Just before I call the Minister to address the House, let me say that the whole House should join in united expressions of good wishes to her as she celebrates her birthday. Clearly, this is a Minister who knows on her birthday how to enjoy herself.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The urgent question is the gift that keeps giving.
Before I start my reply, may I, on behalf of the Home Office, reflect on the very sad anniversary that we mark today of the events that occurred in this place two years ago and the terrible loss of PC Keith Palmer? Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones, and with the wider policing family.
We all want our children and young people to be safe on our streets. As the Home Secretary has said, there is no one single solution; we must unite and fight on all fronts to end this senseless violence. We are listening to what the police need, which is why we are introducing knife crime prevention orders on their request, in the Offensive Weapons Bill; we have increased police funding by up to £970 million next year, including council tax; and in the spring statement we announced there will be £100 million of additional funding in 2019-20 to tackle serious violence. This will strengthen police efforts to crack down on knife crime on the areas of the country where it is most rife. The funding will also be invested in violence reduction units, bringing together agencies to develop a multi-agency approach.
It is important, however, that we recognise that greater law enforcement alone will not reduce serious violence. We have already announced a multi-agency public health approach and will be consulting very soon on new statutory duty of care to ensure that all agencies play their part. We are investing more than £220 million in early intervention projects to stop the most vulnerable being sucked into a life of violence. We are also addressing the drivers of crime, including the drugs trade, with the launch of our independent drugs review. But we continue to look for new ways to tackle this epidemic.
The Prime Minister announced that she would be hosting a serious youth violence summit. The event will champion the whole community public health model, which is crucial if we are to address the root causes of youth violence, as well as disrupt it in our neighbourhoods and local communities. Given the broad array of experts and interested parties, we have been working across government in recent days to ensure the right arrangements are in place. I am pleased to confirm that the summit will take place in the week commencing
May I, too, say many happy returns to the Minister and apologise for dragging her to the Dispatch Box for the second time this week? I am sure that she and you, Mr Speaker, will be pleased that there are no more sitting days left this week for me to pester you in. May I also add my thoughts to those expressed on this anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer? Not a day goes by when I enter this place that I do not remember the ultimate sacrifice he made in defending us and defending democracy, and I am sure that the same is true for many other hon. Members.
There is no doubt the country is in the midst of a political crisis consuming this Parliament and the entire Government. But a parallel crisis is taking place on our streets, one that is leaving young people afraid to leave their houses and leaving communities paralysed in the wake of more and more young lives senselessly lost, with families destroyed forever, never being able to see their son or daughter again. There has been a 93% rise in the number of young people being stabbed since 2012-13. There is a serious danger, in these tumultuous days, of the Government losing sight of the desperate need for leadership on knife crime. This is no second-order priority; there is no excuse for ignoring it.
The Prime Minister, 16 days ago, promised this House that she would
“be holding a summit in No. 10 in the coming days to bring together Ministers, community leaders, agencies and others, and I will also be meeting the victims of these appalling crimes to listen to their stories and explore what more we can do as a whole society to tackle this problem.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 655, c. 950.]
I appreciate the pressures on the Prime Minister—we all do—but to break that promise to the victims is inexcusable. Since she made that announcement, more young lives have been lost. Nathaniel Armstrong was killed in west London. There have been stabbings in Leicester, London and Cambridge, and as we heard yesterday, a young boy was stabbed in Clitheroe in Lancashire.
Just this week, the former chief inspector of constabulary laid bare the Government’s failing response to violent crime. He said that the Home Office’s flagship response to serious violence, the serious violence strategy, is
“really, really inadequate” and
“more concerned with its narrative and less with action”.
He said that it contains “almost nothing” about where violent crimes take place, who the victims are and what deterrent measures are effective, and concluded that the “layer” of police protection that can guard against surges in knife crime has been “breached” because there too few officers to patrol neighbourhoods.
We welcome the £100 million that was announced in the spring statement, but it is regrettable that it will be focused entirely on overtime and not on additional officers. Does the Minister recognise how overstretched our police officers are, how much overtime they are already undertaking, how many rest days they have had cancelled and how much leave they are owed? Does she really believe that there is £100 million-worth of slack in the system to cover the additional overtime that is necessary this year?
