Knife and Sword Ban

– in the House of Commons at 12:36 pm on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I beg to move,

That this House
condemns the Government for overseeing a 77 per cent increase in knife crime since 2015; recognises the devastating impact that knife crime has on victims, their families and the wider community;
acknowledges that the Government recently announced measures to ban zombie knives and machetes;
believes, nonetheless, that this legislation does not go nearly far enough, meaning that a number of dangerous types of knives and swords will remain legal and available on UK streets;
therefore calls on the Government to address the shortcomings of the ban by extending it to cover ninja swords and consulting on a further extension;
and further calls for the Government to establish an end-to-end review of online knife sales and introduce criminal liability for senior management of websites which indirectly sell illegal knives online.

Ronan Kanda was 16. He went to get a PlayStation controller from his friend, and was yards away from home when he was murdered. He was murdered by two teenagers, who used a ninja sword. They had obtained that sword by buying it online, using someone else’s ID to collect it. They stabbed him in a case of mistaken identity. This is a heartbreaking, tragic story of a young life lost, with a family trapped in the most extraordinary grief, and we are here today because it is time that Parliament acts to tackle knife crime head-on.

Seventy seven per cent. That is how much knife crime has risen since 2015, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office in recent weeks. That equates to a staggering 48,716 violent and sexual offences committed involving a knife or sharp instrument in the past year. There is a huge human cost to this, with 261 lives lost in the year up to March 2022—the last complete data available to us—and roughly four in 10 murders involving a knife or sharp instrument. For those carrying a knife, almost half of cases led to no further action, with current rules allowing those carrying knives to escape further sanction by writing an apology letter.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he is describing a situation that is virtually identical to the one we faced in Scotland 15-plus years ago. The initiative taken by the then Strathclyde police force and the Scottish Government since has been a very different approach to tackling it—that of treating it as a public health and social problem, with a violence reduction unit. There is nothing in the hon. Gentleman’s motion that I would disagree with, but it is like playing whack-a-mole with the different sorts of knives available. Does not he agree that this issue requires a much more fundamental and radical approach?

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and that will be part of my case, so I am sure I will be able to meet that test.

It feels like most days we wake up to another tragic story of death and families torn apart. The most basic search online tells us it is all over the country—Bristol, Feltham, Warrington, Haverhill. My own community of Nottingham was rocked last summer when my constituent Ian Coates and University of Nottingham students Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar were killed with a knife, and I stand with their families in their attempts establish the facts and failings in this dreadful case.

Things are getting worse, not better, and that means more young lives lost, more children drawn into crime and more exploited by criminals. We know this has a huge impact on our society: hundreds of families crippled by grief for murdered loved ones; life chances of young people squandered; potential left unfulfilled; and the criminals getting away with it and going on to cause further misery. Knife crime destroys lives, devastates families and creates fear in our communities. That is why this debate matters. We must invest in our young people so that they are supported to make the right decisions in life, and we must come down hard on those involved in knife crime—real support, real consequences.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Under the Conservative Government and a Conservative police and crime commissioner, Cleveland has the highest crime rate in the UK, and only this weekend we saw another serious stabbing a mile down the road from me in Norton village. We hear the Government try to talk the talk but the bottom line has to be that they are not taking the necessary actions. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I share my hon. Friend’s view. He talks of a case in his community, and we are waking up seemingly so many days in every week with another case in another area in villages, towns and cities. The public are rightly looking for action from us, and that is what I will be setting out in my explanation of this motion.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I am glad the shadow Minister talked about “us”. I understand that this is an Opposition day debate and the Government will be criticised, but is it not the case that what the public—on the left and the right and the apolitical—are looking for is cross-party consensus where it can be found in this place to deal with what is a very important issue, and that party politics should be set aside for greater cross-party working? Does he also agree that stop and search has a part to play? On machetes and zombie knives, banning them is not the only solution, although it is a good place to start, but the most radical step is to work together.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

We have been clear throughout that when the Government bring forward proposals designed to take this issue on we will give them our support. That is true of the forthcoming legislation on zombie knives, although we have concerns about the scope, but there has to be action, and where there is not action it is our role to point that out. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that in the tone and spirit of my contribution: we serve no one if we do not do that, but of course we will build consensus wherever we can, and I hope the whole House can get behind our motion today.

It would be a key mission of a future Labour Government to make the streets safe and halve knife crime within 10 years. Recently, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and the Leader of the Opposition unveiled our plans to deliver this with a crackdown on knife crime today and a radical youth prevention programme, and this motion starts to build that out. We are clear: no more loopholes, no more caveats, no more false promises—we need a total crackdown on the availability of serious weapons on Britain’s streets.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on this often heartbreaking topic. My constituent Julie’s daughter Poppy Devey Waterhouse was killed in her home with a knife already in her kitchen. Currently, offenders convicted of murder who use a weapon already available at the crime scene have a starting sentence 10 years lower than those who brought a weapon with them. Domestic violence murderers can bank on leniency. Does the hon. Member agree that women killed by knives already in the home need to see equal justice?

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

The hon. Member raises an important point that needs parliamentary scrutiny. We have an anxiety, as hon. Friends have mentioned many times, that crimes happening in domestic spaces are in some way deemed less significant and that can be reflected in sentencing. This bears our parliamentary scrutiny.

To turn to the motion, we want to see restrictions on the sale of the most serious weapons, those with no functional purpose. Since 2015 the Government have released 16 different press releases about zombie knives but action has been slow to follow. We are pleased that two weeks ago we saw the statutory instrument aimed at taking some of the knives and machetes off the streets, and, as I have said, we will support the Government in that venture, but I hope to hear from the Minister an explanation of why that is a ban not for now or a few weeks’ time, but for September, eight months away. This is an immediate problem that needs more urgency; where is that urgency and leadership? He can be assured of our support, so let’s get on with it.

We also believe, as set out in the motion, that we should go further. We would broaden the ban to include a wider range of weapons and to toughen existing rules on serration and length. That would mean finally banning blades such as ninja swords, the weapon that killed Ronan Kanda. His incredible family are campaigning for this, ably supported by their Member for Parliament, my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden, and they are right: any ban on offensive weapons that would not have taken off the street the blade that killed their son is insufficient.

There is also an unintended consequence of leaving out ninja swords. Those who sell these weapons are indifferent to their customers and their customers’ intentions. If colleagues think I am overstating my case, they should just put into a search engine “zombie knives” or “ninja swords” and look at how they are marketed. If knives and machetes are prohibited, these firms will just move on to pushing ninja swords at customers. This is a hole in the Government’s plan and it must be plugged.

We can go further still here. Many banned knives continue to be sold where young people can buy them and have them delivered to their home within a few days. We would introduce, and believe the Government should introduce, criminal sanctions on the tech executives who allow knife sales on their online marketplaces—not just Ofcom sanctions as the Government have opted for, but proper criminal sanctions to send a very serious message to these leaders that if their platforms are being used, and they are not actively making sure they are not being used, for the sale of dangerous weapons, there are going to be very serious consequences, not ones that can be priced in as the cost of doing business. To add to that, we must ensure we have the right tools in law to deal with the digital age.

To drive this work forward, our motion calls for a rapid review of online knife sales from the point of purchase through to delivery, in particular looking at strengthening ID and age checks conducted by Royal Mail and Border Force for UK-bound parcels. Currently, all too often serious weapons can be purchased online with loose ID and age checks, with little oversight, and with no background checks. Every time oversight is loosened and checks are not carried out properly, these weapons potentially fall into the wrong hands and are used to kill. We must ensure we have the most robust system possible to prevent this. To those who carry these weapons, we need to send the unmistakable message that the law will come down hard on them—not apology letters, not weak warnings, but proper and serious interventions.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

My hon. Friend is making a great speech. Will he support two parents in my constituency, Leanne and Mandy, whose children were killed by knife crime? They are calling for much stronger sentences and greater deterrence for knife crime; does he agree with me and their families?

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am going to set out a few of them shortly, but I would be very interested in meeting Leanne and Mandy, if my hon. Friend could help facilitate that, to hear what more they might want to see.

Our commitment is for every offender to be referred to a youth offending team and have a mandatory bespoke action plan to prevent reoffending. As part of that we need tougher new guidance so that serious penalties are always considered where appropriate, such as curfews, tagging and behavioural contracts. Too many of these are being overlooked and insufficient sanctions such as a letter of apology being used in their stead. That is wrong; we need stronger guidance from the centre on this. But speaking to the point made by Mr Carmichael, all of this on its own will not resolve and remove the issue of knife crime in our communities.

We must invest in young people, because prevention is better than cure. We need a total approach—not an either/or, but both. That is particularly germane to this debate, because we know that those who seek to profit from the sale of dangerous weapons shapeshift and adapt around legislation—that is one of the challenges. So we must tackle demand and tackle issues that mean that young people think they need to carry harmful weapons.

Building on the success of Sure Start—the last truly transformative prevention programme for young children—we would create the Young Futures programme to help prevent violent crime. It would be a targeted programme in every area to identify the young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime and of buying these products that we are seeking to restrict. We would build around them a package of support that responds to the challenges they face.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Investment and Small Business)

As well as providing support to young people—I welcome the £100 million of existing funding to divert and support young people through preventive work—does my hon. Friend agree that it is crucial to provide positive role models through mentoring to every young person in the country? I have worked on that with the charity UpRising, which I have chaired for many years. Does he also agree that we should look at institutions such as the Royal London Hospital and its trauma unit, which has worked on the frontline dealing with the results of knife crime, whether in hospitals or out with paramedics? We can draw on a great deal of knowledge to tackle this epidemic.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because she has done incredible work that is admired by me and the shadow Home Secretary. A lot of what I am about to talk about is based on that experience, because that work has been very good.

The Young Futures programme will bring together services locally to better co-ordinate the delivery of preventive, evidence-based interventions around a young person that help to tackle mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and issues that people might get into with their friends and family. We will then bring that together in a national network that shares evidence, delivers support for teenagers at risk of being drawn into crime across boundaries and, where appropriate, could deliver universal youth provision. Then, crucially—this speaks to the point just made by my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali—we would build out from that, with youth workers in accident and emergency units and in custody centres, and with mentors in pupil referral units, to target young people who are starting to be drawn to violence.

Those are change moments, particularly in healthcare and custody settings. We know it might be the moment when an individual who is sliding into serious violence, whether as a perpetrator or a victim, may need that intervention. It might be the moment where we can get that change in behaviour that will in many cases save their lives. That is why it is so crucial that we have this degree of investment into young people, because otherwise such measures will not work.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Member makes good point. As Mr Carmichael pointed out, a lot of this work has been going on in Scotland. Has the hon. Member met Medics Against Violence, whose “Navigator” project does exactly what he is talking about within a hospital setting? It intervenes through people with lived experience to try to get young people into that frame of mind where they might want to exit that lifestyle and that violence they have got themselves into.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

There is clearly much that we can learn from the Scottish approach. I have not had the opportunity to meet Medics Against Violence, but on the hon. Member’s recommendation I will seek to do that. We strongly support the idea of support and mentors in A&E and custody settings. The evidence shows that would be highly effective.

We need to end the exploitation of children and young people by criminal gangs, and that includes county lines. We need a new criminal offence of child exploitation and a new serious organised crime strategy to go after those cowards who make millions off the back of exploiting young people. To bring the change to deliver that, we need a new, proper cross-Government coalition to end knife crime, bringing together those who have key roles in tackling it and in keeping young people safe, whether they are Ministers, community leaders, faith leaders, the families of victims, sporting bodies, tech companies or young people themselves. Everybody should be brought into this fight. That is the sort of Government that we would seek to lead, if given the opportunity.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

The hon. Member is making a passionate speech about bringing various people from across Government and communities together to tackle knife crime. When the shadow Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition held a summit in east London last year on knife crime, the Mayor of London, who is the police and crime commissioner, was nowhere to be seen. Can the hon. Member ask the shadow Home Secretary why?

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I have to say I am a little saddened by that intervention. This is a deeply serious issue about which the public expect to hear answers. I do not think the public would consider the policing of the diary of the Mayor, the hon. Gentleman or anybody else to be part of a substantive solution. I wrote my note for his intervention ahead of time, because I know that 86 days before a mayoral election, the Tories are much more interested in trying to fight that election than tackling the problem. If he really believes that is the approach—I do not, but it is for him to use his time as he chooses—let us put that to the people of London.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

On the point about working together, perhaps outside this House, rather than inside it, may I say I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman—yes, I agree with His Majesty’s Opposition—on working together more cohesively with local authorities, public bodies, health services and, in particular, around pupil referral units and exclusions? There are so many disparities throughout the country, and it makes sense to bring everybody together to look at best practice.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

That is a hugely important intervention from the right hon. Gentleman. I have real anxieties about pupil referral units, exclusions and internal exclusions. It was a problem prior to the pandemic, but what we are seeing with school absence only compounds that. There is a risk of there being a generation of young people who are vulnerable to these types of behaviour, unless we take the field and fight for their hearts and minds. The right hon. Gentleman and I are in the same position on that.

