Moved by Lord Harris of Haringey
To move that this House takes note of the recent increase in violent crime and the case for a cross-governmental response that includes not only policing, law enforcement and policies on gangs and drugs but also health services, youth provision and opportunities for young people.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate today, and in doing so remind the House of my various interests in the register.
Nineteen days ago a man in his 30s was found with stab injuries at the end of my road. He was one of the luckier ones; his injuries were not life-threatening. However, on that same weekend the number of murders in London this year exceeded the total for the whole of 2017—and across the country the latest ONS figures suggest a 12% increase in the number of offences involving a knife or sharp instrument. But these statistics tell us nothing about the human tragedies involved in individual cases: the parents who are devastated and those who are left bereft.
What should be clear is that the causes of violent crime are complex and that there is no single, simple solution. Indeed, those who pretend that there is do a disservice to those who have died and suffered, and a disservice to their loved ones.
Let us also be clear that this is not just about London; it is an issue in all urban areas. However, the response of the Mayor of London has been decisive: creating the violent crime task force with 250 police officers based in the highest-risk localities and deployed flexibly and rapidly in accordance with the intelligence picture. This may already have had an impact on the figures, although it is too early to say conclusively. In addition, the mayor is setting up a violence reduction unit to spread good practice and identify systemic London-wide issues that need to be addressed.
At the same time, the mayor’s Young Londoners Fund—totalling £45 million—will help children and young people to fulfil their potential, particularly those at risk of getting caught up in crime, with 105 local community organisations starting projects in January, supporting 50,000 young people aged 10 to 21, with another round of projects starting in May. The importance of this is the recognition that you cannot simply police yourself out of the problems around violent crime—which is why in London there are local action plans agreed by local partners in each borough.
But the decline in police numbers has had a major effect. There will soon be fewer than 30,000 officers policing our capital city and, with £300 million still to be found from the Metropolitan Police budget in the next year, we will be back to the levels of 20 years ago, while London’s population has risen from 7 million to 9 million.
What is the consequence of that? The imperative to respond to incidents means that there are not the resources available for proactive and preventive policing. Neighbourhood policing is a shadow of its former self, which means that the police no longer have the community insights they had, that intelligence is diminished and that proactive interventions are reduced.
I have talked to council leaders who tell me that low-level drug dealing is often not targeted. If police officers are confronted by it, they intervene, but operations to disrupt such problems are no longer possible. The consequence is that dealing is normalised. Gangs feel that they can operate unhindered. They expand their operations and there are territorial disputes—and then stabbings and murders.
What is the Home Office response? I can tell you now what the Minister will say because she has said it repeatedly in your Lordships’ House. She will say that locally elected police and crime commissioners must set local priorities—she is nodding. That is true, but it is near meaningless if your resources are pitifully inadequate for the task faced. She will say that there is no correlation between police numbers and crime levels. That was true only when a measure of crime was used that showed that total crime was falling because it did not pick up the massive shift towards online crimes. She will say that PCCs can increase the police precept if they wish. Yes, they can, but only within the strict limits set by the Government, who have failed to fund £420 million of police pension commitments. We just heard the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, tell us that schools’ pension commitments are being fully funded, but the police pension commitments are not. No doubt the Minister will tell us why that is and why it is such a beneficial policy, unlike in every other major public service. It is not surprising that PCCs feel they are being left in a worse position than ever before.
These cuts are real. The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by 20,000 since March 2010 and is now at its lowest recorded level since the early 1980s, yet we know from the 2011 riots, which occurred before most of that reduction took place, how tenuous the thin blue line actually is. This week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary highlighted the pressures on the police as a result of what is called the “broken mental health system”. These cuts and pressures are not surprisingly leading to a purely reactive service. This is starkly demonstrated in the latest figures for the number of drug seizures, which were down to 135,000 in 2017-18, the lowest number for 14 years, so gangs feel they can operate on our streets with impunity.
It is not just the police that have suffered cuts. In 2010, £1.2 billion was spent across the country on youth work and youth services. Last year that had fallen to £358 million: a 68% cut. Other public services, such as probation, that help to reduce the risk of crime or support young people have suffered similarly, as has the funding available to charities and the voluntary sector. Our social fabric is being stretched so thin that it has become almost transparent.
The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy—and I am sure we will hear much about it from the Minister—is simply not enough to plug those gaps. It is long on analysis and short on remedies. It recognises that changes in the drugs market have fuelled recent increases in violence but offers little as a solution. The focus of the strategy is supposed to be early intervention, which is a worthy aspiration, and indeed there is a blizzard of worthy but small-scale initiatives in the strategy. There is to be a new early intervention youth fund amounting to £11 million—contrast that with the mayor’s Young Londoners Fund, which is worth £45 million and is four times the size. The early intervention money is to be spent over two years—and that is itself a problem. Ask anyone involved in the field and they will tell you that is simply too short a period for a project to deliver a sustained impact.
I want to say a bit about police tactics and style. To listen to some Ministers, you would think the answer is simply much more stop and search. This analysis conveniently forgets that it was the present Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, who restricted police powers in this area and pressurised the police to make much less use of the powers they still had, so much so that the number of police stops fell to 280,000 last year compared with 1.5 million 10 years earlier. Incidentally, the figures continue to show an apparently disproportionate number of black men being stopped and, if anything, the disproportionality has increased.
Of course, stop and search should be intelligence-led. However, the changes in the law around Section 60 stops—Section 60 allows all police stops in precisely defined areas for a specific period—have made it harder for the police to respond proactively and flexibly to intelligence received. The law now requires that senior police must for good reason believe that serious violence will take place and that the power is necessary to prevent such violence. Previously the test was that serious violence not “will” but “may” take place. That change was unhelpful. Reversing it would be far more sensible than the wider loosening of the law advocated by the Centre for Social Justice and apparently contemplated by the present Home Secretary.
Section 60 powers must be used only with community consent. When you ask young people and communities what measures are necessary in a particular locality, they will often want to see more stops to take weapons off the streets and, more importantly, deter individuals carrying knives and other weapons. It requires serious community engagement, and that individual stops are conducted with respect and civility. It is always better if the officers using the powers are familiar with the areas concerned, which is why the approach taken by the Met’s violent crime task force, with teams of officers dedicated to the most high-risk areas, makes sense. The impact of having police equipped with body-worn video means that individual interactions are recorded and are more likely to be conducted in an appropriate fashion on both sides.
Other interventions would be more controversial. I have heard that the Metropolitan Police is undertaking a limited consultation about deploying armed police on foot patrols with their guns in areas where there have been violent incidents. I am not convinced that that would be helpful. It would be seen as provocative. It will inspire fear rather than reassurance. It will hinder community confidence and do little in itself to reduce the number of violent incidents. It would be more positive to maintain or even enhance schools liaison and engagement work. Facilitating data exchange makes sense. The PCC in Stafford wants hospitals to be more willing to share information about those presenting with knife wounds and other injuries. Similarly, sharing data on habitual knife carriers with the probation service and schools makes sense, but too often data confidentiality is cited as the reason why this cannot be done, even when to do so might help save lives.
I want to return to what the Government have said in their Serious Violence Strategy about early intervention and the underlying reasons for the increase in young people turning to violence, carrying knives and getting involved in gangs. We need to focus on the increasing sense of hopelessness and alienation felt by many young people, the absence of life chances, and adverse childhood experiences. A striking proportion of those involved in gang violence have been excluded from school. Too often, schools wash their hands of young people who are seen as too difficult and who are not going to help league table performance, but pupil referral units—even where they have places available, and many do not—do not turn those young people round, and there is evidence of gangs recruiting directly from such units. If at 16 you have been excluded from the education system, have poor literacy and numeracy, no exam results and little prospect of achieving the material rewards that you see others around you enjoying, it is perhaps not surprising that the apparent easy pickings of gang membership seem enticing. If, in addition, you have come from a seriously dysfunctional family with a parent or parents bowed down by substance abuse or where violence is the norm, gang membership may seem like a haven and an escape.
The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy should be ambitious in tackling such matters. Why are so many pupils excluded from school and what is being done about it? How do you stop pupil referral units failing those referred? What is being done about the inadequacy of child and adolescent mental health services in many areas to support disturbed young people, as highlighted in your Lordships’ House on Tuesday by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester? What about the online drivers of violence, such as underage sales via the internet of zombie knives, drill music glorifying violence—it was put to me that they are not musicians pretending to be gangsters, but gangsters pretending to be musicians—or the provocations that appear daily on social media with gangs exulting in their violence and on their incursions into rival territory?
