Skip to main content

Knife Crime

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the incidence of knife crime involving young people.

My Lords, we have made £130.5 million available this year to tackle serious violence. This includes funding for violence reduction units, which draw key partners together to address the root causes of violence, and targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. We are also investing £20 million in prevention and early intervention to prevent young people being drawn into violence in the first place.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I know she shares the House’s concern about these young people who have died on the streets of this country. Last year was the worst year on record. It is a terrible waste of young lives. Is the Minister willing to look at a scheme initiated by the police in Hertfordshire, where they have established a specialist team of officers to link with the other key services to identify those young people who are in danger of being drawn into criminality, so that they can prevent, I hope, terrible things from happening to them and other young people? This scheme, though in its infancy, seems to be producing very encouraging results.

I was pleased to be able to read about the scheme and to see the multiagency approach it is taking, trying to intervene before young people get involved in criminality. I am always pleased to hear examples and share good practice with other agencies.

My Lords, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have been rebuked by the statistics watchdog for using misleading figures, claiming a falling crime rate under their leadership. Who is right: the Government or the statistics authority? Some communities suffer much more than others from knife crime. Could we have a zero-tolerance policy and, in order to tackle the problem, a breakdown of the figures for the age, sex and race of the offenders?

My Lords, the Home Secretary did state, in her evidence to HASC on 2 February, that while some aspects of crime are going down, not all aspects are. The Home Office press release on 27 January stated that the figure used to show the reduction in crime excludes fraud and computer misuse. Of course, data is crucial when we are thinking about interventions in whatever crime it is.

As my noble friend will know, the picture of knife crime is not a simple one. Many factors drive the use of knives, both as regards victims and perpetrators, but there is no doubt that county lines drug-running does increase their usage.

I am sure that the noble and learned Baroness knows about some of the youth interventions we are putting in place, including in youth opportunities. We are investing £200 million in a youth endowment fund to ensure that those most at risk are given the opportunity to turn their lives away from violence and lead positive lives.

My lords, two police forces so far, South Yorkshire and Thames Valley, have decided to stop showing images of knives that they have found. My colleague at the London Assembly, Caroline Russell, has asked the Mayor of London whether he will encourage the Met to stop sharing those images, because it probably encourages knife crime rather than diminishes it. Is that something the Home Office might support?

If police forces decide to do such things as stop showing pictures of knives, that is entirely a matter for them. Of course, we support whatever works—sometimes showing pictures of knives increases the fear factor in getting involved in things such as knife crime—but it is down to local police forces.

We share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, about knife crime and the devastating effects it can have on young people in particular. The Minister mentioned violence reduction units, which bring together local partners to tackle violent crime by understanding its underlying causes, and by bringing additional funding. Violence reduction units have been introduced in 18 police force areas. When are they going to be extended to the remaining 25 police areas to support local multiagency work to tackle youth crime?

I agree with the noble Lord that VRUs are a very valuable tool in early intervention. We have provided £35.5 million this year to fund them. They are commissioning a range of youth interventions, and I will keep the House updated as they become more widespread.

My Lords, will the Minister say something about interventions in schools to discourage young people from becoming involved in gangs, which seem to be a very rich source of knife crime on our streets?

The noble Lord is absolutely right in what he says, and we know that engaging in education is one of the strongest protective factors against violence. That is why we have invested over £45 million in both mainstream and alternative provision schools in serious violence hotspots, to support young people at risk of involvement in serious violence to re-engage in education. Since November last year, in 22 areas across England alternative provision specialist task forces have been working directly with young people.

My Lords, many troubled young people find themselves excluded from education and drawn into violent crime through financial incentives. What are the Government doing to promote work and apprenticeships to young people excluded from school?

Apprenticeships are a very good way of diverting people away from violence and into meaningful activity, and on to a working life. I have just answered the previous question about what we are doing in terms of education. Moving on from that, our £3.3 million Creating Opportunities Forum is providing meaningful employment-related opportunities to and raising the aspirations of young people at risk of serious violence over the next two years. More widely, we have invested £237 million to provide extra traineeship places between September 2020 and July this year, with further investment through to the end of the 2024-25 academic year. Traineeships are a short and flexible combination of learning and work experience, and they give young people who lack them the knowledge and skills to get an apprenticeship or a job.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the meetings which I have had with her about the use of data and focusing on data to identify the locations in neighbourhoods which need extra resources in trying to prevent crime? In particular, does she recall the conversation she had with Professor Shepherd from the University of Cardiff, and the work he has done there, which has been spread to other parts of the country? Could she update the House on how that is being used?

I very much remember that meeting and the professor’s very forensic detailing of exactly where crime hotspots were occurring. Of course, local forces will determine the risks in their local areas and the correct interventions to be put in place. Although I support what the professor is doing, it is, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, up to local forces to decide.

Will the Minister explain what is being done for people who have not returned to school, who are not excluded from school, but, following Covid, have decided to self-exclude, who I believe are very severely at risk?

That should be a worry for us all, not only in terms of the risk of getting involved in knife crime, but also the risk to their education getting far behind—perhaps safeguarding risks too. The noble Baroness raises a multifactorial and worrying trend that the Home Office has been concerned about right through the pandemic.