I will draw my remarks to a close, because lots of colleagues have lots to say. The motion before us in the name of the Leader of the Opposition is tightly drafted and calls for three of the most pressing changes that we believe are needed to kick-start this process: the ban on ninja swords, with a consultation on further extensions to the proposed ban on zombie knives; an end-to-end review of online knife sales; and criminal liability for senior executives of those websites who do not adequately prevent them from selling knives. We believe those are reasonable changes that the whole House can get behind, and I hope the Government will take them seriously. They should support this motion today. The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire and I have been working on the Criminal Justice Bill Committee for many weeks, and we will be tabling changes to enact those measures, and the Government should accept them. If they take up our ideas before the Bill’s next stages, we will support them, but we will not ignore the large-scale damage that knife crime is doing across the country. The public are rightly looking to us for leadership and action, and we stand ready to give them that.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration) 1:07, 6 February 2024

I am grateful to the Opposition for giving me the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government and to speak about our record on fighting crime, including our work to get weapons off the streets and stop them falling into the wrong hands, which is having a real impact.

As my right hon. Friend Mark Pritchard said, we should remember what this debate is all about. He is absolutely right that it is not about party politics, point scoring, cheap jibes or sound bites, because the truth is that serious violence and knife crime leave the same trail of misery and devastation in their wake, regardless of the constituency we represent. The tragic reality is that many of us—in fact, far too many—on both sides of this House will have had the humbling experience of sitting with the loved ones of victims of crime whose lives have been cut short in the most tragic ways. There is little one can say in those circumstances that will ease the pain of losing a son, daughter, brother or sister. It is incumbent upon us all—by “us”, I mean the Government and the police, but also each and every one of us here who contributes to public life—to strain every sinew to stop others suffering as they have.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I have also been in the situation in the past month of having to write to the mother of a 21-year-old young man who was stabbed to death at Strawberry Hill station in my constituency last month. Understandably, parents, teenagers and other young people are raising concerns with me about how we can tackle this huge increase. In London alone, as the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire will know, we have seen an increase of almost a fifth in knife crime since 2022. If we are to ban all these weapons, we need good intelligence-led community policing, but in London since 2015 we have seen our police community support officers cut by a third. What assurances can the Minister give my constituents that we will see an uplift in police officers, including in places such as Richmond upon Thames, which are often deprioritised because they are seen as safe areas? No area is immune from knife crime.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I agree with the hon. Lady’s last point. Given the representatives in the Chamber, I think a lot will be said in the debate, and rightly so, in relation to crime and knife crime in London, including by her. It is right to say that every time somebody picks up a knife or another dangerous weapon, there is the potential for bloodshed, and every time somebody arms themselves, whether for protection or with violent intent, they risk ruining not only others’ lives but their own life. That has been brought home time and again in the most devastating fashion in recent days, weeks and months. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends mourning such devastating losses. It is any parent’s worst nightmare.

That the victims are so often young people with their whole lives ahead of them makes it all the more unbearable. In our shock and our grief, we must remain steadfast in our conviction that we can get knives and other dangerous weapons off our streets and that we can prevent young people from getting drawn into violent crime in the first place.

In the spirit of the intervention that my right hon. Friend Mark Pritchard made on the shadow Minister, I would like to reflect on a debate before the recess led by my right hon. Friend Wendy Morton. During that debate, in which there was cross-party support, my right hon. Friend mentioned the Knife Angel in Aldridge-Brownhills, in the borough of Walsall. She also mentioned a campaign by the Brindley family, and the Brindley Foundation that was set up to bring about positive social action as a result of a tragedy. My hon. Friend Mr French made powerful interventions during that debate.

It is right to look at the numbers and the latest data. The latest data on hospital admissions of under-25s following an assault with a sharp object show a 25% reduction since December 2019. That is a good indicator—the most reliable indicator for serious youth violence. My right hon. Friend the Policing Minister will in due course mention the crime survey, which shows that violent crime has reduced by 51% since 2010. It is also right to say that nationally homicide has fallen, but it is obvious that data on a chart provides no comfort for victims’ families, and that any incident of serious violence or knife crime is one too many. That is why the Government are continually looking at what more we can do to protect our citizens—especially children and young people—and drive those numbers down further.

The police are on the frontline in this effort. Forces up and down the country are aware that this is an issue of significant public concern, and they are firmly committed to tackling it. It is right that I, as a Dorset Member of Parliament, mention our police and crime commissioner David Sidwick, and I pay tribute to him, the work he is doing and the crime plan that he has put together for Dorset.

Thanks to our recruitment drive, which has delivered the promised 20,000 extra officers, we have significantly bolstered the police across England and Wales. With every additional officer, the ability of forces to crack down on weapons carrying and violence is strengthened. That includes through the natural deterrence that flows from an increased police presence. There is the added benefit of reassurance to all our communities, who are clear that they want to see more officers on the beat.

Of course, it is about not just how many police officers there are, but what forces do with the resources and powers given to them. The Government have consistently and publicly backed the police to take the toughest possible stance when it comes to addressing serious violence, knife crime and weapons carrying. That includes supporting the use of stop and search, which is a crucial tool. Since 2019, the police have removed 120,000 knives and dangerous weapons through stop and search surrender programmes and other targeted action.

On that specific subject, every knife seized through stop and search is a potential life saved. In the year 2022-23, stop and search resulted in about 74,000 arrests and removed over 15,000 weapons and firearms from our streets. The significance of stop and search should not be downplayed, because every knife or weapon seized is a potential life saved.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

On criminal sanctions, the motion tabled by the Opposition—they will have to forgive me—is too generic, too sweeping and perhaps too adversarial. On criminal liability for the senior management of websites that indirectly sell illegal knives online, however, what is the Government’s current thinking—unless, perhaps, the Minister does not want to tell me—vis-à-vis the Criminal Justice Bill, on which I know he is working closely with the shadow Minister?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

The Criminal Justice Bill is passing through Parliament, having had its Committee stage. I do not want to steal the thunder of the Policing Minister, who will wind up the debate on behalf of the Government, but I encourage my right hon. Friend to be here for that.

In the round, we have some of the toughest knife crime laws in the world. For example, it is illegal to carry any fixed-bladed knife in public without a good reason, with such an offence carrying a maximum sentence of four years in prison. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 strengthened the law on the sale and delivery of knives to under-18s.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

On tougher sentences—I know that the Government are bringing in very tough sentences for knife crime—does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is not just about tough sentences? Knife crime is due to a number of factors, including socioeconomic factors, gang activity, the county lines drug trade, which affects us in Hastings and Rye, and social media influence. Does he agree that building trust between communities and law enforcement is as important as effective community policing and tough sentences, and that as part of that building of trust, raising awareness about knife crime and educating young people about the risks can deter them from carrying weapons?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will turn directly to violence reduction units, which will help to address some of those points.

The fact is, where gaps or loopholes are identified, we have shown time and again that we will do what is necessary, and we will always put the law-abiding majority first. My right hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin mentioned the Criminal Justice Bill, which is the latest illustration of our unwavering commitment to that mission. It will give the police more powers to seize dangerous weapons, create a new offence of possession of a bladed weapon with an intent to harm, and increase sentences for those who import, manufacture or sell dangerous weapons to under 18s.

As my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart mentioned, as well as tough enforcement, an emphasis must be placed on prevention. It goes without saying that the best thing we can do to make all our communities safe is to stop these crimes from happening in the first place. May I mention and develop my point on violence reduction units, which bring together communities and local partners to tackle the underlying causes of violence in the first place? She will be interested to hear that violence reduction units identify young people in danger of following the wrong path, bringing together key partners from local authorities, the police, health, communities and beyond to better understand the local drivers of violence and provide intensive support through mentoring programmes and the like. I know that she and other hon. Members—across the House, I hope—will support the work going on there.

In addition, we have supported the police in their implementation of the Grip hotspot patrols programme. Taken together, these initiatives have prevented more than 3,200 hospital admissions for any violent injury since funding began in 2019. This shows the real-world impact that our approach is having as we strive relentlessly to break the deadly cycle of violence that robs young people of a future and destroys families.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The Minister is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the best thing we can do is to put police stations on our high streets, such as in Maltby, Dinnington and Swallownest in Rother Valley? I am sure he is aware that the Labour police and crime commissioner has underspent his budget this year to the tune of £3.5 million—money that could have been used to reopen police stations and get them going. Does the Minister back my campaign to use that underspent money to get police stations on our high streets?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for his community; I know he will continue to champion this important issue and continue his campaign. I look forward to his further contributions, and I am grateful to him for raising that point. It is right that through the concerted efforts of the Government, police and partners, we have shown that this threat can be addressed, but we will not stop there.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the Minister for responding to this immensely important debate, but may I press him on the specific issues in the motion? Will the Government launch a new consultation on including ninja swords in the ban on online knife sales? If he agreed to that today, we would make a significant step forward.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

The right hon. Lady will know from my response that I referred to previously that the police have told us the greatest risk is the criminal use of zombie-style knives and machetes. That is action that is already being taken, but we will, of course, keep the matter under review. We will not stop there: we will continue to think of the victims and their families, and reaffirm our commitment to getting weapons and knives off our streets. We can and must stop knife crime and make our communities safer. That is what this Government will work tirelessly to achieve.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Shadow Minister (Health) 1:22, 6 February 2024

I rise to speak conscious of the tragic deaths of two teenage boys stabbed in my constituency last week, and the very live police inquiry being conducted. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those boys, in particular during this debate. I am conscious that we have had many debates on this subject, and that there are many Members present whose communities have also been hit by similar tragedies, but lamentably those debates have not stemmed the rise in knife crime, as we saw in my own community last weekend.

Over the past few months, regular meetings with the police were already being held in Knowle West, set up by some amazing women in the community. Fortuitously, a meeting was held on the Monday after the events, which I was able to attend, where people came together to express their grief and sorrow. There was a strong message at the meeting. The people there were very clear that they could see that events had been leading to a tragic outcome, and they wanted to know, where have the resources from their communities gone? Where are all the police on their streets? What has happened to their local healthcare and mental health services to support young people? What has happened to their youth services? What has happened to the council funding for services that make those streets and communities fit for living in, such as street cleaning, and make our communities so vibrant? Despite the high-falutin’ statistics thrown around in this place, those people know that their community has lost out. People in Knowle West and the rest of south Bristol, like those across the country, have seen those services disappear because of political decisions made in this place since 2010. I am unashamedly political about that point, because those decisions have consequences in our communities.

I pay tribute to Avon and Somerset police for the preventive work they were doing with those communities before these tragic incidents and for the way they have worked since, and to Bristol City Council and organisations such as Youth Moves and Bristol City Football Club’s Robins Foundation, which have been doing amazing work for a long time, but particularly in the past couple of weeks. Despite that, and despite working with the voluntary and community sector across Bristol, they cannot fill that gap.

The very clear message from that meeting, and indeed from our city, is that we are totally united in getting these crimes and these criminals off our streets. However, we need much more than the basics. These communities deserve the resources to help young people to thrive, and we owe it to the families of the boys who lost their lives to do everything we can to ensure that it does not happen again.

My constituents are looking for answers on how we can prevent crime, but, as my hon. Friend Alex Norris said, we also need to give them action. We have to redouble our efforts to bring Government support back into these communities to enable our local authorities, schools and the police force to take the preventive measures we need to tackle knife crime. It is vital that there are tough consequences for those carrying lethal weapons, and there must be sanctions, but we also need early interventions to stop young people being drawn into crime. As my hon. Friend said, the cowards who bring young people into crime must also face strong sanctions.

Working with the community, as the police are doing in South Bristol, is vital to help to intervene on early criminal behaviour. However, we also desperately need Government support for youth services and mental health support in schools to ensure that young people are safe. I pay tribute to all the schools working so hard across south Bristol to ensure that young people are safe and encouraged to go back into school and back out to live their lives. Young people need to be listened to and, crucially, have that stake in our society. That is why bringing together local partnerships of schools, neighbourhood policing and community groups is so important to prevent crime and tackle the crisis among young people. The communities I represent across south Bristol need to know that we in Westminster understand the urgency and the devastating effect that knife crime is having.