The critique of the Government’s approach to violent crime by the former chief inspector of constabulary was devastating. Their fragmented approach and drift are risking lives. They must get a grip, and it must be led by the Prime Minister. It is welcome to hear that a date for the summit is now in place. Will the Minister confirm what its objectives will be, how they will be measured and how they will be reported back to the House? It is not good enough that time and again Ministers have to be dragged to the Chamber through urgent questions. They should be reporting to Members on their progress on a near-weekly basis.
It has been reported today that the Prime Minister visited the violence-reduction unit in Glasgow in 2011 and subsequently wrote in a report that a long-term evidence-based programme was needed. Will the Minister confirm that that report exists and explain why it was never acted on? Is that why last year the Government chose to whip against an amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill that called for a report on the causes of youth violence?
Will the Minister also confirm what progress is being made by the serious violence taskforce, what actions have been agreed and what outcomes have been achieved? We have had reports that Ministers from certain Departments, notably the Department of Health and Social Care, are not engaging in the taskforce, and participants have described it to me as nothing more than a talking shop. How can the Minister assure us that is not the case? When will the Government open consultation on the public health duty? In the light of the stinging criticism from the former chief inspector of constabulary, will they now review their failed serious violence strategy, which has no analysis of deterrents and failed even to consider the effect of police cuts?
I am afraid all the evidence points to a Government who simply do not have a grip on this crisis—a Government in name only. Fundamentally, this is down to complete vacuum in leadership, and I am sorry to say that, political crisis or not, that is unforgiveable.
It is interesting—is it not?—that this urgent question is essentially about process. If we focus on what the hon. Lady has just said, we can see that she applied for this urgent question because she wanted to know the date of the knife crime summit hosted by the Prime Minister. As I say, I can confirm that the summit is going to be held in the first week of April. I wish the hon. Lady had just asked me quietly in the corridors of this place. I am always happy to speak to any colleague about tackling serious violence. We did not need to have an urgent question about setting a date for a meeting.
The hon. Lady is saying that I do not like speaking to the House. Come on, let us not be silly about this. This is such an important topic and it requires collaborative work. Frankly, urgent questions and press releases may be very helpful to the hon. Lady’s profile, but that is not what the hard work of tackling serious violence is about.
The hon. Lady wants to know what the Government have been doing. Last autumn, we set up the national county lines co-ordination, which has seen more than 1,000 arrests and more than 1,300 people safeguarded. Last week, there was the latest iteration of Operation Sceptre, as part of which every police force in the country adopts knife crime investigation methods appropriate to their areas to tackle knife crime. I do not have the figures for the latest iteration, because it ends at the weekend, but the previous week of Operation Sceptre resulted in more than 9,000 knives being taken off our streets.
We are funding Redthread to offer services in accident and emergency departments in hospitals with a particular problem with knife crime. We are funding projects across the country through the £22 million early intervention youth fund and smaller projects across communities through the anti-knife crime community fund. We have a long-running social media campaign—#KnifeFree—targeting young people most vulnerable to being ensnared by criminal gangs or to being tempted to leave their homes with knives and walk up the street with them. Only last week, I met the Premier League, which is working with us to get the message out through its vast network of contacts, including through its Kicks programme.
We are working with the Department for Education to publish best practice guidance for alternative providers, because we are well aware of the problems that seem to be arising with alternative provision. We are about to consult on a new legal duty to require a multi-agency public health approach to tackling serious violence. We have launched an independent review into drugs misuse because we know that the drugs market is the major driver of serious violence. We are launching the youth endowment fund: £200 million over 10 years for intervention on young people at various stages of their lives to move them away from gangs or prevent them from being ensnared by them.
We announced in the spring statement last week a further £100 million. That came about because chief constables told the Home Secretary they needed help with surge policing. They need it. We have delivered it. I remind the House that we are about to welcome back the Offensive Weapons Bill next week from the House of Lords. I urge—I implore—the shadow Minister to support the knife crime prevention orders that the Metropolitan police have asked us for to help that small cohort of young people who can be helped through those orders. I hope that the Labour party will stand by its words at the Dispatch Box and help us to pass those orders into law so that we can help exactly the young people I think we all want to help.
