health service is under stress and any best practice, as the police know, can be forgotten and lost.
Those are just some thoughts which I hope may help in the implementation of a strategy that I generally support, and I hope that my comments are not regarded as negative: they are meant to enhance it rather than detract from it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president and former chairman of the Local Government Association. I welcome the Serious Violence Strategy as it places a significant emphasis on early intervention. This is vital for preventing young people becoming involved in crime in the first place. Over the years, one of the key successes in tackling and preventing crime has been effective local partnerships working between councils, police and the health service. I am particularly pleased to see that the strategy commits to providing funding to continue to support this important multi-agency work. The Serious Violence Taskforce, of which the Local Government Association is a member, has a vital role to play in ensuring that we make progress on the strategy. I hope that we can have an update on the progress made by the new county lines co-ordination centre in raising awareness of county lines issues, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, suggested, more is needed to tackle this problem than a mere co-ordination centre.
As we have heard from other speakers, county lines is an emerging national issue. It involves the exploitation of vulnerable young people and adults by violent gang members in order to move and sell drugs across the country. Nearly every police force in England and Wales has been affected by county lines issues to some degree. The majority of police forces have identified the involvement of vulnerable people, particularly children, in county lines activity. Police forces in England and Wales have identified links between knife and gun crime and county lines activity, as well as with other forms of serious violence. The strategy also highlights that drug-selling gangs are generally more violent than the local dealers who previously controlled the market.
It is clear that this issue affects all our communities. I know that the Local Government Association is holding a conference for local government and its partners to share best practice and experiences. I am also particularly encouraged to see the new county lines awareness-raising campaign led by the Home Office. This includes promotional materials that have been developed to support front-line staff. The campaign highlights the signs to look for in potential victims and what to do about it. Increases in homicide, knife crime and gun crime are a serious concern. There is also concern that younger people are often the victims or perpetrators of these horrendous crimes.
This increase comes at a time when councils are facing significant rises in demand for urgent child protection work. With a children’s services funding gap that will reach almost £2 billion by 2020, councils are increasingly having to divert funding away from preventive work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm. We need to renew our focus on early intervention and prevention. For example, council youth offending teams are key to supporting young people to help prevent them getting involved in crime in the first place. Only with the right funding and powers can councils continue to make a difference to people’s lives by supporting families and young people. This will help tackle serious violent crime in our local communities.
Today’s debate is incredibly timely, given that we have heard that the Serious Violence Taskforce met earlier today. I wish it well in its work and hope to see progress on this and the other important issues being debated this afternoon.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for introducing this debate. I shall begin by quoting some stark facts from Barnardo’s, which works directly with young people. Barnardo’s is increasingly concerned about the worrying trend of children and young people becoming victims of criminal exploitation. They can be controlled by criminal gangs and forced to carry weapons, carry and trade in drugs, go missing from home and be victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. In a recent survey, almost 60% of Barnardo’s children’s service managers said they believed that they had supported a young person involved in criminal activity over the past year. Approximately 75% of them said they thought the young person had been coerced, deceived or manipulated, and thought they were into criminal activity because of those reasons. We have to remember that most of these young people are already vulnerable. In her excellent speech the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, mentioned finding creative and positive solutions, and I entirely agree with her. The Barnardo’s figures are shocking and point to the need to examine locally and nationally how we are dealing with and supporting young people and their families, and what we can do better. Therefore the strategy is welcome, with its broad perspective on what might be done and what the solutions might be.
I feel that the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, with all her experience of local authorities, might agree with me on the next points that I make. We need to examine the functioning and funding of local safeguarding boards and to ask why schools are not involved in them. We need to look at why there are discrepancies in the quality of authorities’ activities nationally. We need to ensure that social services work well and positively with young people and their families. We need to look at why children are sometimes shunted between care homes, foster care and adoption agencies. We need to look at the influence of social media; this is perhaps a long way from the full force of the law, but I think it needs looking at.
Last November I was involved in a Council of Europe/UK Parliament seminar on child mental health and child-friendly justice with representatives from the police, academics, parents, European MPs and the voluntary sector. I declare an interest here as chair of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly sub-committee on children. Half the participants were young people aged up to 24. One young woman described children and young people as “experts by experience”. These young people have been involved in mental health initiatives and with the law. Their insights were extraordinary, and I hope that in considering any strategy affecting young people the Government will note the importance of involving those young people in proposed interventions. Their voices are important. The concern of the seminar was that mental health was a driver in motivations for many young people. Mental health is the key to self-esteem and resilience—the ability to reject negative influences.
I hope the Government are taking note of the implications of the Green Paper on mental health. I hope there will be genuine dialogue between government departments to tackle both mental health and crime. Such dialogue is of course mentioned in the strategy. I would be interested to know from the Minister if any evaluation of what works has been incorporated into the Serious Violence Strategy. A lot of money is being spent so we should know, eventually, what the outcomes are.
In the European seminar that has also been mentioned today, issues such as counselling in schools, the need for early intervention with children and families, safe houses for children and the training of those dealing with children and young people were considered vital. A report on the seminar has been launched in Strasbourg and will be launched in London in July. I am delighted that the Minister for Public Health and the Minister for Youth Justice will both be attending and speaking. The launch will be led by young people from NGOs committed to listening to young people’s views, and noble Lords are of course invited to attend. I am delighted to see that in the strategy the Government emphasised the importance of,
“partnerships across a number of sectors such as education, health, social services, housing, youth services, and victim services”,
“tackling serious violence is not a law enforcement issue alone”.
The Government have announced new initiatives such as an early intervention youth fund, a new county lines co-ordination centre and a new round of heroin and crack action areas. Of course any enthusiasm for reducing violent crime is welcome, but I wish that local authorities were not being weakened by a lack of funding and that police services were not being eroded. My brother was in the police force for 33 years, ending up as chief superintendent in Manchester. He always emphasised the importance of having police on the beat, of making local connections and of recruiting and enabling women and men from black and minority-ethnic communities to join the police force. I think he was right.
I wish there were more counsellors and programmes of personal, social and health education in schools. Such programmes encourage communication skills, self-esteem and teamwork among young people. I salute the Government for at last making such programmes mandatory, although there is a long way to go in implementing the initiative successfully. I wish there was not a threat to community services such as libraries. All community initiatives help people bind together and encourage concern about young people in communities. Youth services are desperately needed in communities.
I know that the strategy places drugs as central to serious crime. I ask the Government to look at this very carefully and perhaps do more analysis. Public Health England and the national drug treatment monitoring system have useful figures on this. My impression is that the use of hard drugs such as crack cocaine by young people is actually going down, with a rise in drugs such as cannabis. I should like a dialogue on this. It is very important. We need to know exactly what we are tackling. There are many splendid initiatives which help develop strong individuals and strong communities, such as those from the voluntary sector. Sports groups, such as the Chance to Shine and the Wicketz initiative, funded by the Lord’s Taverners, enable young people in disadvantaged areas to play sport, to work as teams and to develop communication and leadership skills. Sport is a great unifier and can develop self-esteem, involvement and co-operation. Present schemes deserve more attention and guaranteed funding. The police are encouraging groups of young people who have been in trouble with the law to set up initiatives of their own to engage young people in danger of becoming involved in crime and in gangs to think again. I have talked to lots of young people who are doing this good work. They all report excellent results. This is an example of creative thinking. I do not know if there is a list of such initiatives nationally. Is there? If so, there could be a survey of what works in engaging positively with young people.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply and to the rest of the debate, and in particular to comments on the involvement of young people, and on gathering information on what works to enable learning and the sharing of good practice in this important area of addressing serious violence.
My Lords, I too welcome the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy and the opportunity to debate it. Importantly, the strategy commits to tackling the deeply troubling trends which the Minister and others have outlined, by establishing a new balance between prevention and law enforcement. However, it will be greatly hampered in its effectiveness by the lack of an equally—if not even more necessary—strategy to address the veritable tsunami of family breakdown that has engulfed many of our communities. This has direct links to the violence, as I will make clear.
As the Centre for Social Justice, which has helped me with data for this speech, has repeatedly emphasised, we have one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the OECD. Just two-thirds of all children aged between 0 and 14 years live with both their birth parents. According to the Office for National Statistics, a quarter of families in the UK are headed by a lone parent, and 86% of these are headed by mothers. Some 2.7 million children have no father figure at home; more than 1 million children have little or no contact with their birth father, and 15% of the UK’s children grow up without a resident father.
The Serious Violence Strategy does hint at an understanding of these issues by euphemistically referring to “disrupted family environments” and describing the need for parents of troubled young people to be taught,
“strategies for improving the quality of their interactions with their child, reducing negative child behaviour and increasing their efficacy and confidence in parenting”.
Yet there is no recognition that often the parents in question are women on their own raising violent and out-of-control sons, who have far superior physical strength, with the fathers long gone. We are so frightened of appearing to be critical of lone parents that we forget what a difficult and gruelling job it is to do single-handedly. Many did not choose it as a lifestyle, do not enjoy it and certainly do not want their children to repeat the cycle.
Moreover, although the strategy treats family socioeconomic status as a risk factor, it does not fully reflect the evidence linking fatherlessness with criminal and gang activity. Fatherlessness is a well-documented risk factor for offending, and the risk factors for gang involvement are similar to those for offending. While, of course, not all serious violence is perpetrated by gangs, it should not be forgotten that, for a significant group of young people growing up in our most deprived communities, the gang has become a substitute family, with the gang leader as the father: 17 year-old André, who used to be gang-involved, told the Centre for Social Justice, “You can go out and be in that crew and have a family”.
Let me outline some of the characteristics of many boys growing up with physically or emotionally absent fathers. The rejection and inadequacy they feel as a result of growing up in a fatherless household is often internalised, creating resentment and anger. The absence of positive role models of masculinity leaves them with little choice but to learn what it is to be a man from traditional alpha male imagery, and this makes them vulnerable to being groomed for violence and susceptible to exploitation.
In consequence, what might be termed our national father deficit is a driver for criminal and gang activity: 25% of young offenders are already fathers themselves; only 30% of young offenders come from intact families; and boys with little or no involvement with their fathers are twice as likely to become offenders compared to boys with highly involved fathers.
The UK National Survey of Health and Development found that 27% of boys who had experienced separation or divorce had been cautioned or convicted by age 21, compared to 14% of those who had not experienced family breakdown. The Newcastle Thousand Family Study showed that the likelihood of a male being convicted up to age 32 doubles if he has experienced divorce or separation before age five. Drilling down to an individual case which is by no means unusual, an Islington borough police evaluation of one particular London gang murder found that of the 13 young people initially suspected of involvement in the killing, 12 were from lone-parent homes.
My recent review on the importance of family ties to prevent reoffending and the transmission of intergenerational crime in prison has found that two thirds of prisoners’ sons go on to offend. It is obvious that not all fathers—and not all mothers—have a good influence on their children. This is partly to do with the fact that those who grow up without a present father experience other disadvantages that can lead to or increase the risks of criminal behaviour.
Compared to children in two-parent families, children in one-parent families are significantly more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs weekly. Children from low-income households who have an active father figure at home are 25% more likely to escape the poverty they grow up in. According to a 2017 Oxford University study, where there is an active father pre-teen, children are up to 28% less likely to suffer behavioural problems.
When the Serious Violence Strategy was debated recently in the other place, the right honourable Sir Desmond Swayne disagreed with higher police numbers being the solution, saying:
“We would have to swamp the streets with policemen; there would have to be policemen available at every violent incident for it to make that form of difference. We would be back to Cromwell saying, “If I arm one in 10 will that be enough?” Of much more significance in terms of the propensity to violence is the lack of attention to the question of young people—particularly very young people—and parenting. That is where the Government’s efforts must be directed”. —[Official Report, Commons, 22/5/18; col. 739.]
Across the Floor in the other place, the Labour Member, Vicky Foxcroft, stressed:
“We need to start far, far earlier, working with families from birth by providing support such as Sure Start, which works with a child and their family from a pre-school age”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/5/18; col. 771.]
The Serious Violence Strategy mentions that police forces in Wales are giving attention to adverse childhood experiences, and the public health approach to serious violence in Scotland also aims to prevent these ACEs. England might have a little catching up to do here, although crime policy in the devolved Greater Manchester authority is also very ACE-aware. It should be noted that parental separation is also a recognised ACE—adverse childhood experience—but I have not heard about any policies north or west of the border to try to prevent this.
The Serious Violence Strategy did not agree that interventions aimed at pre-school children had the best results and said that some of the most successful programmes were aimed at slightly older children—those who had already offended or shown signs of anti-social behaviour. I passionately believe that every child needs the best possible start in life but the wheels can fall off the family wagon when children are older than five, the age at which much parenting support that is based in Sure Start ceases to be available.
That is why I have been pressing the Government to encourage the evolution of family hubs, often from—and continuing the early years work of—existing Sure Start children’s centres. Councils such as the Isle of Wight, Essex and Westminster are finding that they can reduce disadvantage and dysfunction for all their families by integrating a full range of help, including their troubled families programme, into these community settings. They are somewhere parents can go where someone will have the answers.
The need for family hubs is one of the recommendations of the manifesto to strengthen families that I have talked about before in your Lordships’ House. It also recommends that the Government bring into force Schedule 6 to the Welfare Reform Act 2010 which would make it mandatory for fathers to be named on birth certificates, with all sensible safeguards. There are over 247,000 children under seven in the UK who had no registered father at birth, and every year, one in 20 children is born with no registered father. The manifesto also recommended moving birth registration into children’s centres and family hubs, so that both mothers and fathers can see from the outset what kind of support would be there for them if they need it.
Finally, but most instrumentally, the manifesto calls for a Cabinet-level family Minister in government. He or she would have the clout of a big department, such as the Home Office or even possibly defence, and would, like the Equalities Minister, have additional responsibility for driving policies to improve family stability and family functioning in every department of government. At the recent reshuffle, a Minister for Loneliness was appointed, yet various academics who have looked at statistics from studies going back to the 1940s, dispute claims that there is an epidemic of loneliness in contrast with the past. Professor Barreto, of Exeter University, quoted in the Times last week, said:
“Perhaps what we see is an epidemic of understanding, of interest in loneliness and an urge to try and understand what can be done about it. But we aren’t more lonely than before”.