I hope the Government will do more to address the shortcomings of the current proposals by extending the ban to cover ninja swords and introducing criminal liability for the senior executives of the websites that are still selling those weapons online. We need a properly resourced cross-Government effort to tackle crime, with tough consequences for the perpetrators, support for the victims and a renewed focus on prevention.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 1:27, 6 February 2024

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a meeting of an all-party parliamentary group in Parliament when I received a call from my 17-year-old son’s school. It is unusual to get such a call, so I took it. His head of year informed me that he had been mugged by several youths wearing balaclavas and carrying knives. You can imagine my feelings of utter shock and concern for my son, Mr Speaker. It suddenly dawned on me that I was not alone; there are so many mums who receive that call. Sometimes, that call is tragic, and those mums never get to see their son again—or their daughter, although it is quite often our sons who are involved.

I am relieved to say that it was a case of mistaken identity and my son had not been mugged—he had witnessed the mugging further up the street. However, it reiterated the fact that nobody is immune from knife crime. It is not a socioeconomic issue that affects only certain demographics, but can hit any family, as we have seen in too many situations in this country over the years. It can be the kids of middle-class professionals or kids from estates—it does not matter. Knife crime will affect every child who is out there. That is why we all have to work together to ensure that our children are safe when they go out. I am one of those mums who cannot relax when my children are out until I hear that key in the door. I know I am not alone in that.

This is not a modern phenomenon that is happening only now. It has happened for decades, and we must get a grip of it. Eleven years ago, a 16-year-old boy was slaughtered in Pimlico in my constituency. Hani was attacked by a group of young people and murdered. Five young men were sentenced to 26 years at His Majesty’s pleasure. It dawned on me that because Hani lost his life, his mother Pauline will never hear his key in the door. The lives of the young people involved in that murder have also ended, as have the lives of their families. We must do more to ensure that children do not spend the rest of their lives in prison. Of course we do not want more victims, but those involved in such heinous crimes often are victims themselves, because they are involved in county lines or drug crimes. We must deal with that.

Unfortunately, my constituency is a hotspot for the Met. It has the highest number of knife or sharp instrument offences recorded in any borough of the Metropolitan police force. In the last 12 months, 1,930 knife offences were recorded in Westminster alone—an increase of more than 18% on the previous year.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

The Office for National Statistics showed that for the year ending March 2023, Sussex recorded 59 offences per 100,000 people—below the national average of 87 per 100,000. We have seen a 16% reduction in knife crime for that period. In contrast, for the Met police—the highest funded force in the country—ONS figures show a 22% increase in knife crime in London. That has a knock-on effect on all the surrounding counties. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan should take a leaf out of the book of Sussex Conservative police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne, and get a grip of serious knife crime—

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I agree with my hon. Friend. As the largest city in the country with more than 9 million people, London will always have higher statistics, but it is being let down. Londoners have constantly been let down for eight years because of the current Mayor’s failure to get a grip of knife crime. Too many families across London have been affected by knife crime and have lost their beloved children.

There were 156 knife offences in December 2023 alone. That will not stop unless we get a grip of it. It has to be a holistic approach. It is not just about stricter sentences; they have a part to play in the criminal justice system, but we must get to the nub of why young people carry knives in the first place. I have always believed that someone who carries a knife is more likely to use one. I am so concerned that today, too many young people feel that they have to carry a knife for their own protection. We must persuade our young people that there is an alternative. We have heard about different approaches from several Members. We should learn from what is happening in Scotland, which has a lot to offer.

We need a public health and community approach. When I was cabinet member for public protection at Westminster council in 2013, I was shocked to find that Westminster—a borough that people think of as affluent, with areas such as Mayfair, Belgravia and the west end—was No. 3 in the Met’s serious youth violence table in 2013. We were even higher than Hackney. I remember going to see the then deputy Mayor for policing, now my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, who told me that if I did not get on top of the problem immediately, it would only get worse, and it would never change.

I immediately worked with my brilliant officers at Westminster City Council and the police to establish the first ever integrated gangs unit. I set up a scheme called “your choice”, because I wanted to send a message to young people that they had a choice: they could be involved in gangs and knife crime, but that would end either in the morgue or in prison. There were alternative ways, where young people could work with us. I was clear that we had to understand why young people were involved. I also sent a message to the parents. Often, parents do not know what their young people are getting involved in when they are out, and they do not know how to handle the problem. I offered a helping hand to parents. I am delighted to say that we went straight back down those tables within a year to where we are usually, around 16th out of 19.

There needs to be a full approach, where all the agencies work together. The integrated gangs unit included the police, probation, special needs, schools and social workers. Interestingly, we discovered that a lot of young people on the periphery of knife crime had speech and language issues. They could not properly communicate, and they had not really progressed since primary school. They had had a nightmare moving into secondary school, and they had been lost in the system. We grabbed those young men, and I am delighted that we improved the situation. We have to work together. It should not be a political issue but a community issue where we all work together, as our young people deserve.

We have heard about violence reduction units. We have one in London, run by a very impressive woman, Lib Peck, whom I have known for a long time. She is not getting the backing and seriousness from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. In 2018, he held a knife crime summit just before the local elections. The then Home Secretary attended, as did the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the deputy Mayor for policing. The Mayor chaired it—he did not speak; he was not held to account. I will never forget that he never allowed himself to be held to account on the situation. He has got to be held to account.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

We talk about accountability, but it works both ways. I agree with everyone who has said that the result is not political, as it affects all political stripes, but we have got here because of political decision making. The hon. Member talks about children not being able to speak or read or write—that is the political decision of 14 years of this Government eroding our education system. We talk about not enough resources for the police—that is a decision to erode community policing. Will the hon. Member take some responsibility for 14 years of this?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I have to gently push back. We have come up from 25th in the PISA tables under the previous Labour Government to 14th for reading under the Conservative Government, which is an impressive result. I am sure that the Policing Minister will mention later that this Government provided the current Mayor of London with funding for 1,000 extra police officers, but he failed to recruit those officers and the money went back into the pot, to be given to other police forces, which I am sure have taken advantage of it. This is not a political issue. I take responsibility for the period in which I was leader of Westminster City Council when we cut youth services, and saw a direct link to problems on the streets. I put my hands up to that, and we put £1.5 million back into the pot. It is right that we make sure that young people have choices and the ability to do things after school and college, and that we give them the best start in life.

We are talking today about a knife and sword ban and the legislation that would be required. I find it quite incredible that manufacturers do not take the responsibility they should take, and that they can use loopholes in legislation. They get away now with producing zombie knives without writing on, because zombie knives with writing on are banned. I cannot understand why anyone would want to manufacture zombie knives; there is only one use for them, and that is not a use we want to see. I suggest that Ministers produce more flexible legislation that talks about “blades”, rather than focuses on specific products. We need to widen the legislation to cover many existing and future products. It is also important that we look at other corporates, such as record labels that willingly put out drill music, which often celebrates gang culture. There must be a direct link to young people feeling that to carry a knife and to be willing to use it is culturally the right thing to do.

I welcome this debate. It is important that we work together, across the parties, to send a clear message to all young people that carrying a knife is not a solution. Every young person in this country, in whatever town, city or village they live, whatever their background, deserves to be safe.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Opposition Whip (Commons) 1:41, 6 February 2024

I am pleased that the Opposition secured this debate today. It is an important debate and an emotional one for many of us, certainly for me.

Serious violence, including knife crime, is a critical issue in cities, towns and villages across the country. It is important to acknowledge that it is not just a London problem; it affects many constituencies across the whole country. Knife crime alone has risen by 77% since 2015, and the impact is felt widely—not just the devastating and all too often fatal impact felt by immediate family and friends, but the trauma and distress felt by the wider community.

In Batley and Spen, unfortunately we have felt at first hand the traumatic and life-changing impact of knife crime. Since my election, I have worked with two extremely brave local families whose lives have been torn apart by truly dreadful incidents involving horrific attacks with knives. Robert Wilson, from Birstall, was stabbed to death in January 2020 outside the factory where he worked, just doing his job; the attack was carried out by two youths wielding a samurai sword in what the judge called a “frenzied and senseless” assault. Robert’s wife, Elaine, is a remarkable woman who has shown incredible strength and selflessness following this heinous attack. She is determined to raise awareness of the horrors that knife crime inflicts on families and communities. Despite her unimaginable personal pain, she speaks to young people in schools about her experience, to help them to understand the potentially life-changing consequences of carrying a knife.

In June 2020, just a few months after Robert was killed, Bradley Gledhill, a local 20-year-old, was attacked and stabbed to death in Batley by six young men, five of whom were teenagers. This despicable attack on Bradley and on two of his friends, who were seriously injured, shook the community. It was unprovoked, robbed a young man of his future and showed the very worst of humanity. Having met his incredibly strong mum, Kelly Hubbard, and his sister, Bryony, I do not have the words to describe the trauma and devastation wrought upon Bradley’s family. Like Elaine, however, they have channelled their trauma, with incredible resilience and strength, to campaign to tackle knife crime by establishing the “Bin the Blades” campaign on social media, and working with local schools, speaking to students to convey at an early age the seriousness of this issue and the consequences of carrying dangerous weapons.

I recently worked with Elaine, Kelly and Bryony on a soon-to-be-released short film, commissioned by the BBEST group of schools across Batley and Birstall, specifically about the horrors and impact of knife crime, in which I also reflect on my personal experience of the murder of my sister, Jo Cox, in 2016. It was an extremely emotional experience for all of us, but we all felt that we had a duty to spread the message about the real horrors and personal impact that knife crime can have. This important work is having an impact, and I cannot praise these brave individuals and the schools involved in the project highly enough for what they are doing. No other family should have to go through what these families, the other families we have heard about today and my own family have gone through.

Sadly, there is no single simple solution to eliminate knife crime and remove dangerous weapons from our streets. Families and communities need national leadership if we are to tackle this most serious of issues, and I am always happy to work across parties, but the national leadership has been lacking in recent years. That is why I am pleased that Labour has a five-point plan that will deal with knife crime in a holistic, multi-agency way.

Of course we need tougher consequences for carrying a knife and of course we need more officers on our streets, but we also need early intervention in schools, including youth hubs. We need youth workers embedded in A&E units, pupil referral units and custody centres, and the establishment of mental health and mentoring programmes. We must also, finally, crack down on the availability of these hideous weapons and take action where, sadly, the Conservatives have failed to do so. We should also go after the gangs and tackle the exploitation of young people who are drawn into criminality. All of this should be co-ordinated across Government in a Home Office, Health and Education approach that addresses the root causes of the issue, not just the symptoms—an approach that will break the chains of criminality, prevent young people from getting into these groups and gangs, and, if they are drawn in, provide help and mentoring by offering a tailored and supported route out.

Like colleagues across the House, I visit schools in my constituency most weeks, as well as local community groups, sports clubs and businesses. I applaud the work they do across Batley and Spen to build strong communities, but I also hear about the fear many of them feel about antisocial behaviour and violence, including knife crime, in our communities, and their worries about young people being drawn into dangerous behaviours, or simply ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Only a tough approach, but one that is targeted and multi-agency, will succeed. It is hard work, and it will take time, resources, determination and co-ordination. It is not a gimmick. The Labour plan demonstrates how seriously we take this issue, with our mission-led approach, which has been sorely missing in recent years. Only Labour has a detailed plan to make our towns and villages safer, to restore safety to our communities and to get these dangerous weapons off our streets. We owe it to Robert and Bradley, to their families and to all the other families we will hear about today to put that plan into action. I am pleased to endorse the Labour plan today.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

On behalf of the whole House, let me say to the hon. Lady that we all appreciate the courage it takes for her to speak on this subject. We as a House, and as friends and acquaintances, will never forget the sacrifice made by her sister, Jo Cox, while she was carrying out her duties as a Member of Parliament.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 1:48, 6 February 2024

I would like to place on the record my thanks to Kim Leadbeater for her courage in speaking about her personal experience.

We have heard a lot about how this should not be a political debate, but I am afraid that the choices made have been very political. “London highlights what Labour can do in power”—not my words, but those of the Labour leader in a rare moment of consistency. For once, I agree with him. Just look at the regional crime data and at the data specifically for our capital city, London. The only “PC” Londoners are likely to come across is political correctness. The two areas where knife crime has risen the most, London and the west midlands, both have a Labour police and crime commissioner in charge. If those two areas are taken out of the national figures, they show that across the country knife crime actually fell last year, proving yet again that the shadow Front Benchers need to get their own house in order before preaching to others.