I welcome the plan the Minister has set out and the vital work she is doing. In 2015, we legislated for a minimum jail sentence for repeat offenders who carry a knife, yet more than a third of offenders are still being spared jail—more than 500 last year. Why is this; what can we do to review the situation so that we can enforce the law; and does my hon. Friend agree that we need to review the area more generally to ensure clarity and honesty in sentencing and to end the soft sentencing culture?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising mandatory minimum sentences. I note that they are not universally accepted. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition voted against them—I think—when they were first introduced. The point of mandatory minimum sentences is to send out a clear public message that people will go to prison if they are twice caught carrying knives. We have also ensured—this is important—that the judiciary, which of course is independent and must be able to sentence on a case-by-case basis, has flexibility if the facts of a particular case require it. I note, however, that since mandatory minimum sentences were introduced, the number of people going to prison on the second occasion of carrying knives has increased, despite the statistic he just cited. The message must be consistent. We do not want young people leaving their homes with knives because they are more likely to be used against them than against others.
We absolutely did need this urgent question because we did not know the date of the knife crime summit. It is all well and good the Minister saying we can have informal conversations, but the House needs to know when things are happening.
On the Minister’s point about collaboration, I welcome her announcement of a public health approach, but, as we said in the Youth Violence Commission report, too often people talk about a public health approach without understanding what it is. One person who does understand is the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, so when the summit happens—in the week commencing
I will not comment on attendees at this stage. I have said that this is the ultimate in process questions, and we are in the process of arranging that summit. We work on a collaborative basis across the House. I am delighted that Members from the opposition parties join us at meetings of the serious violence taskforce. I am delighted, too, that we work collaboratively. I was delighted to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency only last week to observe the police conducting a weapons sweep. This is about collaboration. I know that my announcing a date for the meeting is of interest to Members of the House—I will happily share that information—but my point is that the work of Government continues over and above the date of the knife crime summit. A tranche of work is going on.
Understandably, we have heard much about the immediate measures that are being taken, but will this summit focus a little more on longer-term measures to help tackle this dreadful scourge?
It will—very much so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I think that everyone agrees that there is no single solution to this matter; it is about short, medium and long-term work. That is why it is so important that we are funding the youth endowment fund that we have announced and that we are giving long-term commitments to those projects that work with young people, intervening and making sure that they are steered away from both carrying knives and greater paths of criminality. With regard to interventions, we are very much looking at education, health, local government and the charitable sectors because we know that, by working together, we will stop this violent crime on our streets.
I draw the attention of the House to my life membership of the Magistrates Association, which is asking whether more force can be put into the role of youth offending teams in relation to the knife crime prevention orders that the Minister mentioned. Will she say something about how youth offending teams’ expertise and knowledge of very vulnerable young people will be right in the centre of how courts make those decisions?
I am so grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Her experience in the magistrates court will help, I hope, to give her comfort as to how these orders are drafted. These are civil orders, deliberately so, because we do not want to criminalise these young people. Young people are being intervened on when there is intelligence or information from anyone—it could be anyone in the community—who is worried that they are involved in these gangs. This is about putting in place a structure around these children to help steer them away from criminality. Youth offending teams will, of course, be absolutely critical to that, and we will be working through it when it comes to the statutory guidance on how these orders should be used.
The official figures show that there has been a collapse in the number of stop and searches in recent years. It cannot be a coincidence that that has coincided with a huge surge in knife crimes and people being killed through knife crimes. Will the Minister give me some assurance that we will go back to trusting police officers to get on and do their job in the way that they know best without them fearing some kind of politically correct witch-hunt if they decide to stop and search someone they think is worth stopping and searching? We must trust police officers to do the job to keep us safe, because they know better than anybody in this House what needs to be done.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Stop and search is a vital tool in the police’s armoury in keeping people safe on our streets. We want to give confidence to our officers that they have this power and that they can use it in accordance with the law. Interestingly, the rate of arrests arising out of stop and searches has increased in recent years with this intelligence-focused approach, but it remains a vital tool and the police have our absolute confidence should they choose to use it within the law.
In the past debate about antisocial behaviour, many of us found that acceptable behaviour contracts were far more effective than antisocial behaviour orders because they worked by preventing problems in the first place and by getting people to work side by side with the young people. I urge the Minister to look at that evidence from the past and see whether acceptable behaviour contracts could be a way to design the orders that she is talking about, because they would be far more effective with the public health approach.
I will happily look at that suggestion. Only last week, the Minister for Policing and I held a roundtable with police and crime commissioners from across the country. It was a really useful for cross-party PCCs to share their thoughts and ideas about what is working in their local areas, so I will certainly follow up with them to see whether they are doing something similar.