Since studies began the prevalence of loneliness has hardly changed. The same thing simply cannot be said about the prevalence of family breakdown.
Can the Minister provide an update please on the progress in these three areas: holding men’s feet to the fire when they father a child, through mandatory birth registration; moving this process into places which could help put parents on to a good path from the outset; and giving a senior Cabinet Member overarching responsibility for developing and implementing a strategy to address the genuine epidemic of fractured and dysfunctional families? Support for family relationships, whether between parent and child or between parents themselves, cannot be rejected on the grounds that it is too intrusive for the state to be involved. The Government warn parents about the consequences of overconsumption of sugar, salt, screens, smoking and drinking. Warning them about the long-term personal and societal outcomes of poor parenting and fractured families and putting tools into their hands to enable them to be the good mothers and fathers who most long to be is not the nanny state, but the canny state.
My Lords, I am pleased to be speaking on the important and inclusive report and discussion from the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. She has got everything in there, absolutely everything. The noble Baroness has even included the roots, so we have to go to the roots; we have to solve the problems. We cannot just keep dealing in arithmetic or with the manifestation or effects; we have to get to the cause.
I commend the Government for saying such wonderful things, but I would like to know where the word “austerity” comes in, because I think that is the only term left out. We cut the youth offending team bill by 50% since 2010, and you think whether that brings us any nearer the solution. Is it necessary to cut money and take 20,000 policemen off our streets? Is that a strategy for improving the chances of us not having so many of our children murdered? Does cutting the YOTs add to our chances of getting nearer to Valhalla, when we will have the chance of enjoying our children knowing they are all out there, doing very well, prospering and having an incredibly long life?
That is the problem with this discussion, because we always leave out money, when it should be brought forward and talked about—the arithmetic of the capital that you put in and the returns from that capital, the social capital of investing. For instance, there is the bizarre situation where we fail 38% of our children at school and yet wonder why a decisive amount of those who fall into crime come from this failed group of people. According to some of the organisations that work there, 80% of the people who fill our prisons come from a failure at school. If you were to ask those children who were carrying and running drugs, and sticking their knives into other people, how they did at school, I bet you a pound to a penny they would say, “Not very well at all”.
It is interesting that we talk about wanting to sort out the tree by getting down to the roots. The roots all go back to poverty, unfortunately. There is no other major reason why we have crime on our streets, murders, gangs and young people who are prepared to move drugs around the country than this shortage of resources way down the line.
I will talk about who this person is. Imagine there is one person who ends up sticking a knife in somebody, dealing in drugs or even becoming a victim. If you look at that person, you will see that it is someone who comes from need and, often, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has pointed out to us, comes from a broken home—but that person will come from a family which was probably uneducated after the Second World War. In 1948, we had that wonderful thing called the welfare state, invented in a very strange sort of way, as well as a pretty good way. They creamed off the 11% so that they could run the system and become the managers, and then they created the secondary modern school system, which actually created a curriculum or pedagogy to produce people who did unskilled and semi-skilled work. If you look at those children who are now involved in crime, I bet that their fathers or grandfathers come from that cohort of undereducated people, where the state educated people for jobs that were seriously disappearing.
As Margaret Thatcher proved, when she broke the link with government support and removed all the subsidies for the major industries, what you need to do is to move forward with the times and close down the old industries. What happened was that an enormous number of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs disappeared, and we started to grow an underclass of people who moved from one generation to another generation and who themselves were blasted in the kind of culture that they were given.
I know many of those people—I come from them—and there was a person whose family I grew up with who imported the largest amount of cocaine into this country. I know why he did it—he was a criminal—but I also know that he was dyslexic and a person who, when he went to the North Thames Gas Board to get a job, was not given one because he could not read the meters. I know that there were precious few forms of skills that he could tap into, because he had been to a comprehensive school that did not recognise him as someone with enormous organisational skills who should be given the job of running the Bank of England.
I know all sorts of other things. If you actually look at the culture and social profile of most of these young children who are being murdered or are murdering people and running drugs, I am sorry to say that very rarely do they come from the comfortable classes; they come from the discomforted classes, the people who have been short-changed on the kind of education that they desperately need. Until this Government, the next Government or the Government after that really get behind the idea of skilling up the neediest among us, we will be talking about crime, inventing YOTs and JOPs and ROPs and all sorts of other things. We will be talking about cutting police officer numbers or putting on more—we will be doing all those sorts of things, but we will not be addressing the major thing until we hit poverty. That may mean that this or the next Government have to step back and ask what this ecosystem of failure is that we keep repeating and talking about; we keep coming up with solutions, but they never configure.
It is interesting what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said—that you can go to the marketplace and buy cocaine quicker than you can buy a pizza. There is another element, is there not? What is happening is the commercialisation of all the sensations that you can pick up, and this is a lot to do with how we train and educate our children. We have to break people from that kind of stimulus and that kind of world where they take any kind of placebo to hide the fact that their lives are ill formed, unadventurous and unexciting.
My Lords, I welcome the strategy and the Minister’s introduction. I read through the strategy a couple of times and found it higher on analysis than on solutions. It had a pretty good analysis of where the problems are, but I am not sure that it really came to grips with the solutions.
First, we seem to be imagining that somehow crime is completely out of hand. In fact, Britain has become a safer place over the last 30 or 40 years. What we do have, however, is a problem over the last short period of time. I was struck, for instance, by the assertion in the report that, with respect to assaults with a sharp object,
“since 2012/13, the number of episodes involving individuals aged under 18 has increased by 51%”.
The numbers, however, are from 313 to 473. This is not 51% of many thousands to many more thousands. It is a problem, but we need to remember the numbers as well as the percentages. Similarly, homicide rates are up 20% for 18 to 24 year-olds and 26% for the 25 to 29 age group. Clearly, as you get older, you are more likely to murder people than stab them, according to the report. Again, we need to look at the numbers: the numbers are serious—particularly for those who are affected—but we are not living in Colombia. We are living in a society that clearly has problems. The report states on page 25, in respect of age and criminality:
“Underlying this pattern is strong evidence that crime trends tend to be driven by a small proportion of highly prolific individuals whose criminal career tends to decrease via a lengthy ‘ageing out’ process”.
I was entertained by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I was educated to an extent, but as the product of a secondary modern school myself I cannot agree that everybody who went to a secondary modern school was necessarily disadvantaged at all. In fact, I cannot remember anyone in our class at school who went to the juvenile court or anywhere else. Perhaps it was an exceptional class. Sometimes, when I sit on this side of the House and wonder why I am here, I realise that it is because of reports like this—I am not much good as a liberal in terms of thoughts.
A lot of people have to be responsible for their own actions. Many years ago, I was the research director for the Committee on One Parent Families, known as the Finer committee. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has already alluded to the importance of family, particularly a structured family and a two-parent family. We have become almost shy about mentioning it; it is almost as though we are worried that we should not mention anything that might offend anyone at all. The fact of the matter is that the statistics show that a stable, two-parent family is a very good indicator of a stable life and a useful future.
My daughter has mild dyslexia. She is now working, and has worked every day since she left university. She got to university thanks to very good teaching. She is one of those people who had an exceptionally good teacher who taught her to cope, and now she is doing a valuable job. Many people overcome disadvantage. I do not intend to delay the House with personal sob stories, but I grew up in a children’s home. That is also seen in many ways as a disadvantage, but it is not necessarily a disadvantage. You can get over things and you can fight your way forward.
One of the things we saw in the Finer committee report, which is now many years out of date, was how many one-parent families actually won through. The great majority of them won through—not only the fatherless families but the motherless ones: the number of men who managed to bring up children, do a job and get through. I am not saying that people do not need help. Indeed, one of the things that report showed was the need for financial assistance and one-parent family benefits. However, that is part of the package, not the whole package.
I move on to social media. I point out that when the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who is not in his place, advocated a tough approach with those who were caught being given tough sentences, he was not necessarily that far out. Look at the quote about,
“via a lengthy ‘ageing out’ process”;
people who are doing their lengthy ageing out behind bars are not causing as much trouble as those who are, let us say, running around.
I want to look at the social media quotes in the report. On page 31 it says:
“There is strong evidence that rival gangs are using social media to promote gang culture, taunt each other and incite violence. Some gang members have thousands of followers … Social media also offers a method for promoting drug selling activity and recruiting others into the lifestyle … One of the most common things for drug-related groups to do on social media is to post pictures of themselves surrounded by money purportedly made from selling drugs”.
That is not poverty, is it?
On the online sale of knives, test purchases in 2008 and 2009,
“showed that 80% of the retailers sampled … would sell to a person under 18”.
By 2014, it was still 70%, and in 2016 it was 72%. Another quote is:
“Every time an online test purchase operation is undertaken, the large majority of online retailers tested break the law on sales of knives”.
But what do the Government say about it? They say:
“We are planning to introduce new legislation to take additional steps to prevent online retailers selling knives to young people under 18 years old”.
Why not just ban the sale of knives online? Surely that is the answer. It is not about saying, “Take new powers”, which almost certainly will not work. You can ban them. We can take the online adverts under control. We should look at stopping selling knives in shops where there is a problem. We should at least make it as difficult as buying alcohol, and not only have test purchases but make it obligatory for people to check the age of people buying knives. I would not be averse to putting the age limit up to 25, let alone 18, before people can buy a knife. In other words, we need to be a bit tougher.
On page 80, the report says:
“The Home Office will provide a fund for two years to support targeted prosecution activity against online and in store retailers in breach of the laws in relation to the underage sales of knives”.
Why does not the Home Office set up its own dedicated unit to do the job? Why is it setting up a fund that, presumably, people will have to apply for, and which presumably will be a big bureaucracy? It is online—it is not impinging on anyone’s territory. The Home Office itself could set up a dedicated unit and do this job.
Finally, I will say one or two things about the police—I was interested in the speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. In the preamble, written by the former Home Secretary, she says that the,
“Police and Crime Commissioners have a pivotal role to play”.
Nothing the Government and their predecessor have done has been more of a disappointment than the introduction of police and crime commissioners. One only has to look at Wiltshire to see how totally useless they are, and to put them into the foreword is an abuse of the foreword itself. I would like to see the police going back to doing a bit more policing.
I saw in one of my weekend newspapers that the police are looking at the possibility of setting up a unit to look at the Jeremy Thorpe case. Jeremy Thorpe has died, sadly. I do not think he was quite the rogue that his current reputation gives him. If he was, he was a fairly loveable rogue. But he has died and he was found not guilty by a jury. That really should be the end of the matter. If we have enough police to set up dedicated teams, it is a waste of police resources. I am afraid, in my view, the police are just a little too fond of undertaking fishing expeditions, and it is about time they got down to doing the job they are paid for.
As a starting point, I wonder whether it would be a good idea to recruit a full-time security service for this building. That would free up dozens of policemen to go back on to the beat to do their job, and a dedicated security force for this building would be much more able to be integrated with the other functions in this building. I do not know about other noble Lords, but the number of times that the front desk downstairs with our attendants on has failed to get a message registered in the police box, which is about 20 yards away, is a little too many. So I would like to see a few more of them on the beat and not doing an easily replaceable job around this House.
In conclusion, I thank the Minister for allowing us to air our views in this debate, but I think we have to remember the central role of families and society in tackling violence.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Manzoor for bringing this important debate to the House today, and those who contributed to the strategy in its formative stages.
Living in London as I do, it seems to me that violent crime is steadily on the rise. Every day we read new stories about violent muggings, assaults and even murders in the capital. For a time some months ago, the murder rate in London exceeded that in New York—a day I never thought I would see. This is not to be churlish. As the report notes, violence with injury in the year ending September 2017 was 40% lower than in the year ending June 2010 and 76% lower than its peak in 1995.
But we must always strive for the most peaceful and harmonious society we can, and it is worrying to note that some types of violent crime have recorded increases since late 2014. These concerning trends ought not to be viewed in isolation. As with all breakdowns in social behaviour, context matters and violent crime is no exception. I therefore welcome the approach set out by the previous Home Secretary and her successor, to work in partnership with other bodies in the public, private and voluntary spheres.
I have often called for government strategies and task forces to take a joined-up approach across departments, and I think this is one such policy area. I welcome the idea of setting up a serious violence task force to oversee delivery, with delegates from a wide array of stakeholders, but I fear that it may just become something of a talking shop. It will have no statutory duties and little power to hold Ministers to account, being chaired by the Home Office and reporting to a ministerial committee.
An additional layer of accountability would be useful for a strategy like this, but it is a Home Office strategy being scrutinised by a Home Office-chaired panel. In effect, the department will be marking its own homework, which I do not think is appropriate for a problem of this magnitude. Will the Minister commit to reviewing the proposed chairing arrangements for the task force? It would be far better if the chair were some sort of retired judicial figure or an impartial technocrat.
My second point has to do with the roots of the issue. Nobody wishes to see hard and damaging drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine being sold on our streets, but the evidence is strongly in favour of the legalisation of cannabis for sale. I am a fiscal conservative and believe in sound money. For me, one of the biggest draws of legalisation would be the vast sums of additional tax revenue that we would receive—a point made in a recent report by HPA, which estimates that between £1 billion and £3.5 billion could be raised. Legalisation would also take away an enormous incentive from criminal gangs to continue their violent business.
The fact that cannabis cannot be legitimately bought or sold pushes it beyond the realm of open trade, meaning that its sale is untaxed, unmonitored and uncontrolled. Teenagers out in the street could be buying anything, with no quality checks or fair trading practices to protect them. Fundamentally, cannabis will be purchased by Brits for recreational use, and it is up to the Government to choose how they react to that reality. The new Home Secretary has signalled that he is more liberal than maybe some of his predecessors were. I hope that he can live up to that promise in office. This would be an excellent place to start.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Brent Centre for Young People, a mental health service for adolescents which works in the youth justice system and in various other services. I am also involved in the Michael Sieff Foundation, a child welfare organisation with a long history of working around the youth and criminal justice system.