“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”—empty words that we have heard Labour politician after Labour politician parrot for the last 30 years. But when they were in power, those words from the pound-shop Blairites could not have been further from reality. For all the playground politics of this place, we must remember that these failures have real-life consequences for both the victims of crime and our communities.

When I was growing up in Bexley, one of London’s suburbs, life was always relatively safe, with Bexley consistently ranked in London’s top five safest boroughs. Issues such as knife crime and gang crime were viewed as a distant inner-city issue, which many families, including my own, thought they had left behind when they chose a better life for their children in Conservative-run Bexley. Fast-forward to today, and while Conservative-run Bexley is still one of the safest boroughs in London, with a crime rate approximately a third lower than that of the rest of London, fears about knife and gang crime on our doorstep are very real. Several serious incidents have tragically taken place in my constituency in recent months, and my thoughts remain with all those families, and those across London, who have lost loved ones.

The latest crime rate data highlights the fact that violent crime has been on a consistently upward trend since Sadiq Khan became Mayor, and tragically Bexley is not immune from Labour’s shameful record in London over the past eight years, which has seen more than 1,000 people killed. Life after life has been destroyed by the scourge of knife crime in London, with Londoners let down time and again by politicians in this place who are not brave enough to openly back effective policing measures such as stop and search, which take an average of 400 dangerous weapons off the streets each month. The Labour spokesman could not even bring himself to mention stop and search today. Let us not forget that it was this Labour Mayor of London who openly pledged to

“do all in my power to further cut” the use of stop and search.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Now look at the state of London after eight years of Sadiq Khan’s politically correct policing. Just look at the data. In London, we have seen a 54% increase in knife crime since Labour took office. According to the Met’s official data, the number of stop and searches carried out in 2023 was 18.9% lower than it had been in the previous 12 months, and at the same time knife crime offences rose by 17.1%.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Before anyone accuses me of stoking a culture war—which, as we all know, is the left’s new buzzword to try to shut down critical debates about their woke ideas—let me also point out that the official data shows that white people were the most searched ethnic group in this period: 10,000 more over a two-year period. That is why I make no apology for my support for frontline officers using the likes of stop and search to help take dangerous knives off the streets, and why I back this Government to close the legal loopholes on zombie knives and to roll out scan-and-search technologies as quickly as possible. As politicians, we should all be showing real leadership in this place and doing the same.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

The public have rightly had enough of empty gesture politics and warm words from politicians when yet another life is unnecessarily taken. They want action. They want their political leaders to get a grip on crime and make all our communities safer again. In London, the need to get a grip on crime and get back to basic policing could not be clearer. Not only are the Metropolitan police in special measures, but their leadership now faces a confidence crisis, from the perspective of both the public and many serving frontline police officers. Morale in the Met has arguably never been lower. It is little wonder, when decent, hard-working frontline officers feel that time and again they do not have the backing of the Mayor and their leaders to do the dangerous job of being a police officer in London, whether that means using stop and search to take dangerous knives off the streets, or specially trained firearms officers still having the confidence to pull the trigger in those split-second life-or-death moments when they guard us in places like this.

I am genuinely sad to say that I was not surprised to learn that the Met was the only force in the country that had failed to hit its recruitment target, despite millions of pounds in support being provided directly by the Government. That is yet another failure on the part of the Labour Mayor and police and crime commissioner, and one that has cost London more than 1,000 police officers—1,000 extra police officers could be walking the beat, actually attending burglaries or helping to stop what feels like a never-ending rise in knife crime. Seriously, what chance do ordinary Londoners have when criminal gangs roam the streets of London targeting their next victims, with the only questions normally being whether a watch, a car or a phone has been stolen this time, and whether the police will even bother to investigate the crime?

True to form—and this is what Labour Members are trying to do here today—the Labour Mayor of London continues to deflect all of these failures on to the Government, rather than taking any accountability as the police and crime commissioner for London. In fact, I understand that the Office for Statistics Regulation recently had to correct Sadiq Khan’s misinformation on knife crime, stating that it had “significantly increased across” his tenure and not declined, as he had claimed.

Quick to plead poverty at every opportunity, the Mayor always manages to find money for his mates or money to waste on his latest pet projects rather than more funding for frontline policing. All that is paid for, of course, from the wallets of Londoners, including a staggering £200 increase in the Mayor’s share of council tax and his continued hammering of motorists across London. And look how he spends taxpayers’ hard-earned money, with £30 million for his union mates despite a record number of strikes—

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

He has spent £29.5 million on additional staffing costs, including a 57% rise in Mayor’s Office costs and a 33% rise in press office spending; and let us not forget the £10 million for Met officers to learn what colour their personalities are. Now I do not know what colour my personality is, but what I do know from my experience of life is that when you see red ahead, you should follow the warning signs and stop. When it comes to crime and transport, the Great British public should look very closely at the sorry state of our capital city to see the big bright red warning sign highlighting what to expect if another left-wing, human rights London lawyer were ever in charge of our United Kingdom.

As the Leader of the Opposition has said himself, London highlights what Labour can do in power. With taxes up 70%, with London now officially the slowest city in the world in which to drive—that is, if your car has not already been stolen—and with more than 1,000 people tragically killed under this Labour Mayor, a Labour-run United Kingdom is a scary prospect indeed.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 1:57, 6 February 2024

I wish I could say that it is an honour to follow Mr French, but I would not like to mislead the House in any way.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

No—I mean that I, not the hon. Gentleman, might mislead the House by saying that I enjoyed his extraordinary rant. Let me gently say that if he wants to audition to become the Conservatives’ failing candidate in the mayoral election that is about to be held, there are better places to do it than here, especially if he is too frit to take an intervention from the other side. I would, again, gently say that that suggests that he is not capable of listening to anyone or engaging in debate. He is very comfortable with his own voice.

Last July, in West Ham park, Rahaan Ahmed Amin was killed by a knife wound to his heart. Rahaan was allegedly stabbed with a foot-long ninja-style sword. He was 16 years old, and his death was absolutely devastating for his family and for our community. Those who have who have been charged or arrested in connection with Rahaan’s death were the same age, or even younger.

What happened to Rahaan was simply appalling, and it comes after so many other cases of young lives destroyed, families devastated, and communities broken by fear and distrust and struggling to heal. That fear and that harm continue. Just last week we had three separate stabbings in Newham. Last Monday a 14-year-old boy was stabbed on a bus. Last Tuesday one of our local teaching staff was stabbed in Woodgrange Road. Last Thursday evening another man was also stabbed in Forest Gate. It is a testament to our police and to our NHS that no one died.

For many years, this place has debated and passed laws on zombie knives and machetes, but these laws clearly have not done the job. My constituents want to know from the Minister why he feels that the drip-feed of small amendments to the law around knives has not worked. Why are there loopholes? Why have the Government not banned so-called ninja swords like the one that allegedly killed Rahaan? And why are our existing laws so poorly enforced, especially online?

I understand—most of the Conservative Members have alluded to this—that knife crime is complex. None of us thinks that all access to knives can be prevented, and we all understand that there are many different causes that prompt a child or young person to pick up a knife, so surely what we need is comprehensive action to tackle both the availability of knives and the root causes of knife crime. One cause of many young people’s deaths in Newham has been involvement with the gangs who groom and exploit young people, ruining lives for profit. Hon. Members may remember that I have been banging on about this agenda for about seven years now, but I do not think we have actually got a grip on the criminal networks that cause this massive harm.

In October 2022, I published a report on child criminal exploitation. I talked to experts across the police, the schools, social services and charities, and one of our main recommendations was for the Government to focus on disrupting those who control the organised criminals who groom our children. I am obviously delighted that my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, has pledged a new criminal offence of child criminal exploitation and a new strategy to go after the gangs who are profiting from the exploitation of our children.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I absolutely agree with the hon. Member on this point and I hope that the Government will do something similar, but does she agree that this is also about demand? Too many middle-class professionals probably do not realise that behind their taking of cocaine or whatever are young people being exposed to crime.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. Some people who buy cocaine and other drugs think that it is some kind of victimless crime, but it is not. We are seeing the impacts of those crimes in the deaths, the grooming and the destruction of so many young lives.

I am truly disappointed that the Government have not made progress on a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation or on making it a dedicated offence. The need for such a change has been raised repeatedly over the years, including by the Children’s Commissioner and the Education Committee, so I would be really grateful if the Minister could offer an update. Will the Government support and push through the private Member’s Bill for a new offence put forward by Sir Paul Beresford, or will they match Labour’s commitment and create a new offence of child criminal exploitation in Government time? We must all acknowledge that some of this is about wider social problems such as poverty and the lack of access to opportunity. These problems are getting much worse due to the cost of living crisis, because poverty creates vulnerability to grooming and destroys a young person’s trust in their future.

In closing, I want to mention the terrible rise in unmet need for mental health treatment, particularly for young people. The truth is that our mental health services simply cannot cope with the level of need, and this is yet another devastating symptom of 14 years of Tory failure, where services have been trashed by a lack of desperately needed resources. We clearly need a joined-up approach, so I would be grateful to know whether the Minister is working across Departments to identify the resources and the reforms that we desperately need. We need a Government who will support early intervention across the board, in schools and A&Es and through community organisations and youth work, but the record of this Conservative Government is one of trashing prevention and dithering about getting deadly weapons off our streets, so it is quite clear what my constituents need: they need a Labour Government.

Photo of Steve Tuckwell Steve Tuckwell Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip 2:06, 6 February 2024

Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me to speak in this incredibly timely debate. No one in this House today wants knives on our streets. My constituents do not want knives on the streets of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and I certainly do not want knives on the streets in the community that I have been elected to serve. One more day when just a single knife remains on our streets is a day too long, and that is why the Government’s work to try and achieve this is welcome: 120,000 knives have been taken off our streets in the last four years, but there is of course more to be done. There always is, but I believe that this provides an impetus for how we can navigate this issue.

Other changes in the law, including allowing courts to hand down longer custodial sentences and the seizure of weapons in suspects’ homes will go a long way, as will so-called hotspot policing and stop and search. These changes cannot come soon enough, as I know those on the Front Bench recognise, especially for my constituents and for law-abiding citizens across the capital.

Earlier in the debate I heard a reference to the Knife Angel. I would like to pay tribute to Rev. Andy Thompson of St Margaret’s Church in Uxbridge and other faith leaders across my constituency who have arranged for the Knife Angel to visit my constituency, which will benefit youth engagement on many of the points that have been talked about in the House today.

However, it bears noting that public safety and policing in London fall within the remit of the Mayor as the capital’s police and crime commissioner. This is the same Mayor of London who suddenly U-turned on Uxbridge police station in the run-up to the by-election, the same Mayor of London who has seen instances of knife crime grow over 50% since he took office in 2016, the same Mayor of London under whom the annual knife crime figure has swelled 22% to just under 14,000 in the most recent total, the same Mayor of London who is in charge of policing in our city and who now sees an average of 38 knife crime offences a day, and the same Mayor of London who will not talk about those figures.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary noted in a recent letter to the Mayor that if the figures for London were discounted, the national trend would show a 1% reduction on last year. That is small, but it is a sign of progress. In London, however, with nearly 14,000 instances of knife crime, the Office for National Statistics suggested that we can see a 5% increase. Enough is enough. London can no longer be ignored by the current Mayor, who is also the police and crime commissioner. Crime figures for London since 2016 have deteriorated against national trends, and our capital city deserves better.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 2:09, 6 February 2024

In the past decade, the Tories have cut 21,000 police officers across the UK and knife crime has gone up by 77%. This Government’s response has been completely inadequate. The serious violence strategy is more than five years out of date, the serious violence taskforce has been disbanded, and everyone knows from their own communities that too little is being done to divert young people away from violence and crime.

People in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale have been left to face the consequences of Tory knife crime failure, and the B23 postcode in my constituency has the highest rate of knife crime in the west midlands, with 39 people stabbed last year, yet we have just a single weapon surrender bin.

If we are serious about ending the blight of knife crime in our communities, we need the Government to be serious about funding. In the west midlands, we have lost 2,221 officers and have had £175 million slashed from our budgets since the last Labour Government. That is felt most harshly in areas that are already struggling. Of the 225 left-behind neighbourhoods in the UK, two are in my constituency, which is the fifth most deprived in the country.

