Before we proceed further on this matter, let me say this. I warmly welcome the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, and I am sure I speak for colleagues in saying that we look forward to her characteristic competence and commitment at the Dispatch Box. That said, let it be crystal clear that the Secretary of State for the Home Department should be in this Chamber answering this urgent question.
I know Sajid Javid, and I have known him since he entered this House in 2010. For what it is worth, I am sure he is a very clever fellow, and on a one-to-one basis I have always found him unfailingly courteous. However, for him to fail to be in the Chamber on Thursday to make a statement about his new anti-knife crime initiative was at best ill judged and at worst rank discourteous to the House of Commons. If the right hon. Gentleman was able to find time to brief or to ensure that others briefed the newspapers on his behalf, and he managed to scuttle off to do a radio interview and then to pop up on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday to give viewers and the nation the benefit of his views, the right hon. Gentleman should have been here.
If the Secretary of State for the Home Department aspires to something a little more elevated than to be a jobbing functionary of the Executive branch and wants to be a serious and respected parliamentarian, he has to develop antennae and respect for the rights of the House of Commons. In the circumstances—and he has had notice that he should be here—it is both ill judged and rude of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to send his, admittedly brilliant, junior Minister into the Chamber when he should be here. I am sorry; I take no view on the policy because that is not for the Speaker to do, but in procedural terms it really is time that he upped his game.
Mr Speaker, if I may, I will address that point before we move on to the very important issue at hand. I know that the Home Secretary means absolutely no discourtesy—he is a regular and assiduous Minister. I hope that I will be able to answer questions today in a way that meets with the House’s approval. Please do not think that this in any way undermines our commitment to this important topic. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will hear what you have said, Mr Speaker.
Knife crime is devastating for victims, families and our communities. The Government are determined to do all they can to tackle it, along with our partners across civil society, including local government and those in education, health, policing and the charitable sector. We have a comprehensive programme of action set out in the serious violence strategy to tackle knife crime and prevent young people from being drawn into crime and violence. This public health approach includes support for prevention projects through the early intervention youth fund and the anti-knife crime community fund, support for police weeks of action under Operation Sceptre, and our ongoing media campaign #knifefree to encourage young people to understand that there are alternatives to carrying knives.
We will also be building on longer term intervention work, with the new £200 million youth endowment fund, and consulting on a new legal duty to underpin multi-agency work to tackle serious violence. However, it is also vital that the police have the powers they need. That is why we listened when the police—those on the frontline in confronting knife-carrying young people—told us that they required additional powers of intervention to deal more effectively with people being drawn into knife crime, and we have acted.
The police asked us to introduce knife crime prevention orders to reach young people before they are convicted of an offence. These orders are aimed at young people who are at risk of engaging in knife crime, at people the police call “habitual knife carriers” of any age, and at those who have been convicted of a violent offence involving knives. The orders will enable the courts to place restrictions on people, such as curfews and geographical restrictions, as well as requirements such as engaging in positive interventions. The intention is that the new orders will be preventive and will support those subject to them in staying away from crime.
We have therefore tabled amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is currently before the other place. The amendments were tabled last Tuesday, and in line with parliamentary convention, a letter was sent to all noble peers who spoke at Second Reading, as well as to the Chairs of the Home Affairs Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Delegated Powers Committee, and to shadow Ministers from Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Scottish National party. A copy of the letter was placed in the Lords Library, and a copy is being placed in the Commons Library.
The amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which introduce these orders, are due to be considered in the other place in detail this Wednesday. The Bill will, of course, return to this House after it has completed its passage through the Lords, and I hope all Members on both sides of the House will lend their full support to this important new preventive measure when the Bill returns to this place.
I appreciate the Minister being here, but this is a matter of national significance, which has been raised in this House by Members on both sides. The Home Secretary has one of the most important positions in Government; he is looked to by the public of this country to be a lead in tackling these issues—not just in London, but right across the country. Time and time again in this Chamber, I and others have asked where the Home Secretary is. I tell the Minister this: the British public will look at this, and they will find it incredible—absolutely incredible—that the Home Secretary can appear on the television and go to various places to address meetings, but that he cannot turn up in this Chamber to explain an initiative that he has put forward. The public of this country will be asking the simple question: where is he? I said on Thursday that he was invisible; he is not just invisible—he has vanished from this Chamber. It is not good enough, and something needs to be done.
According to the police, 10,000 children are involved in county lines. Knife crime offences across the country are at record levels. Homicides are at record levels. Children are being slaughtered on the streets and these orders are what the Government come forward with. It is simply not good enough.