It is of course a matter of enormous regret that the coalition Government dismantled the Sure Start programme that was aimed at giving all children the best foundations for their futures. In 2015, when I was leading the review for the Ministry of Justice into the self-inflicted deaths of young people in prison, we came across research carried out in Washington state in the USA over the last 30 years that demonstrated that providing intensive support to the mother/baby relationship in the first year of life was an investment by the state that paid off many times over in terms of reduced family breakdown, reduced social work and health interventions, and less engagement with the criminal justice system. Addressing those issues would be an ambitious strategy, but that is the scale of the aspiration that the Government should follow if their Serious Violence Strategy is to be more than platitudes and a list of worthy but short-term initiatives.
Tackling violent crime requires an approach that spans right across government. In 2002 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, convened weekly meetings in COBRA with relevant Ministers and all the responsible agencies to deliver a dramatic reduction in street crime. In London, the deputy mayor for policing is hosting fortnightly meetings in City Hall to bring about multiagency collaboration on knife and gang violence in the capital. Where is the parallel grip and focus at the national level today?
Violent crime is taking lives in our cities—more in a year, incidentally, than died from terrorism in the last 20 years. We are risking the loss of a cohort of young people to gang violence and drugs. Are the Government going to step up and take the ambitious measures necessary? I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on securing this debate. I can think of few subjects that are more deserving of public debate than the violence on our streets and the tragic loss of young lives that this violence has caused in London and elsewhere.
Day after day, we hear harrowing stories of young men being knifed to death in public places yet our national media remains obsessed with other things: alternative approaches to Brexit, the political implications of the latest round of ministerial resignations or the fate of individual football clubs and their managers. Surely that cannot be right. What kind of society have we become when stories about the loss of young human lives are relegated to the inside pages, when we appear to accept these deaths as simply among the more unpleasant features of urban living? I believe that the attitude of acceptance of violence in our streets as regrettable but more or less unavoidable is not only morally reprehensible but is one of the main reasons why such violence persists and why we find it so difficult to reduce if not eliminate it.
I shall explain briefly what I mean. I am afraid that most people, including our political leaders and opinion formers, tend to accept violence on the streets as inevitable because in their heart of hearts they do not believe that it is possible to prevent it, at least not in the short term and certainly not by relying on the police to do so. That reflects what I sense to be a widespread belief that our local police forces simply are not capable of preventing crime and therefore cannot be relied upon to make any significant difference to the level of street violence or community safety more generally.
That belief is not often articulated so starkly but most people, if pressed, think of police officers as “PC Plods” who are there primarily to pick up the pieces: to find missing persons, clear the drug addicts off our streets, try to cope with those who are mentally ill or simply walk the beat and make themselves useful if asked to do so. When it comes to dealing with crime, whether serious crime or so-called volume crime, most people tend to think of the police as concerned primarily with what happens after the event, whether that means writing reports or trying, usually unsuccessfully, to identify the perpetrator. For most people, expecting the police to prevent crime before it happens is totally unrealistic.
That is why, when it comes to tackling violence, the popular view is that the only truly effective approach is through programmes aimed at strengthening families, improving schools, building new and better houses, tackling racism or providing better health services, youth provision and job opportunities for young people, but we all understand that such changes take years to implement and even longer to make a difference to people’s lives, even if Governments could be persuaded to fund them. That is why, even though we talk about the need for urgent action to reduce violence on our streets, most of us do not really believe that there is a quick fix and have come to accept that we are probably stuck with it for a long time yet—10 years or maybe more.
I believe that is a counsel of despair that is both immoral and needlessly pessimistic. I believe the violence that is killing and maiming our young people can be significantly reduced much more quickly and effectively. I believe it can be done now without having to wait for the development of the kinds of longer-term programmes that I mentioned earlier and about which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, spoke, although I do not for a minute want to minimise the importance of such programmes or the need to expedite their implementation. I believe the violence in our cities can be reduced in months rather than years because I saw it done in New York, Philadelphia and other American cities where I worked in policing from 1996 to 2008.
Before any noble Lords jump to the conclusion that I believe American police officers are more effective than ours, I make it clear that I have worked closely with policing professionals on both sides of the Atlantic and assure your Lordships that our police officers are every bit as good at their jobs as their American colleagues, and in many respects they are better. They are certainly better trained, have higher professional standards and have very much better central support and co-ordination arrangements.
However, American police officers have one great advantage: they work in a society where their political masters believe that they, the local police, can make a real difference to reducing crime and keeping communities safe. In each of the cities in which I worked—New York, Philadelphia, Miami and even tiny Hartford, Connecticut—the police reported to mayors who regarded community safety as their highest priority and were prepared to commit themselves publicly to achieving safer communities by reducing crime and to being held accountable for doing so by their electorates. These mayors in turn set prioritised strategic crime reduction objectives for their police chiefs and held those chiefs accountable for achieving those objectives. The chiefs in turn set clear operational objectives for their senior officers and held these officers accountable for achieving their objectives.
In that way, the whole of the police organisation knew exactly what was expected of it. Everyone knew what they were expected to do and, at least as important, not expected to do. They knew, for example, that if the local newspaper published a leader attacking them for not investigating minor crimes, as the Times did this morning, the mayor would make it clear that this had been his decision and had been taken in order to free scarce police resources—resources were very scarce in each of the cities where I worked—to enable the force to prevent more serious crimes such as violence on the streets. This setting of clear priorities for the police enabled the force to focus on the problems that the community regarded as most important, and this led the community to feel that the police department understood their needs and was committed to meeting them.
I believe that is the approach that we should be taking to tackling violence on our streets. The first step is to believe that the police can make a difference and to act on that belief. That means setting chief constables the clear strategic objective of reducing violence on our streets and expecting them to give priority to that objective. It also means giving chief constables the resources that they need to do achieve that central objective and holding them personally accountable for achieving it.
I am confident that our police leaders, like their American counterparts, would welcome the challenge. Indeed, I believe they would see it as a vote of confidence in their professional capabilities and would deliver the safer communities that we want. The question is whether our political leaders at national and local levels—the Home Secretary, the Mayor of London and local PCCs—are prepared to accept this challenge and take personal responsibility for keeping us safe, or will they continue to blame others, such as the police, the Treasury, the Home Office, the education and health systems and immigrants, for the present violence on our streets?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey for initiating this important debate. I believe that the Government do support a multidisciplinary approach to violent crime, but they are not providing the means to achieve success. The serious violence strategy has received widespread support, but £40 million to support initiatives to tackle serious violence is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said,
“a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem we have to tackle”.—[
The Home Secretary announced at his party conference that the Government would,
“introduce a statutory duty for all agencies to tackle this problem together”.
He referred to,
“those in health, education, social services, local government, housing—the whole lot”.
My response is that the Government are failing in their statutory duty to fund those agencies adequately. Announcing a £200 million endowment fund to target young people at risk is a publicity sop. Government by weekly funding announcement is a sign of failure. I accept that that is not just a failing of this Government.
It is simply impossible to provide a service with increasing demand and diminishing resources. Local government is a shadow of its former self. Funding to police forces reduced by 25% between 2010 and 2016. We have lost 25% of police community support officers. A&E departments, schools and social workers are all struggling to cope, and preventive strategies are a pipe dream without long-term sustainable funding.
Talking of health in schools reminds me of the consultant surgeon at King’s College Hospital who specialises in knife wounds. TJ Lasoye is an inspiration, and if sainthoods are being handed out, he should definitely be considered. Not only does he save lives; he travels around schools in the area, showing graphic X-rays and explaining the consequences of knife wounds. He told me that one X-ray showed a knife buried four inches into a skull. One pupil put forward the view that it probably did not hurt. Many others thought that a stab wound just needed a few stitches or an Elastoplast. TJ uses his considerable skills to persuade youngsters of the real consequences of knife wounds. They listen and laugh when he says that he hopes he does not see them again.
Trading standards officers are apparently going to be supported by the Government to undertake prosecutions of retailers who sell knives to under 18s, through developing a specific prosecution fund to support that activity. Here we go again: a specific prosecution fund. Can the Minister tell us precisely what that support for trading standards officers is and how it is expected to work?