I join your Lordships in thanking the noble Baroness for introducing this strategy and for giving us the opportunity to debate it today. It seems to me that the strategy is a complex answer to a complex problem, and we really need to avoid seeing it as a simple problem with a simple solution. That is what I most welcome about the strategy.
I listened with the greatest interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. She has great personal experience and is a champion and campaigner in this area. It is tragic to think of the lives that have been lost to these crimes. While listening to her, I particularly remembered Damilola Taylor, the young boy in Peckham who seemed to have a life of promise in front of him. He was wounded in the leg and lost his life as a result, and I remember the grief of his family. The risk is that you become so emotional about these things that you do not think in making a response but, rather, have an emotional reaction, and I welcome the thoughtfulness of the Government’s response.
In listening to the debate, I have been thinking about the complexity and the various experiences of your Lordships, and I see what I think is a general reflection on our politics. I might be quite wrong about this and am probably overstretching myself, but my reflection is that somehow politics in this country does not rise to the challenges posed by an increasingly complex country; instead—laying no responsibility with any particular party—it tends to produce rather simple answers to complex questions.
In March last year I visited Germany, for the first time in many years, with a parliamentary group and I was impressed by what was going on in the Bundestag. I was most impressed by the fact that on Sundays shops still do not open and that businesses are not allowed to send emails to their employees after 8 o’clock at night. It is still the custom that you stop working at six and if you are working after six you are being inefficient. The Germans have balance in their lives. They can spend time with their families, children and friends, if they wish to, or do other things. We somehow have lost our way and have become unbalanced.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for the wonderful work he is doing in championing and supporting families. The statistics in the OECD report of 2011 on family formation showed that at that time 15% of German children were growing up without a father in the home; we were 20% or 21%, and the United States 25%. The troubling prediction in that thorough report was that we were set to outstrip the United States in terms of children growing up without a father in the home by a significant degree over the next two decades.
This is an important issue. It is not about blaming families but about supporting couples and families to stay together in every way we can. We have heard about many of the ways in which we can support families to stay together. In my own family experience, when I wonder what is the right thing to do next, I often think about what my father would do, and that gives me the direction in which to go. Often when I do wrong it is because I do not remember the good example set by my father. My sister was absolutely besotted with my father; he was hugely important to her. We have spoken a great deal about boys growing up without fathers but it is important that many girls are growing up without fathers. Part of the reason for the sexual exploitation of vulnerable teenagers is that many of these young women have not grown up with a positive man in their lives, and that big gap may be filled by unpleasant characters who wish to exploit them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to the training of social workers. I was pleased to see in the welcome report on children’s homes by Martin Narey, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, a recommendation that social workers should have a mandatory placement in a children’s home as part of their training. Children’s homes are wonderful places to learn about working with troubled and troubling adolescents. I could not agree more with him and I hope that that particular recommendation of his report is implemented.
I welcome the fact that the Government have talked about a criminal justice response and the many other responses that need to be made. There needs to be a criminal justice response. About 18 years ago there was an outcry about the level of mobile phone thefts. Something had to be done and sanctions were toughened. One of the victims of this was a troubled young man called Joseph Scholes, who was a self-harmer. On his first day at a children’s home he was drawn into a crowd of young people, one of whom perpetrated mobile phone thefts and Joseph Scholes was drawn into this. We have to be tough on these people but, in the course of the trial, the prosecutor said that at no time was Joseph Scholes a physical threat to anyone. However, he was imprisoned. There was a shortage of suitable places so he was placed in an inappropriate setting—and he took his life at the age of 16. In an article in the Daily Telegraph in 2012, his mother described him as being in a strip cell. I think he had been self-harming. He was considered a suicide risk so was placed in a strip cell in a horse blanket. He was not properly supervised and he took his own life.
If we overreact, we draw in children and young people who are not a risk and should not end up in the criminal justice system. We can act effectively and pre-emptively to help young people who well might end up in the criminal justice system avoid that route. Once they arrive in it, two-thirds of them will offend again. They are just likely to learn to be better criminals. Thankfully the number of children in custody has been very much reduced over the last period, from 3,000 to below 1,000 currently. There are very tough and challenging young people there, so I welcome the fact that there is a criminal justice response but there are other areas to cover.
I do not wish to speak for too long. I welcome the fact that the Government have talked about youth work in their reaction. Redthread is catching young people when they are in hospital with an injury relating to knife crime and getting a youth worker to speak to them. Again, my reflection on this, going back to what I was saying at the beginning, is that there is a need for a more strategic and stable culture of politics. Youth work has alternately had great resources pumped into it, then been starved of resources, then been pumped with resources, then been starved of resources. This does not create a great profession which can consistently do the outstanding work that is necessary for young people.
I am not blaming any party. I am just saying, “Is this system working for us? Is this system working for the nation?” If you look at Germany, perhaps you can see a system which is more stable and has more continuity. If you look at Angela Merkel or previous Chancellors, they have been in their posts for a long while. Look at the way they make compromises; I know that coalition is unpopular. Negotiation and compromise are unpopular, but they seem to give better outcomes. The last coalition, between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, was very unpopular, but it seemed to give some very good results—on mental health, for instance. Of course, in Germany coalition is the norm. Again, it is deeply unpopular, but the proof of the pudding seems to be in Germany’s economy and a social system where the social contract is still strong.
I do not want to stray too much, but there is a statutory duty on local authorities to provide youth work services. It is a very weak duty so, when they are starved of funds, as they have been, they will tend to invest in other areas. I would appreciate the Minister’s looking at the statutory duty on local authorities to provide youth services and thinking whether that might be strengthened so that we can have consistently high-quality intervention from youth services. Perhaps she has time to meet me to discuss youth work and what we can do to ensure that in the future it grows more professional and more effective. As fathers are not as involved in their children’s lives as they were, youth workers become more important.
As I said earlier, I am a trustee of the Brent Centre for Young People. I shall give an example of the really effective interventions that can be made. I visited its Sport and Thought intervention in a local primary school and watched the boys playing football, supervised by a child and adolescent psychotherapist. He is a very highly qualified expert in child development. Sport and Thought—these boys do not think. They act, on any impulse that comes to them. You can use football to enable them to say, if they are getting into a scuffle, “Stop. What is going on here? Think about what you are doing”.
The subject is much more complex than that, but what struck me is hearing the teacher, who is the main beneficiary of this. She was struggling to manage with these boys, and I heard the gratitude coming from her at this intervention that made them manageable, that helped them to learn and helped the rest of the class to learn. We can invest in such interventions. For instance, I welcome the money that government have put into the troubled families initiative. It would be good to hear from the Minister that that will continue to be funded past 2020. I am afraid that cuts in funding to local authorities in recent years have been so extreme that, despite such welcome initiatives, children’s centres and other early interventions that could help struggling families and help parents stay together have been removed.
I am sorry to have spoken so long. I welcome this government strategy. The problem is complex and the answer needs to be complex. I am grateful for the Government’s approach. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The noble Earl has ranged far and wide. He talked fondly of his late father, whom I remember well. He was a member of Attlee’s Government, one of the seminal Governments of this country. Indeed, I believe that I am right in saying that he was the last Secretary of State for India—but I must not be tempted.
One thing to have come through in this debate has been the reiteration—it began with an intervention from my noble friend Lord Framlingham, who is not in his place now—of the importance of the family. This was brought home to me last week. Many of your Lordships may have heard in a news item anxiety being expressed at the number of young children in primary schools who knew nothing about basic hygiene. I intervened on a Question last week to urge my noble friend who has the education brief in your Lordships’ House to do more about the education of parents and for parenthood. It is clear that most of the problems which lie at the root of today’s debate occur because children have not been brought up in a stable home with parents devoted to their welfare, anxious to teach them the difference between right and wrong, cleanliness and filth, and all the things that we used to take for granted.
As my noble friend Lord Balfe mentioned, the strategy to which my noble friend the Minister spoke is a little turgid. It is long on analysis and a little short on solutions.
We can solve the problems troubling your Lordships’ House in this debate and on many other occasions only in schools and in prisons. We have to realise that many young people who are sentenced, often quite rightly, to terms in prison and young offender institutions have the most appalling backgrounds. I had such an institution in my former constituency in South Staffordshire, a place called Brinsford. I remember going there one day after there had been a fairly monumental riot; the place had been smashed up. Incidentally, a brilliant report on that prison was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he was the Chief Inspector of Prisons—and what a brilliant inspector he was. That report had a very salutary effect and the institution improved considerably. Going round and talking to those young men was a distressing experience. I could not honestly look at myself in the mirror and not say, if I had had their background, there but for the grace of God. It applies to all of us.
We must try to ensure that we do not stint on the resources going into the prison system, because prison must be the place where people are rehabilitated, and that applies most of all to young people. We must be able to give them a sense of self-worth, aspiration and hope. If we cannot do that we just create a sink generation. There is not enough emphasis on that in the strategy document we are talking about.
Of course, we should do everything possible to keep people out of prison. When I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I saw the dramatic effect of community restorative justice. If you can keep people out of prison and make them atone for their crimes and shortcomings without risking the contamination that frequently occurs in a prison, you are doing a great deal. I would like to see emphasis on that.
My final point is about schools. I hope noble Lords who have heard me refer to this before will forgive me if I refer to it again. I believe that we need to educate our young people as proper citizens of this country. I want to see an emphasis on citizenship. That does not just mean teaching young people about the way Parliament and local government works; it means trying to make them realise that no society can work unless they play a constructive and, indeed, aspirational part in it. I had the privilege a couple of years or so ago of going to the Terrace in your Lordships’ House when there was a citizenship ceremony for those who were receiving British citizenship. The sense of pride among those people of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities was palpable. They were dressed in their best; they had their wives, husbands or companions with them; they were going to celebrate afterwards; it was a moving ceremony.
I would like every young person in this country leaving school to go through a citizenship ceremony. They should be prepared for it. They should all do some community service. Whether that is reading to the blind, visiting the old, helping the sick or going on a National Trust conservation programme does not matter, but it should be community service of a sort that is worth while, challenging and through which they can actually achieve something. They should also be taught properly about our country’s history and its system—the preciousness of democracy—and at the end of the day they should receive a certificate.
I have suggested, when I have mentioned this before, that to take this out of the realm of party politics this should not be done by the local authority but through the lieutenancy. I think we all respect the lieutenancy. The lord-lieutenant, the deputy, the vice lord-lieutenant and the deputies, all of them—I speak as a DL myself, although now on the retired list—could play a part in this. If young people aspired to it and were taught how important it was to aspire to it, it would help. It might just persuade some of those who are now seduced into joining gangs or tempted by the false romanticism of weapons; it might just help a bit. We must make our prisons clean, rehabilitative places with no drugs, no violence. It is not a punishment while you are there; the punishment is being sent there and you are rehabilitated while you are there.
If we can try to inculcate a sense of pride in nation and community in our schools, fewer people will go to prison. That is the way we should seek to tackle this and I hope that any developed strategy for dealing with violent crime will bear in mind some of these things, but also bear in mind that there is no substitute in human life for the family unit. I was deeply disturbed last week when I read that a very senior judge had said that the day of the nuclear family was over—what an utterly irresponsible, reprehensible and silly thing to say.
My noble friend interjects to say that the judge was president of the Family Division. I must not criticise the judiciary on the Floor of your Lordships’ House, but all I say is that it is a pity that we do not have the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, doing that job, as she did so brilliantly for so long.
My Lords, this has been an interesting if relatively short debate considering its breadth. It is sad that more Peers did not participate in this important debate, considering how serious the issues are. Before I start I will pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her courage and her efforts to stand up for victims of crime. I cannot imagine what she has been through, but the noble Baroness has always conducted herself with great dignity.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, observed, almost all serious violence is perpetrated by men against women and girls—much of it within relationships and much of it fuelled by alcohol. Violence against women and girls and domestic violence remain major contributors to the problem of serious violence and we must not lose focus on these important areas. But that is not where the increase in serious violence is occurring at the moment. We are seeing an epidemic of violence on our streets, as the Minister said in her opening. Homicides, knife crime and gun crime have all been increasing since 2014—not just police-recorded crime but hospital data. Hospital admissions for stab injuries are up by 18%; recorded firearms offences are up by 31%; homicides are up by 18%; and 21% of robberies now involve a knife. This is both serious and urgent—unlike the Government’s response.
It is interesting to note that the homicide rate changes are reflected globally, decreasing between 2008 and 2014 and then increasing between 2014 and 2016. The same is true in some countries in relation to robbery. Something serious is missing from this strategy. It is an acknowledgement that an erosion of trust might be driving this violence. With Brexit, Trump, Grenfell, Windrush and #MeToo there are plenty of reasons for people to distrust the Government and their fellow citizens.
The world today feels to many unfair and unstable, and its future looks uncertain. Some studies have shown that violence correlates inversely with public faith in government and trust in the elected officials. My extensive police experience tells me that, if people feel society is unfair, they are less inclined to play by the rules. People are angry, social media has fanned the flames, and angry people are prone to violence. Will the Minister comment on this omission?
The Government say much of the violence is being driven by the misuse of drugs, and they are right. Criminals have no legal way of enforcing their deals, protecting their territory or disciplining their workforce, so they resort to guns and knives. The strategy claims that the Government’s approach to dealing with drug misuse is succeeding, yet more young people are using cannabis and dealing in class A drugs. As other noble Lords have said, there is a cocaine epidemic in the UK, with increased use of crack cocaine, a drug closely associated with serious violence. The higher purity levels in cocaine seized by the police is a sure sign of the increased availability of that drug in the UK. As we have heard, county lines are exploiting young people.
There were 3,744 drug poisoning deaths involving both legal and illegal drugs in the UK in 2016, 70 higher than in 2015 and the highest number since comparable statistics began in 1993. Scotland has the EU’s highest rate of drug-related deaths, double that of 10 years ago. The number of opiate-using clients in rehabilitation has fallen by 14% over the past seven years and recovery rates are falling. Can the Minister explain how the Government can maintain that their drugs strategy is working against the background of such statistics?