Why is it necessary to have knife crime prevention orders when it is already a criminal offence to have a knife in public without good reason? The Minister talked about “habitually” carrying a knife. For goodness’ sake, it is not habitual. Something needs to be done! Instead of introducing new laws, why does not the Minister, with others, support the police to enforce existing laws? Why have we seen a reduction in police numbers, when her own evidence tells her that they make a difference in tackling this issue? Is it not the case that knife crime prevention orders merely paper over the cracks? Of course we want to prevent young people from becoming involved, but where are the youth services? Where are the street workers? Where are the people out there working with young people who have been excluded from school to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place?
How will knife crime prevention orders tackle the huge crisis facing our country? Instead of introducing the orders, the Home Secretary should be chairing Cobra. This is a national emergency. This is a national crisis. Up and down the country people will wonder why the Government are not using the full force of the state to tackle it. They need to help the young people who are having problems with knife crime and tackle the criminal gangs who ruthlessly exploit them.
MI5, GCHQ, MI6 and the National Crime Agency, led by the Home Secretary, should be reporting regularly to Parliament. Anybody would of course welcome serious crime prevention orders if they helped, but the British public and Members will all want to know, from the Minister and from the Government, why the state will not respond with ruthlessness and determination to take on the criminal activity that is putting so many of our young people in danger and ruining the lives of countless people in communities across the country. If there was a terrorist act, the state, quite rightly, would respond. I tell the Minister this: this is a national emergency. The lives of countless families and young people are being ruined. We need to step up to the mark. The British public demand no less of all of us.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his impassioned question. He will know, from the discussions we have constantly on this topic, that the Home Office is a team. Colleagues will have noticed the Policing Minister sitting next to me. This is a team effort, not just in the Home Office but across Government and across civil society.
We are introducing the orders because at the very end of August last year the police asked us for a preventive order to get to a very small cohort of children, who have not yet been convicted of criminal offences but on whom the police have received intelligence, in an effort to intervene before they get a first conviction, with all the terrible repercussions that can have both for the victims of any crimes they commit but also for their own life chances. These orders are about prevention. We want to give the police the power, through the Bill, to seek an order from a court, on a civil standard of proof, so that the state can wrap its arms around children if schools and local police officers think they are at risk of carrying knives frequently. The orders mirror similar prevention orders we have, such as sexual harm prevention orders, by placing negative and positive requirements on children who do not necessarily have a criminal conviction, to try to drag them away from the gangs that the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies as being central to this criminality.
Last week, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard invited me to his constituency. I heard from a group of people who are on the frontline tackling these crimes how young vulnerable children are being targeted by criminal gangs. This is why we have the serious violence strategy. This is why we have the cross-party serious violence taskforce. This is why we have the serious organised crime strategy. We want to tackle not just the exploitation of children, but the criminals behind it. We can agree on one thing, which is that we all want this to stop. We will achieve that by working together and by intervening early.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary on what they are doing to tackle this very difficult problem. There are no easy answers, but I remind her that 11 years ago, the Met instituted Operation Blunt 2, which, in the course of about 18 months, took 11,000 knives off the streets of London and was one of the factors that led to serious and sustained falls in knife crime and indeed, in the murder rate. Does my hon. Friend agree that the biggest supporters of stop and search are the families who might otherwise face a lifetime of pain, and does she not agree that the present Mayor of London is therefore grotesquely pessimistic in saying that this will take 10 years to resolve?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is telling us that he was doing jolly well.
I am bound to say that I agree with my right hon. Friend, if he is congratulating himself. I thank him for his contribution and of course recognise the work that he did as Mayor of London. I sit here alongside the Policing Minister, who is also the Minister for London, and the joined-up work between the Government and the Mayor of London’s office is critical in tackling this. Stop and search is a vital tool in the police’s armoury, but it is not the only answer. That is why our approach on early intervention—including the Home Secretary securing £200 million from the Chancellor recently to set up the long-term youth endowment fund—will, I hope, absolutely give the results that the House expects. However, my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson is absolutely right: there is no room for complacency, which is why, in addition to these very long-term projects, we also have much shorter-term, immediate projects such as knife crime prevention orders, which will have a very real effect very quickly on the streets of our cities and rural areas.
Does the Minister accept that with knife crime at record levels, the public at home will be very disappointed that the Home Secretary could not find the time to be in the Chamber today for this urgent question? Opposition Members appreciate that knife crime prevention orders are an attempt to intervene without criminalising, but does the Minister accept that the problems of knife crime and other types of violent crime are as much about capacity as the law? When we say “capacity”, it is a question of not only the number of police officers, which has dropped under this Government, but the capacity in the youth service. I was in Wolverhampton last week, where the youth service has been decimated. People said to me over and over again that they report those they believe to be drug dealers and what they believe to be young people carrying knives, and they get no response because of a lack of police capacity.
