Crime and Antisocial Behaviour: Slade Road, Birmingham

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 11th June 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 5:43 pm, 11th June 2019

The hon. Gentleman will know that we rightly debated the reasons for the very difficult decisions that had to be made in 2010, but, as the Prime Minister herself has said, we are now managing the economy so that we can begin to invest more in the services that are so vital in all our constituencies. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased that this year we have managed to put forward a settlement that will increase police funding by more than £1 billion in the year 2019-20—with the help of police and crime commissioners, as I am always happy to say—including through the additional £100 million serious violence fund that was recently announced in the spring statement. I will return to that in a moment. I am pleased that the police and crime commissioner has committed to increasing officer numbers by 200 over the next two years, taking full advantage of the police funding settlement that was passed just a few months ago.

The Home Office chairs a national board on antisocial behaviour, which brings together representatives from key agencies to share information and reflect best practice. I hope that that will help individual forces to ensure that they try everything they can to address the ever-changing problems of antisocial behaviour, of which the hon. Gentleman has given some examples.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned houses in multiple occupation, and he did so responsibly in that he made it clear that he was not talking about the whole private rented sector. We have listened to concerns in local communities and the housing sector, and know that a positive and vibrant local private rented sector can be a great thing for a local community. Licensing has been effective in driving improvements in the quality and management of larger houses in multiple occupation. However, there has been an increase in landlords letting out smaller HMOs, which do not require a licence, and there are problems with some of those properties. To address the issue, we have extended mandatory licensing to single and two-storey properties. We have also set national minimum room sizes for sleeping accommodation and a requirement for landlords to comply with local authority refuge schemes, which came into force in autumn last year. Under the Housing Act 2004, larger properties occupied by five or more people forming more than one household require a licence. The hon. Gentleman is organising a summit to bring together housing associations, local authorities and local agencies. I very much hope that that will reassure him that licences are being applied for and are being applied appropriately in his local area.

The hon. Gentleman rightly raised the wider issue of drug use, which of course plays a role not just in lower level antisocial behaviour but in the rise of serious violence. I will come to that in a moment. We are absolutely committed to reducing drug misuse and the harms it causes—not least because the criminals who supply drugs and exploit vulnerable people are making a profit off the back of those who are addicted to such substances. Although drug misuse is at a similar level to a decade ago, some indicators have been worsening. In part, that is driven by external factors such as an increase in global cocaine production. In response, the Home Secretary has launched an independent review of drugs, led by the eminent Professor Dame Carol Black. The review will look into the ways drugs are fuelling serious violence in the 21st century, and we look forward to its initial report in the summer. There is a strong link between drug use and offending, as 45% of all acquisitive crime is committed by regular heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine-using offenders.

I must touch on serious violence, because all too often in this House we have cause to reflect on the terrible scourge that serious violence is in our local neighbourhoods, streets and communities. We are taking forward a range of actions, with local and regional partners, to tackle serious violence. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister and I hosted a briefing to update Members on the Government’s work in this area. We intend to do that regularly because we know that this is a matter of real concern to colleagues across the House. We were pleased to be able to help colleagues to understand some of the work that we are undertaking. In terms of the national picture, the serious violence strategy puts a greater focus on steering young people away from crime while continuing to promote a strong law enforcement response.

We very much believe that the best way to tackle crime is to stop it happening in the first place. That may seem obvious, but removing the incentive for crime means offering young people sustainable life chances and a real alternative to a life of violence. That is why one of the schemes we have announced is the early intervention youth fund totalling £22 million, which is funding 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners. Of that, £2 million has been allocated to the west midlands police and crime commissioner until March next year to help West Midlands police to communicate and disseminate key messages and to target those who are most at risk of serious violence.

We have also invested in a national county lines co-ordination centre, which has seen really significant results in the few months it has been operating. For example, in most recent week of sustained activity, police officers made 586 arrests, engaged with 519 vulnerable adults, and with 364 children for safeguarding purposes, and 46 weapons were seized. We are also supporting a new national police capability to tackle gang-related activity on social media. On the early intervention theme, we have introduced a new £200 million youth endowment fund that will be locked in for 10 years, enabling projects and charities to have much longer funding options available to them.