The west midlands is gripped by a gun and knife crime epidemic, while the police and crime commissioner sits on his reserves and closes police stations such as my own in Solihull. Is not it time that, in this summit, we looked at the structure of West Midlands police, and rolled up the powers of the police and crime commissioner with those of the regional Mayor, better to tackle knife crime?
This is a really interesting idea. There has been success in rolling up these powers—for example, in the cases of the Mayor of Greater Manchester and of course the Mayor of London—so there is a lot of evidence that it can work. My hon. Friend is right that decisions about reserves are made by police and crime commissioners. How they spend their money is their decision, and they are accountable to the public. I am delighted that police and crime commissioners are committed to recruiting more officers with the increased funding that they will receive this year. If that is what the public want, that is what police and crime commissioners should deliver.
Will the Minister confirm that police overtime over the last five years is already at £1.7 billion, and that only £100 million is actually allocated for overtime and only to seven forces? Will she also confirm who will chair the summit when it occurs, how long it will last and whether she will publish the outcomes?
We are working through the details of how the £100 million is to be spent and sent out. Last week, we listened to police and crime commissioners, who put forward some interesting suggestions, and it would only be right for us to consider those suggestions carefully. The structure of the allocations is also being worked through. I have ideas as to how we will communicate information on the summit to the House. I am clear that this is an important topic for the House to hear about, and we will be letting the House know through a variety of channels.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for an urgent question for, I think, the third time this week. Devon and Cornwall police have been working on a knife amnesty, which has had some success, although we are still awaiting the final figures. Will she reassure me that the Government will press ahead in working with local forces regarding the powers in the Offensive Weapons Bill? Once those powers are on the statute book, the Minister will have to work closely with police and crime commissioners and chief constables to ensure that they are used to their best effect.
This is another example of the use of the PCCs meeting last week. Alison Hernandez, the police and crime commissioner covering my hon. Friend’s constituency, explained to us that she was using what I think she called parent care contracts to include parents in the conversation about preventing knife crime in the local community. Such ideas are really interesting, and other police and crime commissioners were interested to hear about them. We will make a real difference in communities across the country through that collaborative approach.
On the Saturday before last—in one afternoon alone—there were four stabbings in my borough, one of which arose from a fight between 20 to 30 young people, some of whom were carrying swords. When the Minister is held accountable in this House for the knife crime summit, it is because of the sense of urgency that many of us feel. Will she confirm that there will be a discussion about police capacity at the summit, not least in view of the fact that my borough has lost a third of its police since 2011 and is set to lose more? On the prevention and early intervention strategy, today’s figures also show that there has been a loss of 45% of youth club facilities in London since the 2011 riots alone.
The hon. Lady will know that decisions about how her borough is policed lie at the feet of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Mayor of London, because the Mayor of London is the police and crime commissioner for London, so I hope that she has raised this matter with him.
The hon. Lady mentioned urgency. The knife crime summit is really important, but it is not the only thing happening in Government to tackle knife crime and serious violence. The National County Lines Coordination Centre has been set up, we are spending £220 million on early intervention, there are local projects for the anti-knife-crime community funds and there is the #knifefree social media campaign. If colleagues want to work with us to send the message out through their constituencies that carrying a knife is not usual, I urge them to use that hashtag to refer people following them on social media—young people, parents, those who work with young people—to the websites that can get help for people they are worried about. We can all take responsibility for such measures as leaders in our local communities to help tackle knife crime.
The demographics of victims and perpetrators will be examined not just at the knife crime summit; we think about them carefully and try to reflect them in our policies. I urge a note of caution: we know that, sadly, girls are involved in gangs, and the youth workers and former gang members I meet have emphasised to me that girls are beginning to be ensnared in these gangs as well. The way in which some of those girls are treated by those gangs is utterly horrific—beyond most people’s imagination. We need to support those girls who are ensnared in gangs as well.
We are on the verge of a national epidemic, including in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, which have never been touched at this level before. Will the Minister advise us on how people such as the wonderful Claire Gaygen at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, who is co-ordinating our activity, can be assisted to get best practice from other parts of the country?
I am delighted to hear about the activity in the hon. Lady’s constituency. She is absolutely right: what is so worrying about the growth of county lines is that criminal gangs that have exploited the drugs markets in large urban centres are now filtering out to rural and coastal areas.
Part of the reason for setting up the National County Lines Coordination Centre is to help law enforcement and those who safeguard to co-ordinate better and share best practice. We are also hosting regional events across the country, bringing all the agencies together to discuss exactly how to get best practice. We have just had one in Birmingham, which is probably the nearest to the hon. Lady’s area, but I will happily write to her about other events in the future.
