Thank you for giving me time to speak in this very important debate on serious violence, Mr Speaker. As many Members have said before me, we are seeing a dramatic change in the type of violence that takes place in our country.
As a statistician, I go back to the statistics, and it is interesting to see that while the level of knife crime is increasing, just recently the level of gun crime seems to have come down. The level of homicides is also increasing, but I was comparing the statistics with those in other European countries and I noticed that our homicide rates are actually well below those of the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia—less than half of the rates in those countries—and well below countries like Germany and Italy.
However, when it comes to violence, lives are not statistics. Violence has a real impact on communities and families, and I have been very pleased to see the Government working to address these issues not only through the serious violence strategy, but by looking at how to address the changing nature of online crime. On the Science and Technology Select Committee, we recently took evidence on the impact of social media on young people’s lives. We heard chilling evidence of how serious gangs use online tools, such as YouTube, to seduce young people to get involved in their gangs, resulting in young, especially vulnerable, teenagers taking part in criminal activity. Last Saturday night, Essex police saw two people running from a vehicle when they spotted the police. The police gave chase and apprehended them. The car contained drugs and knives, and the number plates were false; the driver was 16.
When it comes to fighting crime, our police are on the frontline. Ten days ago, I attended the passing-out parade of 55 new police officers in Essex. They are in addition to the 150 extra officers who joined the force last year and are part of the 240 joining this year. They are vital to our police’s future and are proudly funded by the Essex taxpayer. It is beyond belief that the Labour party refused to vote for the funding that made those police officers available. I spoke to every one of the new recruits. Many were on the fast track to become detectives under a programme established to bring new skills into the modern force, many were women, and many had experience in the armed forces or other civil occupations.
In Essex, our police have been working hard to target knife and drug-related crime, and stop and search is a vital part of their toolkit. In the last three months of last year, Chelmsford police undertook about 500 stop and searches—compared with only 80 the year before—and it works. One third resulted in a positive outcome—finding that the person was carrying something they should not have been, such as a weapon or a drug. This visible, pro-active work on the streets has resulted in many arrests and a tougher approach to fighting crime. I am pleased that stop and search has been extended to people suspected of carrying corrosive substances or acid in public places. Many young people in my constituency have raised with me the fear of acid attack.
Fighting crime is not just about the police, however, but about partnerships. Our excellent police and crime commissioner in Essex, Roger Hirst, who has been mentioned before, asked me to mention the violence and vulnerability strategy, which we have had in place since last summer, and which brings together partners to work on prevention and intervention. It was the first framework of its nature in the country. I also thank the Home Office for the £664,000 it invested in the early intervention youth fund, which was matched by £500,000 from the county council. Such measures are positive incentives to getting partners aligned and have a positive impact.
In Essex, our children’s services have just been rated outstanding by Ofsted and No. 1 in the country. The joined-up work of the gangs intervention team was particularly praised—