Does the Minister accept that although the announcement of knife crime prevention orders was preceded by the Home Secretary’s declaration in October last year that the Government are adopting a public health approach to violent crime, it is simply not clear how knife crime prevention orders fit into that? How is this a public health approach that is supposed to address the underlying causes as well as tackling criminals? We are told that suspects as young as 12 will be on curfew and deprived of their liberty and access to social media. These are only suspects. Are any of these measures based on evidence? If so, what is that evidence? Will the new orders be subject to appeal or review? In addition, what measures are in place to ensure that those deprived of internet access do not simply open up another account using different personal details?
The head of the violent crime taskforce said
“we cannot enforce our way out of this—prevention and intervention is the key”.
We do not reject out of hand these knife crime orders. The House will study them when they come to Committee, but we want to see more from Government than token changes in the law. We want to see real intent and real resources behind prevention and intervention, because the lives of young people in our cities depend on that.
I am pleased the right hon. Lady appears to support these orders. The Mayor of London also supports them. This is what I mean when I talk about a cross-party consensus. People out there, including the bereaved families I meet, such as the Goupall family, whom I met last week, are not interested in the back and forth over the Dispatch Box; they want us to work together to stop this happening, and so I welcome her support for the orders.
As I am sure the right hon. Lady knows, having read our serious violence strategy, we have set out the factors that we believe underpin the rise in serious violence. We note, for example, that other countries across the world have seen similar rises. Last year, we held an international conference to discuss with other law enforcement agencies and healthcare providers across the world what they were doing to tackle serious violence, because of course we want to learn from other people’s experiences.
On intervention, we are as one; we want to intervene earlier. Families worried about their children and young people walking around, whether in London or further afield, want us to deliver results. That is the absolute reason for the strategy and the serious violence taskforce, which, as I said, is a cross-party initiative—I am extremely grateful to Members across the House for helping us with it.
I should have said to Vernon Coaker that I very much take on board his point about the House being updated more regularly on what we are doing. I am conscious that we are busy working quietly in the background with our partners, and I agree that we should inform the House more, so I undertake to do so.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer to the urgent question. We need to be unflinchingly robust on enforcement, but we also need to draw youngsters away from the risks of knife crime in the first place. Having served as a volunteer and later a trustee at Fight For Peace, a groundbreaking charity in Newham with a stellar record of getting at-risk NEETs into training and work, can I ask the Minister what work is being done across Whitehall to invest in the preventive expertise and experience of groups such as Fight For Peace in order to cut the risk of knife crime in the first place?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, partly because, in highlighting the work of his charity, he gives me an opportunity to correct a misreport in The Sunday Times this weekend about the early intervention youth fund. It erroneously stated that we had cut the amount available to that fund. We have not. We have spent the first tranche—£17.7 million—on 29 projects across the country, and the rest of the money is to be invested in due course later this year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the work of his local charity. Many charities large and small do invaluable work, and we very much hope that their knowledge and intelligence will feed into applications for knife crime prevention orders, where those are in the best interests of the child and the local community, so that we can draw them away from criminality before it is too late.
We all agree that the surge in knife crime in England and Wales is harrowing, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by this epidemic, but these disproportionate measures cannot be the right approach to tackling this issue. Why is the Home Secretary introducing these orders to the Offensive Weapons Bill at such a late stage, when the opportunity to debate them will be limited?
In Scotland, we have taken a different approach. Under a public health approach, which views violence as a disease, the goal is to diagnose the problem and treat the causes. Officers in Scotland’s groundbreaking violence reduction unit work with teachers and social and health workers to prevent young people from being drawn into a criminal lifestyle in the first place. Only by tackling the causes of violence, and not just its symptoms, and by taking a whole-systems approach, can we break the cycle of violence. As a result of this approach, recorded violent crime in Scotland has fallen by 49% since 2006-07 to one of its lowest levels since 1974.
Does the Minister agree there is much to learn from Scotland’s approach to violent crime, and can she confirm whether the Home Secretary is actively considering the public health approach, which has been so effective in Scotland, but with which approach these measures do not fit?
I am afraid that I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s use of the word “disproportionate”. I recognise that he may not have had time to read the detail of the orders, but they are civil orders imposed by a court on a case-by-case basis following a careful presentation of facts by the police. It will be for the court to determine whether an order is appropriate in all the circumstances of individual children. Those under 18 will be reviewed periodically, which will involve the placing of orders, positive and negative. An order may impose a geographical curfew or prevent children from having access to social media, and it may require them to seek help from youth workers.
As for the timing, the police approached us with this idea on
May I draw the Minister’s attention to a disturbing report in yesterday’s edition of The Mail on Sunday about the ability of a 16-year-old “test” youngster used by the newspaper to buy an oversized Rambo-style knife online in about two minutes flat? How will the legislation stop knives being delivered at home?
