The idea that the answer to knife crime is a simplistic multiplication of the sentence mistakes the drivers behind knife crime, which I will come to later in my remarks.
The new orders stopping young people from accessing the internet appear reasonable at first sight, but have Ministers never heard of young people creating multiple online identities? Labour Members have grave concerns about how these orders will be used, with the possibility that they will target poor communities, and black and minority ethnic boys and girls. We have yet to be given the reassurances that care will be taken to ensure that particular communities and groups of young people will not be unfairly targeted.
I agree with the Home Secretary that the internet giants have a role to play here in the type of material they allow, but, as he will know, that is true in respect of all sorts of crimes, from online fraud to child pornography and terrorism. All of that is too easy online, and the Government must do more than have a cosy chat with the companies that allow it. So I was glad to hear him say that he is actually prepared to act. It is long overdue for the Government to use their powers against companies that fail to act on these issues.
However, the underlying problem with violent crime is that there is also a crisis in policing. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to say that the police are having the biggest increase in grant since 2010, but this Government and their predecessors since 2010 have imposed austerity policies on the police, as they have done in every other area of our public services.
The result is there for all to see: since 2010, 21,000 policemen and women have been axed by Tory-led Governments of one kind or another. That has undermined the entire capacity of the police services in this country to tackle crime of all types, including violent crime. Community policing has been decimated. Every MP in this debate, on either side of the House, will know of the negative consequences that the fall in police numbers has had in their area: the lower police presence; the decimation of community policing; tardiness in responding to 999 calls, with them sometimes not getting replied to until the next day; and the resultant fall in public confidence.
The Home Secretary talks about increasing investment, but the cuts across almost every other area of public spending have helped to fuel the rise in crime, including the rise in violent crime. Those cuts, particularly as they fall on local authorities, have exacerbated the causes of crime. They include the crisis in housing, growing inequality, and the crisis in our schools, including school exclusions. Too many pupil referral units are just academies for crime.
A one-time director general of the Prison Service who went on to head Barnardo’s, Martin Narey, said that on the day when a child is expelled from school, we might as well give them a date and time to turn up at prison. Ministers have to pay more attention to this pipeline from educational failure—school failure—to the world of crime. The other issues that help to promote criminality are the hopeless job prospects for many of our young people, the collapse of the youth service in many areas of the country and the crisis in mental healthcare.
When we ask senior police officers, as I am sure the Home Secretary has done, they tell us, “You can’t arrest your way out of this”, and of course they are right. Rounding up whole drug gangs, as the police sometimes do, often means simply opening up turf wars as neighbouring gangs move into the vacant territory. Under this Government, the police cannot even make the arrests that they should be making, and arrest and conviction rates have plummeted.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, all our constituents engage with the question of violent crime with fear and concern. It is one thing to pay lip service to the causes of crime, including violent crime, as the Home Secretary did in his remarks, but the Opposition say that the rise in violent crime since 2010 is connected to the reluctance to give the police the funding they need to fight all types of crime. The violent crime epidemic that we face is at least partly to do with austerity, the policies of this Government and the funding of the police. The Opposition are committed, when the time comes, to taking serious, co-ordinated action to start to push back on this rise in toxic and frightening violent crime.