Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 6:25 pm, 15th May 2019

No young person chooses to carry a knife out of an innate desire for violence and bloodshed. Knives are carried for protection, or to belong, or because young people feel that gang membership and criminality are their only route to success and respect.

Quite rightly, we have heard from hon. Members today about the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Vicky Foxcroft gave a chilling account of the differences in life chances—what she called the sliding doors of a young man’s life. She will, I am sure, welcome the fact that the Leader of the House of Commons, who is an expert in early years work—she has spent much of her life examining the first two years of life and development—is focusing a piece of work for the Government on precisely the first two years of life. That will have an important role to play in the future, when it comes to how we as a Government ensure that young people have the chances that we all hope and expect they will.

The hon. Lady will also be pleased to know that around £7 million has been awarded to the four police forces in Wales, which, in collaboration with Public Health Wales, will develop and test a new approach to policing that prevents and mitigates adverse childhood experiences. That is just one of the 61 commitments from the serious violence strategy, which has been completed, and I am sure we will all welcome the outcome of that vital work.

Hon. Members mentioned the impact of domestic abuse. As the shadow Minister, Louise Haigh, outlined, the Government are bringing forward a groundbreaking piece of legislation. The draft Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being scrutinised before a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is precisely because, when it comes before the House, we want it to be a good piece of legislation that meets the high expectations of everyone on both sides of the House, not just in helping survivors and children in the immediate term—I include children as survivors in that—but because we know that domestic abuse is a primary factor in making a child more susceptible to being a perpetrator or a victim of violence.

At the Prime Minister’s summit only a few weeks ago, we heard from a professor from Chicago—there is an international aspect to our work as well, which I will come on to in due course—who told us that domestic violence in the home, whether in the States, in the UK or wherever, is the biggest indicator that someone will perpetrate violence, or be a victim of violence, outside the home. Of course, that makes complete sense. If someone grows up in an environment of abuse, not only does that have an impact on the way in which their brain grows and develops, but it must have an impact on how they handle themselves with the wider public and outside. Of course, it also terrifies the children who live in such households.

The reason why I am so pleased that we have been talking about adverse childhood experiences, domestic abuse and so on is that this is as much about life chances as about the causes of criminality, drug gangs and so on. The fact is that young people growing up without life chances are just as likely to become a victim of knife crime as a perpetrator. They want a way out. They want the chance of a life without violence. We must give them a dream of a future. That was one of the strongest themes that came out of the Prime Minister’s serious violence summit, and that is why the serious violence strategy places such strong emphasis on early intervention, tackling the root causes of violent crime and preventing young people from being drawn into violence in the first place.

Members understandably want to debate this issue; I hope people realise that I positively welcome opportunities to be at the Dispatch Box to discuss this incredibly important topic, but I also believe that we should be listening to young people. That is precisely why I am inviting young people with lived experience, including former gang members, into this place so that they can tell us about their experiences, what they think we should be doing and what they think will make a difference.

I thank Members for their considered, careful and thoughtful contributions. I have to say that I consider this afternoon to have been the norm for the way in which Members conduct themselves in these debates. There is an acknowledgement that Members from all parties want serious violence to stop and want to work together to help to stop it, which is why it is always a privilege for me to respond to these debates, but I want to go further: in due course I shall issue an invitation to all Members, from all parties, to a roundtable at the beginning of next month to discuss further what is happening, and not only at the national level.

This is an incredibly complex policy area—I shall give the House a list of some of the things we are doing in due course, but there is so much more to this. As colleagues from the all-party group on knife crime will know from when I have discussed this issue with them, this is not just about debates in the House; it is about us talking about what we can do and about the best practice we can share. I want to understand what Members think is working in their local areas.