The Minister read out a list of proposals to combat knife crime, but when will these help the situation in Merseyside? The recent funding the Government have announced for Merseyside police is a one-off, and very small compared with the funding that has been lost. Cuts in local services, because of savage reductions to Liverpool City Council, continue remorselessly.
What the hon. Lady mentioned are not proposals, but things we are doing. I was delighted to hear from the chief constable of Merseyside and also its police and crime commissioner in the last two weeks. The chief constable was urging the Home Secretary and others to assist with surge policing, and I am delighted that in the spring statement we secured that extra funding for Merseyside.
Last week, the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside gave her views on what can help. The reason we are focusing on the seven metropolitan forces is that they account for a great deal of the knife crime that we are seeing at the moment. If we can share their best practice with other forces that are seeing the county lines phenomenon, that will, of course, help those forces get up to speed quickly too.
In my advice surgery last Friday, I met Mr Glenford Spence, whose son had been savagely knifed to death in a youth club two weeks previously. When I asked the Minister in the Chamber what action the Government were taking to prevent that kind of tragedy, she placed particular emphasis on the troubled families programme; what she did not say is that all funding for that programme ends in March next year and that the service heads are implementing proposals to wind down and close those services.
Given the Minister’s recognition of the important part that the programme plays in preventing a further escalation of knife crime, will she confirm to the House now that funding for the troubled families programme will continue after next March?
I cannot, in that that is not my Department, so it would not be right for me to make financial commitments at the Dispatch Box. I have discussed this with the Secretary of State in the last 48 hours, and we are very clear about the value that that sort of intervention can and does have for families who need a bit of extra support. If I may, I will ask the hon. Gentleman to contact the Secretary of State for a precise answer to his question about the future of that programme.
Two weeks ago, my constituent Ayub Hassan, 17, was knifed to death in West Kensington, and last week Nathaniel Armstrong, 29, was stabbed to death in Fulham. I have known Ayub’s mum, Siraad, for some years. She is a wonderful woman who regarded her son as her best friend, as well as one of her three children. When I visited her last Friday, one of the things I promised her was that we would try to ensure that there was a full inquiry into what happened, and that the same thing would not happen to other young people like Ayub.
Contrary to what the Minister is implying about the Opposition, I do not seek to pass blame. I think we are all trying to work to solve this terrible problem. There is the expertise out there to do that, but in return, the Government have to accept that there is a lack of resources—£1 billion has gone from the Met police over a number of years, and neither the Mayor nor anybody else can cope with this on their own. When we have the knife summit, can it not be a talking shop? Can it propose real resources that will give hope to these communities?
I am very sorry to hear of the events that the hon. Gentleman has witnessed in his constituency in recent weeks. On resources, we are putting up to £970 million extra into policing next year, and the £100 million is in addition to that, to help those areas that are seeing the highest surges in violent crime. The youth endowment fund is important because it will run over 10 years. We want to lock that money in for the next decade, so that it is a funding source for organisations that can make a real difference in young people’s lives.
I politely say to the Minister that she has referred to “county lines” an awful lot during this exchange, but that makes this epidemic sound a bit like some sort of cartographic exercise, and it really is not. We should be calling it “child criminal exploitation”, because that is what it is, in the same way that we stopped talking about “child prostitution” and started talking about “child sexual exploitation”. These young people are the victims, and calling it out is the first step.
In response to the question from my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth, the Minister talked about coastal and rural communities. We are neither of those. We are a small city that has never had to deal with this, and there are small towns up and down the length of Staffordshire that have never had to grapple with this issue. Our police force is doing the best it can with reduced resources, but our police and crime commissioner is closing police stations, which does not help. When the Minister writes to my hon. Friend, can she talk about what specific help will go to those small communities that are not the Manchesters or Birminghams, as well as how the families in those communities will be involved? Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are the ones who see these young people day in, day out and will spot changes in their personalities. If we can identify these young people early on, we can prevent this from becoming the problem that it is in other places.
I accept the point about the phrase “county lines”, which has been used over a couple of years. It does not do justice to the horrors of the exploitation of the children involved in it, but it is the terminology used, and it seems to have gained credence among the police, law enforcement and the charitable sector. For the time being, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will use it as a short-hand, but I always acknowledge that this is child exploitation.