That is exactly the point of the Bill. We are very conscious that, while most retailers do what they should by obeying the law that has been in place for more than 30 years to stop the sale of sharp knives to under-18s, online retailers are not doing so well in that regard, so the Bill is intended to ensure that online as well as shop retailers meet their obligations. That is just one of the ways in which we are trying to prevent young people from getting their hands on these very dangerous weapons in the first place.
Does the Minister not realise that the Home Office appears just to be tinkering while children and young people are dying on our streets, families are being devastated, and parents are worrying about whether their teenagers are safe on their way home? She has talked about an endowment fund, but it is spread over 10 years. She has also talked about an early intervention fund, but it amounts to only £22 million, and there are reports that it is being cut.
This proposal stands against cuts of hundreds of millions of pounds in our youth services. Does the Minister not recognise that any chance of preventing young people from being caught up in dangerous gangs, drug networks, exploitation or county lines requires investment in people who can work with those young people? Will she now commit herself to meeting the scale of the huge and serious problem that we are facing, and to presenting a much bigger, much more ambitious plan that can actually save lives?
Let me, if I may, correct the right hon. Lady on a couple of points. The endowment fund is spread over 10 years deliberately to ensure long-term investment in prevention and intervention, and it will be leveraged as well. It is in the process of being launched. As I said earlier, reports of cuts in the early intervention youth fund are mistaken: it remains at £22 million. As for scaling up our response, the serious violence strategy encompasses all of Whitehall, it encompasses local government, and it encompasses the various agencies and arms of the state that it would be expected to encompass.
Our plan to consult on a legal duty to take a “public health” approach to this issue goes further, dare I say, than what is being done in Scotland. If the consultation reveals that there is an appetite for it, all the arms of the state will have a legal duty to prevent this violence. So I do believe that we are scaling up our approach. I do not for a moment underestimate the scale of the task that we face, but we must ensure that all the various levers are pulled in a way that is consistent and will deliver results.
My right hon. Friend brings a frankness to the debate which, if I may say so, does not recognise shades of grey. For example, a young man who my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service recently met described his fear of walking outside his front door without a knife, and how that fear was greater than the fear of meeting a police officer. We need to be sensitive to children who behave like that, because they are very, very afraid. That is why early intervention work, knife crime prevention orders and other tools available through the strategy and the Bill will, I hope, give confidence to those young people that knives are not the answer—that there are alternatives. We cannot just give a harsh response; we also need to take a public health approach.
One of the Home Secretary’s closest colleagues said of antisocial behaviour orders that
“they were too time consuming and expensive, and they too often criminalised young people unnecessarily, acting as a conveyor belt to serious crime and prison”
These orders are preventive orders. They can be applied for before a child is convicted of carrying a knife. They can also be used after conviction. For example, the young man whose sentence was raised last week at the invitation of the Solicitor General in Croydon would have been eligible for a knife crime prevention order on serving his prison sentence. The orders are targeted at an admittedly small cohort of people but, none the less, we are worried about them, as they could cause great harm if they continue to carry knives and use them. It is about targeting prevention directly on them in a way that is not available at the moment in the eyes of the police. We are trying to prevent crime at a stage before harm is done.
My hon. Friend knows that the illegal drugs market is considered to be the major driver of serious violence. These gangs deal in drugs for nothing more than money—money is their sole motivation—and they exploit children to carry those drugs around the country. The way in which they exploit those children is terrible, which is why we are tackling the organised crime gangs behind the drugs market, and sending out a message to anyone who may have a wrap of cocaine at the weekend or dally in drugs almost as a hobby that they are part of the picture of violence and exploitation. They need to be aware of where their drugs may very well have come from.
I have a few questions for the Minister that I hope she can answer, especially given that the Home Secretary is not here. How much does she expect the roll-out of knife crime prevention orders to cost? Will there be extra community police officers? How does this fit with the Government’s public health approach? Will there be extra resources available for programmes such as Divert, which I visited at Millwall in my constituency last week and which has proved successful in reducing reoffending by over 20%? Reoffending costs the UK up to £10 billion a year, so should our focus not be on early intervention programmes such as that, rather than gimmicks that risk criminalising our young kids?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for all the work she does on this issue. She knows how important intervention is in the Government’s approach to tackling this serious violence. In terms of reoffending and preventing offending from happening in the first place, that is precisely what these orders are about; they are called prevention orders. We want to prevent children and young people from carrying knives in the first place, and that is consistent with our approach on, for example, the #knifefree campaign on social media. In terms of the costs, I do not have that figure to hand but I am sure that it will make its way across to me at some point.