I turn to social workers, who are an important part of this work. I thank my former union UNISON and BASW—the British Association of Social Workers—for their briefings. There was a debate on the crisis in social work this May, led by my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark. The Government then passed the buck to local authorities. Both UNISON and BASW conducted surveys of their members about the impact of local government cuts and the threat to their ability to carry out their work. The results are remarkably similar and, to my mind, heartbreaking.
I have always been a supporter of social workers, because of the difficult and thankless work they do. It is thankless because they cannot do right for doing wrong. Do too little, they are neglectful; do too much, they are interfering. Without exception, they suffer from high caseloads and administration loads and come up against lack of resources for service users. Cuts in the number of social workers and other budget cuts mean that cases are assessed on budget grounds rather than need. Crisis cases are the easiest to justify, and preventive work is diminishing.
Social workers work an average of 11 hours per week unpaid overtime to keep up with their workload. That is probably an underestimate. This leads to stress, burnout and a high proportion of people considering leaving the profession. One social worker was so stressed that they were considering a career change. They said, “I cannot be the face of a failing service any more”. Another said, “My working life has never been so crisis driven”.
Eighty per cent of social workers think that local residents are not receiving the help and support they need at the right time. Social workers see the wider impact of poverty: housing departments which are too stretched to offer families realistic housing opportunities, forcing more families into private rental accommodation or homelessness. One social worker said, “We struggle to deliver vital services to young children and families because of the cuts—the list is endless in my job”. Another said, “I have seen people sanctioned with no food and no money to feed their children … more frequently in the last three years than I have ever done in my lengthy social work career and” it “feels like it is getting worse”.
Another said, “I work in the substance misuse service, and we are no longer able to give individuals the chance of residential rehabilitation”, which has a higher success rate. One final direct comment: “The most fundamental issue is a lack of social workers due to a lack of funding for local authorities. All my colleagues work unpaid overtime and are still unable to complete 100% of the workload. No amount of restructuring or policy change will resolve this”.
The Local Government Association is quite correct that its role in protecting children and young people from involvement in, and the impact of, youth violence makes it uniquely placed. However, it accepts that,
“an increase in demand for acute services has forced many authorities to divert spending away from preventative and early help work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm”.
The LGA calls for a strong emphasis on,
“and investment towards early intervention and prevention work”.
Does the Minister agree that the multiagency approach to this problem also requires guaranteed sustainable funding commitments to all those agencies?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on securing this important debate. I shall focus principally on health—public health in its broadest sense, but also advances in treatment caused by experience of violent crime in emergency departments. Knife crime increased by 22% between December 2016 and December 2017 in England and Wales. The rate of possession over the same period also rose by more than a quarter. Noble Lords have already commented on the connection between pupils, students and other young people already at risk. It is worthy of note that more than one in three local authorities have no vacant spaces in their pupil referral units for permanently excluded children and young people, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and a lack of hope for the future.
I am grateful to Barnardo’s for its helpful briefing, which states:
“Almost 60% of its children’s services managers said they thought they had supported a young person involved in criminal activity over the last year”, and three-quarters of its staff said that they thought the young person had been coerced, deceived or manipulated by others into criminal activity. We have heard of some of the statistics in London, but we know that it is much broader than that. It is absolutely clear that we need to take a public health approach to tackling serious violence. That has already happened in the Cure Violence model in Chicago and the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow. The intervention itself acts as a deterrent to future violence by disrupting its spread by changing cultural norms about the acceptability of violence.
The key elements of any public health approach will be identifying high violent crime areas. The model focuses very much on the epidemiological spread of violence and employs interrupters known to the community, often ex-gang members. Using the map of where violence happens, they seek to disrupt its spread and divert young people into alternative interests, giving them other means of dealing with conflict.
This is the alternative route to facing the lack of services available for young people. We heard in the previous debate of the pressures on schools to do anything other than deliver the barest curriculum. But it is broader than that. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, about one young surgeon talking to young people—I will refer to others later—to make them understand the consequences of carrying knives.
Today, interestingly, Sky News has published a report on drug runners and the famous “county lines”. It is very long but certainly worth a read; it confirms that there are over 2,000 county line routes, with operations from big cities to smaller locations. Tellingly, one of the drug runners said, “Once I’ve established an area, I’ll get the kids to go there for me”. The children are paid £300 or £400 a week and are aged between 12 and 16. “The younger the better”, said one dealer, adding, “They need money. Mummy and daddy ain’t got no money, so they come to me as uncle”.
We need to understand that the comments about reduction and Sure Start are absolutely right. Austerity caused massive cuts to local government budgets, which means that children’s services, particularly safeguarding, are under real pressure. All those things are making it much more difficult for any multiagency approach to succeed.
Moving from public health to general health and the survival rate for knife wounds, we heard in August from the NHS that there are more than 1,600 extreme trauma survivors in the UK today. This is not just about stab wounds, but acid attacks, gunshot wounds, and car and motorbike accidents. It has become absolutely clear that the establishment of trauma centres, which ensure that patients receive the right care, even before they arrive in hospital—with paramedics trained to deal with them and with the targeting of trauma victims through the leading hospitals—has meant a reduction from 31% to 24% of patients receiving critical care, as well as a reduction in the amount of time patients spend in intensive care.
It was telling that the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, referred to young people thinking that there was not very much to a stab crime and it probably would not hurt. I shall not read out the detail of a clamshell thoracotomy, but it is clear that medics have to take emergency action very fast. In many past cases, patients would have died before even getting to hospital, so medics have a very narrow window of opportunity to bring them back. Duncan Bew, clinical lead for trauma and emergency at King’s College Hospital in London, says that it is imperative that his team are familiar with this procedure because of the volume of patients in the hospital. He said:
“My team sees more people with stab wounds then it does people with appendicitis—25% of our trauma wounds come through stabbings. Some days it’s higher. Sometimes we go to 50% of injuries. Somebody tweeted that on average there were three stabbings a day in London. Actually it’s much higher than that: we get more than three stabbings a day here in this hospital alone”.
Dr Malcolm Tunnicliffe from King’s says that the most critical stage of treatment for stabbing victims happens before they reach the hospital. At this stage, doctors stabilise patients and prevent many needing that emergency surgical procedure. Pre-hospital treatment includes locating the wound to assess damage to internal organs and blood loss, and very urgent imaging scans and X-rays.
I have questions for the Minister. We know that the NHS has excellent pockets of good practice, but what is happening to disseminate that practice across the country, particularly if county lines practice means that is moving out of our major city centres? Secondly, do the Government agree that taking a public health approach to tackling violent crime, working with local partners to identify risks, is the most effective way to prevent the spread of violent crime in a community? Thirdly, will the Government provide an increase in baseline funding for all services expected to pick up the tab for this, including children’s services? It includes education and the public health budget, which has been drastically cut. Finally, how have the Government been engaging with children and young people who have experienced serious youth violence to inform them of their approach?
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for the opportunity to debate the increase in serious violence. It is about not only police resourcing and effectiveness, but a broader tapestry. I was not necessarily going to talk about this but thought I might quickly say at the beginning that it seems that in the short to middle term, the Government will have to address two things: resourcing and police effectiveness. I would tie the two together.
First, the loss of 20,000 police can hardly be said to be helpful. I would caution the Government on two things. Even if they said today that they wanted 10,000 more police officers—50% of the loss—it took the Met three years to achieve that growth. It takes a significant investment of time, resources and lead time to achieve that change. Unless the button is pressed now, we cannot expect a quick result. It is not in itself a quick response, although it is an important one that we have to address.
The second point concerns police effectiveness. I have said here before, and I repeat, that the police must do as much as they can with what they have, and it is not good enough for people to say, “We don’t have enough resources”. They have to do a lot with what they have across the areas that are short-term challenges, such as street-level drug markets, carrying knives and domestic violence, which we have not heard about yet in this debate, but we have previously in this House. Some of the rise in the murder rate has been attributed to the rise again in domestic violence murders, which had reduced over the last 10 years. I am afraid that if the Government were to look at some of the arrest and detection rates for those offences, they might see some terrible reductions in those interventions. That leads in the long term to the sort of rise we have seen in domestic violence.
In the short and medium term, those are the things that I would advise the Government to consider. I have mentioned them before; it is almost my “Lord West moment” of asking for more ships, but £350 million will shortly be put into the transformation fund for policing. It is not transforming anything but it is available to spend, I would argue, on more police, should that be thought to be a priority.