New psychoactive substances—“legal highs” as they were known—were developed to replace drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act because they were illegal and legal highs were not. The new psychoactive substances have proved to be more dangerous and more likely to result in violence and psychosis, yet personal possession of these substances is not an offence. The police cannot stop and search for possession of new psychoactive substances. In short, the whole legislative framework around drug misuse is confused and is creating more harm, more deaths and more violence. We will continue to campaign to take drugs out of the hands of criminals, to adopt a harm-reduction, health-based approach, and to legalise and regulate cannabis to control its potency and to keep it out of the hands of children and young people.
It is not just the Liberal Democrats and the noble Lord, Lord Suri, who are saying that. In an editorial last month, the British Medical Journal said that it was firmly behind efforts to legalise, regulate and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. In April, the Royal College of Physicians took the important step of coming out in favour of decriminalisation, joining the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal Society for Public Health in supporting drug-policy reform. In Portugal, where non-violent possession of drugs has been decriminalised, consumption has not increased but drug-related deaths have fallen considerably. In the Netherlands, the USA and Canada, regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues. Can the Minister explain the downsides to this approach?
Sadly, I am not as positive as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about the Serious Violence Strategy. It may be 112 pages but it is thin on content. As the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Cormack, said, the analysis is good but effective answers are lacking. I think it was Mintzberg who said that strategy was little more than post-event rationalisation—and I think this is Mintzberg’s sort of strategy. Where are the action plans? Where are the smart objectives and milestones? Where are the measures of success? I share the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Suri, about the task force.
Despite the fact, highlighted in the strategy, that each incident of violence is estimated to have an economic and social cost of £13,900, there is a woeful lack of government investment to tackle the problem of serious violence and a total lack of investment in police resources. The strategy contradicts itself. On the one hand it says that stop and search is not correlated with violent crime, but on the other it says that certainty of punishment has a greater impact on preventing crime than severity. Despite those facts, there has been a reduction in the number of arrests and in the number of charges for serious violence—but the Government are obsessed with increasing prison sentences and reducing police budgets.
The APPG on Knife Crime, of which I am a member, has talked to young people involved in knife crime. They told us they felt unsafe, and that they did not have confidence in the police to protect them so that they have to carry a knife to protect themselves. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, warns, a knife or a gun is coming to be seen as an essential accessory. Prisons were seen by these young people as training camps where they could learn to be smarter criminals and hang out with their mates. Having been to prison, their status among their peer group was enhanced.
As a result of the 25% reduction in police funding from central government since 2010—and the real-terms reduction is continuing—there has been not only a dramatic reduction in the number of police officers but the near-eradication of police community support officers, because the latter can be made redundant whereas the former cannot. As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, pointed out, the Metropolitan Police alone have had to find savings of £600 million to date. The strategy then gives an example of where visible policing by PCSOs in hotspot areas for serious violence has led to a 39% reduction in crime. How can you replicate that when there has been a 99% reduction in the number of PCSOs?
It is not just visible deterrence, crime prevention and enforcement resources that are sadly lacking. In terms of other interventions, there are far too many expressions in the strategy of “we will look at” or “we will examine” and not enough “we will do”. For example, young people’s advocates support gang-affected women and girls. They have been going since 2012, yet the strategy says the Government will explore whether the YPA model should be expanded and supported in other areas. Is the initiative working? If it is, why, after six years, has it not been expanded? If not, why is it in the strategy at all? The strategy appears to be filled out with such examples of small initiatives involving tiny numbers of people and no promise of future government investment.
Time is against me so I will say just a few more things. As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, the police and community need to stand together to tackle gun and knife crime. They did it before with Operation Trident at the end of the 1990s, when community leaders identified witnesses to black-on-black gun crime and encouraged them to come forward, protected by the police. Stop and search can be effective in taking guns and knives off the streets if the community tells the police who the gun and knife carriers are and when they carry them. However, that requires trust and confidence between the police and the community, which requires neighbourhood policing and PCSO numbers to be restored, and that requires cuts in police budgets to be reversed. That is why the Liberal Democrats, in our fully costed manifesto last year, pledged an extra £300 million a year for community policing, more than any other political party. That figure should be compared with the total promised in the strategy of £40 million, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, described it, is a drop in the ocean.
We need to get out the counternarrative to the pro-gang, pro-drug-dealing and pro-crime message that pervades social media. That is where charities such as Growing Against Violence, of which I am a patron, come in, changing perceptions and behaviours. Only those at the top of the pile in gangs and drug dealing networks earn vast wealth and avoid becoming victims of serious violence. The street dealers and those lower in the gang hierarchy take all the risks, are subjected to serious violence, and the cost-benefit analysis for them rarely turns out positively. We need to get this message across and this requires government funding. There need to be positive alternatives to gangs for young people who tell us they need a sense of belonging. This is partly as a result of family breakdown, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said.
I complain about central Government cuts to police funding but these are nothing compared with the cuts to local authorities which could, should and used to provide youth services and outreach workers, and sustainable core funding to charities and community groups which can provide a safe and positive alternative to gangs.
Young people may predominantly be involved in the increase in serious violence, but we are all to blame. We are letting them down by not listening and by not providing them with hope and opportunity or with the support that they need. As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, we are not providing them with the education that engages them. There is some good in this strategy but it falls way short of what is required.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for tabling this Motion which enables the House to debate the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
All of us in this House want the Government to be successful in tackling serious violence. It destroys people’s lives, families and communities. We are in the midst of a very serious problem and it is on the rise. There is no one agency to tackle this. A number of organisations have an important role to play—not only the police and the justice system. Local authorities, the health service, the youth service and many other partners and charities are involved as well.
There have also been cuts to the number of police officers—a reduction of around 20,000. This has undoubtedly affected the ability of the police to deal with crime. It is definitely a reason—not the only one, but it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Noble Lords may be aware that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, in her evidence last week to the Home Affairs Select Committee, said it would be naive to suggest that police cuts had not impacted on levels of crime. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, identified a number of ways in which we could raise some additional funds to help with this. I hope that the Minister will respond to these points.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, made some important points about police cuts, cuts to youth offending teams and generally about the loss of the youth service. Young people are being failed and put on the wrong road. Getting them back on to the right road becomes more and more difficult as people move on.
Having said that, most people are law abiding. Looking back at my time in my comprehensive school, most of my friends have done pretty well for themselves and hold down reasonable jobs. We must not forget that there are a few upper-class criminals knocking around as well. It is not just the working class. One of my best friends is a single parent. She brought up a very fine young man who is in his second year at university. She has done a marvellous job with him. There are a lot of wonderful single parents who do a wonderful job. We must never forget this.
Most serious crime is actually committed by quite a small group of individuals who make everybody else’s lives very difficult. The criminals are fully aware that they will be pursued and brought to justice for the crimes they commit. It is important that people understand this.
We have talked about the scourge of drugs, which is at the heart of a lot of serious violence—particularly crack cocaine. I was struck by the report’s stating that in half the murders between 2014-15 and 2016-17, either the victim or the suspect was known to be involved in dealing or taking drugs. At every point in the supply chain there is serious violence, and the profits from the trade are used to fund other serious violence and even terrorism. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was absolutely right when she commented about middle-class use of crack cocaine. She was absolutely spot on and is respected across the House for the important work that she does for victims.
The age of people getting involved is also shocking, with young children of seven, eight, nine or 10 being used as mules to take drugs across county lines and coming to the attention of police forces many miles away. I know that some kids from south London were picked up in Southend. It is ridiculous where we have got ourselves to. The new national county lines co-ordination centre should help but, as noble Lords have said, much more needs to be done.
During my time on the parliamentary police scheme, I spent a few weekends in Greenwich looking at the work it has done with young people. It is wonderful work to try to steer children away from crime. Early intervention from the police, social services, schools and other professionals is required to tackle this problem.
As we have heard, knife crime is on the rise and the number of young people who have lost their lives is truly tragic. Young people carry knives for all sorts of reasons, and some clearly do it as a form of protection, but the fact that they carry a knife means they are more likely to get involved in a serious incident.
Schools have an important role to play here in the work they do with young people and making sure that knives are not brought into school, although I have also heard of the prevalence of knives being hidden around the edge of the school in bushes or trees, or on council estates. They bring their knife with them, hide it, go in to school, come out and pick it up again. I know that there have been searches in some places, with police officers checking the area around the school, and I was shocked at the number that had been found.
There is an even more worrying tendency for weapons to be made. In one case, someone had filed a spoon to turn it into a knife. It looked like a spoon, but it was actually a very sharp blade. You look and say, “Oh, he has a spoon”, but actually he has a knife. Young people may see people on television making shanks and all sorts of things. Early intervention to steer young people away from that is of the utmost importance; otherwise, they get trapped in a cycle of criminality and we all pay for the consequences.
Youth violence is a complex problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said, the role of gangs in providing a kind of family is clearly an issue. I went to primary school in Camberwell, where there has been a gang problem. I was amazed to learn that the gang that operates there would not dare cross Camberwell New Road into Lambeth, as that is another gang’s territory. That is an area I grew up in and know very well, but I had no idea that such things go on. They literally would not cross Camberwell New Road—not on their own, anyway.
Intervention must start straight away. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have loving parents to look after them, parents with the right skills to bring them up or, as we have heard, the right role models. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, made important points about the problems that can develop where there is no father figure in the family or someone they can look up to.
We have also mentioned Sure Start, which was of course one of the legacies of Baroness Jowell. It is disappointing that over the past eight years, we have seen the decimation of Sure Start centres, because they play a really positive role. The Government should look carefully at Sure Start and provide further funding to expand that service.
Schools and teachers also have an important role to play in equipping children with the right skills, and in being able to spot the signs of distress and trauma—as I said, not everyone has the benefit of a loving and supportive family. The youth service is crucial to that, but that too has been decimated. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made those very points.
Other noble Lords mentioned social media, which, of course, has changed our lives dramatically—unfortunately, as we have heard, not always in a positive way. It is extremely disappointing that social media companies are still not quick enough to take down illegal content and things that encourage serious violence. More should be done, and I wish the Government well in this as we need to deal with it properly. It is disappointing that we have to return to this issue again and again, and some of these companies still do not act promptly enough.
We should also recognise that smartphones and electronic equipment are helping with serious crime. The encryption services make it easier for criminals to communicate with each other and difficult to detect them, which is a problem. Having said that, smartphones often also provide a lot of evidence of criminality, but it is a difficult issue. Working on making it harder for criminals to get hold of firearms is to be welcomed, as are the restrictions on the sale of acids to those under the age of 18. A number of noble Lords mentioned knife sales, which must be kept under review. It is relatively easy to buy knives here; I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, spoke about making it at least as hard as it is to buy alcohol. We could do more work on knife sales to see that they are as they should be.
Domestic violence is a horrific crime that in many cases should be seen as really serious violence. I have spent some time with the domestic violence unit in Greenwich, and the work it does with the local council in tackling this horrific crime is to be commended. I was shocked when I saw some of the cases, involving really serious beatings and appalling stuff. I look forward to the domestic violence Bill coming to this House. What works in Greenwich is the positive collaboration between the local authority, the health service and the police, and I was impressed by what I saw there in dealing with the problem.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on citizenship. I have been to a number of citizenship ceremonies in Lewisham, where people turn up in their best and are very happy to receive their certificate. The noble Lord is absolutely right on the points he made.
This is not the first report that Governments have done to try to tackle the issues we all want tackled. My worry is that although a lot of these documents—from Governments of all persuasions—have lots of good things in them, where is the follow-through? We have to make sure that these issues are followed through. Maybe the Minister can tell us how she will do that, so we will not be back here again in two, three or four years’ time with another document about serious violence. This needs to be dealt with.
This has been a very useful debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in the debate this afternoon, and what an interesting, wide-ranging and informative debate it has been. We can all agree that there is a real willingness across the House to work together to tackle this serious issue and to see an end to the tragic loss of lives in all our communities.
I start with the issue raised by Lord Southwark, which is how to move on from here and how we do not want to be here in a few years’ time again addressing the Serious Violence Strategy. I entirely concur with him. I have been pressing the department and officials very hard on this issue, and I can give a categorical assurance here that we are taking it very seriously. It is a complex issue with complex solutions, but it is something that we want to tackle together through partnerships, working with a whole range of partners for the first time, and breaking down those barriers that have previously existed.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very important debate. I particularly pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Newlove, who gave a very moving account of the effects of serious violence on families. I am very sad about the tragic incident that happened in her life. I know she is using her experience, and we are grateful for the significant work she is doing to help support other victims.
I have been asked a lot of very serious questions, and I have made copious notes. If I do not answer all questions today, I will endeavour to write to noble Lords and place a record in the Library for their reference.
Almost all noble Lords, in one form or another, raised the issue of funding for the strategy, including my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and Lord Southwark. I agree that the strategy will see only £40 million of Home Office money invested, but this is to support new and specific additional initiatives to tackle serious violence. It is not the only bit of money; it is in addition to the significant funding already provided to police for law enforcement and to local authorities for youth services.
The strategy includes the £11 million early intervention youth fund, as I mentioned in my opening speech, and £3.6 million over two years for the new national county lines co-ordination centre. The idea behind this centre is to work closely across all police forces, so that we have information and an evidenced approach, learning from what is happening across the country.
The noble Lords, Lord Farmer, Lord Bird, Lord Balfe and Lord Cormack, Lord Southwark and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave an excellent account of the importance of family support and issues around lone parenting. This strategy recognises that family environment is important for its impact on a child’s upbringing and the risk of them being drawn into crime. That is why the Government stress the importance of early intervention, and this includes supporting families and supportive trusted relationships. The troubled families support programme provides whole-family support including a designated key worker to families with complex needs, which could include families where there is the risk of serious violence or of offending. The Government have committed £920 million to the troubled families programme from 2015 to 2020, which aims to achieve significant and sustained improvements for up to 400,000 families by 2020.
I also recognise the importance of the Sure Start programmes mentioned by Lord Southwark and others. I cannot give a categorical answer to the question he raised with me, but I recognise the importance they have had to play in the lives of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We have also recently launched the trusted relationships fund. The Home Office is providing £13 million over the next four years to support young people at risk of child sexual exploitation, gang exploitation and peer abuse. The fund aims to support interventions which will help young people to build positive and trusted relationships with adults who are there to support them, and will reduce the risk of them becoming victims or perpetrators of crime.