The orders have been put in place at the request of the Metropolitan police. We have listened carefully to its analysis that there is a small cohort of young people that these orders may help, and we have drawn inspiration from similar prevention orders that are used in other regards. It will be for the police to decide how they use this tool as part of their operational toolkit. I would argue that this is consistent with the public health approach, because the positive and negative requirements within the order will enable the young person to receive help from other state organisations that will be able to draw them out of the criminal gangs that they might well be frequenting.
Following the excellent comments by Vernon Coaker, I should like to point out that the one group of people he did not blame were the parents. Parents have to take more responsibility because, ultimately, anyone who has a child has a responsibility to take care of that child. I say to those on my Front Bench that I have campaigned for a long time for more police officers on the beat. As more officers are taken to fight online crime, which we all understand, we are losing officers on the beat. As an ex-soldier, I know that that is where intelligence and prevention are used to great effect. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that more police officers will be put on the beat?
Whether there will be more police officers on the beat in my hon. Friend’s constabulary is a matter for his police and crime commissioner. We have quite rightly devolved decisions about local policing to commissioners who are elected locally, because they best understand the needs of their local community. Tomorrow, we are debating the new police settlement grant, in which the Government are proposing to deliver a further £970 million to the police, with the help of police and crime commissioners, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and colleagues across the House will support that extra money.
In 2015, amendments were introduced to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill by my constituency predecessor with, I think, the best of intentions. They stated that anyone caught carrying a knife twice would face a mandatory sentence. Since that time, knife crime in London has reached an all-time high, with a total of 14,987 such offences. In the past year alone, Enfield has seen a 20% increase in knife crime and we now top a league table that we never wanted to top because of our level of serious youth violence. I am not opposed to these powers, but I do not think that they are the solution. As many have said, the massive reduction in our neighbourhood policing teams and the huge cuts to local authority budgets, which have decimated our community safety units and youth services, are where the biggest part of the problem lies. The police need those partners to be properly funded. If they are not, we are not going to solve this problem.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, who has questioned me assiduously through parliamentary questions on the prevalence of county lines. In relation to the mandatory minimum sentence, 65% of offenders sentenced under the new second strike legislation receive an immediate custodial sentence. Before the legislation, the figure was 48%. It is important that, even with the mandatory minimum sentence, the courts should have the ultimate discretion, and they are obviously using it in particular cases. On her wider point about funding, Opposition Members will know that I do not like to labour this point, but we had to make some very difficult decisions in 2010 because of the economic situation that we inherited from the last Labour Government—[Interruption.] I say that as a fact, because those spending decisions are made over a long term and we had to make some very tough decisions. However, I hope that she will gain confidence and that she will help to inject a further £970 million into the police accounts when we vote on our police settlement tomorrow. We hope that, with the help of police and crime commissioners, that funding will make a real difference to policing locally.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the order. What else could she have done if the police were asking for it? It is clearly not the solution to the whole problem, but it is part of the solution. Is she concerned, as I am, that some children feel that they should carry knives for their own protection rather than using them against people? What can she and the Home Office do to promote campaigns such as #knifefree, to demonstrate that children should not carry knives for defensive reasons?
I thank my hon. Friend, who absolutely sums up the situation. This is but one part of the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is but one part of our overall strategy. We have never pretended that this deeply complex and worrying crime can be solved with one tool or one approach, which is why this is just one small part of the overall picture. He is particularly right to identify those children who carry knives not because they are members of gangs but because they feel they need them for their own protection. That is why the orders are important—because gang injunctions, which are available at the moment, apply only to children whom the police can prove to be members of gangs. The orders will also help those children who are not members of gangs but who, as he says, carry knives out of a misplaced sense of security. The fact remains, however, as a visit to the Ben Kinsella Trust or any of the charities we work with will show, that if someone carries a knife, the risks of being hurt with their own knife are considerably higher.
Knife offences in Leicestershire have risen by 63% since 2010, yet Leicestershire received no funding from the early intervention youth fund, and neither did the two other largest forces in the east midlands—namely, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Some £5 million from that fund has still not been allocated, so if the Minister really believes that early intervention is the key to tackling knife crime, may I urge her to put her money where her mouth is and give the east midlands the resources we need to tackle this appalling problem?
I note in passing that the reserves of Leicestershire police have risen by £3.8 million since 2011, so just a fraction of the £27.6 million currently in reserves may go a very long way. I hope the hon. Lady will vote with the Government tomorrow to give Leicestershire police and other police forces up to a further £970 million on top of last year’s increases, with the help of police and crime commissioners.
