Last week, the Home Secretary launched the Government’s serious violence strategy, which contains a commitment to ensure that independent police inspections have a focus on serious violence and include thematic inspection of police forces’ response to county lines in 2018-19.
I certainly am, Mr Speaker.
Does the Minister agree that prevention is an absolutely key aspect of policing youth violence, and that part of that prevention is a more sophisticated approach to how we police? Young people from certain neighbourhoods —especially if they are black or ethnic minority—are too often wrongly labelled as gang criminals when, in fact, they are groups of youths. Will he look at this issue?
I could not agree more with the emphasis that the hon. Lady places on the balance needed between robust law enforcement and early intervention and prevention, to steer young people away from violent crime. That is exactly the balance that we are setting out in the serious violence strategy.
I also agree with the hon. Lady’s second point. In fact, I heard it directly from youth workers in north Manchester, when I visited a factory there recently. They said, “Don’t pin all this on gangs in large parts of Manchester.” This is not about gangs; it is about very serious work to steer young people away from a path that can have devastating consequences for them.
Does the Minister accept that changes to stop-and-search laws have led to an increase in the number of deaths through knife crime? Will he give a commitment that he will let our excellent police forces get on with doing their job, without having one or both hands tied behind their backs by politicians who are flexing their politically correct muscles and sticking their noses in where they are not needed?
With respect to my hon. Friend, with whom I go back a long way, there is absolutely no evidence to support his first assertion. In fact, the last big decline in knife attacks and violent crime coincided with a fall in stop and search. I will say, quite categorically, that we see stop and search emphatically as a vital tool in the police armoury as part of the robust law enforcement that we want. However, we have been clear that it needs to be used legally, targeted, intelligence-led and, ideally, increasingly supported by body-worn video.
I am happy to say that the Minister for Security has muttered his acceptance of that invitation to me. We are increasingly aware of the need to better align national, cross-national, regional and local capability to bear down on serious organised crime as it becomes more complex and affects more of our constituents.
There is widespread support for what the Minister has said—that we need both a policing response and a response based on intervention to prevent young people from being involved in gang violence—but what is he doing to deliver on the crucial task of assessing which interventions are the most effective and deliver the best results?
As my right hon. Friend says, the serious violence strategy balances the need for robust law enforcement with really effective work to support prevention and early intervention. That needs to be evidence-led, otherwise we will waste money. Part of the Home Office’s responsibility is to ensure that commissioners have the best evidence about what works.
The serious violence strategy made no reference at all to falling police numbers, but we have the document that was put together by Home Office officials, which clearly says that rises in serious violence are
“likely to be facilitated by…a shift in police resources meaning less proactive policing…and falls in arrests/charges relating to serious violence”.
So will the Minister explain on what evidential basis he or the Home Secretary removed that reference from the serious violence strategy? Was it a purely political decision to airbrush the strategy and risk our communities in the process?
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady should focus on that, not least because she was more sensible on the “Today” programme when she said, “We do not say that there is a direct causal factor between the number of officers on the ground and the number of crimes.” In saying that, she joined the Met Commissioner, who was also quite clear that causes of violent crime are complex and cannot simply be reduced down to resourcing. I give the hon. Lady credit for her interview on the “Today” programme because it was a lot more sensible than her question, which was partisan and party political at a time, frankly, when I think the public are sick and tired of politicians chipping away at each other on this issue and want to see us work together to put an end to this dreadful cycle of violence.