I was interested when my noble friend Lord Farmer said “be in that crew and have a family”. I recognise that term, and it is really important and absolutely essential that we address that issue so that young people do not feel that they have to be part of a particular gang or part of a crew. I hope that what I have identified stresses clearly the importance that the Government place on family and family life and parenting.
Additionally, the Home Office is supporting police forces to develop new models of preventive policing. Around £7 million has been awarded to the four police forces in Wales which, in collaboration with Public Health Wales, will test a new approach to policing which prevents and mitigates against adverse childhood experiences. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned social workers and the impact of adverse childhood experiences, which need to be addressed. That work is based on research; it is going to be evidence-based and about the impact of childhood trauma and environment on the future risk of being a victim or offender. We will monitor and evaluate that work very closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, raised the importance of good schools and resources, as did other noble Lords. Once again, I was struck by the noble Lord’s phrase when he asked, “Who is this person?” He said that it came from a sense of need and raised the issues of disadvantage. Once again, those issues are recognised in the strategy, and we will look at implementing proposals as we gain more information on how we can tackle this complex issue.
A number of noble Lords referred to police numbers and resources. Police and law enforcement play a vital role in tackling these offences. However, as I have already said, big shifts in crime records tend to be driven by factors outside of the police’s control, such as drug rends and markets. Overall, public investment is growing, from £11.9 billion in 2015-16 to just over £13 billion in 2018-19. However, the Home Secretary has made it clear that he will work with the police to assess and put forward the evidence to ensure that the police receive the resources they need to do their vital work.
I am conscious that I still have pertinent questions to answer. One other area that most noble Lords mentioned was to do with youth services. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, my noble friends Lady Eaton and Lady Newlove, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and others were all concerned about reductions in youth services funding. Of course, we all recognise the importance of activities and services that help young people to develop their skills, but we must remember that local authorities are responsible for allocating funding to youth services, in line with local needs. The Government have made more than £200 billion available to councils for spending on local services up to 2019-20.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked whether I would be happy to meet him to talk about youth services. Of course, Ministers, such as my noble friend Lady Williams, and I are always very happy to discuss with anyone any issues outlined.
Stop and search was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. Stop and search remains a key priority for the Home Office. The best use of the stop and search scheme is a powerful vehicle for driving improvement. Of course, police use of stop and search must be done proportionately and fairly, and member forces are held to high standards to ensure that that is done.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, also talked about the importance of new technology. I agree with him that there are a number of benefits that come with the use of body-worn cameras in stop and search. These include the protection of both the officer and the public. These cameras have been used to record stop-and-search encounters and we support their use for this purpose by forces across the country.
Lord Southwark, my noble friend Lord Balfe and others raised issues—
I am so sorry. I have to stop referring to “Lord Southwark”. There is no such person: it is the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I sincerely apologise to the House and to the noble Lord. Ever since I came to your Lordships’ House, I have thought of the noble Lord as “Lord Southwark” —I bet that people were wondering who on earth this person was, so I again offer my sincere apologies.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, social media itself has nothing to do with serious violence, but he is right that there is strong evidence that rival gangs are using social media to promote gang culture, taunt each other and incite violence, and this must stop. The Home Secretary and other Ministers are meeting with various media platforms to ensure that we can get them to take off any material very quickly and to go faster to tackle illegal content online.
I turn now to specific questions that were raised. They are not in any order, but I thought they were very important. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and others have said, it is important that we have a multistrand approach; this is essential to tackling serious violence. It involves a range of partners across different sectors. We cannot do this on our own, and therefore, while the amount of money—£40 million—seems small, there is already a significant amount of funding in place. This will pump-prime better co-ordination.
My noble friend Lady Newlove raised the importance of positive alternatives for young people. We recognise this, and that is why we are addressing the image issue and are looking at positive role models, as well as addressing county lines and looking at exploitation of young people. We will be providing £11 million over the next two years to support early intervention and prevention through the early intervention youth fund. We are pleased to have Kathryn Morley, chief executive of OnSide, on the serious violence task group.
On the tackling of county lines, we are providing £3.6 million, as I said, to support the new national county lines co-ordination centre. My noble friend Lady Eaton raised this issue. The centre will also help the National Crime Agency and the police to improve their understanding of county lines. It will also support operation policing. We need to do this because, if we do not, the evaluation that we talked about before and the improvements that we want to bring about will not happen. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also talked about county lines and the exploitation of young people, and asked what works. I have already addressed that; the strategy places a strong emphasis on building on evidence of what works, and the College of Policing is looking at this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also spoke about evidence that class A drugs are driving serious violence. The strategy sets out clearly some of the issues and does the analysis of what is driving serious violence, and, as we have mentioned, drugs are an important factor. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also mentioned the importance of social workers, and it is key that we ensure that they are engaged early. Through this, the co-ordinating centre will ensure that this is taken forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, asked what action we are taking to disrupt supply of firearms at the border. As the noble Lord will know, we have been applying the lessons learned from Operation Dragon Root, which was a multiagency operation undertaken in autumn 2016 that involved the NCA, counterterrorism policing, regional organised crime units, border forces and others. That includes a new joint firearms unit, funded by the Police Transformation Fund, and we will give money to have more effective responses to illicit firearm supply. I will not say too much more about the Police Transformation Fund, because I addressed that in my opening speech. However, it is a police-led and police-driven fund, and people are bidding into it; the Home Office will look at how they deliver those services and evaluate them.
My noble friend Lady Eaton spoke about children’s services and the funding gap. Over £200 billion has been made available to councils to deliver local services, including children’s services, up to 2020, and of course we will concentrate on spending about £1 billion on the most vulnerable.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, talked passionately about the root causes of crime and the issues of education and poverty, and I agree entirely with him. My father, who died when I was in my 20s, advocated the importance of education—I do not come from a privileged background. We recognise that the root causes of violence are complex, which is why the strategy places a new emphasis on early intervention and prevention. In January 2018 it was announced that £90 million of dormant accounts money will go to supporting disadvantaged and disengaged young people with their transition to work.
My noble friend Lord Balfe talked about the sale of knives online. A new offensive weapons Bill, which will be introduced within weeks, will include a new offence preventing knives being sent to people’s homes when bought online.
A number of questions were asked by the noble Lords, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lord Suri. I have already said that I will write to reply to all the questions that have been asked. As I have run out of time, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for not answering their questions, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who asked a number of key questions about YPAs; I will of course write to him.
In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. I very much look forward to working with them closely on this important strategy, because we all want to make a real difference to young people’s lives.
G7: Charlevoix, Quebec
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the G7 summit in Quebec. The G7 is a forum that allows close allies with shared history and values to discuss issues that affect the security and prosperity of our people and of the world at large. Discussion at this year’s summit focused on our shared efforts to promote the rules-based international order; to advance free and fair global trade by making the global economy work for everyone; to strive for equal opportunities for all our citizens; and to drive further action to protect the environment, and in particular our oceans. As was clear over the weekend, there was strong debate and disagreement on some issues, but, after detailed discussions between leaders and our teams, we were able to find common ground and draw up a communiqué which reflected these discussions and the agreements we reached.
I want to pay particular tribute to Prime Minister Trudeau for his leadership and skilful chairing, which enabled us—after two days of negotiation between leaders—to agree actions and a shared approach on some of the most pressing challenges facing the international community and our citizens. The UK fully intends to honour the commitments we have made.
Recent events have underlined the importance of a strong international response to malign state activity. We cannot stand by when international law is undermined, when the security of our citizens is compromised and when foreign interference in our democratic institutions threatens the values and interests that we share. So at this summit we agreed to establish a new rapid response mechanism. As a result, G7 nations will work together to share intelligence, co-ordinate action and develop new strategies to tackle this growing threat.
We also agreed that we must maintain the global norm against the use of chemical weapons and that we will strengthen the ability of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapon attacks. We all agreed in our discussions and our communiqué that we need to maintain sanctions on Russia in light of its failure to fully implement the Minsk agreements in Ukraine and that we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary.
Turning to trade and the global economy, it is clear that in many of our countries some people feel left behind by globalisation and that not all countries are playing by the rules. We must address this. We need to make the international rules-based trading system work better so that the benefits of free trade can be felt by all. This includes encouraging the World Trade Organization to operate more effectively in supporting a global economy that works for everyone. Multilateral action is the right way to achieve this. It cannot be done by taking unilateral action against your partners.
So at this summit we expressed deep disappointment at the unjustified decision of the United States to apply tariffs to steel and aluminium imports. The loss of trade through tariffs undermines competition, reduces productivity, removes the incentive to innovate and ultimately makes everyone poorer—and in response the EU will impose countermeasures. But we need to avoid a continued tit-for-tat escalation. That is why it was right that we had such an open and direct discussion at this summit and why, as a champion of free trade, the UK will continue to support a constructive dialogue. As long-standing allies we do not make progress by ignoring each other’s concerns but rather by addressing them together.
Turning to equality, there was a special session at this summit focused on empowering and supporting women and girls around the world. Efforts to tackle global poverty are fundamentally undermined as long as millions of girls are not getting the education they deserve. So at this summit the United Kingdom announced £187 million of new funding to support over 400,000 girls in developing countries in getting 12 years of quality education.
We also called for new action to prevent gender-based violence, abuse and harassment online. Women and girls must be able to use the internet without fear of being subjected to online rape threats, harassment, cyberstalking, blackmail and more. Following the UK’s call for action last year, tech companies have made real advances in tackling online terrorist propaganda. In Canada I called for this work to be extended to end the abuse targeted specifically at women and girls. We committed in particular to new joint working on stopping the internet being used to facilitate people trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Finally, on World Oceans Day, the UK sought to build on the international agreements we reached at the Commonwealth summit in April by calling for a global effort to protect our oceans from avoidable plastic waste. This is one of the great environmental challenges facing the world today. This summit recognised the need for global action, including working with business, industry and non-governmental organisations to find innovative solutions. The UK is continuing to lead by example at home through our 25-year environment plan, and on Friday we proposed to extend the blue belt protecting sea life around the English coast, with a further 41 new marine conservation zones.
This was a difficult summit with, at times, some very candid discussions, but the conclusion I draw is that it is only through continued dialogue that we can find ways to work together to resolve the challenges we face. The countries around the G7 table have been pillars of the rules-based international order, which has benefited all our citizens and, I believe, the world as a whole. The United Kingdom, with our allies and partners, will continue to play our part in promoting that order to the benefit of all. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the Prime Minister on resisting the temptation to issue her Statement on the summit on Twitter.
We agree with the opening remarks in the Statement: it is worth reminding ourselves of the purpose and value of the G7. These seven developed, large modern economies have recognised both self-interest as a group and wider world responsibilities. We have worked together during financial crises and on the sustainable development goals, and we have taken action on debt for the heavily indebted poor countries. There have obviously been criticisms of that time, but these gatherings have been optimistic and have sought to be effective and responsible.
This time, it is fair to say that expectations were pretty low before the summit, but I suspect that the real outcomes—not just those in the communiqué—are more worrying than anyone anticipated. It is increasingly clear that, despite the best efforts of G7 members to seek to manage and engage with President Trump, the US President does not abide by the same rules. It may appear chaotic, but his unpredictability has become very predictable. Even as other G7 leaders and the EU Council President thanked Prime Minister Trudeau and his team for hosting the summit, President Trump tore up the diplomatic rule book to decry the Canadian Prime Minister as being “weak” and “dishonest”. Those now trademark forthright tweets appear to isolate him from the G7 as an effective group and, whatever agreements are reached and whatever compromises are made, it is not certain whether the agreement or acquiescence of the US will last as long as the flight home.
One part of the Prime Minister’s Statement evoked memories of the understatements of Sir Humphrey Appleby and Jim Hacker in “Yes, Prime Minister”—the part where she says:
“This was a difficult summit with, at times, some very candid discussions”.
How well this was illustrated by the marvellous photograph of Chancellor Angela Merkel, supported by the other leaders, as she leans forward across a table to a seated President Trump, with his arms folded, looking away from her at something in the distance—he did not want to look at her. You could almost hear that “candid discussion”.
The implication of this summit is that it appears that President Trump does not see himself or the US as part of a global strategy seeking a consensus on key international issues. Indeed, he does not appear to value his association with the UK. The Prime Minister has made much of her special relationship with President Trump, and Ministers have been vocal in their opinion of the necessity of this, particularly in a post-Brexit world. However, when asked about his relationship with the G7, President Trump declared that the level of his relationship was a 10 with “Angela, Emmanuel and Justin”, very pointedly and deliberately ignoring Mrs May and, later, briefing against her. If our Prime Minister has irked the President in some way, it could well be to her personal credit that she has done so, but it does not bode well for our transatlantic special relationship. It also means that our relationship with our European partners is all the more essential.
Even without US endorsement, there are some good and strong outcomes in the communiqué. We appreciate that the G6 has signed up to a progressive, value-based programme that is to be welcomed. It includes the condemnation of Russia’s destabilising behaviour in seeking to undermine democratic systems, its support of the Syrian regime and the attack in Salisbury. Yet, although initially signing up to this, President Trump also called for Russia to again be part of a G8 summit.
We welcome the recognition that ensuring that all citizens benefit from the proceeds of growth is essential for a cohesive modern society to meet the challenges ahead. Given the imposition of the new US tariffs, to which the noble Baroness referred, President Trump’s intentions, if not the accuracy of the assessment, could not have been clearer. The Prime Minister refers to the open, direct discussion, but President Trump did not sound like he was discussing it with anyone. He said:
“We’re like the piggy bank that everyone’s robbing. And that ends”.
He went on:
“If they retaliate…we win that war a thousand times out of a thousand”.
This is clearly a difficult situation. Can the noble Baroness say anything more about the implications for the forthcoming EU summit and what discussions she has already had with our current European partners?
The commitment to a more secure and peaceful world and advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment are important statements but, to be effective, they must jointly be acted on with political will and adequate funding. This was also a key issue at CHOGM earlier this year. I ask the noble Baroness, if she can respond today, how this builds on the CHOGM discussions. Is it consistent with the outcomes from that conference?