I welcome this initiative, which I think will make a difference, but we must go further. The Minister knows that since entering this House I have campaigned for both first aid education and weapons awareness education to be on the national curriculum. We are halfway there, with first aid entering the curriculum. What steps can she take to ensure that weapons awareness appears on our national curriculum?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has indeed campaigned so much, not just on serious violence in general, but on county lines in particular, representing as he does an important town in Essex. The Government’s work through the serious violence taskforce has included sending out lesson plans before last year’s summer holidays, because we listened to youth workers who said to us, “Before children go off on their summer holidays, please can we help teachers teach them about the risks of carrying a knife?” We also support the work of charities such as the St Giles Trust, which goes a very long way to helping children. The Department for Education plan to introduce relationship education in schools will, of course, help, because it is about ensuring that children are not exploited and know what behaviour they should expect from their friends and older mentors. That is all part of a joined-up package.
Stella Creasy is almost uncontrollably excited. I think we must hear from her.
The Minister is right when she says that people living with this in communities like Walthamstow do not want a back and forth across the Dispatch Box. They are not interested in who got sent letters or in the parliamentary process. They do not really care about hashtags.
A few short weeks ago, Jaden Moodie was murdered by knife crime in my constituency. On Saturday, another young man almost lost his life after being stabbed while in my constituency. What people in my constituency see is an absent Home Secretary. What they see is Labour Members dragging Ministers to the Dispatch Box and holding Westminster Hall debates about the issues of knife crime and youth violence. What they see is an absence of police on our streets, having lost 200 in the last couple of years alone in our borough. They see an absence of youth workers in a struggling community, and they are asking me who cares about this. They are asking whether this place cares about the lives of those young people. When they see corporation tax being cut and no funding for youth services, I fear they see the answer.
I thank the hon. Lady for introducing me to Jaden’s mother after last week’s Westminster Hall debate. Jaden’s mother showed extraordinary strength in staying in what must have been a very difficult debate for her to listen to.
In terms of resources, we would argue that it is not just about police funding, although that is important. We have rehearsed the impact of the illegal drugs market, and from the work we have discussed, the hon. Lady knows the vulnerabilities of young people, such as how the prevalence of domestic abuse can make young people vulnerable to exploitation outside the home. There is a great deal of work going on in government on the effect of adverse childhood experiences. If she feels so strongly about police funding, I hope that she will support the Government tomorrow on the police grant settlement, under which the Met receive a further £172 million on top of the £100 million-odd it received last year.
I strongly welcome the statement and my hon. Friend’s work on this issue. To use a well-known phrase, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” We know that 40 children are excluded from our schools every day, and we know that excluded children are twice as likely to carry knives and that 60% of prisoners had been excluded from school. Will she work very closely with the Department for Education on measures to stop these exclusions, which are almost becoming an epidemic in our country’s schools?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend who, with his expertise from the Select Committee on Education, hits the nail on the head when it comes to the role that exclusions and alternative provision seem to play in the lives of so many young people who are either the victims or perpetrators of serious violence. I am already working very closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, particularly through the serious violence taskforce. I look forward to Edward Timpson’s review of good examples of alternative provision, because we need to ensure that children who struggle in mainstream education do not become targets for these criminal gangs that seek to exploit them as they attend alternative provision. We are very much working on that, and I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss our work further.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the birthday present of calling me to speak this afternoon. I very much appreciate it.
A famous boxer once said, “You can run, but you can’t hide.” The fact of the matter is that there is a shortage of policemen, and the level in the west midlands is only 75% of what it should be. I have met different groups in Coventry, some from affluent areas and some from not very well-off areas, and the common denominator is the lack of police and the increases in burglaries, knife crime and drugs. Over the weekend, the police used a dispersal order in the centre of Coventry after a young man was badly stabbed. There have been a number of stabbings in Coventry. Let us have the police; let us do something about it; and let us stop shadow boxing.
I understand and hear the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about police funding. I hope that he will encourage his police and crime commissioner to spend some of the £85 million he has accrued in reserves as of March 2018 and that he will support the Government’s funding settlement tomorrow. West Midlands police stand to receive an extra £34 million through the settlement with the help of the police and crime commissioner, and presumably the commissioner will be able to use that money to good effect.
I thank Vernon Coaker on tabling this urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. As with antisocial behaviour orders, what is to stop these new knife crime prevention orders from becoming a badge of honour in the gangland culture, which makes those upon whom they are served even harder in the eyes of fellow gang members?
Across the course of human behaviour, no one can guarantee that gang members will not come to view orders in that way. However, I must point out that one of the strongest parts of the prevention orders is that the court will be able to prohibit a young person from using social media and from meeting families who have lost loved ones, including the family of Jermaine Goupall, who have done so much work to highlight the impact that social media had in the murder of their beloved son and brother. The social media measure will help to stop the ways in which these gangs can communicate and spread their evil.
Knife crime has risen by 19% in the west midlands in the past year alone. Young men are dying on the streets, some weeping as their life ebbs away. Let me ask the Minister a specific question: are the Government seriously suggesting that there is no link between the cutting of 2,000 police officers in the west midlands—21,000 nationwide—and rising knife crime?
