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Violent Crime: Young People

Volume 671: debated on Monday 10 February 2020

The Government are committed to delivering on the people’s priorities by tackling violent crime. We have already invested £220 million in early intervention. Through our serious violence fund, we have committed to funding violence reduction units until 2021. We are also introducing the serious violence Bill, which will put a duty on police, councils and other agencies to prevent and reduce serious violence.

Ahead of the police and crime commissioner elections in May, will my hon. Friend encourage our fantastic Conservative candidates to make youth diversion schemes a key part of their manifestos?

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the entire House that we have these crucial elections coming towards us, at which the public will have the right to hold their police and crime commissioners to account. I look forward to working with many Conservative PCCs in future, I hope. I fully support the idea of diverting children who are on the cusp of entering the justice system and putting in place, where appropriate, support that can reduce risk and prevent an escalation in offending. He may wish to know that in his own local area, we are funding Redthread at Queen’s Medical Centre—I was delighted to attend its launch last year—and, through the youth endowment fund, two different projects are helping children and young people, and their families and schools, by keeping them safe and diverting them from risk.

Children excluded from school are twice as likely to carry a knife. A quarter of young offenders who are serving a custodial sentence of less than 12 months have a history of permanent exclusion. To help turn around the life chances of these children, will my hon. Friend take up the recommendations in my report on school exclusion, published last year, which are aimed at taking a public health approach to crime and tackling the root causes, not just the symptoms, of school disengagement?

I thank my hon. Friend for his meticulous work in his report. He will know that the Prime Minister is taking charge of our response to serious violence, and is indeed holding a Cabinet Sub-Committee on this imminently. I agree that we must tackle the root causes of serious violence. That is precisely why we are bringing forward the serious violence Bill to place a duty on the agencies that can help to address it.

I fully support the exclusions review that was just referred to, but, in tackling youth violence, does the Home Office think it is either acceptable or right that the vast majority of young people on the gangs matrix are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds? Being flagged on the gangs matrix brings with it huge consequences for those young people, often separation from families and other issues. Does she think that this approach is appropriate, or that it works?

The hon. Lady is referring to an operational tool used by the police, but it is one of many tools that we are looking at in terms of law enforcement response and these crucial issues about diverting children and young people away from crime in the first place. The causes are manifold, and we must work with communities to address them together.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that the police have all the powers they need to crack down on the scourge of knife crime, which is ruining so many lives across the country, but particularly in London? Could she update the House on what plans she has to target repeat knife carriers?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who of course brings to the House his experience of representing his constituency on this important issue. We are determined to ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle this terrible scourge. That is why, in the new serious violence Bill, a new court order will be brought forward that will make it easier for the police to stop and search known and convicted knife carriers.

What is the Minister doing to protect young and vulnerable people from drugs gangs, particularly in rural areas such as mine, where they are extremely prevalent?

Drug gangs, or county lines, often involve a horrific form of child criminal exploitation, and we are determined to put an end to it. One of the many ways we are seeking to do that is through further investment in the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which has co-ordinated enforcement action across the country, resulting in more than 2,500 arrests and the safeguarding of more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Last year, Labour attempted to amend the Offensive Weapons Bill to ban the open sale of knives and require shops to lock them behind cabinets, as we currently require them to do for cigarettes. The Government refused those amendments. Last week, Sudesh Amman walked into a shop on Streatham high street, picked up a knife from the display and stabbed two people. This weekend, that shop was still openly displaying knives and machetes by the front door. Will the Government now think again?

The hon. Lady may recall that we said we would keep that under review, because we felt that the measures put forward last year were of a nature that did not target areas that have a particular problem with knife crime. We will keep it under review, but I make the point again that it is the responsibility of shop owners to make sure that if they are selling items such as that, they display them appropriately and, if necessary, keep them under lock and key.

Good youth services are the frontline against youth violence, but this week we see yet another local government settlement that means there is a decade’s worth of erosion of funding for youth services. What will the Home Office do differently to encourage the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to properly fund youth services or to put its own money into a good universal offer across all our communities?

The hon. Gentleman will know of the most recent local authority grants, which the House will debate later this week. He will also know that the Chancellor restated a commitment to young people, confirming £500 million of investment through the new youth investment fund over five years, in addition to the £220 million that will be spent over the next 10 years on early intervention projects that can, and I hope will, make a great difference to our young people’s lives.

The Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities scheme is about to make a payment of £19 million of money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to youth projects in Scotland, bringing total payments to more than £110 million since the programme began in 2008. Will the Minister join me in welcoming that as something that can deliver real opportunity for young people in Scotland?

As always, I will work with and commend anyone who is joining the Government’s determination to cut down on violent crime and protect our young people.