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Knife Crime

Volume 804: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2020

Private Notice Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the statistical bulletin by the Office for National Statistics Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2020, published on 17 July, which reported that the incidence of knife crime is at a record high, what action they are taking to address the rise of knife crime in England and Wales.

My Lords, the Government are taking urgent action to tackle knife crime, which is costing too many lives and leaving too many people afraid. Police funding is increasing by more than £1 billion this year. We are recruiting 20,000 more police officers and making it easier for them to use stop and search, and we are ensuring that more knife crime offenders go to prison for longer.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. We need a much more ambitious approach so that, in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, swords are turned into ploughshares or—to put it into modern language—knives are turned into tools to capture the passion and energy of these young people whose lives are being blighted at the very point when we need their contribution more than ever. Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to a public health approach to this problem, encompassing reducing poverty, increasing youth services and strengthening community policing?

I say to the right reverend Prelate that that is the only way to go. Knife crime problems are not caused by any one source and there is no magic area where we can deploy interventions. It has got to be a multiagency, public health approach, as the right reverend Prelate says.

I call the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood of Green. Lord Young? I will move on to the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

My Lords, whatever is happening now, it is clearly not working. Research by the College of Policing shows that high levels of stop and search had barely any effect on violent crime. Instead, it can destroy trust and confidence in the police among the very community that the police need active support and co-operation from if they are to be effective in tackling knife crime. Will the Government consider bringing together police leaders and community leaders to discuss a way forward?

The Home Secretary already meets policing leaders and other stakeholders on tackling crime. On the noble Lord’s first point, safeguards are in place to ensure that stop and search is used lawfully and not based on race or ethnicity. On his point about the increase in knife crime and the link to stop and search, I can say—and this is not a defensive point—that the rate of increase has slowed. However, I agree that we have so much further to go, and that working together across different departments and with different stakeholders is absolutely right.

My Lords, it has just been said that stop and search is an important part of the police system for dealing with this matter. Is there anything that can be done to remove the fact that its use appears to be strongly biased against black people?

My noble and learned friend is right that it appears to be used disproportionately towards black and Asian young people. Of course, they are quite often the victims in all this. It is important to add—I think I have already said it—that no one should be stopped and searched based on their race or ethnicity. The Metropolitan Police is quite sure that its increase in stop and search has helped stem knife crime injuries to under-25s, although the figures are just not good enough yet. The Home Office collects more data now on stop and search than ever before, including the race of the person searched and what they were searched for.

My Lords, I feel sure that the Minister shares my concern about the reports of very young people carrying knives, even on their way to school, because they feel afraid and may need to defend themselves. During the last decade, there has been a marked reduction in family support and preventive services. Does the Minister agree that we must now do all that we can to recover effective joint working by the key services at a very local level, including youth services, in order to regain community support, especially for vulnerable young people?

The noble Lord will know that I agree with him because I have agreed with him for many years on this. Family support is crucial. Through the troubled families programme we had that type of multiagency support for families. It is an absolute tragedy that very young people are carrying knives. They do so because they feel like victims; ultimately, they may become perpetrators, but at the heart of this, they are victims. That is why the multiagency approach is at the heart of the type of intervention and prevention we are taking forward.

We know that the Home Secretary speaks to police chiefs every day. When she talks to them about the increase in knife crime, as she must do, what are the police chiefs telling the Government are the reasons for the national increase in knife crime? What action do they consider needs to be taken, and by whom, to address this issue and bring the knife crime figure down?

I know that the noble Lord will understand that I will not relay details of operational conversations. However, I will quote a Member of Your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who said that while the factors are multifaceted, one thing he is clear about is the rise in the demand from the drugs markets. While not directly related to it, some of the work that the NCA did the other week in taking drugs and weapons out of circulation will undoubtedly have eased some of the problems that our young people face.

My Lords, I know the impacts such crimes have. On 28 January 2000, I was one of the victims of a sword attack in my MP’s constituency office, in which my colleague died. These latest figures show that the Government need a new policy. Will they get those who have turned their lives round after wasting time in prison for knife crime—and who kids can relate to—into schools to convince them to bin their knives?

I very well remember the moment to which the noble Lord refers, which must have left lasting scars for all those involved. Last week, we brought forward in a statutory instrument a compensation scheme for certain offensive weapons. I think that the noble Lord’s wife is behind him, making sure that he says the right thing—I have now lost my track. We have had several knife amnesties over the years. Children need to feel supported in binning the knife and in not carrying knives, as opposed to feeling penalised. I think that that is what the noble Lord’s question stems from.

The recent knife crime figures released by the Office for National Statistics are extremely worrying. We know that hundreds of dedicated and amazing individuals and hard-working organisations deliver excellent initiatives and projects to try to prevent and reduce knife crime across the country. Yet, as is obvious from the figures, with the increased demand on them, these organisations are not able to make the impact we all need. Should we not identify the most successful ones and invest more money in scaling them up? Is it time to review the amount of money allocated and where the money is spent in trying to combat this dreadful knife crime?

I totally agree with my noble friend that we should indeed learn from successes. There are pockets of very good practice all over the country. We do not always have the magic formula to know what the most successful intervention will be. However, our analysis, which was set out in the Serious Violence Strategy, makes it clear that there is a very complex interplay of different factors driving serious violence. It is therefore especially difficult to isolate specifics, but we are definitely sure that prevention and early intervention are key. They are the things that we are investing in, particularly in youth services, and our recruitment of additional police officers will of course help to that end.

My Lords, England and Wales lost more than 20,000 police officers between March 2010 and March 2019. I have spoken several times, requesting the Government to increase police officer numbers by 20,000. Eventually, almost exactly a year ago, the Prime Minister said that the target is to recruit 20,000 new police officers in England and Wales, as the Minister has said. He said that this would be achieved within three years through a new national policing board. How far have we progressed in achieving this target and will we recruit the 20,000 police officers who are desperately needed to address the highest incidence of knife crime in nine years, as the right reverend Prelate stated upfront?

I can quite confidently say yes, we will. We are already not far off that 6,000 figure, and that is in only the first year. Although I confidently told the House the other week that we had reached 6,000, I think that we are at about 4,500 now. In a climate of difficult economic circumstances, I am sure that such a great career will be even more attractive now.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her positive responses to these questions. I add that the academics Stephen Case and Kevin Haines offer a perspective on knife crime with which I think the Government might very well engage. As they and others assert, children and young people need positive, nurturing environments and effective youth services. Communities need positive services and activities for young people, but local authorities, which have been hollowed out through years of cuts, lack the resources to provide these. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that funds are made available to our local authorities to build back better in our local youth services?

I certainly agree with the noble Baroness’s sentiment. It is of course up to local authorities where they deploy their finances, but I get her sentiment. On investing in youth services, the Home Office invested £22 million in an early intervention youth fund a couple of years ago. The Home Office’s Youth Endowment Fund of £200 million runs over 10 years and the Youth Investment Fund of £500 million runs over five years to do just the types of things that she talks about.

My Lords, one of the early interventions that has been shown to be very effective is sport. Young people belonging to sporting teams, rather than gangs, can turn their lives around. Will my noble friend the Minister commit to encouraging more charities and sports organisations to create after-school clubs and other community clubs where these young people can belong to positive teams, rather than gangs?

I most wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend. I can even cite examples, although I will not at the Dispatch Box, where I have seen people whose lives have literally been turned around by their engagement in sport, rather than activity that will lead to a life of crime.

Sitting suspended.