I assume the hon. Gentleman has read the serious violence strategy. He will see in that the ways in which Home Office officials have analysed the data and set out the chief drivers of serious violence. There are correlations with other countries that have seen rises in serious violence, which is why we have looked to see what they are doing differently and whether there are any commonalities between their experiences and ours, but we have to look at this in the round. The public health approach, which has support across the House, is very much focused on prevention and early intervention, and that is what the strategy and the taskforce seek to achieve.
I warmly welcome these knife crime prevention orders, but does the Minister agree that we need to tackle head on the cultural sickness that glamorises knife violence in the first place? That must include taking a robust approach to those social media platforms that host material that is distasteful and downright irresponsible.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I note that he represents Cheltenham, which plays such an important part in our national security. We have invested £1.4 million in a social media hub with the Metropolitan police precisely to help the police identify those images and bring them down as quickly as possible. Frankly, the tech companies were not doing what they should be doing. They are getting better, although I do not think that they are there yet by any means. It is through the campaigning of not just the Government, but people such as the Jermaine Goupall family, who have suffered so terribly at the hands of gangs, who spread their evilness through social media, and through tech companies waking up to the harms that their sites can do to ordinary families across the country that I hope we will get some real action on this and get these sickening materials taken down.
Police numbers slashed and youth services and other services that support troubled families and vulnerable individuals cut to the bone will be a familiar tale to many in this House. The Government were warned that cuts have consequences. Did the Minister think the consequences of these cuts would be an increase or a decrease in knife crime and other serious violence?
I am sure the hon. Lady knows that I was not in this place in 2010, when those very difficult decisions had to be made in the light of Labour’s leaving us with “no money”—I think that was what it said on the note. I remind the hon. Lady that I am sure that families watching this do not understand this back and forth across the Dispatch Box; they want to see measures that help to protect their children and deal with the causes of serious violence. That is why these knife crime prevention orders are just one tool to help the police to intervene on children whom we think are at risk of carrying knives.
If the hon. Lady is so concerned about funding, I am sure she will support the police funding settlement tomorrow. It will see up to £970 million more fed into policing this year, on top of the nearly £500 million last year and on top of the protected spending since 2015.
A significant number of weapons seized in London are supplied by a wholesale manufacturer named Anglo Arms. It supplies blades described as “First Blood”, “Fantasy Hunting Knife” and “Predator”. I recently purchased a maritime instrument that contained a blade. When it came to me, the person who delivered it did not ask for my identification or how old I was. The Minister says that she wants the responsibility to be put on the suppliers, but once someone ticks a box to say that they, as the purchaser, are 18, the responsibility leaves the supplier and the onus falls on the deliverer. I am sure she would not expect anyone who delivers these goods to take responsibility for enforcing the law.
My hon. Friend makes the point that it is the responsibility of retailers to check the age of the people to whom they sell these knives. That is precisely why we structured the Offensive Weapons Bill as we did, making it absolutely clear to retailers that the onus is on them to conduct these checks—it cannot just be a tick-box exercise—so that they are sure that the person to whom they deliver the item is over 18. That is also why we are requiring people to go to the local post office or to the delivery depot and show ID before they can pick up the item. Again, that means there is an extra check in the system. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that ticking a box simply is not good enough.
As we speak, Live Your Life Drop The Knife is doing some excellent work in schools in the Runcorn part of my constituency. The community could do an even better job if the Government reversed the £56 million of cuts imposed on Cheshire police. When are they going to do that?
We have the vote tomorrow, and I assume the hon. Gentleman will vote in support of the police settlement grant, which will give £970 million to policing. I hope he will put his money where his mouth is and support the Government.
May I commend to the Minister a charity in my constituency called Stand Against Violence? It does some excellent work through anti-violence workshops in schools. I would really welcome a meeting with the Minister to talk about that work, because I think we could roll it out nationally. Prevention is the key, which is why I support the new orders. Parents want to know how children are getting hold of all these knives in the first place. Will the Minister assure the House that we will clamp down on retailers that sell them to children, who are under-age?
I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend, and that sounds like a great charity. Through our various funds we are supporting large and small charities. The knife-crime community fund is aimed specifically at the smallest charities working on the frontline with young people in their local area. I hope that the charity my hon. Friend mentioned has applied to that fund. We also have the early intervention youth fund for larger charities and police and crime commissioners, and of course the youth endowment fund, which is £200 million that will be leveraged up over 10 years to support innovative projects.
In respect of where children are getting their knives, buying them over the counter is but one way in which they get them. We of course acknowledge that some children have simply taken knives from their kitchens. That is why we all—mums, dads, schools—have to work together to send the message out to children that it is not normal to carry a knife and that they face much greater risk and harm simply by carrying one.