The role of parents is something I am very concerned about, having met far too many mums, dads and grandparents who have lost loved ones. There is much more that I want to do to help parents and family members spot the signs of a child who may be beginning to take the wrong path, and I am trying to bring to fruition various ideas at the moment. I hope I will be in a position to say a bit more, perhaps in a few weeks’ time. I am very conscious of that point, and I will update him when I am able to.
May I say gently to the Minister that, although I understand she is frustrated about having to come to the Dispatch Box on her birthday, it looks terrible—to those of us who are working day in, day out with families who have lost people, in communities where people are utterly terrified to let their children out of the front door, and think this should be the national priority and discussed every single day in this place—to hear her attack this as a question about process? It is not; it is about the detail.
The Minister knows—I have been to see her several times—about my concern about the connection between school exclusions and children who are at risk of violence or who are involved in violence. We know that the Timpson review is massively overdue, so this is not about the Timpson review. Will she confirm that this summit will look at the precise link between exclusions and knife violence, and will it involve the Department for Education? It is just not enough to say to those families, “Look at all these programmes”. They need to see concrete actions on issues such as the kids who get forgotten and then get caught up in violence. They deserve our attention.
I get on very well with the hon. Lady, and I hope she knows that I am not in any way dissatisfied with being at the Dispatch Box on my birthday or on any other day. My frustration, such as it is, is that this is essentially a question about a date, and had Louise Haigh asked me quietly, I would have happily provided her with the date. However, this gives me the opportunity to explain the work that the Government are doing to tackle serious violence.
Stella Creasy is right. I think alternative provision is key to this. We have our next serious violence taskforce meeting on Tuesday, and we will look at this issue in detail. I met the Children’s Commissioner yesterday to talk about her recent report and the role of education in this problem, but also about providing life chances—the hon. Lady and I have talked about them—for the young people we are steering away from carrying a knife and from crime. Those life chances are critical to this, and will of course be an important part of the summit.
The disappointment about the Minister’s objection to the urgent question is not about us in here, but about the impact it will have on the families and on victims who have survived. Honestly, these are great opportunities for her to take examples and hear feedback from around the country on the sort of things that will make a difference in dealing with this epidemic.
I know the Minister said she cannot tell us exactly who will attend the summit, but will she take on board what my hon. Friend Stella Creasy said about education, as well as the points about youth services, probation, children’s social care and all the agencies that have an influence in reducing the number of knives for one reason or another? In her answer to me now, will she recognise that it is so much harder for those agencies to do their jobs, along with the police, when they have had such fundamental cuts to their budgets since 2010?
The hon. Gentleman is right. For the sake of the families, the victims and the young people who tell me that they are worried about walking around without a knife, it is important that this summit is done properly, and that takes a bit of time to arrange. We have a huge array of experts in this field, and getting everybody into one place on the same day takes a bit of organisation, but that is what will happen. It will be a summit that looks at all areas related to the causes of knife crime, the consequences of serious violence, and the efforts we can make to intervene on young people and those who may be on a wayward path.
The hon. Gentleman should not think for a moment that the knife crime summit is the only thing that is happening in Government; it absolutely is not. A whole roster of work is happening nationally to tackle serious violence. Some of it we have seen having an immediate impact, such as Operation Sceptre last week, and some of it will be longer term, as we know from the Glasgow model. Our efforts to improve alternative provision in education, and to intervene on children and their families if they need a bit of help, will all take a bit longer. However, we are very clear that we have an immediate, a medium-term and a longer term approach to tackling serious violence.
The causes of this appalling rise in knife crime—particularly among young people—are complex, as are the solutions, so may I draw the Minister’s attention to three facts? Since 2010, 760 youth centres have closed, 4,500 youth worker jobs have gone, and annual budgets for local authority youth services have been cut by more than £700 million. Does she agree that Government cuts have created the conditions in which crime can thrive, and that denying young people somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to speak to, means that they are not getting the support they need to avoid finding themselves in those situations? Is it time for proper investment in our youth services, and for a statutorily funded youth service?
I was delighted to visit Morecambe, which is next door to the hon. Lady’s constituency, and to speak with its wonderful local MP, my hon. Friend David Morris, about issues pertaining to crime and the causes of crime in his constituency. I was also delighted to meet the Chief Constable for Lancashire Constabulary, and to hold a conversation about the range of challenges faced by Lancashire—I should perhaps declare an interest, as that is the county in which I grew up and that I adore.