The three areas on which I want to concentrate are, first, the prevention of crime as a strategy; secondly, the academic underpinning of our understanding of policing and what works in policing; and, thirdly, the best structures for ensuring that we deliver on those two foundations. Prevention, as mentioned in the Government’s own serious violence reduction strategy, is what will make things better across crime generally, but particularly across serious violence. It will need partners to work together. It goes on to make good proposals on prevention and the allocation of money and other resources to make sure that the prevention strategy can be achieved. However, I would argue that, generally, we do not have a crime prevention strategy that works in the way that we have seen it work for fire.
Fires are now far less likely because things are designed in a way that makes them less likely to burn. Detection systems make any fire that starts more likely to be detected. I am afraid, however, that we have not seen that determination around crime. We have an ill-health prevention strategy, excellent academic research about ill health and an excellent good practice guide. We monitor clinical excellence with organisations such as NICE. But we do not really have a clear intellectual model on which to base our crime prevention strategy. We do not have the equivalent bodies of the ones to which I have just referred. If we did, instead of having a series of ad hoc responses in reaction to real and moral crises in crime, we would have a prevention strategy that, on the whole, would put us in a far stronger position in the future.
I would argue that there are six elements to this. One is the design of place and things. Cars stopped being stolen because they were designed better. They are just about to be stolen in larger numbers because thieves have worked out how to steal them. Houses are being burgled less because we have better alarms. In place design, we can see how CCTV can be best used. Then there is the use of light, white light in particular.
Secondly, there is an alcohol control strategy. Providing alcohol to underage young people tends to deliver more violence. Unless that is controlled not only by the licensing authorities but by the police, problems will follow. The density of licences needs to be looked at—24-hour licensing has worked but I am not sure whether we have too many licences—both on and off-licences. Clearly, a controlled drug strategy is relevant to the present rise in violent crime. Mental health was mentioned earlier; 40% of people arrested by the police and in prison at the moment have a mental health issue, and it is vital that that is woven into the strategy. Young people are disproportionately affected by crime as victims and as suspects, so it is vital that that aspect is involved. Finally, there should be advice and incentivisation to potential victims to protect themselves. We could all take better action to protect ourselves at times—not to modify our way of life, but to make sure that we are less likely to be victims. That can be incentivised by things such as insurance. Fundamentally, therefore, we have not yet embedded crime prevention in government policy or in the way in which we all react.
My second concern is that we do not have a body of knowledge on which to base that prevention strategy. If you want to be a doctor, you go to a medical faculty; if you want to be a lawyer, you go to a law faculty. If you want to be a cop, you work out how to do it. That is not good enough when 60 million of us rely on about 250,000 people to keep us safe. Our great universities ought to be dedicating research time and work to making sure that this can happen. We in the Met invested £500,000, which concluded with Professor Ben Bradford being selected to be professor of policing at UCL. Should that work, it will mean that in the future there will be more faculties to help policing develop by finding out what works internationally as well as locally.
Even if those two things were in place and we had a crime prevention strategy and that academic research, we must have a structure that best delivers it. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Harris: when there was a moral crisis around street robbery, one of our previous Governments put in place a system that said we would respond as a country, not as 46 different forces. I argue that, whether through that mechanism or another, there needs to be a catalyst that drives this action forward in the future. At the moment, it potentially just meanders into the future rather than there being a short-term hit, particularly if resources are put into this effort. It is no good investing resources that are not well targeted; a catalyst, whether an individual or a group of individuals, is absolutely vital.
Finally, in our response on health we have a National Health Service, the military responds in a united way, and the security services are all one. When we get to the police, the answer is 46, which I do not understand. I am not saying that the answer is one, but it is not 46. I assure your Lordships that it will be an inconsistent response. Whether it is on this moral issue about violence, or any future issue that we will have to address, if we continue with a 46 model, we will have inconsistency, with marked areas of excellence and marked areas of poor performance. However, the present structure is least likely to deliver excellence in the future, which this country needs, and which the big cities in particular demand at the moment. Without that, we are likely to end up with an inconsistent application of bad practice as well as good.
We cannot blame the mushrooming of violent crime on a single issue, my Lords; it is the sad confluence of many factors. A whole range of problems have brought us to where we are today: increased social breakdown, pressure on public sector resources, nervousness over stop and search, and a lack of funding for critical community groups. These wide-ranging challenges will not be solved overnight. While it is right to focus on the government response, making sure that it is a consistent multiagency approach, business must also recognise the power that it possesses to make a real difference. I will focus my remarks on that point.
It will of course take political patience and bravery but, more than this, we need a meaningful, co-ordinated and targeted approach that includes the private sector. Capitalism is currently a dirty word, but this could be a real opportunity for business to show the genuine value that it brings to society. We know that mentoring and training, for example, can have an extraordinary impact, giving people the skills they need to take a different path. These are all things that companies can and should offer in the communities they operate in. Many of course do already, but it is too patchy and lacks focus. Having worked for BT for over two years, I have seen at first hand how much corporates want to give back to society, but government and business will need to work hand in glove if these contributions are to solve complex issues such as violent crime.
However, there is so much more we can do together to direct efforts strategically and for the greatest impact. Companies would greatly appreciate guidance from government on where they could add the most value. Some firms have more responsibility than others. Companies which play their part in this disruption of society need to step up when it comes to mending it. Social media and technology giants in particular should heed the warnings from people at the coalface. When the likes of Cressida Dick say that social media can amplify violence at a terrifying pace, they need to sit up and listen. They need to start taking this as seriously as they have done with terrorism. Brain power and money need to be spent on more ethical designs for products and on removing harmful content from their sites quicker or not letting it get on there in the first place. I apologise to your Lordships—I feel a little faint and will have to sit down. I hope your Lordships do not mind if I carry on while sitting down. These businesses, more than anyone, should think of creative ways to help vulnerable communities, offering training courses, apprenticeships, jobs or entrepreneurial seed funding. They should inspire young people and help them, working in schools and definitely pupil referral units. We know that gang members come from so many of these institutions, and we should double down our efforts in those organisations.
Heavy-handed state interventions are needed less when we have the opportunity to empower people through businesses and social enterprises. Take the SOS Project, a charity set up by an inspirational ex-offender called Junior Smart. Its programme reduces reoffending rates from 75% to just 12%. This is the sort of project we need to support, expand and augment through collaboration, and we need a more evidence-based approach about what works and what does not.
Another key barrier to progress is apathy. Nobody could fail to be shocked and saddened when we read of young people being killed, and many more being groomed to join the county lines. But all too often, people detach themselves from the problem, believing that it does not affect them or their community. I have already mentioned the obligation that business has not to walk on by, but this has to go further. Let us take middle-class drug users. Many will think of themselves as upstanding individuals, with their recyclable coffee cup to drink their morning latte from, or a monthly payment to a worthwhile charity. But they also think nothing of doing a bit of coke at the weekend with their friends, seemingly unaware of the misery and the fear that helps to bring it to their doorstep. They need to know that it is not harmless fun and to remember how fortunate they are to feel so detached from violent crime. In fact, we should all remember that. Apathy often comes from good fortune, when one has enjoyed a clear path to where one wants to get to in life and therefore one forgets the genuine struggles of others: chaotic home lives, time in care and poor education. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned, joining a gang may seem like an appealing option in comparison to what is at home.
In summary, we have spent a lot of time talking about a joined-up, all-systems approach, but now is the time to do it. The co-ordinated commitment shown by government but also business to combating issues such as terrorism and cybercrime has also shown what a tangible difference this sort of collaboration can make. I can stand up now, as I feel less faint. We need to take the same care over the deeply ingrained social issues that can cause violent crime. We cannot just pick things up and then drop them, or just jump at a single, top-level solution. If we are to make a real difference, we need to make a ceaseless effort to attack these problems at their very heart.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey on securing this important debate on the recent increase in violent crime.
London has seen a tragic number of young men killed in knife crime in the last year, and the death toll keeps rising. The cross-party Youth Violence Commission, chaired by my colleague in another place Vicky Foxcroft, published its interim report this July, and I wish to highlight some of its key findings. It suggests that preventing youth violence will require a strategic approach, involving almost every part of Whitehall and the wider government machine. The report states that successful implementation at the local level will also need to involve deep and extensive collaboration with schools, youth workers, police officers and faith and community leaders, as well as parents and individuals, in the creation of a safer, fairer and more positive future for young people.