The statement on the protection and sustainability of our oceans and coastal communities is clear and far-reaching. Was the impact of the US withdrawing from the Paris agreement properly discussed? The comment at the end of that section of the communiqué is conciliatory to the US, but that US decision has serious implications.
If we are to build a more peaceful and secure world, all countries must abide by international law and their international responsibilities. Yet, in the past few days, the Italian Government have refused to let a rescue ship dock despite it carrying around 600 refugees, including young children, unaccompanied minors and pregnant women. That undermines those international agreements and the sense of shared responsibilities that underpin bodies such as the G7 and the G20. What discussions have the UK had with other EU countries regarding this situation and future implications?
I hope that, when the noble Baroness answers the questions today, she will also turn her attention to the value of the relationship we will have in the future with our EU partners.
My Lords, it is easy to feel some sympathy for the Prime Minister and the other non-US members of the G7 today. It must be extraordinarily frustrating dealing with an American president given to “fits of anger”, to quote President Macron, and they must all share Chancellor Merkel’s view that it was “sobering and a little depressing”. Again, Sir Humphrey would appreciate the understatement in that phrase.
For the Prime Minister and her colleagues, though, it must be particularly depressing because a large part of the case which Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and others make for Brexit rests on the assertion that the UK will receive a warmer welcome from the other English-speaking countries in negotiating favourable free trade arrangements if we free ourselves from the shackles of the EU. America’s supposed commitment to free trade was the key to that argument, as was the closeness of the special relationship which, we were told, would guarantee British leaders easy and preferential access to the White House. President Trump has now demonstrated that he does not believe in the special relationship at all. The Prime Minister does not even feature in the list of leaders with whom he has a good relationship—or, rather, had a good relationship, before he fell out with all of them—and he rejects the principles of free trade. This leaves the justification for leaving the EU to pursue more open markets elsewhere dead in the water. How appropriate that it was World Oceans Day with the Government and the G7 so at sea.
The G7 meeting has rightly been described as a G6 plus one, with the UK aligned with France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan in resisting the arguments of the US. However, only last week our Foreign Secretary was describing our European neighbours as the enemy rather than the allies with whom we are most closely associated and with whom we share interests and such close values. It is hardly surprising that the Prime Minister appeared to play only a marginal role in this summit, while Merkel and Macron stood up to Trump. Is it not the case that we have now marginalised ourselves as a nation and lack any coherent foreign policy whatsoever? The EU will now impose retaliatory measures against the US tariffs on steel and aluminium, but the Prime Minister is urging caution. In the Statement, she says that she wants to avoid tit-for-tat measures, but that is what countermeasures are. Could the Leader of the House, therefore, explain what sort of measures the PM does think appropriate? Could she explain what the Prime Minister hopes to gain by resisting calls from the rest of the EU for a firmer response?
The Prime Minister also said that, as long-standing allies, we do not make progress by ignoring each other’s concerns but by addressing them together. What do those words mean in the context of the attitude of President Trump, and by what means does the Prime Minister propose to do this in practice? Is she really going to start replying to President Trump’s tweets, or is there some sense in her mind about what those words might mean?
The world today is in greater disarray than it has been for decades. Nothing in the Prime Minister’s Statement would give you any sense that that is the case. In these circumstances, you need to embrace your friends in order to rebuff those who do you harm. This weekend has demonstrated that our friends are in Europe, and that we should be standing with them and not planning a walk into the wilderness.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. I say again, as the Prime Minister made clear in her statement, this was a challenging summit, and we are not denying that, and there were difficult discussions, but we continue to believe that continued dialogue is the way to make progress.
In relation to the communiqué, as we said, it was agreed by all parties. We fully intend to honour it, and we certainly hope that the US will also stand by the agreements made, and we will continue to have discussions around that.
On the question that the noble Baroness asked about Russia, the Prime Minister was very clear that, before any conversations can take place about Russia’s future involvement in this group, it must change its approach. Of course, we have to remind ourselves why the G8 became the G7. It was because of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea—again, a point that was reiterated at the summit.
On the questions on climate change, the Prime Minister once again made it clear that we remain firmly committed to the Paris Agreement, and the international momentum that underpins it, we believe, is irreversible. What we now need to do to move forward is agree on a robust set of rules to enable it to function effectively. While we may differ on the Paris Agreement, we still believe that within the G7 we can work together on solutions to address impacts and build greater resilience while creating economic opportunities.
The noble Baroness rightly raised the issue of the ship that was not taken by Italy or Malta. I think it is good that Spain has now said that it will step in, so we are very pleased that progress has been made there. Of course, we will continue to support international efforts to effectively manage migration flows, tackle people smuggling and prevent people from making perilous journeys across the central Mediterranean Sea. We are committed to working with European partners in continuing with our efforts to aid Italy and other countries with the issues that they face.
On the comments by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about our relationship with the United States, it is true that of course difficulties were experienced in the summit, but we remain strong partners and allies. We have of course recently worked together to expel Russian spies, to increase bilateral data sharing and to make plans for the next generation of F35s. Of course, when the President visits in July, we will be able to continue some of the discussions that we have had over the past few days.
The noble Baroness asked about the £187 million of new funding announced at the summit. That will support more than 400,000 marginalised girls in developing countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It builds on the commitments made at the Commonwealth summit and the announcement of £212 million for phase 2 of the Girls’ Education Challenge. Those funds will help nearly 1 million marginalised girls across the Commonwealth to benefit from quality education to 2025.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness both asked, quite rightly, about tariffs. I reiterate the point that the EU will impose countermeasures, but we all want to avoid a continued escalation and to maintain a constructive dialogue. We will continue to work with the EU and the US to achieve a permanent exemption. The Commission is required to seek member state approval for any countermeasures to come into effect; it has announced its intention to do that this month. We made the point that we believe that the US tariffs hit the wrong target. China alone was responsible for roughly half of the overcapacity in steel in 2017. We believe that we need to use the G20 Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity, in which China is involved, to help encourage a reduction in excess capacity. We also need a concerted international push to strengthen the global system of trade rules.
We of course want to continue to work constructively with our EU partners and friends. At this summit, we stood firm with them on a number of issues and we will continue to do so.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that, for some of us, this is an almost surreal communiqué? It talks about the agreement of communiqué, but the President of United States has already resisted it. We are committed to the World Trade Organization, but the United States Administration are currently doing their utmost to undermine the global trading system, including—as I read in my emails this morning—by resisting the appointment of new judges to the arbitration procedures. So we have a crisis in the global trading system that this Statement does not begin to reflect.
Does the noble Baroness also accept that the commitment to a “rules-based trading system”, which is again proclaimed in the Statement, is resisted by many within her own party as incompatible with British sovereignty when it comes to the European Union and that their suggestion that the World Trade Organization will be sufficient does not come to terms either with the weakness of the world trading system or with the necessary compromises of sovereignty which those international rules would require of Britain?
Lastly and most importantly, since the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Foreign Secretary appear to regard the EU as the enemy, and the sooner we get out from co-operating with it the better, can the noble Baroness inform us whether we intend to co-operate with the other members of the EU in imposing countermeasures for the next nine months, for the next nine months plus the transition and implementation period or for longer? We thought that solidarity with the EU was something that we were about to get rid of.
I reiterate that we remain a leading supporter of the global rules-based trading system. However, we accept that some elements of the WTO could be improved and we will continue to discuss issues such as improving transparency and dealing with state-owned enterprises and industrial subsidies with our partners—but we believe that the WTO plays an important role at the centre of our system.
On the noble Lord’s question on steel tariffs, I have said that we are working with our EU partners to achieve a permanent exemption. We will work with them in relation to countermeasures. The Commission will be required to seek member state approval for these to come into effect, which it intends to do this month. We will of course be involved in those discussions.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for the repetition of the Prime Minister’s Statement, which contained a report that the G7 agreed to strengthen the power of the OPCW to attribute chemical attacks. The OPCW does not have such a power—another UN body did, but it was closed when the Russians exercised their veto to stop its mandate being renewed. So how does the G7 without Russia intend to give this power to any body in the United Nations? Is there any explanation? What did the Prime Minister actually agree to?
The communiqué agreed that we must maintain the global norms against the use of chemical weapons and there was agreement among leaders on the need to strengthen the ability—as the noble Lord pointed out, it is not there at the moment—of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks. As he will be aware, there is a special conference of state parties later this month, which will be an important moment to demonstrate our determination to reinforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. We will, of course, be an active participant.
My Lords, it would appear from what happened earlier today or late yesterday that President Trump has dissociated himself from the communiqué. Is that officially the position, or is the United States still officially signed up? When are we likely to have the pleasure of welcoming President Trump to this country? I think it would be a good thing if he did come, because he could hear what we think, as well as us hearing what he thinks. Has his invitation been confirmed?
As I think I mentioned in answer to another question, the communiqué was agreed by all parties. We fully intend to honour it and we hope that the US will continue to stand by the agreements made. I believe that President Trump’s visit is on 13 July: I could be wrong but it is certainly in July. He and the Prime Minister discussed the visit briefly and both are looking forward to it.
My Lords, the G7 was a total disaster so far as the values of freedom and democracy that we in the West have upheld for decades are concerned. The next major meeting of international leadership will be the NATO summit next month. What lessons do the Government think they will have learned from the G7, particularly about President Trump’s views on NATO, to ensure that the NATO summit does not end up like the G7?
As the Statement said, the conclusion the Prime Minister drew from this summit is that it is only through continued dialogue, through whichever forums, that we can work together to resolve issues that may have been raised. Of course, we will also make very clear to President Trump, as we have been doing consistently, that we are firmly committed to meeting the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP. Chancellor Merkel herself has admitted that President Trump has a point about Germany’s comparative low defence budget, so I am sure that there will again be robust discussions, but I am sure that continued dialogue is the way forward. President Trump has identified his commitment to NATO in the past and we look forward to seeing that continued during the summit.
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, leaves the House in even greater confusion. Is it the position of the Government that President Trump still endorses the final communiqué that he is said to have signed, or that he does not? On what evidence does the noble Baroness say that she thinks that he does still intend to support the commitments in the communiqué?
What I said was that we hope that they will continue to stand by the arrangements. I do not speak for President Trump, so I cannot give the noble Lord the answer he wants. I think I have been pretty clear about our position and what we expect and hope to see from the United States.
Will the Minister please give us the benefit of her observation on the fact that we heard only a few months ago from members of the Opposition in this House and the other place that President Trump would not be welcome in this country and that the Government should not extend an invitation to him—yet those same people are now saying that we are at the bottom of the list of his affection? I would suggest that hypocrisy comes to mind.
As I mentioned, the President and the Prime Minister had a brief word about his visit; they are both looking forward to it. We will take the opportunity to advance our common interests further, reflect on the importance of the relationship between our two countries and, no doubt, have further robust conversations.
My Lords, Russia has been mentioned on a number of occasions this afternoon. Is it anticipated that sanctions targeting Russia will exist in perpetuity, given that there are many who apparently believe that they will never exit Crimea—or were different scenarios considered?
The leaders were very clear that the duration of sanctions is linked to Russia’s complete implementation of its commitments in the Minsk agreements, and we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary, should their actions require it.
My Lords, as we have time, I wonder whether I can help the noble Baroness. She was asked twice about President Trump’s reaction to the communiqué and whether he has signed it. In a tweet yesterday, he said:
“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US reps not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the US market!”.
It would seem clear that he has withdrawn any support he gave to the communiqué at the meeting.
As I have said in answers to a number of questions, all I can say is that we hope that they continue to stand by the agreements. We will certainly continue to honour them and we will continue to have discussions with President Trump on these issues.
What I can certainly say is that we understand the importance of the steel industry in this country. We want to make sure that jobs are protected and we will continue to do that going forward. I will see if there is any further information that I can provide.
My Lords, the Leader of the House will confirm that, notwithstanding our leaving the European Union, we will still be a member of the G7, working closely with other members, and that we will be in a position to agree and, in so far as possible, enforce any relevant sanctions.
My Lords, with the permission of the House I beg leave to repeat the Statement made by my right honourable friend James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the other place earlier today. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire, meeting our commitment to update the House following the Opposition day debate on 16 May. I am also writing to the Chair of the Select Committee to provide a formal report on progress, a copy of which will be placed in the House Library.
As we prepare to mark a year since that tragedy, this will be an extremely painful time for the community. Many honourable Members provided powerful and poignant contributions in the e-petition and Opposition day debates last month, and I know that the whole House will join me in sending the bereaved and survivors our love and prayers.
The fourteenth of June 2017 saw the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. Seventy-one people lost their lives on the night of the fire, and a former tower resident who was rescued from the 19th floor passed away earlier this year. The start of the public inquiry was a timely reminder of that terrible human cost: a baby who never lived to learn how much he was loved; three generations of a family wiped out; and heroes who died saving others. Nobody could fail to be moved by the extraordinary tributes paid by family and friends to the loved ones they lost, by their courage and dignity in the face of unimaginable loss, and, yes, by their anger too. A catastrophe of this kind should never have happened in the United Kingdom in 2017 and, when it did, the initial response was not good enough. Nothing can undo the anguish and devastation this has caused, but as the Prime Minister has said, we can and must do right by the memory of those who lost their lives and those left behind, by supporting those affected, securing justice and, above all, ensuring that nothing like this can ever happen again.
There has been an unprecedented effort across government and our public services. Help is being provided on a range of issues—from advice on benefits to emotional and mental health support. In total, we have spent over £46 million of national Government funds and committed a further £34 million to help meet rehousing costs, deliver new mental health services and deliver improvements to the Lancaster West estate. The appointment of my right honourable friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner as Grenfell victims’ Minister has helped ensure that the voices of those affected inform the response. We set up the independent Grenfell recovery task force to help and challenge the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to provide better support for residents and rebuild trust. I want to thank everyone for their tireless support, particularly the emergency services and the public and voluntary sectors.