When I visited Blackpool I saw some of the real issues that are affecting our coastal towns, such as transient communities and the impact of the drugs market. We must be clear that those behind this criminality are the gang leaders and criminals who exploit children for profit. That is why, as well as the serious violence strategy, we also have the serious organised crime strategy. We must help young people to build resilience and intervene on them, but we must also get the criminals at the very top of those gangs.
Recently in Manchester, 17-year-old Yousef Makki was stabbed to death by another teenager. Last week, the response time of Greater Manchester police rose from six minutes to 12 minutes, and GMP has seen cuts involving more than 2,000 police officers. The solutions to combating knife crime are complex, but the fact remains that the police are struggling and need more resources than those the Government have provided. Will the Government provide the resources they need?
We are providing up to £970 million next year in the policing settlement. We provided a further £500 million last year, and we are providing an extra £100 million through the spring statement to give the police the extra resources they need. I ask Opposition Members to do the right thing next week and support the Government’s efforts to introduce knife crime prevention orders. Those have been asked for by the police—the police want them. We have considered them carefully and introduced the legislation as quickly as we can. We just need the House to pass it.
The Minister rightly speaks about criminal child exploitation and tackling gang leaders—that point was made by my hon. Friend Gareth Snell. As my hon. Friend Stella Creasy pointed out, last year 9,500 children were off-rolled from our schools, and the Department for Education has no earthly idea where they are. That has created a lost generation that can be exploited by the very people the Minister wants to tackle. That is combined with 20,000 fewer police officers, and the fact that half of youth services and clubs have gone—that point was made by my hon. Friend Cat Smith. Will those causal facts be on the agenda for this summit?
As I have said, education plays a vital role in our efforts to tackle serious violence, and I know that colleagues across the House are concerned about off-rolling. There are good examples of providers of alternative provision across the country, and my challenge to those in the education sector is that if those good examples and that best practice exists, we should share it and let every child have the same quality of standards from which some children seem to benefit.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On
Strictly speaking, Government make a judgment about whether they can provide an answer. It is not a matter of order on which the Chair can adjudicate. That said, if I understood the hon. Gentleman’s point of order and he has previously been given an indication in a Committee sitting of average waiting times, it seems not unreasonable that he should then put down a question seeking to ascertain the facts on that matter. Therefore, my advice to him is really twofold. First, at the risk of irritating the House, I would repeat my general advice in matters of this kind: persist, man. Persist. Persist. Keep asking the question. The hon. Gentleman might wish to put it in a different way—or possibly even to a different Department, although I doubt it—and to try to persuade the Minister, perhaps privately, of the reasonableness of the inquiry. Beyond that, it is open to the hon. Gentleman to seek to use freedom of information legislation to secure the response that hitherto has been denied to him. I hope that he will profit from my counsels and that it will not be necessary for him to raise the matter again, but if it is, I am sure that he will.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice. This morning my Manchester staff had to be escorted into their office by a representative of Greater Manchester police. In the last few days, they have had to meet in a local coffee shop in Wythenshawe town centre to be escorted to the office by the town centre security guards. Is this not a time to make it clear that violence and threats to MPs and their staff are completely unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy?
It certainly is a time to make that clear, and I imagine that the proposition that the hon. Gentleman has just put to me in the Chair would be endorsed by every single Member of this House. We should try to remember, in this matter as in others, the precepts of “Erskine May”. Moderation and good humour in the use of parliamentary language conduce to the best possible debate.
Parliamentary democracy is of the essence, and even though our system here in this country is not always enormously admired by those who write about it, the reality, as I know from travelling around the world and as other colleagues can testify, is that it is enormously admired by people in countries across the globe. The British parliamentary system is constantly imitated—great attempts are made to emulate the best practice that we apply—and it has been sustained for the very good reason that, as Churchill put it in a slightly different context, democracy might be a lousy form of government, except for all the others. It is superior to any of the alternatives, and at the heart of it is the notion that the Member of Parliament is a representative, sent here to do his or her duty, including to exercise judgment as to what to say and how to vote.
The notion that anyone should be threatened with violence because of his or her beliefs or parliamentary conduct is anathema. It cannot stand, because if such an attitude were to stand, that would sound the death knell for democracy, so every effort must be made, and it is made by those who look after us on the estate, and in some cases provide us with assistance—in security terms—in our constituencies. We must all be prudent in the way that we go about our business, but democracy will persist, and it should persist, because it is the best.