The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy has been welcomed by the commission for its recognition of the impact on young people of childhood trauma and adverse experiences, the importance of early intervention and preventing violence later in life, and the need for greater integration of services, which is often known as the public health approach. However, concern has been expressed that the strategy lacks sufficient resources. Some £40 million of public funds may not be adequate. The shadow Home Secretary said that,
“in the past 12 months the police recorded almost 40,000 knife crime offences and well over 6,000 firearms offences; the funding allocated to discourage, prevent, divert and detect serious weapons-related violent crimes is therefore just a few hundred pounds for each offence”.—[Official Report, 22/5/18; col. 750.]
The Mayor of London’s strategy on knife crime recognises that effective school and after-school programmes, youth provision and summer activities are critical to deal with some of the factors such as poverty, unemployment and educational failure that result in young people becoming involved in crime. There is no quick fix to youth violence; the root causes are complex, including childhood trauma, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues, inadequate state provision, deficient parental support, poverty and social inequality.
Research has shown that young people carry knives for self-defence and protection, but some carry to commit crime and must be apprehended. Some join gangs for a sense of belonging. Work needs to be done on intelligent monitoring of gangs by the police, with more resources allocated. There is a need for cross-party support to tackle the long-term nature of this epidemic. I welcome the Government’s decision not to focus solely on law enforcement—especially stop and search—but to encourage partnerships across education, health, social services, housing, youth and victim services.
Early intervention is key, and a successful youth violence reduction strategy will, over time, shift and concentrate resources on prevention activities. But aspirations cannot be fulfilled without long-term funding by the Government. Noble Lords have already spoken of the decline in children and youth services, as well as community policing, and lack of support for parents; austerity has caused much distress to communities and families.
The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies argued this week that:
“Interventions which do not seek to address wider social issues such as inequality, deprivation, poor mental health and drug addiction are unlikely to provide long-lasting solutions to knife violence”.
The Mayor of London is lobbying for more resources for the police, and for local government to receive help to reinstate and expand youth services. He has allocated serious funding for the Young Londoners Fund, as already mentioned. The commission found a clear link between school exclusions and vulnerability or propensity to youth violence; excluded children are more likely to be groomed by gangs to be runners in the county lines drug supply chains.
The Local Government Association has also warned that,
“the targeting of young people excluded from secondary schools is a major feature in the profile of ‘county lines’… In some areas, PRUs become the arena for gang rivalries … where already vulnerable young people get first hand exposure to and experience of crime”.
As the 2017 IPPR report on the link between school exclusion and social exclusion found:
“Excluded children are the most vulnerable: twice as likely to be in the care of the state, four times more likely to have grown up in poverty, seven times more likely to have a special educational need and 10 times more likely to suffer recognised mental health problems”.
The commission’s Safer Lives survey of over 2,000 young people found that drug markets generate violence and create a crime hierarchy where our most vulnerable young people are groomed to enter the lower levels of drug distribution. The damaging lack of trust between the police and some communities must also be addressed. The reduction in community policing must be reversed. Walls of silence will not help police to find the perpetrators, and young people must be listened to with respect. As the commission says:
“Any future violence reduction strategy will have to place a premium on establishing trust and mutual respect”.
We can be quick to blame society’s ills on social media, but the commission found it not to be a root cause of youth violence though it can be a factor in escalating and inciting violence; internet giants should take some responsibility for what they allow to be platformed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said. The Mayor of London’s strategy rightly involves working with social media organisations to ensure that online videos which glorify knife crime are quickly taken down.
Interestingly, the commission found that debates around the potential impact of drill music on youth violence, already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Harris, are in the main a distraction from understanding and tackling the real root causes. Some projects that help young people to have a sense of their own self-worth by encouraging them to learn to record and produce the music that the media like to condemn are, sadly, under threat because of cuts to youth services.
It is now time for us all to come together to effectively tackle this tragic epidemic of knife violence by long-term investment in our young generation.
My Lords, I too start by thanking my noble friend Lord Harris for securing this timely and important debate.
As most of your Lordships will know, my background is in policing, where I spent 35 years of my life serving the community. It is natural, therefore, that I have been watching the debate develop with regard to police numbers, policing priorities, hate crime and the like, with great interest. I remember back in the day when I was a young constable and we had an inspector who was designated simply to look at “ground cover”—that was his sole job: to make sure that he had sufficient officers on the beat in the area he was responsible for.
Such luxuries, I am afraid, have almost disappeared, and with them the ability of police to nip problems in the bud—to intervene in anti-social behaviour, hate language and the minor frictions in society that can lead to more violent altercations if left unattended. These officers would also get to know the up-and-coming criminals and, probably more importantly, their families. This has led to what I call fire-brigade policing or fortress policing. We seem now to have a siege mentality where police remain in the fort and come out only when called, if they decide to come out even then. I despair when I hear some politicians say that reducing police numbers is not a causal influence in this sorry state of affairs. It is as plain as the nose on your face.
This has damaged police relations with the public, who feel they are getting a reduced service. It has also, incidentally, caused a reduction in valuable intelligence on crime and terrorism. We have to accept that while modern technology is exciting and useful in fighting crime, it is also creating new ways of committing crime and increasing demands on policing. We have cybercrime, with online fraud developing on a massive scale and with people losing their life savings to fraudsters. We have online child exploitation increasing year on year in the so-called safety of children’s own homes. Nearly everyone these days carries a valuable mobile phone which makes them easy victims of thieves on mopeds. We have platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like harvesting data. That is then sold on to companies that use it to target advertising and, perhaps worse, sell it on to hostile foreign Governments who use it to target political propaganda, via social media, to undermine democracy itself.
Then there is the insidious increase in bullying on-screen, with threats and abuse on social media increasingly being passed on to the police for further investigation. The point is that tackling all this new criminal social activity is labour-intensive, and more and more police resources are required at a time when budgets have been cut because of austerity. This has led to a reduction in the number of front-line police officers, as we have heard, of probably over 21,000.
I have not even mentioned the increase in the number of drug gangs distributing and dealing across the nation by so-called county lines, leading to increased turf wars and often fatal stabbings. These operations are often directed with the use of mobile forms. I say this loudly and clearly: there would be fewer young men carrying concealed knives if they thought that they risked being stopped and searched by the police. The police have backed away from this approach for the last few years because of criticism and allegations—sometimes true—of discrimination and racism. Of course, stop and search must be done responsibly, fairly and with justification. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, the introduction of body-worn video cameras by officers now helps such operations to be transparent, and they should be further rolled out nationally.
In my view, violent and offensive language is an important factor. A police presence on the street and in the community, which we are lacking, is an essential way of preventing these incidents at an early stage. Police chief Sara Thornton said recently that the police should not get bogged down with recording new hate crimes of misogyny and the like when violent crime and burglaries are increasing and the number of detections falling. However, we must understand that the drip, drip of hate speech by leaders can affect people’s reactions, as we saw with rabble-rousing leaders of the past, such as Adolph Hitler and Mussolini—proponents of this type of populist leadership. I am afraid that Donald Trump is a modern example. His constant reference to fake news and to journalists as enemies of the people is a very risky strategy. The number of murders of journalists throughout the world has been increasing over the last few years, culminating in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey last month.
Coming back home, Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, has urged people to assist officers in trouble on the streets. I well recall as a young probationary constable being assaulted at the bus station in Jarrow by a number of youths. One guy came to my assistance. He was a bus driver at the bus station and he turned out to be a special constable. Specials are wonderful allies of the police on the streets and I urge the Minister to encourage citizens to volunteer for this important work. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Simon sitting on the Woolsack, because he was a special constable in London for many years. We owe people like him a debt of gratitude.
Since that incident, I have always admired people who volunteer for such duty. I ask the Minister whether the number of specials is rising or reducing. One thing I do know is that criminals will take advantage of a lack of police presence on the streets to prey on innocent citizens. Can the Minister confirm that it is in fact a common law offence to refuse to assist a constable in such circumstances when requested to do so by the police officer?
I agree that we should treat violence like a public health issue. Early signs of it, such as hate speech and abusive texts, are the canary in the mine, and it should be confronted to prevent its spread. This is best achieved by early intervention by the police working hand in hand with communities. We need to harness the other agencies in the community such as hospitals, schools, charities and social services to work with the police to stop this modern virus spreading. I welcome the setting up of the Violent Crime Task Force in London, which is now taking this approach.