With the increase in county lines and gangs, young people do not feel safe walking to and from school—it is as simple as that. Even when my constituents contact the police, the massive funding failures and long waiting times in the criminal justice system mean they very rarely see any justice.

A constituent told me that she had raised the issue of a gang in her block following a recent stabbing. She told me that, when her neighbour was threatened with a knife by a group of young people and she reported it to a police community support officer, she was advised that the best thing she could do would be to “make friends” with the gang.

One of the most worrying aspects of knife crime is the large amount of youth violence across the UK. When a stabbing is reported in areas like Erdington, it is too often a child being stabbed by another child. This means that prevention is key, and Departments must work together to prevent knife crime before it happens.

Last March, I asked the Secretary of State for Education how many schools in my constituency use metal detectors to screen pupils, and how many weapons had been recovered as a result. The Department could not tell me because it does not record this data. It is unbelievable that the Department for Education does not know how many schools across the country use metal detectors, or even how successful they are. If we are missing this important preventive information, what else are we missing? It just is not good enough.

It is not right that people in Erdington, and across the UK, have to fear violent crime when walking to the shops or when their children walk to school. The primary objective of any Government must be to keep people safe, which is why it is so concerning that, in total, the Prime Minister has announced a ban on zombie knives 14 times. Since the Government first attempted a ban in 2016, there has been a 24% increase in murders involving a knife or sharp instrument. Something clearly is not working.

Labour is committed to halving knife crime across the UK in the next decade, thereby preventing the further serious crime, youth offending and tragic loss of life that come with it. We would implement guaranteed sanctions and serious interventions for young people found carrying knives, we would refer every offender to a youth offending team, and we would introduce a mandatory, bespoke action plan to prevent reoffending.

Labour would completely crack down on the availability of knives on Britain’s streets, including where further laws are required on online knife sales. It is clearly time for an election, because communities in my constituency, and young people across the UK, deserve better.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough 2:15, 6 February 2024

One of the things I most enjoy about this job is when people come to see me in the Palace of Westminster and I get to show them where I work, because whatever they think of hon. Members, this building and this democracy are theirs, and I want to show them this wonderful place and why it matters.

A few months ago I took people from High Heritage, a charity in my constituency, around the House of Commons. I showed them the history of the building, and afterwards we sat down on a bench in Westminster Hall and had a conversation. Kim Leadbeater, who is not currently in her place, was next to me talking to a school from her constituency. She did a far better job of extolling the virtues of her role as a Member of Parliament than I did. I listened to her speech, and then I spoke to the people from High Heritage.

One of them was Joyce, whose son, a Peterborough lad known as Alfred, had been stabbed and murdered only months earlier while he was at university in Northampton. What Joyce said to that group of people who came to Parliament will never leave me. She said, “Let’s not shy away from this conversation about knife crime, because our children and young people need to know the devastating effects that carrying a knife can have.” I asked her what she thought the Government needed to do to make the message clear to young people that carrying a knife is unacceptable, and to get knives off the street. She said, “Quite honestly, it would be a tough, zero-tolerance approach, because only tough love is going to stop young people carrying knives.” That really hit home, because this is a mother who has lost a son. This is a mother who is determined that something good comes from perhaps the most appalling thing a parent could imagine. It will always remain with me. I remember another conversation in Cathedral Square, where Joyce was speaking to a number of people about her terrible experience.

A man called Andrew Bowley has also told me about his experience. He was stabbed five times in Peterborough in 2017. He lived and has dedicated a good proportion of his life to talking about his experience and why knife crime is so appalling. It is still happening, and it is still happening in Peterborough.

Although it is good news that we have seen arrests, the fact that they come after such devastating incidents is obviously not good. Five Peterborough teens who carried out brutal knife attacks in a city park have been locked up. They have been jailed for a maximum of 70 years between them, with some of them getting 19 years. I am pleased they received such tough sentences, but not only have they ruined the lives of the people they attacked, who will suffer the consequences for many years; they have also ruined their own lives. They are also going to be in prison for an extremely long time. Obviously, that is good in the sense that potentially very violent people are off the street and the public are safe, but it is tragic to see five more lives ruined.

What else do I want to talk about in this speech? I want to reflect more on that zero-tolerance, tough approach, but let us park that for a moment and come back to it. First, I want to pay some tributes. At the end of last year, Peterborough’s police had a knife amnesty, which resulted in 170 blades, knives and offensive weapons being taken off the streets. They can no longer be used in the way we would not want them to be used, and that is good. I heard the statistic earlier of 120,000 knives having been taken off the streets thanks to amnesties. Obviously, that is a good thing.

Our Criminal Justice Bill is going through Parliament, and it will create new offences and ensure that we do what we can to tackle knife crime. Let me give my opinion and, I believe, that of Joyce. The maximum sentence for carrying a knife is four years and many repeat offenders are going to prison on a regular basis, but I want to see the zero-tolerance, tough approach that Joyce advocated, as there is no excuse for carrying a knife in public. I know that a lot of young people, unfortunately, get themselves drawn into difficult circumstances, but the message needs to go out loud and clear from this place: if you are carrying an offensive weapon, a knife, a bladed weapon such as we are hearing about today, like zombie knives—you will go to prison. You will receive a custodial sentence. Only that zero-tolerance, tough approach will get that message through to people. The message needs to get through to families and parents that if they allow their children to get involved in knife crime, those children will ruin their lives and go to prison. Prison is probably the least worst option for them, as they could end up dead—no one wants to see that happen.

No one becomes a politician or comes into this place because they do not want to see a solution to an issue such as knife crime. A cross-party approach should be taken on this. Let me say gently to some Opposition Members, whom I respect and like enormously—I know that many of them care deeply about the constituencies and communities they represent—that as soon as we start bringing party politics into this, people such as Joyce and the young people I spoke to, including those at High Heritage, switch off. I see Opposition Members pointing, and I know that it just not Members on one side of the House who are guilty of this, but once we start talking about plans with the word “Labour” inserted in front of them and saying, “Only this is ever going to resolve any of the problems, because it is written by some bright spark at Labour HQ”, people turn off.

That is not what this debate should be all about. It should be about what we see in our constituencies and what we can do to solve it. It should be about what we can do as Members of Parliament, whether we have the word “Conservative”, “Labour” or “Liberal” next to our name, and as people rooted in our communities, elected by our local people to listen to our local people and to stamp out knife crime in our constituencies. I can stand here and talk about the need for a zero-tolerance approach and what I think needs to happen, which is that anyone caught carrying a knife should go to prison, but deep in our communities we can do what I did, and what I am sure many hon. Members have done, which is listen to people such as Joyce and the High Heritage charity, the people affected by knife crime, and be their advocates. I know that many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House do that, but it is just a shame that we have not articulated that more clearly in this debate.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 2:23, 6 February 2024

On 6 January, two people were convicted of the murder of Kalabe Legesse, a 29-year-old young man who was stabbed on 30 December 2022 in Peckham Rye park, in the neighbouring constituency to mine, while being robbed of his mobile phone. Kalabe was my constituent. He was a graduate, the oldest son in his family and very much loved by everyone who knew him. Kalabe was killed by a single stab wound to the heart with a large hunting knife, which was later found at the home of one of his attackers.

On Monday 4 September, I stood at the police line on the Angell Town estate, in my constituency, following the murder of 21-year-old Ronaldo Scott with a huge knife in broad daylight. On 3 October, I stood at the police line on Coldharbour Lane following the murder of another young man, whom I cannot name because of legal proceedings. Again, he had been murdered with a huge knife. Just last Monday, another stabbing took place. This time, it was of a 19-year-old and it happened on the Kingswood estate—thankfully, he survived his injuries. Each time such horrific events take place, a family has its heart ripped out and the wider community are devastated and traumatised. Young people are left terrified to leave their home, and parents are left feeling fearful each moment that their child is out of their sight. Knife crime extinguishes lives, but it also snuffs out hope, aspiration and any sense of a better future.

Knife crime is not inevitable. It is not a normal part of life that we should accept just happens in some places—it is not acceptable. It is not unsolvable. It has been allowed to spiral under this Government because of the political choices they have made: the political choice to make local authorities bear the brunt of austerity, with the resources that funded youth work, early help and support for families, Sure Start centres, play equipment and community centres stripped away year after year for more than a decade: the political choice to take £1 billion out of the budget for the Metropolitan Police Service, decimating neighbourhood policing, the bedrock of good police-community relations, and damaging the trust and confidence of communities in policing; and the political choice to do literally nothing about the growth in the use of the most dangerous bladed weapons—zombie knives, machetes and ninja swords—despite promising to do so since 2016. The Government have repeatedly said that they would do so “when parliamentary time allows”, as if they were not the same Government who have control over the allocation of parliamentary time and can choose to prioritise whatever issues they like.

This Government have chosen not to prioritise taking the most dangerous weapons off our streets. The clinical director of King’s College Hospital’s emergency department has described these weapons to me as “'weapons of war”, capable of inflicting horrific injuries, breaking bones, slicing through internal organs and often leaving victims with no chance of survival and leaving those who do survive with life-changing consequences. The ban the Government have now announced is partial and has significant loopholes.

The appalling losses we have seen in my constituency have led to some exceptional work to tackle serious violence. I want to pay particular tribute to Ecosystem Coldharbour, which is funded by the Mayor of London’s violence reduction unit’s MyEnds programme. Ecosystem brings together a number of trusted local organisations that work with young people and families. For the past three years, they have been delivering a range of positive activities for young people to help them pursue their ambitions; trauma support for people affected by serious violence; and grant funding for a range of smaller community organisations to be able to deliver targeted interventions.

That includes an extraordinary group of women who go by the name of Circle of Life Ignite, all of whom have lost a child to knife crime. They are campaigning, in memory of the children they have lost, to install bleed-stop kits to provide the emergency intervention that is needed when a stabbing happens. I have no words to express the courage of women who are turning their own tragedies into hope so that other victims do not have to do. Ecosystem is showing how serious violence can be tackled at a community level, and that is the approach that the next Labour government will implement across the country.

Young Futures partnerships will bring community organisations together with local councils, the police, youth justice services and others to provide targeted support to young people at risk of serious violence. We will ensure that mental health support is available for young people in every community in the country. We will close the loopholes in the partial, piecemeal ban on large knives that the Government have announced. We will act where the Conservatives have failed.

I want to give the last word to a young constituent named Joshua Eyakware, who wrote the following poem about the work of Ecosystem:

“See in the ecosystem, we show the young people that there’s a better way,

Give them the tools to succeed and make a better place,

Just give them the space to grow to learn and to feel free,

And show them peace and happiness are what they can achieve.

So, let’s celebrate our young people, because they’re our future,

Our next leaders and heroes so let’s make them feel super, to give them a better life let’s give them love and our time, and one day the darkness will fade because we taught them how to shine.”

That work in our communities is having an impact and is genuinely transformative, but those in my community who work to tackle serious violence, and those across the country who do the same, need more leadership and support from central Government. That is the leadership that a Labour Government will provide. We need a general election so that it can be delivered.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 2:30, 6 February 2024

This Government are letting our young people and communities down when it comes to tackling the devastating impact of knife crime. Under the Tories, knife crime has gone up by more than 77% since 2015, and sadly we have seen the tragic consequences in towns such as Luton.

I rise to speak in support of Labour’s motion. I press the Government to strengthen their legislation and ban not only zombie-style knives and machetes, but ninja swords and other dangerous knives, which would remain legal under their current plans. But if we are to reduce the needless loss of young lives, we must do more than legislate and enforce our way through. Of course we must ensure that carrying knives and knife crime have significant consequences, but we also need support in place to stop our young people feeling that they need to carry knives and being drawn into knife crime. I support Labour’s knife crime plan to guarantee sanctions and serious interventions for young people found carrying knives, and to provide tough new guidance so that serious penalties, such as curfews and tagging, are used where appropriate.

I will focus on Labour’s Young Futures early intervention programme: a targeted programme in every area to identify young people most at risk of knife crime; a plan that will bring together services at a local level, to better co-ordinate the delivery of preventative measures; a national network of youth hubs to deliver joined-up support for young people; a plan for youth mental health, with support in every school and open-access hubs in every community, with action to tackle mental health waiting lists too; and a programme that will see youth workers in A&E units, custody centres and our communities, with mentors in pupil referral units to better target and support young people at risk. The Young Futures programme will work alongside a new serious organised crime strategy to go after the gangs that are making millions from the exploitation of children and young people in our communities.