We need to think about the worth of a person’s life when it comes to funding. We need to think about putting in the resources and the money to save people’s lives, because those lives are what really matter. I attended a school council meeting this morning and was told by the children how some of them were being chased after they left school. They said that they were being manipulated, targeted and bullied by older children. This must stop. To deal with it, the schools need resources, the parents need support and the community needs resources, as well as local police on the ground doing their job. We need to consider whether a life matters enough to put in those necessary resources.
It was a pleasure to address the hon. Lady at the all-party group on knife crime last week, when we were providing a little more detail on what we are doing to tackle serious violence. No price can be put on the loss of a son or daughter, so I am always hesitant to agree that one can put a price on life; it is almost impossible to put a value on the emotional cost of the loss of such lives.
Of course, we must look at the effectiveness of the programmes that we are investing in to help prevent such crimes. The youth endowment fund is important, because, over a 10-year period, it will gather evidence on what has the best effect in preventing young people from being ensnared in serious violence. I end by saying that I am very grateful to the all-party group for all the work that it does in this regard, and I hope that it agrees with the orders, because they are about preventing young people from being ensnared in carrying knives, and all the consequences that that can have, before they receive a criminal conviction.
A total of 65% of those who are caught under the minimum mandatory sentence legislation receive terms of immediate imprisonment, but that is always at the discretion of the court. We are mindful, especially when it comes to the first offence of a young person, of not fettering the hands of the judge who is considering that case if he or she believes that forms of intensive community work may help that child out of the cycle of violence and into a much happier, safer adulthood.
Before joining the Home Department, the Home Secretary was responsible for local government, where he authored significant cuts that have translated into a decimation of youth services in this country. We are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our young people because we have no one out there trying to engage with them. These cuts will continue tomorrow in this place. If the Home Secretary and the Home Office are really serious about tackling youth crime and violent crime, why are they not banging down the door of the Treasury with their colleagues from local government and saying that youth service cuts not only need to be stopped, but must be reversed through being properly and fully funded?
I know that the hon. Gentleman will have welcomed the news announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that there would be a specific concentration in the troubled families programme on tackling knife crime. That is precisely because those two Secretaries of State wanted to have a united approach to tackling knife crime. I gently point out that although youth services are really important—of course they are—we have a wealth of amazing charities across the country, which provide services. For example, the charity Redthread sits in accident and emergency departments to try to reach children and young people at the teachable moment. A mixture of youth services and charitable work is one of many ways in which we can help to tackle this matter together
I strongly support the package of measures announced by the Minister. How receptive have the social media companies been to the Government’s plans, given that their co-operation will clearly be vital if we are to block social media accounts? What particular benefit will this measure bring?
Some gangs use drill music and certain forms of social media to incite violence. Just this week, I have heard examples whereby orders to assassinate were put out on social media. I know that everyone across the House abhors that sort of behaviour. The tech companies are under a lot of scrutiny at the moment—not just regarding serious violence, but in relation to tackling the awful scourge of child sexual exploitation and terrorism material on their channels. They have not been great in the past, but they are getting better. The Home Secretary is absolutely clear that there is much more to be done, which is why he is focusing so much attention on the tech companies when it comes to addressing serious violence and stopping child sexual exploitation.
I thank the Minister for her answer to the urgent question. She will be aware that zombie knives, Rambo blades, lethal knives, and even samurai swords and knuckledusters can be bought online and delivered to home addresses. Who will have the responsibility to enforce knife sales provisions online? Who will check the retailers—the police, local councils or the Department?
In relation to online sales, it will be a combination of the police and trading standards. Retailers are not supposed to be selling knives to under-18s; that is the law at the moment. We therefore see the measures in this announcement as merely solidifying that commitment in a way that will bring about results.
There will be £20 million a year for the very welcome youth endowment fund, but the Minister knows that far more than that has been cut from local authority budgets, while four billion quid is being made available in three months to slosh up the wall for a no-deal Brexit that the Government have the power unilaterally to stop. I welcome the Minister’s focus on prevention, but do she and the Government not accept that we are a world away from the kind of investment that would be needed to take away the market for drugs and that, unless we can take away that market for drugs in Barrow and other areas, our young people are going to continue to carry knives, be stabbed and be enslaved by these evil drug gangs?
Let me say what a pleasure it was to visit Cumbria on Thursday. I made only a fleeting visit through the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on my way to Copeland, where I discovered the great work that the Copeland hub is doing to bring together all the agencies involved in helping young people, and tackling antisocial behaviour and other types of crime.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about money for Brexit; that is a debate for other times. I very much hope that we can count on his support tomorrow for the police settlement, which will see up to £970 million more being invested in policing nationally—something that his local crime commissioner welcomes.