The tragedy is that the great majority of victims of violence tend to be those in poorer communities who rely on the police to prevent crime and investigate it when it occurs. Noble Lords will know that those who can afford it—we see this in sharp relief in the United States—will live in gated communities with private security patrols to keep them safe and reassured. Poorer communities turn to vigilante patrols. We should try to avoid such divided communities, which can only bring about a “them and us” mentality.
In conclusion, I often think about my early years as a patrolling beat bobby in the north-east over 30 years ago with very few resources: a torch, a whistle and a truncheon. On the night shift, I used to try shop doors, which is what you did at the start of your beat. Woe betide you if a shop had been broken into and you had not found it. I occasionally found shops that had been broken into. I remember on one occasion a violent burglar attacked me and I received my first commendation. He received nine stitches and six months for his trouble. The point is that, had I been an armed police officer, he might well have been shot.
I often reflect with not a little nostalgia what a different world we live in today, but, as with military operations, quite often the solution is more boots on the ground, and I hope that the Government are listening.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Harris for introducing this debate so effectively. He has long experience of local policing and crime issues, so he speaks with authority.
I have been struck by two recent headlines. One was in the Times, which described the stabbing to death of a 16 year-old boy on a Saturday night. The boy’s sister said that he was stabbed to death because of his postcode. The boy was from Wood End in Coventry, one of the most deprived areas of the Midlands. Knife crime happens most frequently, but not exclusively, in deprived areas. Tackling deprivation and improving deprived areas should be an aim if we are to combat crime of any kind, especially violent crime.
The second story was in the Telegraph on Tuesday of this week. It was about the police facing calls on mental health issues every two minutes. They have thus been distracted from increasing demands to tackle knife crime, child exploitation and other serious crimes. Again, this is significant. First, it shows the increase in mental health issues, long known to be a problem, and, secondly, it demonstrates forcefully that the police are stretched in all kinds of ways—fewer numbers with a greater number of issues to deal with.
Young people are at the centre of all this and they need attention. They must also be listened to, and I shall come on to that in a moment. In a debate that I introduced recently on life chances and social mobility, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, spoke of disenchantment among some pupils by the ages of 13 or 14. They feel that they are not listened to and are not learning anything, and they have high absentee rates and display bad behaviour. Some are expelled from school, as was touched on earlier. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Baker:
“The capacity of heads to expel has now grown out of all proportion ... an expelled child is on the road to a culture of gangland”.—[Official Report, 1/11/18; col. 1437.]
He is right, and I long for the report on expulsions that the Government have commissioned.
We are doing our young people a disservice by not educating them to enjoy learning of all kinds, including social skills and how to work with others. It is well known that our prisons are full of people who are illiterate and have poor mental health and social skills. One in 10 young people has a mental health disorder—three in every classroom. Seventy-five per cent of adults with mental health issues experienced symptoms by the age of 18. Black males are most likely to have mental health issues and are also most likely to be the people in prison. What happened to early intervention for them?
Acts of Parliament, policies and guidelines are welcome and can be the beginning of change but, as many have said, it is at the local level where the real change has to begin: better services for children, which are not just about safeguarding; schools which provide a holistic and respectful culture; help for struggling families and for parents who have difficulties with their children; and local facilities such as play areas, libraries and youth clubs. Sadly, between 2012 and 2016, around 600 youth centres closed and one children’s centre closed every week.
With this barrage of cuts to services affecting young people, we should perhaps not be surprised that there are social problems. Family poverty is increasing, with all the implications of that for depression, deprivation and subsequent trauma. The Government wish to make savings in many areas but these kinds of cuts are storing up trouble—costly trouble, with the long-term effects of crime, unemployment and truancy. Services such as mental health services are striving to deal with these issues, which could have been prevented or dealt with earlier. Do the Government understand that?
I want to turn to the importance of involving communities, and in particular young people, in solving problems. I have been working with groups of young people in seminars and round-table discussions for the last year. These are always chaired or co-chaired by the young people themselves. We have worked on two issues: child mental health and child-friendly justice. Right at the beginning of one seminar, one young woman said, “We are experts by experience; you should listen to us”. I agree with her.
Young people sometimes say that mental health issues frequently underlie disruptive or criminal behaviour. School exclusions are frequently described as unfair and counterproductive. Some children get used to multiple exclusions and constant changes of school or accommodation. Examples have been given of children excluded for trivial things such as having socks not at the right height or the wrong colour coat. This is ridiculous. There were many examples of missed opportunities to intervene and turn a life around. In particular, there was often no consistent adult support available to enable the child to tell their story.
Some young people reported going through up to 40 behaviour interventions without links being made between services and people, and having no single key person as advocate or support. They also said that multi-agency working was a priority. An example was given of a boy aged 9 who was in trouble for selling drugs because his mum needed the money to pay the rent. The underlying causes of youth crime need re-investigation.
There was a feeling among young people that they had no champion and no voice. They felt they could have been engaged in decisions to help them identify the problems. Young people recognised and could give examples of good practice. Some police forces are actively seeking to involve young people in discussions about drugs, gangs and knife crime. Many NGOs have young people’s consultation panels. Some local authorities seek the opinions of young people in matters that affect them. Are the Government also taking into account the views of young people?
My noble friend is right to ask for a cross-government approach to tackling policing, law enforcement and policies on gangs and drugs. We need agencies to work together, as he said. He is right to spotlight health services, youth provision and opportunities for young people. Young people do not come in bits. They are, like all of us, made up of different characteristics and needs in a single person. Health, education, the police and other local services for children and young people need support, encouragement and funding to work together in this way. Our young people deserve no less.
My Lords, this summer our older daughter, a teenager, said to me that she was scared to come home from the tube station in the evenings and told me stories about attacks on her friends and people she knew. What is our country coming to? It was reported in the Times just now that the police ignore a third of all crimes after a single call. According to the Times:
“The Met, which used to send a police officer to every crime if requested by the victim, assesses 37 per cent of reports over the telephone … The force has cited budget cuts and a need to focus on surging violence and sexual offences … In addition, 1.26 million calls to the Met’s non-emergency 101 number were abandoned last year, with callers having to wait 15 minutes”.
It added that, around the country, police are dropping investigations into so-called “volume crime”—
“the lower-level offences which affect the majority of victims—because of budget cuts”.
This is the main issue. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, a former Commissioner, Met numbers in London have fallen below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years. Cressida Dick, our hugely capable and impressive Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has said that a lack of resources was a factor in homicides reaching a 10-year high.
What are we doing? How are we going to deal with this? The police are defending the new initiative of moped ramming. “Tactical contact” has been used 63 times, which has resulted in a significant reduction in levels of crime involving mopeds. Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, has said:
“Risk-assessed tactical contact is exactly what we need. Criminals are not above the law”.
There are many examples of its use. In Camden, there were 742 moped crimes in October 2017. That has gone down to 72, a reduction of 90%, so it is working. Will the Minister confirm that these police will be backed up, or will they be left to the mercy of the courts? The reason I ask is that, under the law at the moment, officers run the risk of being charged for dangerous or careless driving, because the common standard of “careful and competent driver” applies equally. During its peak, some criminals stole up to 30 phones in an hour, with victims often targeted outside tube stations.
There are more and more accusations that the Government are losing control in the fight against crime. Figures show that offences rose by 14%, while the number of police officers has plummeted to record lows. We have heard about the surge in knife crime. There have been increases in all other crimes, including burglary, sexual offences, car theft and robbery.
The big issue is that the number of police officers has fallen to 121,929, the lowest figure since comparable records began 22 years ago. On top of that, there has been a fall in neighbourhood policing. It has been referred to in this debate as a shadow of itself. I do not see neighbourhood policing officers in the area where we live at all; we used to see them riding or walking around regularly. Overall funding has fallen by 18%, taking inflation into account, compared with an increase in funding of 31% between 2000-01 and 2010-11. Direct government funding has fallen by 25% over the same period. Of course, everyone relies on government funding as well as local funding. This is really serious. The number of homicides has increased hugely. The data is all very frightening. There were 40,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument—a 16% increase. What is going on? These figures are corroborated by records of National Health Service hospital admissions resulting from these crimes.