In Luton, sadly we have seen too many young people and children killed by other young people and children. Lives have been lost and changed forever for all involved, especially the families who are left behind. I have listened to families whose children have been killed and to our Luton community, who do not want to see yet another young life lost in our town. It is heartbreaking because so much loss could have been prevented, but for the political decisions of this Conservative Government that have destroyed the youth services that carry out vital preventative work, diminished the visible presence and intelligence of neighbourhood policing that helps our communities feel safe, and failed to deal with the criminal gangs that exploit and draw our young people into knife crime.

Despite this sorry picture of 14 years of Conservative Government stripping back our public services and making huge cuts to councils in the name of austerity, we have some hope through excellent partnership working at a local level, such as the Luton Youth Partnership and the multi-agency support hub work, which is a systemic approach developed over a number of years and led by Dave Collins at Luton Council. I pay tribute to the work that he and so many others involved in that collaborative approach carry out.

A collaborative approach is at the heart of Labour’s Young Futures programme, with a cross-Government initiative to oversee it, bringing together all the relevant Departments to set objectives, oversee delivery and assess outcomes. Importantly, Labour will work with local councils to establish new Young Futures partnerships. They will build on existing successes, such as in Luton, by co-ordinating and better integrating existing services for teenagers and young people in their areas; by involving council youth services, including youth offending services, social services and community safety officers; and by using the police, mental health services, schools, and voluntary and community organisations to map the provision of services, establish data and systems to identify children and young people at risk of exploitation and crime, and to establish appropriate referral and intervention.

I emphasise the importance of the excellent work done by our voluntary and community organisations in Luton, many of which have had to pick up the pieces after Conservative cuts to our local council and health services. They are working together to support our young people and communities, be they from our local youth groups such as the scouts and guides, mentorship by groups such as Unleashing Potential, as well as grassroots community activists such as the excellent Wingman Mentors, which I recently met with my hon. Friend Sarah Owen. That group told us about its campaign to get more bleed kits in community locations, recognising that if we are not able to fully prevent stabbings, we can try to ensure that lives are saved by the early use of bleed kits by local people on the scene before paramedics arrive.

To close, we know that knife crime destroys lives, devastates families, and creates fear and trauma in our communities. Our young people deserve better. A Labour Government will give young people their future back, but we need a general election to do so.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 2:36, 6 February 2024

Madam Deputy Speaker:

“I just want it to stop. I just don’t want it to be happening here…where there are little kids playing in the park.”

That is how one Coventry teen described how he felt growing up in the shadow of knife crime, and he is far from alone. In the national media, knife crime is often talked about as if it is just a London thing, but in truth it touches young people across the country. One in six children between the ages of 13 and 17 reported being a victim of violence last year, and around half say that violence, or the fear of violence, affects their day-to-day lives.

Things are particularly bad in the west midlands. According to data from last year, the region had the highest rate of knife crime anywhere in the country, with 178 offences per 100,000 people. That is five times higher than north Yorkshire, which ranked bottom. Nationally, knife crime is up a shocking 77% since 2015. While this House is unanimous in recognising the problem, too often politicians look for quick fixes or put appearing “tough” above providing real answers.

What is striking about knife crime is that we know what drives it and what reduces it—and that is not easy, Daily Mail headline-grabbing answers. It is not a matter of locking up more kids for longer while ignoring the drivers of the real problem, as the actor Idris Elba has warned. I pay tribute to him for his work campaigning on the issue. Since custodial sentences for young people are associated with high levels of reoffending, proposals such as mandatory prison sentences for first-time knife possession are likely to draw young people further into criminality, while failing to tackle the causes of why young people carry knives in the first place. Part of the answer is closing loopholes in the ban on the sale of dangerous weapons, but that is not the whole story.

As those familiar with the issue know too well, Britain has a clear example of how to tackle knife crime. Two decades ago, Glasgow was known as one of the murder capitals of Europe, with one of the highest rates of homicides in the global north. Rather than a simple law and order response, a public health approach was taken that sought to diagnose and prevent violence, rather than just reacting after the event. That involved increasing support for young people at risk of getting swept up in violence. After 10 years, the number of hospital admissions from knife attacks had fallen by 62%. Again, that might not make Daily Mail headlines, but the evidence is there.

If young people at risk are offered talking therapy, extracurricular activities, such as sports programmes, or enrolled in mentoring programmes, they are less likely to get caught up in knife crime.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

I hear what the hon. Lady says about providing services and alternatives for young people, but does she also believe in a serious deterrent and in enforcement? Does she agree that if a person is caught carrying a knife or other offensive weapon, a custodial sentence is the most appropriate punishment?

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

I thank the hon. Member for his question. As I mentioned in my speech, we in this Chamber are often quick to resort to law and order and custodial sentences, but that is not the whole response, because it does not fix the problem. As I will mention, there is an issue around poverty and deprivation. We are not giving young people hope and we are not giving them opportunities, but people do not want to talk about that, because it involves a long-term strategy and investment. What we have seen over the past 14 years is the complete opposite of that. We have seen youth centres close down and schools stretched beyond measure when it comes to coping with the pressures that young people experience. So yes, it is not the only response, and it is not what we should always fall back on.

In Coventry, we have seen a significant fall in youth crime after an approach similar to that seen in Glasgow was adopted. Launched in May 2023, the “community initiative to reduce violence” programme has sought to identify young people at risk and offer them tailored support to help develop positive routes away from violence—from assisting with housing, health and debt to access to education. After six months, the programme has been credited with helping to cut knife crimes in the city by almost half. Of course, there is more work to be done. Just last weekend, two young people were stabbed in separate incidents in the city—my thoughts go out to them and their families. The evidence clearly shows that providing support for young people at risk, rather than just abandoning them, is how we address this issue at a deeper level.

Although we must roll out these violence reduction approaches across the country—I am pleased that Labour’s Young Future programme looks set to do that—we know that knife crime has a deeper structural cause as well. There is a wealth of evidence showing that these social ills are correlated with deprivation and inequality, with countries that have higher levels of inequality and poverty being more likely to have higher rates of violent crime. That is not surprising. When young people are abandoned, when their job opportunities disappear, and when their futures look bleak, it is little wonder that they are angry and feel hopeless.

The answer to kids being scared of knife crime in Coventry is not to lock up more young people for longer. The answer is not just to ban more dangerous weapons, however needed that is. The fundamental answer is through offering young people a route away from these problems, by giving them the support that they need to get on and giving them hope in their future, and that is what the next Labour Government must do.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North 2:42, 6 February 2024

It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana and to be the last Back-Bench contributor to this debate, which on the whole—with one exception—has been thoughtful, insightful, heartfelt and really sensitive.

I rise to speak today on behalf of my constituents in Luton North, who I know care a great deal about knife crime—when I say “care”, I mean that they are worried and scared about knife crime. There is no doubt that knife crime has become a national crisis, increasing by 77% since 2015. It is a scourge on our society and it has tragic and often fatal consequences. Knife crime not only takes lives, but devastates families, destroys futures and ambitions, and has a detrimental ripple effect on all our communities. Unfortunately, we know the impact of this all too well in Luton, as my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins has already highlighted.

In September 2023 alone, in just one month, there were five stabbings in our town, one of which tragically led to my constituent, 16-year-old Ashraf Habimana, losing his life. Two loving parents lost their son, Ashraf’s teachers and friends lost his bright and energetic personality, and our community has lost another young person under appallingly violent and, importantly, avoidable circumstances. His family and friends now have to grieve the loss of Ashraf and wait hopefully to see justice served, but the lasting trauma of this event will remain with them and our community forever.

Two years ago, another 16-year-old boy, Humza Hussain, was stabbed to death outside school—what another tragic loss, what another waste of life, what another future stolen. Our young people are most at risk when it comes to knife crime. In the year ending September 2022, there were more than 46,000 recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales, with young men and boys most likely to be both the perpetrators and victims of this crime.

I recently had the honour of meeting staff from Bedfordshire’s brilliant violence and exploitation reduction unit with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South to find out more about their “Just Drop It” knife campaign. At its heart is the voice and experience of a mum, Roseann, who tragically lost her young son, Azaan “AJ” Kaleem, in 2018. Too often nothing is done when there are signs that a young person is getting into trouble, being groomed by gangs, or falling into danger online. To me, the important part of today’s debate is about the child exploitation side of it—the side of it on which this Government have lagged behind. I do not care whether it has “Labour” or “Conservative” on the front of it. Parents, families and communities just want it done. To me, the people who prey on innocent young lives, regardless of their intentions—whether it is crime, sexual exploitation or drugs—are all the same and we should treat them exactly like that.

When teenagers say that they do not feel safe, or that they are struggling themselves with trauma or abuse, no one listens and no help is provided. That is what we are up against. The “Just Drop It” strategy aims to tackle these issues, providing accessible opportunities for young people to help them achieve their potential, ensuring that they feel supported and safe, and helping them to realise that there is an alternative to a life of knife crime and violence. All of these young boys and men leave families mourning the loss of life and the loss of a future that should have been bright and, importantly, safe.

The brilliant organisation, Boxing Saves Lives, works with hundreds of young people in Luton. It was set up and is now run by the inspirational JP, who often highlights the work that rightly goes on tackling violence against women and girls, and asks what about violence against boys and men. I could not agree with him more. Far too many young boys are exposed to violence and fear from a very young age. What is the Minister doing to tackle that? If the Government are taking any action, why is it not working?

If these deaths were as a result of a physical illness killing our young people, teams of doctors and researchers would be working day and night to find a cure. But we already know the cure; we know the lessons that need to be learned. The cure is all the things that have been stripped from our communities over the past 14 years: decent community policing; youth centres; decent schools; Sure Start centres; decent housing; mental health support; and tackling poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South says, shockingly, there are more food banks than police stations.

The results of knife crime have no political stripe, but how we have got here does. These were all political choices that led to the perfect storm of knife crime that we see in our society today. When we held community meetings after young Ashraf’s death, hundreds of people came and they said, “Here we are again”. Sadly, they were right. Sadly, until all the things that we know work are put in place, we will be here yet again. When the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box, I ask him please not to give us more warm words that lead to cold comfort for those families, as I know that it is only a matter of time before we are consoling yet another mother in Luton. Families are losing their children, children are losing their friends and whole parts of the country are losing their future. That situation should shame a Government of any colour, so I ask the Minister again please not to get up at that Dispatch Box and tell us that all is rosy, because it is not.

I am grateful for the fact that, all the while this Tory Government fail our communities, we have people in Luton such as Haleema Ali, who is fundraising for critical bleed kits in our town, and the Wingman Mentors, a not-for-profit organisation that works with vulnerable young people who are on the cusp of getting involved with crime, carrying knives, and serious violence. It has launched a campaign to install critical bleed kits in strategic locations across our town. The kits contain essential supplies to control severe bleeding effectively and can be used in the event of an emergency incident, whether a road traffic incident, a dog attack or a knife crime. I would be grateful to hear whether the Minister will be supporting that campaign. The organisation’s founders, Si and Michelle, believe that those kits are just as vital and lifesaving as defibrillators. They are also delivering training for people to familiarise themselves with bleed kits and their practical use, to give those who may be on the scene as zero responders the necessary skills possibly to save a life. I pay tribute to the vital work that Wingman Mentors and others are doing, but they should not have to rely on donations and funding from local businesses to make the installation of bleed kits a reality.

Yes, we have heard that knife crime is a cross-party problem and that we have to work across organisations and across parties—and I am happy to do so. However, the Government in their response to this issue have been wholly inadequate. The serious violence strategy is more than five years out of date. The serious violence taskforce was disbanded and everyone knows from their own communities that too little is being done to support young people to move away from violence and crime. Why is it that we have to continue with this farce of police funding in which Bedfordshire Police is classified as a rural police force? We have Luton, Dunstable and Bedford all within that area. Will the Minister please dare to comment on that and say when the farce of rural funding for Bedfordshire Police will end?

Much more needs to be done and we need a proper plan with meaningful funding behind it to make these changes. I am therefore proud to support Labour’s commitment to tackling this issue at its source, establishing a new Young Futures programme to stop young people being drawn into crime, implementing a total crackdown on the availability of knives on our streets and imposing tougher sentences for perpetrators. Knife crime and violence have no place in our society. We all have a responsibility to tackle the problem within our communities, but tackling knife crime no longer just means learning lessons; it means acting on them so that we are not standing here again speaking of our constituents, of loved ones tragically lost to knife crime and of those left behind who are traumatised and changed forever.