Clearly, one of the most pressing issues has been rehousing those who lost their homes. A large-scale programme of investment work has been under way to ensure homes are of good quality and personalised to meet the needs of families. The council has acquired more than 300 homes in and around the borough. A total of 203 households needed new homes, and 198 have accepted permanent or temporary accommodation. That means that all but five households have accepted offers, and 134 have now moved in. Most of the work to ensure all homes that have been accepted are ready to move into is complete, and we expect many of the remaining properties to be ready in the coming weeks. While those households are preparing to move, the council has ensured that they have all have had the option to move into more suitable accommodation, but I remain concerned about the 43 households who are living in hotels. My ministerial team has met many of them and I have personally written to all of them to find out what barriers exist in each individual case and how we can overcome them.
This is not where any of us wanted to be one year on from the fire. While there has been progress in recent weeks, overall the pace has been too slow. My department and the independent taskforce continue to provide scrutiny and challenge to the council, and we have provided additional resources directly to the council to help speed up this work. We will not rest until everyone is settled into new homes.
Those affected also badly need answers and to see justice done. The Grenfell Tower inquiry and Metropolitan Police investigations will ensure this happens, but we must also learn from what has happened. Over the past year my department has been working closely with fire and rescue services, local authorities and landlords to make sure that other buildings like Grenfell Tower are safe. Remediation work has started on two-thirds of buildings in the social housing sector, and the Prime Minister announced last month that the Government will fully fund the removal and replacement of potentially dangerous ACM cladding on buildings over 18 metres high owned by social landlords, with costs estimated at £400 million, and we have made it clear that we expect building owners in the private sector not to pass costs on to leaseholders. To that end, I recently met leaseholders and put their concerns to representatives from industry at a number of roundtables. Some in the sector, such as Barratt Developments, Legal & General and Taylor Wimpey, are doing the right thing and taking responsibility. I urge all others to follow. The private sector must step up, and I am ruling nothing out if it does not.
In addition, I recently welcomed Dame Judith Hackitt’s final, comprehensive report following her independent review of building regulations and fire safety. In response, I committed to bringing forward legislation to reform the system of fire safety and give residents a stronger voice. Having listened carefully to concerns, the Government intend to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, subject to consultation. We will publish the consultation next week.
It is essential that people living in buildings like Grenfell Tower are not only safe but feel that the state understands their lives and works for them. There is no question but that their faith in that has been shaken. That is why, as well as strengthening building and fire safety, we will be publishing a social housing Green Paper by the recess. I am confident that these measures will help us to rebuild public trust and deliver the meaningful, lasting change that is needed.
Our country has seen many difficult times, but that night at Grenfell Tower was one of our darkest hours. We will never forget those who died. We will not falter in our support for those who are still grieving, or flag in our determination to ensure that no community has to go through such agonies again. In doing so, we can be inspired by the incredible spirit of the people of north Kensington and the way they have come together. And when we say never again, we mean it. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I shall start where the Minister finished: as he said in the Statement, when we say “never again” we mean it, and that is absolutely paramount.
As the Minister said, the fire happened a year ago next Thursday, and the total of 72 people is the biggest loss of life in Britain due to a fire since the Second World War. Recently I watched the “Panorama” programme, which brought back the images of what happened that night. It was a truly horrific and terrible event and all our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Every time we have a Statement on Grenfell, our thanks go out to everyone in the local community who has helped: the civil servants, the staff from the borough council and from other councils, the faith sector, the charities, and the community who have come together to help this part of north Kensington to move on and try to get lives back on track.
Having said that, here we are a year on and still more than half the Grenfell survivors are in either hotel rooms or temporary accommodation. I accept entirely that the Minister would not want to see that but it is still not a good situation to find themselves in. There are also more than 300 other tower blocks with the same unlawful cladding on them and so far only 10 have had it removed or replaced. We are not sure where we stand with the private sector, where there are even more such blocks. This is not a good place to be. It is fair to say that the residents of Grenfell Tower were failed long before the fire, and some of them clearly feel that they have been failed since. Actually, if I am right, only 82 residents out of the 209 are in permanent replacement homes, and that is just not good enough.
I believe the North Kensington Law Centre has released a document saying that even in the new homes there are defects in terms of damp and delayed repairs, while some of the tenancies that have been offered are not the same that the residents had at Grenfell Tower. I do not know if that is the case, but if it is then it really needs to be corrected; they should be offered exactly the same tenancies that they had in the tower.
Does the department now have any sort of estimate or deadline for when people will be permanently rehoused? To start with, the Prime Minister talked about getting it done in a matter of weeks, but that has been extended and extended. I know that in the last Statement the Government talked about a year’s time, but at what point do they now see everyone getting into a new home and being able to start to rebuild their lives? We do not want to be back here again in the autumn not much further forward.
On the question of the other high-rise blocks, only 10 local authority tower blocks out of more than 300 have had their cladding replaced. The Government said they would do everything it takes to “keep our people safe”, so in that sense I welcome the £400 million funding that the Minister has announced to remove the cladding. It has come from another budget but it is still welcome. I also welcome the intention to ban combustible material on the outside of tower blocks. Is that all the Government are going to do, though, or are they going to go further? There has been talk before of looking at retrofitting sprinklers in tower blocks. I do not know if the Government are thinking about those sorts of things. Where are we on the question of evacuation procedures in blocks of flats? When will we be in a position to confirm that all blocks of flats are safe?
I was pleased with the important point that the Minister made about the private blocks, which has our full support: blocks in the private sector have to be corrected as well and those costs should not be passed on to the leaseholders. I welcome that.
On the inquiry itself, the tributes to the victims and families were very moving. I wish the inquiry well as it has a very important job to do. After that there will of course be the result of the police investigation, but I will leave it there.
My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a Kirklees councillor.
Seventy-two men, women and children tragically died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Our responsibility to their memories and to those who survive is to seek the truth, secure justice and make the radical change to culture and practice so that no such fire occurs ever again.
Last week, I met representatives of Grenfell United and listened. I was struck by their quiet determination and by the inspiring leadership of their fellow survivors. They want all the facts before, during and after the disaster to be exposed to the full light of day. Then, those responsible for the decisions that enabled the fire to be so catastrophic must be brought to justice.
All these issues are, of course, the subject of the Grenfell Tower inquiry and we must wait for it to hear the evidence and draw its conclusions. However, what is clear so far is the painfully slow response of the Government to the consequences of this disaster. One year on, some of the survivors are still living in hotel accommodation and have been for a whole year. There is no chance for them even to attempt to start their lives again.
From the information I was given by Grenfell United, some of the accommodation purchased by Kensington and Chelsea Council was totally inappropriate. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the information I heard that one of the survivors was allocated a basement flat with no direct access to daylight. Does he regard this as appropriate in the circumstances of what those families had already endured?
Then there is the issue of the dangerous cladding. I welcome the proposal for a ban on ACM cladding in today’s Statement and that a consultation will begin shortly. This is really positive but this cladding continues to be on many public and private buildings. It is reported in the press that 32 NHS hospitals, several hotels and at least one school, as well as 132 private sector and 208 public sector tower blocks, have this dangerous cladding. Can the Minister assure the House that all these buildings will have the cladding removed as quickly as possible so that people who live or work in them can have some improved peace of mind? Meanwhile, can the Minister explain what actions are being recommended to provide additional safety in these buildings and information as to whether those in the public sector will have compensatory government payments for all their additional costs? As many people will know, fire safety wardens are being employed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that no fire starts in these buildings and that, if one does, prompt action can be taken. This will be a huge additional cost in the social housing sector. Can the Government assure us that all buildings with this cladding have been identified, with the owners acknowledging their responsibility, and that the Government will monitor that effective remedial action has or will be taken in a timely way? If we are not careful, the curse of this cladding will continue for years to come.
On this day, our thoughts and prayers are with all those people—residents and rescuers—whose lives have been indelibly scarred by this disaster.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for refreshing our memory.
I start by thanking both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness—and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, over a period of time—for their general support in dealing with what has been a very difficult, heart-rending situation. It has aided the consideration of some very important issues in this House, so I thank them very much.
I shall try to deal with the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in so far as I can. If I miss any—and on some points of detail—I may need to write to them, and I will of course ensure that that is copied to other noble Lords participating on the Statement, with a copy placed in the Library.
First, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their words about the civil servant and public sector work that has been done in the community since the dreadful fire at Grenfell, and about the faith sector and the charitable sector. I was recently at a meeting in the community hall of the local mosque, where Muslim Aid was talking about the work done and the commitment of people in the faith sector and particularly mentioned the West London Synagogue. This was a general commitment from the faith sector in the area, an outpouring of support from individuals and from the third sector, which is a continuing feature of what is happening at Grenfell.
The noble Lord mentioned points in the North Kensington Law Centre report. I know of the report but I must admit that I have not studied it in detail. I will certainly do so and cover those points in response to him. He will be aware that experts will be sitting with Judge Moore-Bick on the second phase of the inquiry, which I think helps to provide the disinfectant of sunlight which we all welcome for transparency. He asked questions raised by the North Kensington Law Centre about rent in the same general terms. Of course, there is a rates, rents and utilities holiday—although holiday is not the right word. There will be no rent, rates—council tax—or utilities payable until June 2019, I think, for families who were in Grenfell Tower or Grenfell Walk. For other families, there is an abatement of those bills, although not on the same terms—to a lesser extent.
The noble Lord referred to the rehousing effort. Let me say first that every household has been offered at least one alternative. The noble Baroness mentioned somewhere without sunlight in a basement. I am extremely surprised to hear that, but I will look at that case. If she has more detail, that would be useful. I join her in paying tribute to the work done by Grenfell United. We may have been at the same occasion when Grenfell United was present, and it has done a remarkable amount, as have others from the community.
The noble Lord asked about retrofitting sprinklers. He will be aware that new blocks more than 30 metres high, I think, are having sprinklers fitted. There is a general issue about retrofit. He will know that this was not recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt: she dealt with the issue but did not recommend that. However, in addition to the £400 million support specifically for ACM cladding, if local authorities can justify it, we will certainly consider financial flexibility for them. This follows recommendations done earlier by the Lakanal inquiry about sprinklers, and that local authorities can do that independently. There is nothing to stop that happening, except perhaps the finance, but we will look at financial flexibilities if the case is made.
The noble Baroness referred to interim measures while the cladding work is being done. Of course, we are committed to all the combustible ACM cladding being removed from both social and private sector buildings. We think we have identified all the private sector buildings and are confirming whether all of them have ACM cladding. We have identified buildings that might have it and we are now seeking to ensure that. If I am wrong, I will address it in a letter, but I believe that local authorities have now come up with definitive figures on that. Interim measures will be in place while or until the cladding is removed, and this will be a matter for the local fire and rescue services to advise on and determine. It would certainly include the 24-hour presence of safety wardens, a ban on the use of car parks, and so on. We are obviously in discussions with local authorities on measures that need to be taken and, as I say, I think we have identified all the buildings. I hope that that addresses all the points raised, but if I have missed any I shall certainly address them in a letter.
My Lords, on 14 June it will be unbearably painful for everybody who was involved. I should declare an interest as my daughter, seven weeks after a caesarean section, was called in. She worked that night as an emergency medicine doctor. She had no doubt that she had to go in as something major was going on.
The Government are saying never again. This year, or next year, we may be thinking of it—everyone will this year—but in decades on it will be emblazoned on the memory of every survivor and everyone who was bereaved, although the rest of the country may have forgotten. I just wonder whether the Government have given any consideration to discussing with Grenfell United and others—not now when it is so raw, but in the future—about marking the day as a national fire safety day, whereby the whole country will be expected to test their fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and evacuation procedures. We would get into a national pattern and once a year make sure that in every workplace, every residence—everywhere that people are—they remember that fire safety is paramount. Some schools I know in the area have upped their evacuation procedures since this happened, but I offer it as a suggestion.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for those points, and I am sure that the whole House would want me to thank, through her, her daughter for the assistance that she offered. I reiterate what I said on Grenfell United and its work, as well as that of the entire community.
In relation to 14 June this year, the community has wanted it recognised in a low-key way, if I can put it like that. We want to talk to the community about how they feel it is best remembered one year on. That is important. I shall certainly take away ideas brought forward by the noble Baroness to ensure that we do not forget about fire safety and the lessons learned. Perhaps in the same spirit, in terms of the future of Grenfell Tower itself, it is important for the community to lead on what happens in years to come. I am sure that it will regard this as something we never want to forget, and nor should we.
I welcome the Minister saying that action in the case of the private sector had not been ruled out. That should send a very important signal to the private sector that there needs to be action.
In the Statement I think I heard the Minister say that he thought the local authority had identified all the private property. If that is the case, surely the electorates in the area—the people who live in areas where these blocks exist—are entitled to know where those blocks are located whether they are in the public or private sector. My first question is whether that information will be made available to the general public.
Finally, there are a number of hotels nationally that are covered with what looks like the material we are talking about, but we simply do not know. What is happening in the case of those hotels with this material?
I thank the noble Lord for his comments, particularly his recognition that the Secretary of State is determined about remedial measures for private sector buildings. The position is that local authorities have powers to identify through one of the Housing Acts—I forget which one—the properties concerned in relation to cladding. In many cases, information is being made available through local authorities, using their powers. I think I am right, and will correct it in the letter if I am wrong, that we have had confirmation from all the local authorities that that work has been done.
They are making the information available to the department. This brings me to the point that the noble Lord was pursuing as to whether we will make that information public. We have to consider whether that would be helpful in addressing the work we need to do, based on safety considerations, discussions with the fire services, and so on. Considerations of safety are paramount here; we do not want to cause concern for the people in the blocks involved by issuing public information in that way. Again, I will cover that in the letter if I may.
In relation to hotels, any buildings with this cladding and above the requisite height are brought within our consideration, whether they are in the private or public sector, whether they are housing, hospitals, and so on, as was referred to earlier. This job of work has to be done with every building that is above the requisite height and has the combustible ACM cladding that was identified at Grenfell.
I declare an interest as a resident of the borough, and a further interest in that my wife is a councillor for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. She is not a councillor concerned with any of the issues that arise from the inquiry, but she is extremely concerned on a personal level with all the issues that arise from Grenfell.
I am sure the Minister would agree that the Government have been extremely critical of local government throughout the period that has elapsed since the fire. That has been a narrative to which the Government and the Opposition have subscribed. There has been a significant counternarrative, of which the Minister may be aware, in a remarkable article written by Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books.