We need to build resilience. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for this debate. How do we build resilience in our youngsters, who risk being drawn into crime? The Home Secretary says he is behind this strategy. We have heard that a public health attitude needs to be adopted to cope with this. The Mayor of London is under huge pressure to give the right support. Again, he says the cuts are to blame. The St Giles Trust, a charity that works with young people involved in gangs and serious violence, also welcomes this strategy. It particularly noted the support for prevention through the early intervention youth fund.
The mayor says he wants to break up the wider culture. The Home Secretary says that he is behind this and wants to take a fresh look. Could the Minister tell us what the Government are doing about this? We hear about good intentions, but we are not seeing the action; we are just seeing the crime figures going up.
On top of that, we now hear that the police are being forced to deal with mental health issues because of a lack of resources in the NHS. Inspector Zoe Billingham said that police are answering mental health calls at the expense of “ordinary crimes”. Does the Minister accept that this is the case? With 1.1 million violent crimes recorded—an increase of 21%—the rising trend has simply continued. Recorded crime has gone up by 9% in England and Wales. These are record figures throughout. The police are under so much pressure that there are reports that here in London, police officers are having to give up holidays and work extra time, and are experiencing stress. On top of that, Rory Stewart, the Justice Minister, says:
“Knife crime is horrifying—it causes catastrophic damage to families with tragic consequences. We need sentences that punish anyone who commits knife crime and deters anyone from doing it”.
Is our criminal justice system good enough to cope with this? There was the following headline in one of the papers: “‘A lost generation’: How austerity has created a vacuum being filled by drug gangs exploiting children”.
Before I conclude, I turn to Brexit. There is now a huge threat that we will lack access to the European arrest warrant and Europol, and that public safety will be put at risk because we will not have the immediate access to the data that we do now. Exchanges take place between European police forces and our police forces that we do not even know about and take for granted. Will that be available, particularly in a no-deal Brexit situation?
This is a very worrying situation. Scotland Yard is a global brand and has historically been respected as the finest police force in the world. We are letting down Scotland Yard and we are letting down our citizens, and the number one priority of any Government should be the security of its citizens.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Harris on securing this fascinating debate exploring the causes of violent crime and whether there is a quick fix. I have listened with interest to the contributions.
Once again, I congratulate the Library on its briefing. It includes a minefield of statistics, but one thing drew my attention. Last month, the Office for National Statistics noted ongoing improvements to police recording practices but cautioned that,
“for many types of offence, police recorded crime figures do not provide a reliable measure of trends in crime, … they do provide a good measure of the crime-related demand on the police”.
Given that comment, what action does the Minister intend to take to improve the quality of police statistics as compared with the Crime Survey figures?
I looked at the core themes of the Serious Violence Strategy. According to the bullet points in the briefing, they are: tackling county lines and the misuse of drugs, and you cannot argue with that; early intervention and prevention, and we have heard a range of contributions on the role of social services, schools, health services and so on; supporting communities and partnerships—again you cannot argue with that—and an effective law enforcement. I would welcome the Minister’s views on those last words, because a number of comments have been made about the level of policing. If you look at the statistics, you will see that there is not a direct correlation, but in my own neighbourhood I rarely see police on the beat, and I think that we have not quite got the level right. I listened intently to the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman. He did not say that there was a quick fix, but he did say that we should not use that as an excuse for not having effective action. He also mentioned the question of resources, and I presume he was referring to the level of policing.
I want to come on now to the role of the police and the difficulties that they have. My noble friend Lord Harris gave us a potted history of what went on with stop and search. We have debated many times in this Chamber how dreadful that power is and how it causes community friction, and we all recognised that it should be community led. But the situation has changed fundamentally now. Most of the police I see use body-worn video. That is a significant achievement: not only is it an accurate recording of how they behave but, in the past, independent videos were taken on phones, and sometimes doctored, and then used in evidence. We should not underestimate the importance of the body-worn video. We ought to recognise that if young people, and not so young people, feel that they can get away with carrying a knife, they will do. If stop and search is one part of the deterrent process, we ought to back the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to the serious and threatening increase in moped crime, which really does damage community safety and confidence. The police have now adopted a tactic. I was going to say, “More power to their elbow”, but it is not their elbow; it is the wheels on the police car. Again, there will be people who say that this is not the right approach, but I think that if you have drastic crime, you have to take drastic measures.
The other area is the prosecution of retailers, and more action needs to be taken on that. Retailers are still selling knives and, unfortunately, acid, which is used in terrible crimes.
There is also the role of social media. It never ceases to amaze me that companies can develop algorithms to improve advertising and to target their audience but somehow cannot quite manage to develop the algorithms to remove some of the disgraceful stuff that appears on social media. If anybody is seriously suggesting that the young people picking this up on their smartphones —they all have smartphones—are not influenced by it, they are not living in the real world.
I was interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who has a wealth of experience. What I drew from his contribution is that if the perfect number of police forces is not one, it sure as hell is not 46, and I agree with him on that. I suppose the only thing you could say is that it is 46 opportunities to find out best practice at the moment. I think that was part of his message, and it is one that I wholeheartedly concur with.
I was fascinated by the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, who carried on in the face of adversity—well done. I agree with her point that capitalism—I was going to refer to it as industry—ought to be making a contribution, and on the importance of mentoring, training and adding value through apprenticeships. There cannot be any better solution than getting young people into worthwhile employment and inclusion in society and the world of work.
We had a fascinating contribution from my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate. It was not quite Dixon of Dock Green—sorry—but it certainly described a different world of policing. The point I took from his contribution was the massive increase in the police workload. We expect a huge effort, but they cannot possibly sustain everything. They cannot cover the waterfront of crime that is out there at the moment. I hope that the Minister will respond to that and refer not only to the number of policemen on the beat but to specials and community support officers, who seem to be missing these days.
This has been a useful debate and I look forward to hearing the Minister respond to some of the constructive points of view that have been made.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Young, would address one point. I did not want to interrupt him while he was speaking. He referred to something that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, talked about—knocking suspects off mopeds—and all our hearts are with the officers who take such action. It makes us feel better that someone took action which seems to have had some effect. My concern is whether, when someone dies, loses a leg or is brain damaged as a result of this type of event, the law will support the officers and their leaders, because corporate manslaughter remains a challenge for the police as it does for others. I would like reassurance from the Government, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, sought, that the law will support them. Fine words will not support the individual when the law comes knocking on the door of the officers who drive the cars or their leaders who support them in that policy. I have that concern and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Young, shares it.
I was not being flippant. I hope I was making the point that I support the police in such action. However, having said that, we know that when they do take that kind of action we will have to address the points made by the noble Lord. Again, I hope the Minister will respond. We require regulation of how and when the action will be taken, but I certainly support the approach and I believe that the police should be supported.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for introducing this debate and allowing us to keep our sharp attention on the issue. As many in the House know, I was the founder of Crime Concern in 1988 and served as chairman for 21 years, and the co-founder of Catch22, where I have been vice-president for the past 10 years.
There is no shortage of intervention agencies, either funded by government, local authorities or charity-raising organisations, which all seek to do intervention on this complicated issue. We always get around these debates the intense hand-wringing of what is not working, and we need to do that. However, we also need to address quite sharply some aspects of conduct and behaviour that can change. I want to focus on four areas in this brief amount of time.
As many of your Lordships also know, I work with an extensive network of former gang members across London. I will say no more than that.
My first point relates to stop and search. It does not work. For the vast majority of black young people, it discriminates, irritates and detonates aggression in their communities. It is easy to pick someone up on profiling, but the consequent anguish that is spread through families and friends often inflames fury at the state and drives more young people to take rough measures.
Let me highlight one extreme example. Many watched George the Poet introduce a beautiful poem, broadcast live, on
There are many other interventions, such as BoxUp Crime from Dartford, which was highlighted on the BBC news and given a great deal of attention. A fantastic young man, Stephen Addison, uses the potency of boxing rings in local communities, conducting more than 20 such events during the course of this August, with funding coming from the Mayor’s office. It has fantastic, valuable, downward impacts upon community crime.
However, as so frequently happens with all of the interventions that I have seen in my 30 years of involvement at the head of charities and organisations as big as Catch22 and Crime Concern, all these interventions are never brought together by the funding agencies, and notably by the Government. I have never once in 30 years been asked to attend, or ever attended, a single occasion in which meaningful interventions have been allowed to share expertise. I recall that on many occasions of lobbying Governments and Home Secretaries and seeking resources from them, they would hint that it was better to keep us quite small and have many of us than to have effective large intervention agencies.