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Crime Reduction) 2:51, 6 February 2024

I start by expressing my thanks to hon. Members across the House for their powerful contributions this afternoon. They include my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), for West Ham (Ms Brown) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton), Paul Bristow, my hon. Friends the Members for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) and for Luton North (Sarah Owen), the hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Steve Tuckwell), and the rest. They all spoke powerfully about the tragedies that knife crime causes for victims and families.

Knife attacks have become far too deadly and frequent, especially for young people, as we have heard in this debate. They ruin lives, families and communities, and I speak for the whole House when I say they must be stopped. Zombie-style weapons and ninja swords must be banned, but they are currently far too accessible. A quick Google search not only brings up heartbreaking stories of the weapons being used, but shows where people can easily buy them. They are readily available on marketplaces for under £40. That cannot go on. We should not have to be in the Chamber today talking about banning zombie knives. If the Government’s ban in 2016 had worked and had gone far enough, more lives could have been saved. We must act now and introduce criminal sanctions for online marketplaces.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen and other hon. Members for mentioning the alarmingly high levels of knife crime across our country. I remind Mr French that knife crime is up 77% since 2015 across the country, not just in one city. Yet less than half of knife possession offences led to a formal sanction last year. That is law and order in Tory Britain in 2024.

It is young men who are most likely to be both the offenders and the victims of knife crime—young men who have their whole lives ahead of them, including the 17-year-old boy who was stabbed with a zombie knife in my Enfield North constituency only two weeks ago, Kalabe and Ronaldo in Dulwich and West Norwood, Alfred in Peterborough, Robert and Bradley in Batley and Spen, Ashraf in Luton North, Rahaan in West Ham, 39 people in Birmingham, Erdington and hundreds of young people whose names we did not know today. Each loss shocks a family and a community, but too little is being done to divert young people away from violence and crime.

Our young people deserve better. They are not being dealt a fair hand. That is not just the case in Enfield or in Birmingham; it is happening up and down the country and it demands instant action. Those weapons have no place in the hands of anybody on our streets, never mind children in parks and playgrounds. What have the Government been waiting for—a celebrity to step in so that they have to act? That is what it feels like for many across the country.

We have had 17 press releases from the Government regarding zombie and zombie-style knives since 2015, as we have heard, yet a full ban is still not in place. What are the Government waiting for? As eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, the

“drip-feed of small amendments to the law” has not worked. For many, it feels as though there is no end in sight. I am relieved that a new ban is coming, but we would not be here today if the first press release had actually meant something—if the Government’s ban in 2016 had gone far enough and actually worked and the Tories had delivered on their promise to keep our communities safe. Sadly, this is a tired, hopeless Government, unable to deliver for families across our country.

Let us be clear: this ban needs to go further. It needs to cover ninja swords and other dangerous swords. However, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire said that if there were other things—referring to weapons or blades—that needed to be brought into scope, the Government can do that much more quickly. My question is this: why wait, if they can ban those weapons now? Why wait for the criminals to shift to other weapons of choice? There is no reason we should let criminals win at the expense of grieving families. As we have heard in the debate, the consequences of not closing those loopholes are devastating. That is why we are calling for the Government’s ban to go further now. With each day that passes, young people in particular are at risk of having their futures taken away from them, and we can prevent that.

I stress that ninja swords should not be accessible at a click of a button. Ronan Kanda was murdered with a 22-inch ninja sword. The weapon was ordered online using someone else’s identification and collected without any identification. How can it be so easy to commit a crime of that kind? I think Members across the House can agree that there are very few legitimate reasons to own and carry a 22-inch sword on the streets of this country—and that is exactly why we are debating this motion. It has become far too easy to own and to use those weapons on our streets, with far too few consequences for doing so. That is the culture that has been allowed to thrive across Britain under this Government, and it must stop. Labour will close the loophole allowing marketplaces to escape liability for dangerous knife sales online.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

May I ask the hon. Lady the same question I asked Zarah Sultana? Does she agree that someone caught in possession of a knife or bladed weapon such as she describes should go to prison?

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Crime Reduction)

Currently, as I have said, in more than 50% of cases where young people are caught with a bladed weapon, nothing is being done and they have been allowed to go off. The hon. Gentleman should question Ministers about that—[Interruption.] I will continue.

As I touched on earlier, too little is being done to give young people the best start in life. Too often, when teenagers say they do not feel safe or that they are struggling with trauma, abuse or mental health issues, no one listens and no help is provided. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South said so eloquently about how community services have just disappeared. The Government have hollowed out our youth services, mental health services and policing teams, among others. In fact, over the past 14 years, there has been no serious cross-Government effort to stop young people being drawn into crime. Who pays the price? Young people, victims, their families and communities all over the country, including in my Enfield North constituency. They cannot wait any longer.

We need early intervention to stop young people being drawn into crime on our streets in the first place. That is what Labour will do through our Young Futures programme. We will invest in young people and bring together a national network of youth hubs in our communities, with joined-up multi-agency targeted work. We will put youth workers in A&E units and mental health workers in schools to ensure that they are on hand to help our young people when it matters most, giving them the best possible start in life. That will support our aim of halving serious violence, including knife crime, and youth violence within a decade. We will step in where the Government have failed. Communities across the country are behind Labour’s plan, so why aren’t the Government? We have done it in government before, and we can do it again.

The crisis in knife crime needs to be dealt with urgently and cannot be ignored any longer. The Government need to get a grip and put an end to the suffering. If their ban had been successful, we would not be debating the issue today. We need the ban on zombie-style knives to go much further; we need to introduce a criminal sanction for websites that indirectly sell illegal weapons online; and, in the long term, we need to support our young people to prevent them from being dragged into crime in the first place. I think the whole House agrees that our young people deserve better. We must give them the best possible start in life and keep them safe. That is why I urge all Members from across the House to do the right thing and vote for Labour’s motion to get the weapons off our streets.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 3:01, 6 February 2024

I am grateful to have the opportunity to talk about this important topic. I thank Members on both sides who have contributed thoughtfully to this afternoon’s debate, which is of huge importance to our constituents up and down the country.

Too many families have been touched by the tragedy of knife crime and the unspeakable agony of losing a loved one. In fact, by coincidence—it was arranged before this debate was scheduled—I met yesterday with a few families from across London who have lost sons, brothers and, in one case, a daughter to knife crime. That group of families included the immediate family and cousins of Elianne Andam, a 15-year-old girl from Croydon—the borough that I represent in Parliament—who was tragically murdered on Wednesday 27 September last year. Her alleged assailant is now in custody. I remember attending Elianne’s funeral in Croydon a few weeks later. The outpouring of grief from the whole community, particularly from her parents, Michael and Dorcas, and her little brother, Kobi, moved everybody who attended on that Saturday morning a couple of months ago—I think more than 1,000 people were in attendance.

Nothing illustrated more powerfully how important this topic is than seeing those family members and that whole community united in grief at the loss of Elianne. Of course, like the Andam family, too many families up and down the country, in London and elsewhere, have suffered tragedy in that way. It is up to all of us in public life—whether here in Parliament, in city government, police and crime commissioners, in local councils and so on—to do everything we possibly can to deal with this issue. It is in that spirit that many Members have approached the debate.

We have heard quite a lot about figures. Everyone knows that we need to do more, but any informed debate has to start with a proper understanding of what the figures are. A number of Opposition Members have quoted the figure of knife crime being up 77% since 2015. That is a police recorded crime figure. A number of other figures are available. The Office for National Statistics says:

“police recorded crime does not tend to be a good indicator of general trends in crime” for higher-volume offences—not my words, but those of the ONS. Let me explain why: police recorded crime depends on the propensity of the public to report it and on how good a job the police do at recording it when it is reported.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I will just make the point about statistics and then I will give way. Over the last few years—largely driven by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and its crime data integrity initiatives—the police have got a lot better at always recording offences. On what is the more reliable measure, the ONS says:

“The Crime Survey of England and Wales remains the best estimate of long-term trends in crimes against the…population”— for offences included in that survey.

The crime survey, which is, according to the Office for National Statistics, the

“best estimate of long-term trends”, shows a reduction of 51% in violent crimes—I am talking specifically about violent crimes, not all crimes—since March 2010. The figure stood at 1.841 million in the year ending March 2010. In the year ending September 2023—the most recent period for which data is available—it had gone down by about 1 million offences, or by 51%, to 894,000 offences. However, there are other measures—

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The ONS states:

“Police recorded crime provides a better measure than the Crime Survey for England and Wales of higher-harm but less common types of violence, such as those involving a knife or sharp instrument (knife-enabled crime).”

Does the Minister agree? Does he acknowledge that knife crime has gone up 77% since 2015 and that it is a deep, deep tragedy for our country?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I would agree that for lower-volume crime, police recorded crime does provide an accurate measure. Of course, the principal example of that is homicide, which is relevant here. I have the homicide figures for the shadow Home Secretary since she asked about police recorded crime for lower-volume serious offences. In the year ending March 2010—the last year that she was in government—there were 620 homicides. In the 12 months ending September 2023—the most recent period for which data is available—those homicide figures had declined from 620 when she was in government to 591 in the most recent period. Each of those homicides is a tragedy and one homicide too many, but the number has gone down in that period, even though the population has grown significantly.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I did promise to give way to the hon. Member for Luton North, so I will do so.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

I thank the Minister for being generous with his time. On police recorded crime, the 77% figure is surely the bare minimum given that the level of under-reporting, particularly among young people, is extremely high. Does he agree that the Government’s claim that knife crime has somehow gone down will sit like a bucket of cold sick with communities such as mine, which know that the scourge of knife crime is rife under the Tory Government?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

No one is suggesting that knife crime is not a problem that needs dealing with. I am just giving the hon. Lady and the House the facts. Using the most accurate measure of higher-volume crimes according to the Office for National Statistics, such crime has come down 51% since 2010, with homicide down as well.

Let me take another measure of serious crime: hospital admissions following a stabbing injury. Quite frankly, if anyone—

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

If I may, I will finish this point and then move on, as I have more to talk about beyond the statistics.

If someone is stabbed, they will go to hospital, so one of the measures we look at in the Home Office is the number of hospital admissions with an injury caused by a bladed article—that is to say, a knife. Since 2019, those hospital admissions have gone down by 21%. I do not mention those figures out of complacency, or to score some political point; I mention those figures, which are endorsed by the ONS, to make sure that the House has an accurate and sober assessment.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I do want to move on. Having said all that, I want to talk about prevention, the law and enforcement. Let me start with prevention.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I have given way several times on the point about figures, and have explained in detail where the figures come from.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to give the Minister the opportunity to make sure he is not providing inaccurate information to the House. He has implied that the ONS believes that the crime survey, rather than the police recorded crime statistics—[Interruption.] No, this is about factual information from the ONS.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is a factual point about what the ONS believes is the most accurate measure to use for knife crime. I have quoted at the Minister the ONS’s words about the police recorded crime statistics being the most accurate measure for knife crime, and the Minister has tried to deny that that is the case. I want to give him the opportunity to give accurate information to the House, and to be clear that the police recorded statistics—which show that knife crime has gone up over the past eight years—are the ones that the ONS recommends.

Hon. Members::

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

It is very kind of everyone to tell me how to do what I am in the process of doing. The right hon. Lady knows that what she has just said is a point of debate, not a point of order for the Chair. If she is asking me to answer a point of order, my answer to her is that it is not a point of order, and it is not for me to adjudicate from the Chair how any statistics should be interpreted. The right hon. Lady knows that the Minister was not taking an intervention from her. He has the floor. It is up to him, and she should not use a point of order to make a point of debate. However, she has now done so, and I am sure the Minister will answer.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for dealing with that point of debate disguised as a point of order. I will reiterate what I have said, and quote again what the Office for National Statistics said:

“Police recorded crime does not tend to be a good indicator of general trends in crime” for higher-volume crime. It has also said that the crime survey of England and Wales

“remains the best estimate of long-term trends” in crimes against the household. According to the crime survey, violent crime is down by 51% since 2010. When we look at one of those lower-volume crimes for which the ONS says that police recorded crime is more appropriate—I obviously accept what the ONS says—homicides have gone down from 620 to 591, which is buttressed by the 21% reduction in hospital admissions since 2019. [Interruption.] I will now move on to address the question of prevention.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Before the Minister moves on, the Back Benchers are being really quite well behaved—thank you. Both sets of Front Benchers are shouting at each other across the Table while the Minister is on his feet. Now, stop it!

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I have had worse, Madam Deputy Speaker, but thank you for your assistance. As always, it is gratefully received.

