Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:49 pm on 18th February 2019.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 8:49 pm, 18th February 2019

Few aspects of crime frighten our constituents more than violent crime. The sad truth is that, under this Government, violent crime continues to spiral.

I begin by declaring a personal interest and concern. I have been an MP in the heart of the east end for 30 years. I am immensely proud of being a Hackney MP. It is an amazing community, and we lead the way in tech, fashion, fine art, music and all types of culture, but a person cannot live and work in Hackney for the number of years I have and not be aware of the harsh reality of violent crime. For my constituents and me, violent crime is not just a newspaper story but the cause of tragic incidents that haunt friends and neighbours and regularly scar our community.

Let me remind the House of the parameters of the violent crime wave we face. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics reveal that violent crime soared 19% to 1.5 million offences in the year to last September. Consider that for a moment: it equates to an average of more than 4,000 offences a day. The ONS also reports that it includes a 14% rise in homicides and an 8% rise in knife crime, which equates to 110 knife offences daily. Murder and manslaughter are at their highest levels for more than a decade.

The Home Secretary sometimes tries to hide behind the fact that the rising figures are the result of better reporting and recording. That may be a factor for some types of crime, but the ONS says:

“We have also seen increases in some types of ‘lower-volume, high-harm’ violence including offences involving knives or sharp instruments.”

To look at the issue of violent crime from another perspective, there has been a 15% increase in the number of hospital admissions in England for assaults involving a sharp instrument. That is not better police recording; it is our A&E units across the country being swamped by the effects of serious violence. In fact, a report published by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in 2014 found that violent offences had actually been substantially under-recorded by 33% nationally. We are in the middle of a crisis.

Behind the statistics are a thousand personal tragedies: the victims of violence; the people who have been robbed or attacked on the street; the innocent young men and women caught up in the crossfire in a club or on the street where they live; the vulnerable young people caught up in the drugs trade, and possibly the county lines phenomenon; the mothers who lie awake most nights until their son or daughter returns home; the parents who dread the phone call from the police or the hospital to tell them that a family member has come to harm; and the young men who will never come home again.

As the Home Secretary reminds us, almost a year ago his predecessor launched the new Home Office serious violence strategy. The strategy has many theoretical elements that the Opposition would support, but we contend whether the money made available for it actually offsets all the cuts in local government funding that have contributed to the crime wave we now see. I will return to that subject.

Ministers’ responses to violent crime have included calling for more stop-and-search, knife crime prevention orders and asking the internet companies to stop videos that glorify violence. All those ideas have their merits, but I stress to the House that random, non-evidence-based stop-and-search has never worked. Properly targeted stop-and-search can play its part in reducing crime but, in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio got rid of what they call “stop and frisk” altogether and crime went down.

When she was Home Secretary, the current Prime Minister came to the realisation that random stop-and-search does not work, because that is what the Home Office’s own research reveals. The Opposition can only speculate on how long it will take the current Home Secretary to come to that understanding.

There were also concerns about knife crime prevention orders. We have to contemplate that, on the grounds purely of suspicion, people as young as 12 will be targeted, put on a curfew and prevented from accessing the internet. There are already laws against the carrying of knives, threatening to use them and actually using them, but there is a problem with enforcing those laws. That issue relates to police numbers and person power, and I will return to that point.