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Knife Crime

Volume 737: debated on Monday 18 September 2023

This Government are determined to fight knife crime. We have invested over £110 million in 2023-24 to fight knife crime, including investing in 20 violence reduction units, and funding hotspot policing in the most seriously affected areas.

I welcome the news that the Government are seeking to close the legal loopholes around the sale of so-called zombie knives, but does my right hon. Friend agree that stop and search and the like are powerful tools for the police to get knives off the street and to save lives? Will he also look closely at scan and search to help to detect such weapons?

My hon. Friend is quite right that we are looking to tighten the law. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 contains a loophole, essentially, which means zombie knives without threatening writing on the blade are not illegal. We are going to close that loophole. I agree with him that stop and search is a vital tactic to keep our streets safe when used, of course, respectfully. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner tells me that about 400 knives are taken off the streets every month using stop and search in London alone, so it is an important power. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s second point. The use of scanning technology has the huge potential to enable officers to scan people for knives at a distance without having to physically stop them and search them manually. The technology is not ready to deploy just yet, but I hope it will be in the relatively near future.

In 2021, two police officers were attacked with machetes in West Bromwich town centre. In the same year, a 19-year-old boy was stabbed and killed in Great Barr. In 2022, a teenager from my constituency was stabbed on his way to college in Birmingham. While the Minister said we have already banned the sale of zombie knives, that has not stopped people purchasing these dangerous weapons, so I thank the Government for taking the next steps to close the loophole. Will this change be brought forward as soon as possible?

The change certainly will happen as soon as possible. Some of it requires primary legislation, but other elements require secondary legislation, and we are definitely going to do that as soon as we can. As for the sale of these knives, once the Online Safety Bill passes Parliament—I hope very soon—the sale of these knives via online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace and Amazon will also be prohibited, addressing my hon. Friend’s point about sales.

We absolutely do need to get a grip on knife crime, which is up by 70% since 2015 alone. Is the Minister content with the fact that only 5% of crimes of violence against the person actually make it to court? If he is not, what is he doing about it?

On the crime statistics, the Crime Survey of England and Wales is the only long-term data series endorsed by the Office for National Statistics. Since the hon. Gentleman asked about data, since 2010—just to pick a date arbitrarily—violence is down by 46%. That is to say, violent crimes were double under the last Labour Government compared with now. Knife-enabled crime was 7% lower in the latest year compared with the year ending December 2019, according to police recorded crime. But we would like to do more, hence the “Grip” hotspot patrols, hence criminalising these remaining zombie knives.

To actually answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I want that figure for prosecutions be higher, and that is why the Home Secretary and I, together with policing leads, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, announced two or three weeks ago that the police are now committing to always follow all reasonable lines of inquiry where they exist.

Order. I love the full answers, but I am really struggling to get even part-way down the Order Paper.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the sad fact that most MPs have had the tragedy of knife crime in our constituencies. We had a dreadful incident in Huddersfield. Is it not time that we understand more the culture that produces it? This is about the way in which young people communicate on the internet and the fact that we no longer have many youth clubs or youth services. We used to have wonderful police going into schools to talk about these issues. Can we have that back?

I will try to be brief. We have violence reduction units designed to provide those activities. We are also funding research. We have a social media hub in the Met police that monitors social media—it is based in Lambeth, and I have been to it. The things that the hon. Gentleman asks for are being done, because it is essential that we tackle knife crime.

Rapes at knifepoint are at a record high this year. The number of cases has more than doubled since 2015. I am currently supporting a case of a woman violently raped using weapons, and the detective on the case told me that he is the only detective in his team working on serious sexual violence. The Police Foundation describes the current number of detectives as a “chronic shortage”, highlighting a staggering 7,000 vacancies. Is it any wonder that there has been a 60% drop in the overall proportion of crimes being charged since 2015, including almost 1 million violent crimes and 36,000 rapes? The Labour party has proposed requiring all police forces to have a scheme that directly recruits detectives with relevant professional backgrounds, so what are the Government doing about this chronic shortage of detectives and the abysmal charge rate that they preside over?

The rape charge rate is a serious matter, and Operation Soteria Bluestone, which the hon. Lady will be familiar with, has been rolled out around the country under the supervision of the safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines). In the forces that adopted that measure early, rape charge rates dramatically increased by two to three times. As that rolls out around the country, those charge rates will increase, but we would like to go further.

On the question of specialist trained officers, now that we have record numbers of officers across England and Wales as a whole, we will be targeting individual forces with training and recruiting a specified number of specialist officers to make sure that those people are in place to properly investigate these issues, because we want to do a lot more in this area.