Members on both sides of the House have rightly raised the issue of prevention. Of course, we want to prevent young people from getting on to a path that leads to committing acts of violence. We want to intervene early, taking someone who may be as young as 12 and putting them on a path where they do not become a 16 or 17-year-old perpetrator. As Members can imagine, that was a topic of discussion at the meeting I had yesterday, which was attended by the London violence reduction unit. In the current year, we are funding violence reduction units in the 20 police force areas most affected, to the tune of £55 million. That funds interventions such as mentoring schemes, apprenticeships, work experience and even cognitive behavioural therapy—there is a really good evidence base for the fact that that intervention can steer a young person who is at risk of heading down the wrong path in a better direction.

We are also working with the Youth Endowment Fund, and have invested £200 million in it. It is spending that money partly on directly commissioning interventions that help young people at risk of getting into gangs or into a life of violence, but it also does research into what works best. It has a very good evidence base for what interventions are really effective—it has a top three. There are also some interventions that, on a common-sense basis, we would think will be effective, but the evidence base says are actually not effective. We are trying to work with VRUs to make sure that the work they fund is more oriented towards those effective interventions.

I was also struck at yesterday’s meeting by the impact that grassroots organisations can have. Those organisations are often run by people who have experience themselves: either they have been victims of knife crime, or one of their family members has tragically been killed or seriously injured. Working with those grassroots organisations can have a very positive impact, and I would like to do more to encourage it.

A Member—it may have been an Opposition Member—made a point about identifying youngsters who are at risk of getting on to the wrong track and intervening at an individual level. That is something I plan to do more on with local authorities. I am aware of a case in which a 12-year-old was involved in what we might call low-level criminality, but then went on to commit more serious offences. That is an example of where we need to identify individuals and work with local authorities, children’s services and others—including mental health services, if necessary—to intervene and make sure an at-risk 12-year-old does not become a 17-year-old perpetrator.

Drug treatment is an associated issue. Too much violence is associated with drugs: either acquisitive crime to fund a drug habit, or violence associated with drug supply. We are investing £780 million over three years in increasing drug treatment capacity, which has to be the right thing to do, especially for opioids, which are associated with the worst offending behaviour.

Finally on prevention, I completely endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Luton North: bleed kits are vital, and I want to work with local authorities and local police forces to make sure more are available, including tourniquets, which can reduce the number of people who suffer either a very serious injury or a fatality if there is a tragic incident. Some of those things are already under way; others are areas in which we can do more.

I will now turn to the law, which we have discussed quite a lot this afternoon. In relation to sentencing, about which my hon. Friend Paul Bristow rightly made some points, carrying any knife, regardless of whether it is banned—even a kitchen knife—in a public place without good reason is a criminal offence and currently carries a sentence of up to four years, and it is right that it does. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, we have recently tightened up the legislation to say that if a person gets caught carrying a knife a second time, there is a strong presumption, which will apply in all but exceptional circumstances, that a six-month minimum jail sentence will be imposed. Those powers are in place.

We are also legislating through the Criminal Justice Bill, which will have its Report stage in the House in a few weeks’ time, to ensure that where someone supplies a knife to an under-18—which, as we have discussed, is a very serious matter—they will receive a higher sentence of two years. We are also creating a new offence that will be considered more serious: that of possessing a knife in a public place with intent to cause injury. Sometimes, people have advertised their intent on social media, and when they have done so, that should be treated more seriously.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Earlier in the debate, I asked the Minister’s colleague, my hon. and learned Friend Michael Tomlinson, a question, which he suggested the Minister might answer. I do not want to corner him, but what is the current direction of travel on the thinking in relation to the criminal sanction proposed in the Opposition motion:

“criminal liability for senior management of websites which indirectly sell illegal knives online”?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank my right hon. Friend for his very good question, and I will come on to that matter now. We want to tighten up the sale of knives online. The principal vehicle for that is not so much the Criminal Justice Bill, although we are increasing the criminal sanction for supplying a knife to an under-18 to up to two years in prison, as the Online Safety Act 2023, which was given Royal Assent in October and will be commenced in stages as Ofcom drafts its codes of practice. The Online Safety Act puts a duty on social media firms—including, critically, online marketplaces—to proactively prevent priority criminal offences from happening.

For a time I was the Bill Minister for the Online Safety Bill, as it then was, and I think I am correct in recalling that the priority criminal offences are set out in schedule 7 to that Act. However, I am speaking from memory, so if the shadow Home Secretary wants to make a point of order and correct me, she is very welcome to do so. I think it is schedule 7, but she is unusually quiet. One of those priority offences is concerned with the supply of knives, so social media firms and online marketplaces will have a duty to proactively take steps to prevent the sale of two types of knives that are illegal and to prevent the sale of knives in general to under-18s.

To answer the question about criminal liability, Members will know, or should know, that the Online Safety Act includes provisions that create personal criminal liability for executives of large social media firms in a number of circumstances. In fact, for precisely the reasons my right hon. Friend mentioned and that the Opposition probably had in mind when they drafted today’s motion, those measures were strengthened as the Online Safety Bill passed through the House. The Online Safety Act, as it is now, is the mechanism through which those points, including personal criminal liability, are being addressed.

By the way, the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill include giving the police the power to seize lawfully held knives that are legal, such as kitchen knives, if the police reasonably suspect that they are going to be used for criminal purposes. If a drug dealer has 10 of these knives, which might technically be legal, but has them at their home address, the police can seize those lawful knives where there is a suspicion that they are going be used for criminal purposes. That is in the Criminal Justice Bill.

We are also acting via a statutory instrument laid a week or two ago, which has been referred to, to ban even more zombie-style knives and machetes. We set out in that statutory instrument the characteristics that those knives must have—over 8 inches in length, for example, or certain features concerning serration and sharp edges. The reason why that will not take effect until September is that we need to allow people who currently hold knives that will become illegal the chance to surrender them. That scheme will run over the summer, and the ban will take effect in September.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Anna Firth, who has been campaigning on this topic for some time. She convened a knife crime summit last year with a number of police and crime commissioners, including Essex’s excellent police and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst. Their campaigning—hers and Roger Hirst’s—led to this measure coming forward. I hope it is clear from those comments that the law has been tightened already and is in the process of being tightened even further.

Ms Brown asked a good question about children being coerced or manipulated into committing offences, and she asked in particular about a private Member’s Bill tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford. This is something that we have studied carefully and taken advice on, as she would expect. It is already an offence, in relation to both children and adults, to encourage, control or cause them to undertake criminal activity. Sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 do what she is rightly asking for, and there are also provisions in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I think they are in section 45, but I am again speaking from memory. Those provisions in the Serious Crime Act are very wide-ranging—in fact, more wide-ranging than those in the Modern Slavery Act—and they apply to children and to adults, and I would like to see the police using those powers a great deal more.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

I say very gently to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am genuinely grateful to him for listening to what I asked for and for responding, that the experts in the field believe those provisions do not do what they need to. Would he allow me to write to him and have a discussion so that we can take this matter forward?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

Yes, I am very willing to work with the hon. Lady and to look at detailed representations. I have been advised that those sections are quite broad-ranging. I have read them myself and—on the face of it, and reading them as a Member of Parliament would read any bit of legislation—they do strike me as very wide-ranging in their scope. However, I am of course happy to listen to particular representations and to discuss them. If those sections of the Serious Crime Act and the Modern Slavery Act contain lacunae, I would be willing to discuss that. I am looking forward to hearing from the hon. Lady on that topic and working with her if there are gaps to be filled.

We have talked about prevention and about the law needing to be strong enough, and we must come on to enforcement because we must protect our fellow citizens from criminal activity, knife crime in particular. Clearly, it is important to make sure that the police have the relevant resources. An Opposition Member referred to police numbers, and in March last year we achieved a headcount of 149,566 police officers—more than at any time in history. In fact, it is about 3,500 more than under the last Labour Government.

I would like those police officers to do a couple of things. I would like them to be patrolling in hotspots where crimes are a particular problem. We have been doing hotspot patrolling in 20 force areas, in what is called Project Grip and that has delivered very significant reductions in violent crime. We also trialled hotspot patrolling in 10 force areas, including Essex, Staffordshire and Lancashire, for antisocial behavioural last year, and those delivered reductions in antisocial behaviour of up to 36%.

Because that is working, from April this year—just a couple of months’ time—we are putting new funding of £66 million behind it, over and above the record police settlement. By the way, that settlement will see an extra £922 million go to police and crime commissioners, with that £66 million to fund hotspot patrolling in every single police force area in the country, targeted against antisocial behaviour and serious violence, because we know it works. I am sure Members will be lobbying their police and crime commissioners to make sure that those hotspot patrols take place in areas of concern to them. I know, for example, that one of the parts of Essex where those hotspot patrols have taken place is Southend, and it has been effective at reducing antisocial behaviour there.

Stop and search is another important part of this equation. It would seem that the Mayor of London and some Opposition Members do not like it, and I understand their concerns, but we need to use stop and search confidently and proactively—done lawfully and respectfully, of course—because it has taken 60,000 knives off the streets in the last four years. Every month, in London alone, 400 knives are taken off the streets by stop and search. We need to use it confidently and proactively and not pull back from using it, because it will save lives. When we talk to the families of victims—who, sadly, often come from ethnic minority communities—they say, “If only my son’s murderer had been stopped and searched on the way to the murder.” That is the kind of thing we hear people say.

If anyone is concerned about disproportionality—it was a topic I wanted to look at myself—the rate at which knives or drugs are successfully found on people who are stopped and searched is about the same regardless of ethnicity; whether someone is white, black, Asian or any ethnicity, the find rate is about the same, at approximately 22% or 23%. If there was disproportionality or unfair behaviour by the police, we would find a difference, but we do not. So I urge all chief constables and PCCs to use stop and search confidently and proactively.

My hon. Friend Mr French mentioned scanning technology. Technology is being developed—it is not ready for deployment yet, but it is being developed and we are putting funding into it this year—to scan people walking down the street, for example, semi-covertly. It is not a knife arch but is a much smaller scanning device, and it can scan people to see whether they have a knife somewhere on their person. That is obviously much less intrusive than a stop and search, does not lead to some of the tension stop and search can lead to, and it is obviously much quicker to do. I am hopeful that if we can deploy that scanning technology, it will make it near-impossible to carry a knife in a high-traffic place such as a high street in London. We are investing in that technology.

There is also an opportunity to catch more perpetrators using facial recognition, including live facial recognition, which we discussed in the Bill Committee at some length.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

The shadow Minister is worried that I am going to spend the next 20 minutes describing it; I am not going to do that, but I will say that in the last week there has been a further deployment of live facial recognition in Croydon and it has caught wanted people. Over the past few weeks, people have been caught who were wanted for knife offences, rape and other very serious offences who would not otherwise have been caught. So live facial recognition can help us there as well. A strong approach to enforcement is critical, too.

We heard some political points from the Opposition Members. I have tried to deliver these concluding remarks in a spirit that is not too political, but a few Members said they thought the solution to this problem was a general election. I would politely and gently say that the largest police force in the country is London’s, and it has a Labour police and crime commissioner. Labour Members have said the way London is run is a model for a future Labour Government, but of the 43 police forces I oversee, Labour and Sadiq Khan’s stewardship of London is pretty much the worst. In the last year, knife crime in London has gone up while in the rest of the country it has gone down. It is the only police force to have missed its police uplift recruitment target. In fact it could have had an extra 1,062 police officers, for which there was Government money available, but it did not recruit them. If that is a model for a future Labour Government, heaven help us all.

In the meantime, where there are measures we need to take to go further, we will. I am very open to having constructive discussions such as those I have agreed to have with the hon. Member for West Ham, because I know all of us are united in our desire to fight the scourge of knife crime. Those of us who have attended the funerals of victims, as I did with Elianne Andam’s family a few weeks ago, and indeed all of us are under a moral obligation as well as a public duty obligation to do everything we can and leave no stone unturned in fighting that scourge, and I will work with Members on both sides of the House to make sure we do exactly that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
condemns the Government for overseeing a 77 per cent increase in knife crime since 2015; recognises the devastating impact that knife crime has on victims, their families and the wider community;
acknowledges that the Government recently announced measures to ban zombie knives and machetes;
believes, nonetheless, that this legislation does not go nearly far enough, meaning that a number of dangerous types of knives and swords will remain legal and available on UK streets;
therefore calls on the Government to address the shortcomings of the ban by extending it to cover ninja swords and consulting on a further extension;
and further calls for the Government to establish an end-to-end review of online knife sales and introduce criminal liability for senior management of websites which indirectly sell illegal knives online.