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House of Lords Hansard
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04 March 2019
Volume 796

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question asked in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, this weekend, two teenagers—Jodie Chesney and Yousef Makki—were stabbed to death. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express my deepest condolences to their families and loved ones—two young lives tragically lost. They are the latest victims in a cycle of senseless violence that is robbing young people of their lives right across this country. There is no hiding from this issue: serious violence is on the rise, communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children. Last year, 726 people were murdered in the UK, 285 with a knife or bladed weapon, the highest level since records began.

After the horror of this weekend, I welcome the chance to come to this House and address this issue. We all wish that there was one thing—just one—that we could do to stop the violence, but there are no shortcuts; there is no single solution. Tackling serious violence requires co-ordinated action on multiple fronts.

First, we need a strong law enforcement response. This includes the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament, that will introduce new offences to help tackle knife crime. We also need to give police the confidence to use existing laws, such as stop and search.

Secondly, we must intervene early to stop young people becoming involved in crime. We have amended the Bill to introduce knife crime prevention orders, which will help prevent young people from carrying knives. And, alongside our £200 million youth endowment fund, the £22 million early intervention youth fund has already funded 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners.

Thirdly, we must ensure that the police have the resources to combat serious violence. I am raising police funding to record levels next year—up to £970 million more, including council tax. On Wednesday, I will meet with chief constables to listen to their experiences and requirements.

Fourthly, we must be clear on how changing patterns of drug misuse are fuelling the rise in violent crime. I launched the independent drugs misuse review, under Dame Carol Black, in response to this.

Fifthly, we need all parts of the public sector to prioritise tackling serious violence. That is why I will very shortly be launching a consultation on a statutory public health duty to combat violent crime and help protect young people.

We must all acknowledge that this is an issue that transcends party lines. Politics can be divisive, but if there was ever an issue to unite our efforts and inspire us to stand together, then surely this is it”.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question given by her right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place earlier today. I agree there is no single solution and there are no shortcuts. What is missing from the Statement is an unequivocal link to ensure that youth services and other provisions across government to support families and young people receive the attention they deserve. Nothing in this Statement gives me confidence in that respect, so can the Minister comment on that and set out how the Home Secretary will ensure we deal with this matter across government—as she says, completely across the piece—and provide me with some reassurance on this?

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I thank the noble Lord for his question, because there is a disproportionate number of young people as both victims and perpetrators of knife crime. The young chap who was killed on Saturday night in my neighbourhood is just one example. I have talked about the £22 million early intervention youth fund to support communities on early intervention and prevention with young people. There will also be the £200 million youth endowment fund over 10 years, which the Home Secretary has announced and which will enhance that, along with a consultation on the new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence. The notion that any one department or measure is the answer to this is not true at all, as the noble Lord will absolutely know. This issue is more complex and it transcends government departments. We all need to work together on it, but he is absolutely right to start with young people.

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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It talks about early intervention with young people, yet since 2010 there has been a 26% reduction in government support to local authorities. It talks about the police having the resources to tackle serious violence, yet compared to 2010 there are 20,000 fewer police officers in front-line roles. It talks about a statutory public health duty, but there is no mention of additional resources to support that duty. This Government are responsible for creating the environment where this knife epidemic has been able to take hold, and they should take responsibility for funding solutions. For example, why will the Government not adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, to have centrally funded, ring-fenced money for community police officers? We need visible policing in high-risk areas to reassure communities and to build trust and confidence, so that the police and communities can work together to take knives off the streets.

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The noble Lord is absolutely right to point to early intervention, and I mentioned some of the funding streams that either have gone forward or will be going forward to that end. He also talks about the police; both I and the Home Secretary have absolutely acknowledged the pressure that the police have been under, particularly over the last couple of years. As the Home Secretary said, he will be making up to £970 million available next year. It is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, is not in his place, but I pay tribute to him and the work that he did while he was Metropolitan Police Commissioner on reducing some of the problems of knife crime in communities in London. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my honourable friend Vicky Atkins will be in discussion with the noble Lord on some of the learning points from his tenure for how we can address this really terrible growing issue.

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Those of us in your Lordships’ House who have policed, conducted or judged murder cases can attest to how little force it takes to kill someone with a single blow from a knife. As part of the Government’s strategy, will they ensure that education is provided in schools by people who understand, and can provide sound education on, the danger of carrying a knife for any purpose whatever, which can so easily turn someone into a murderer?

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The noble Lord points out the stark simplicity with which somebody can kill somebody else—by a single blow of a knife. In talking about the public health response to knife crime, the Department for Education has a critical role to play in the lives of these young people, certainly some of those who are excluded from school, and on how to keep them engaged and out of trouble, not only when they are in school but when they are excluded too.

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My Lords, if anyone had suggested that the visible police presence around this building should be reduced or withdrawn, there would be universal condemnation of the suggestion. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is relevant in this context. If we have, in our towns and cities, a more prevalent, visible presence on the streets, it will surely be the best single thing we can do to combat this appalling scourge of our society.

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I have to say to my noble friend that the type of police presence on the street is a matter for PCCs. I am also in agreement with him that we need the police resource necessary to tackle the problems we are facing but, as I said earlier, it is not just the police’s job; it is the job of departments across government to try to tackle this terrible problem together.

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My Lords, first, I apologise to my noble friend, as I rushed in as quickly as possible when she began this Statement, after watching the screen. I think they need to make it more focus friendly, because it is so tiny—it is my age. Joking apart, this is a serious issue, so I have been doing lots of media and radio this morning.

After this weekend and seeing the young girl—and I give my deepest sympathy to the families—I have been thinking of what happened to her and many others. I have been a victim of crime and know what hands and feet can do, never mind what a knife can do, but I stand here with anger and disappointment. While I greatly respect what the Government are trying to do with money, finances and departments, I have to say to my noble friend that, in all of this, we are missing a piece about young people. There is nothing about humans in all of these statements.

I was disappointed to hear the Home Secretary’s Statement today, and it does not make me feel good to stand here and say that, but I have spoken today about how we have to get real about these children. We have to get real as, actually, what you perceive to be a child is a six-foot-two young man or woman—because my husband was beaten by young women. We have to be honest about what we want to deliver here to make it a safe environment. Policies are one thing and will take many years, but in the meantime we are losing many lives.

As I was community champion in my previous role, I am willing to go back into communities to roll up my sleeves and talk to them. Yesterday, I listened to somebody calling the radio who goes out to gangs, who has attended Home Office meetings over the last 10 years. He said that nothing changes unless you bring these young people in and speak to them and their parents. This is not just down to government; it is down to society to stop being so desensitised.

I would welcome a conversation with my noble friend and the Home Secretary, who I am seeing next week, but I feel that we are losing the human beings behind this and the families who are being ripped apart. We have to send the message that we are serious, but we also have to get there early to talk to them, because they are creative people. Let us get them into jobs, intervention and education because, if they are creative with their hands, they will no longer carry a knife and create the havoc that we are seeing as a national crisis today.

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My Lords, once again I pay tribute to my noble friend for all her work in this area. She must have heard the earlier discussion when my noble friend Lady Barran talked about exactly that—listening to young people. I have had discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, about the same thing. We cannot just tackle it from a policy point of view; there are humans in all this. As my noble friend said, they may be six feet two, but they are still children and capable of much good as well as much damage. I will take her points on board. We must work in this way in future.