I do not ask the Minister to come to any judgment about these matters at this stage. We have an inquiry, which has made a promising start under the skilful chairmanship of Sir Martin Moore-Bick. However, there is one unfortunate part of the Statement that deals with challenging the local authority. I respectfully suggest that we should not be rushing to judgment and that central government should assist not only local government but all other agencies in dealing with this terrible problem in the way that is most effective.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and understand his personal concerns and those of his wife. I could well understand somebody from the area having a particular concern.
The noble Lord referred to the article in the London Review of Books, which I confess not to having the privilege of reading, but I will do. He referred to criticism of local government in the Statement. The part the noble Lord must be referring to is setting up the independent task force at an early stage, which was asked to provide scrutiny and challenge to the council. That is a normal usage of words when such a task force is appointed, but I take the noble Lord’s point. I certainly agree with him that Sir Martin Moore-Bick has made a very good start on the inquiry, which will run its course, as will the police’s consideration of criminal charges; I must be very careful not to say anything in detail about either of those. I understand the position that he is coming from and will seek to read the relevant article to which he referred.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification on a number of issues so far. I seek responses to two issues that I think would benefit from further clarification.
First, there is a single sentence on page 4 of the Statement that says:
“Remediation work has started on two-thirds of buildings in the social housing sector”.
By implication, remediation work has not started on one-third of buildings in the social housing sector. Is the Minister in a position to explain why that is the case? Is there a list in the department as to which blocks we are talking about and which local authorities we are talking about, and why that remediation work has not yet started? What is the timescale for starting going to be, and what is the timescale for completion of that remediation work? The Minister may not be able to respond to all that today—to do so in a letter later would be fine—but is it possible to define what remediation work actually is? It is one thing to strip off cladding, which is dangerous, but replacing it with suitable cladding which is warm and will reduce people’s energy bills is clearly important. So I am not quite clear what remediation actually means.
Secondly, and very briefly, we have a date for the publication of the social housing Green Paper, which will be “by recess”. It would be helpful to the House if we knew when a debate would take place on the Green Paper. I hope that it will not just be the case of the Green Paper being published and then going out to consultation and the House itself not having the opportunity to debate it. I hope that, rather, time is allowed for a full debate on that Green Paper, because we have been waiting for it for many months.
I thank the noble Lord very much indeed for that and shall seek to deal with the points that he has raised. On remediation, I do not disagree with him on the importance of ensuring that any appropriate measures take account of the need for proper insulation and ensuring that we meet our climate change targets, and so on—but the most important thing here is the target of ensuring that people are safe. That is the remediation that we are talking about. That work in relation to the public sector has started on two-thirds of buildings. In relation to the other third, interim measures will be in place; for example, 24/7 security workers will be there to ensure that fire wardens are there.
I shall seek to cover the point on the timescale in a letter, if I may, with some more detail that the noble Lord asked for. One reason why the work might not have started on one-third of the buildings is that it may displace tenants—so full account must be taken of that. Suffice it to say, appropriate interim measures will be agreed with fire and rescue authorities in relation to those that have not had work started on them yet.
The noble Lord asked for a debate on the social housing Green Paper, and I hope that we can accommodate that. Of course, there are means available to the Liberal Democrats and others, too, and I am sure that somehow we will make sure that there is proper consideration of this important Green Paper. One reason for the delay to which the noble Lord refers is that we were very keen to talk to people, through Grenfell United and others in the community, to learn about particular points that they may feel needed addressing in relation to the social sector—points that have been made in relation to dealing with complaints, and so on, that arise. That is one reason that it was felt appropriate to take that into account in working through the Green Paper.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and, in particular, its acknowledgement of the anger felt by many in the area and many survivors. It says that it is,
“essential that people living in buildings like Grenfell Tower are not only safe but they feel the state understands their lives and works for them”.
I do not know whether the Minister read the Observer yesterday—just to add to his reading list—but there were some very moving interviews in it, including with a survivor called Mouna El-Ogbani. One of the things she said really jumped out at me. She talked about,
“how we were treated by the government, as if we are nothing .… It’s just box-ticking for them. They don’t look at us as humans, only as numbers”.
That suggests that the people of Grenfell do not feel that the state understands their lives and still do not feel that the state is really working for them. I welcome what the Minister said about talking to people around Grenfell about the forthcoming Green Paper, but what will the Government do now to ensure that both Grenfell survivors and social tenants generally feel that the state understands their lives and works for them?
I thank the noble Baroness for some very valid points and for her general welcoming of the Statement, which refers to the anger felt by the community—an anger that we can all understand—and the fact that people feel that the state is not on their side. This is something that we must seek to put right and it is one element of the social housing Green Paper on which we can all come together and discuss how it is taken forward. I did not have the privilege of reading the Observer yesterday. The Sunday Times also had some very good articles on the Grenfell situation and on ensuring, as the noble Baroness said, that people feel that they are humans, not numbers. Whenever I have spoken to anybody from the Grenfell community, that message comes across loud and clear. I have seen the hours and hard work that people from all parts of the community have been putting in—not least civil servants—and the anguish that it has been causing them. I hope that that helps to convince people that we really do care about the people of Grenfell. The important thing is that we carry this forward and that nothing like this ever happens again, and I know that the House is united on that.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that preserving life and saving life is just as important whether you live in Southampton, Sheffield or Sunderland. If so, then why are the Government not committing to making the retrofitting of sprinklers mandatory in tower blocks and finding the funding for that nationally, as advocated and recommended by the Royal Institute of British Architects expert fire safety group, set up after the Grenfell fire?
The noble Lord makes some valid points about the importance of a national response, whether it is Southampton, Sheffield, Sunderland or Carlisle. He is absolutely right. In that context, I should say that we keep very much in contact with the devolved Administrations as well, to ensure that we are joined up on this. The noble Lord referred to a particular report that recommended retrofitting, but, as I have indicated, that was not the recommendation of the Hackitt review. The Hackitt review said that this was not a silver bullet and shied away from recommending compulsory retrofitting. I have said that it is open to local authorities to fit them and to ask us to use financial flexibilities where they can make an appropriate case for it, because the £400 million is specifically meant for the removal and replacement of combustible cladding. In other situations, if the local authority wants to make a case for retrofitting, the department will certainly look at it.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place on the reports of an imminent attack on Hodeidah port in Yemen. The Statement is as follows:
“Reports have circulated for some time of a possible assault on either Hodeidah or Hodeidah port. Information at the beginning of last weekend, including from troop movements, suggested that such an attack might be imminent. In view of our responsibilities to aid agencies, DfID issued the following statement based on that information:
‘We are doing everything we can through diplomatic channels to discourage an assault on Hodeidah. However despite these actions, a military assault now looks imminent. The Emiratis have informed us today that they will now give a 3-day grace period for the UN [and their partners] to leave the city. Please take all precautions necessary to prepare for this and let us know if there is anything we can do to assist you in any way. We are thinking of you and your staff at this very difficult time’.
That is the email that was reprinted in the Guardian today.
The Government are and have been concerned for some time about the potential impact of any assault on the city and port of Hodeidah, and have made their concerns clear to the Saudi and Emirati Governments. The UN assesses that an attack on Hodeidah could displace up to 350,000 people and leave hundreds of thousands of Yemenis without access to basic goods or healthcare. The Foreign Secretary spoke to his Saudi and Emirati counterparts over the weekend, and we are in close touch with the UN humanitarian co-ordinator and the UN special envoy.
The majority of Yemen’s food and fuel imports enter through Hodeidah and Saleef ports, and it is crucial that humanitarian and commercial imports continue to flow through the port. We urge all parties to facilitate access for essential imports of food, fuel and medical supplies into the country, including through Hodeidah. As with all aspects of the conflict, all parties must respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.
No attack has yet taken place. Accordingly, we encourage all sides urgently to de-escalate and engage in good faith in the political process. The UN special envoy has previously expressed concern that conflicts in Hodeidah could take peace off the table ‘in a single stroke’. It is essential that the UN special envoy be given the time he needs to facilitate a negotiated solution that avoids conflict in the city, and we support his efforts to do so.
It is important to recall the wider conflict. The conflict in Yemen is now in its fourth year. Houthi rebels took the capital by force in 2014 and displaced the legitimate Government of Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition action is designed to facilitate the restoration of effective governance. The Houthis have consistently failed to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions, including by launching missile attacks against Saudi Arabia. They have prevented access to humanitarian supplies, which has led to significant damage to civilians, and have acted to prevent vital vaccinations.
We have been clear that there can be no military solution to the conflict. We continue to encourage all parties to show restraint, to return to negotiations and to engage in the UN-led political process in good faith, to work towards a comprehensive political settlement”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the response to this Urgent Question. Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy, has been holding talks with all sides to try to broker a peace settlement, and was expected to report to the Security Council on his efforts on 18 June. As the Statement says, he says that any attack on Hodeidah by the UAE would,
“in a stroke, take peace off the table”.
Does the Minister agree with Martin Griffiths’ assessment, and if so, what action did the Government take to prepare for the emergency session of the Security Council taking place as we speak? If the Government did prepare, what did they expect to come out of the Security Council meeting with regard to stopping the planned UAE assault and keeping peace on track?
First, I assure the noble Lord and the House that we continue to support UN special envoy Martin Griffiths. As the noble Lord may be aware, the he met with Emirati officials on 10 June and pressed again for prioritising the political track. In this regard, the noble Lord is also correct that the UN Security Council is in session—but, as he will be aware, it is a closed session. On the efforts that the United Kingdom Government have taken to avert any kind of action on Hodeidah, we remain convinced that a political solution is required. That is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spent this weekend directly contacting his counterparts in both the Emirati and UAE Governments, as well as in the Government of Saudi Arabia.
I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am pleased to hear that the Government are doing all they can to avoid such an attack—which, as we have heard, would be catastrophic. However, what assessment have the Government made of the likely impact on civilians, including displacement and civilian casualties? Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the UN’s assessment on civilian deaths? I believe the Minister said 250,000. In addition, will the UK review its support—including arms sales and political support—to the coalition led by the Saudis and the UAE, if an attack on the port goes ahead that has a disproportionate effect on civilians?
Taking the noble Baroness’s final question, any support we provide, including support to the Saudis and Emiratis extended by the United Kingdom, is kept under review. Of course, she will also be aware that the litmus test remains that any action must be in line with international humanitarian law.
On the specific issue of whether my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is aware—of course, he is central. As I have already said, he has been talking to his counterparts in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. I go back to the point raised in the Statement that the UN has already assessed that an attack on Hodeidah could displace up to 350,000 people and leave hundreds of thousands of Yemenis without basic requirements such as food and healthcare.
The noble Baroness will also be aware that the United Kingdom Government stand with the Yemeni people. We have been at the forefront of providing support. In April we also announced a further £170 million in support for essential healthcare and other requirements. I stress, as all noble Lords are aware, that Hodeidah is the gateway to providing much of the relief and humanitarian assistance that is required. It is the responsibility of both sides to ensure that that access continues. The Houthis, who currently control the port, are not without fault. They caused the crisis in the first instance by displacing the Government, and more recently have continued to exercise blockages of the port and have stopped certain shipments from taking place. Therefore, we implore all sides to ensure that a political settlement can prevail.
My Lords, I thank the Minister not only for repeating the Answer to the Question but for the tone and the content of the Answer. Through him I also thank his right honourable friend Alistair Burt, the Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, for the “Dear Colleague” letter that we all received dated 8 June. It is very helpful and contains in the third-to-last paragraph some awful statistics about the scale of the humanitarian crisis in the Yemen, including the fact that more than 50% of the population of Yemen—17.8 million people —do not have reliable access to food and 8.4 million people face extreme food shortages. Is it not the case that the only traffic that passes through the port of Hodeidah at the moment is humanitarian aid—nothing else? Does the Minister agree that the use of starvation as a weapon of war is in breach of international humanitarian law? Would not an attack on this port be strong evidence of a breach of humanitarian law? If any UK-manufactured weapons and planes that we had sold to any member of the coalition were used in such an attack, how could we justify continuing to sell weapons to them?
I thank the noble Lord for his remarks, and I will of course convey to my right honourable friend the comments about his constructive letter. The noble Lord raised the dire humanitarian situation prevailing in Yemen. As I said in response to an earlier question, that is why we have been at the forefront of providing support. I share his concern, as do the UK Government, about the importance of keeping open Hodeidah port as a lifeline. Over the weekend, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary called once again for no action to be taken on Hodeidah port in order to keep open that vital channel. But let us put this in context. As I said earlier, the port is controlled by Houthi rebels, who at Hodeidah and elsewhere—including, for example, in Aden—have not missed an opportunity to intimidate UN ships. They have also used schools, hospitals and children as part of their activities in Yemen.
To answer the noble Lord’s specific question about weapons, I revert to what I said: we keep the situation under constant review and will ensure that we apply the litmus test that there are no serious violations of international humanitarian law. That point has been made to the Emiratis and the Saudis. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, there was a judicial review of this situation. The judgment concluded that our risk-based assessments had,
“all the hallmarks of a rigorous and robust, multi-layered process of analysis carried out by numerous expert Government and military personnel, upon which the Secretary of State”—
this referred to the Secretary of State for International Trade—
“could properly rely”.
In other words, our measures were robust. However, the noble Lord raises important points about the use of such weapons. I assure him that, not just in this conflict but in conflicts elsewhere in the world, we keep the situation firmly under review.
My Lords, it would appear that the Arab coalition calculations are to strike a decisive blow against the Houthis. What discussions, if any, are being conducted with Iran in order to second-guess its reaction in regard to both Yemen and more regionally—and, if that happens to be the case, what has been the outcome of such discussions?
The noble Lord raises the important issue of Iran. He is quite right: it exerts great influence over and provides great support for the Houthi rebels. That is why we urge not just the two sides in this conflict but all regional players, including Iran, which supports the Houthis, to cease hostilities and work together towards ensuring that there is, first, a ceasefire, and then a political settlement for Yemen. We have heard the stark statistics about the unravelling humanitarian crisis. This is one of the biggest crises in the world and concerted action is required on all sides. All countries with influence over the different sides must take action now to avert a further crisis in that country.
House adjourned at 7.23 pm.