The third area on which I wish to focus relates to prisons. We think in preventing crime we put people away. Tomorrow I will make my sixth visit this year to a category B prison in Kent. When I visit those prisoners, one of the things that creates anguish in them and in me, because of the letters I receive and the phone calls that are conducted by them and their families, is that many of them are on indeterminate sentences. The one whose case I took up recently was given a seven-year sentence and has served nearly 30 years. Some 1,800 mainly black men are in prison still on IPP sentences. The impact of this on communities is that of infuriation. It causes young men to follow in suit and say, “There is no protection in law or certainty of justice”. They therefore find other ways to express their furious anger, often ganging together for protection, which of course many recent reports have admitted. Many young people who should not be carrying knives do so, sadly, for protective purposes.
I turn now to a controversial area. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about the need for a catalyst in key communities, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, described the need for hope and of course for purpose. It is no surprise that, in the course of the past four years, the areas of London where knife crime has risen most substantially are those where Kids Company had its best operations. We have to accept, like it or not, that in the character assassination of Camila Batmanghelidjh and in the decimation of that organisation, the community response was very clear: this is our home, our safe place; this is our place of love, support, affection and consideration. It provides a sound ear. I have seen young men come in with their knives—on one occasion six of them. I watched that great heroine of justice and tenderness and love disarm them by embracing them. Catalysts and interventions have to be relational. It is far more effective if the police work with irritated, angry, furious black urban communities than to pick them up, search them, sometimes thrust them about and irritate them to the point of detonation. We have to accept that Kids Company, whatever we say of its governance which in some cases is disputable, the person who led it had a response that worked. Without the organisation, those six key communities have suffered the worst rises in knife and violent crime in London. There is a correlation, and we should not try to escape it.
If we are going to be serious about how we respond to these things, there are conduct issues that relate to our police which must be addressed bluntly. There is the need to bring together effective interventions, and the Government have a massive role to play in doing that. Also, please can we stop changing prison Ministers and crime Ministers every time it is convenient to do so? At one point as chairman of Crime Concern, I dealt with 11 different crime Ministers during a four-year period. That is a simply unacceptable parading of ignorance. Please can we deal with IPP sentences and make sure that they are tidied up quickly? Also, can we recognise that the best catalyst of all for angry, hurt and wounded people is a relationship that really cares.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, not least for condensing the issues into a 36-word title for the debate. A couple of months ago there was a fight in my street where someone suffered stab injuries. My neighbour was very upset and disbelieving: “In our street in quiet Mortlake?” I was particularly struck by the large number of police officers who were on the scene for many hours. To me that said: “Resources”.
The expression of disbelief is something that one still hears in connection with domestic violence: “It does not happen to anyone we know”. That is sometimes code for “Not in our section of society”. But it does happen. Perhaps domestic violence is a little less prevalent than when I was a member of the board and chair of Refuge, the domestic violence charity. I declare that as an interest, as I do as a current trustee of Safer London, which works to address and prevent the impact of gang and sexual violence, and the exploitation of young people and their families. Both positions have of course informed me.
We are familiar with the number of deaths from domestic violence, which still shocks, and we know that there is far more abuse than is reported. I understand that research by the College of Policing tells us that there is no clear evidence that criminal sanctions reduce reoffending. Indeed, there is a suggestion that punitive sentences are associated with higher rates of reoffending. We know about the financial constraints on refuges and the support that they can offer, but time does not permit me to range right around that subject.
As regards young people, it is blindingly obvious that the causes of violence run very deep and that a siloed approach is inappropriate. Safer London has for several years been providing for the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime a gang exit programme. London Gang Exit is now referred to as “LGE” within the organisation because the young people involved resent the term “gang”. “They are our family”, they say. Just think what leads a young person to take that view.
One of the threads running through the issue is exploitation. Earlier this week, I heard Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the NPCC lead on modern slavery, talking about county lines and explaining that we should not use that term. It is exploitation. It is also something of a badge of honour among those who apply it. We accept, in the sense of recognising, child sexual exploitation. Similarly, we should refer to child criminal exploitation. I saw CCE used in a paper yesterday; it took me a moment before I realised that it was obviously about grooming. County lines—that form of child criminal exploitation—are almost a matter of fashion, according to Chief Constable Sawyer, and will be superseded by another form of grooming and exploitation. There is a danger of compartmentalising drugs, CSE—I do not want using the acronym to diminish the importance of that issue—CCE, slavery and so on.
Shaun Sawyer also emphasised how much intelligence comes from the local level. Neighbourhood policing provides both intelligence and a sense of security. Local officers, whom local people know and trust, can be passed information about the knife-carriers, when they carry and where they hide weapons. That means more accurate stop and search and taking weapons off the streets.
Statistics and talking about categories can mask the fact that this is all about individuals. Supporting individuals, especially through a health approach, is very resource-intensive and painstaking, but it is worth it. Motivation is important, which is why the process finds a young person who has been injured and is in hospital at his most receptive to the work that can be applied.
I want to share Jane’s story with your Lordships. A Safer London report states:
“Jane was fifteen and living in London, when she was referred to London Gang Exit. She was an active member of a gang and unable to leave … She was considered both a perpetrator and victim of violence … We used creative techniques, so she could visually map out her associations and define those which were healthy or unhealthy. Sessions also covered coping strategies and creative work to boost Jane’s notion of ‘self’, her role within society and within her family … Life remained complex and Jane stayed vulnerable to damaging external pressures. At one stage she was found to be on the verge of committing violent crimes and going missing. At this time, we focused sessions on short term goals to build her confidence and determination; we also examined her considerable achievements and commitment to making positive changes to her life … We worked with Jane’s parents around family relationships and boundaries. The family were also close to being evicted and we were able to provide urgent housing advice, which avoided this happening … At the end of the programme, Jane completed an ‘I am Proud’ board which allowed her to reflect on the journey. These are her words: I am PROUD to be Alive … I am PROUD I notice Fake People in my Circle … I am PROUD NO ONE can Keep Me Down”—
I particularly like that one—
The report also makes a shorter reference to a programme of one-to-one and group work to help young men to understand healthy relationships and what consent means. It talks about Charles, aged 15, and states:
“Charles was referred to our service due to concerns around his inappropriate touching of younger females at school. He was subject to a Child Protection Plan due to his own experiences of physical abuse. His behaviour consisted of targeting two vulnerable young women … The girls were frightened to report his behaviour as Charles was older and popular … Charles told us … ‘this programme taught me how important it is to make good decisions in your life and you will be safe all the time’”.
We will all have received a briefing from the Local Government Association. Although the detail it gives is powerful, I doubt that any of us needed persuading on the important role of local authorities and the issue of funding. That is always topical, particularly in the context of today’s economic reports; somebody said that we should have read the previous debate on school funding into this debate. The LGA makes the point, as always, on the need for long-term funding commitments. I add to that the trickle-down effect on NGOs and charities working in these fields. So many chief executives have to spend so much time on cash flows and grant applications. To follow the point from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, there can be competition among them, rather than co-ordination.
The Minister would not expect uncritical endorsement —and I will not give it—but I want to end on a hopeful and positive note: a 19 year-old’s take on the serious violence strategy. She wrote that,
“early intervention education is key, especially for those who fit into a high-risk category, as young brains are easier to adapt and educate, both positively and negatively … I feel assured that the ideas and funding”, in the serious violence strategy,
“that have been proposed … are not going to be closed away into a document with the hope that violent crime incidents will become a thing of the past … It is settling for myself as a young person to see a strategy that will be actively applied in order to promote a less violent future”.
Let us not fail her.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I thank my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey for tabling this Motion for debate. Since I will refer to local authorities and council funding, I draw the House’s attention to my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. There have been some excellent contributions dealing with the causes and the very serious issue of the rise in violent crime that we have seen in recent times. I pay tribute to the police and other professionals in the public and voluntary sectors working to keep us safe and deal with some very challenging situations day after day. I fully endorse the comments from my noble friend Lady Donaghy on the work that social workers do day by day, dealing with crisis situations.
In his Motion my noble friend Lord Harris talks about,
“the case for a cross-Governmental response that includes not only policing … but also health services, youth provision and opportunities for young people”.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, mentioned domestic violence. It is a wicked, evil crime, hidden behind closed doors. Early intervention is needed here. When I visited the domestic violence unit at Greenwich police station I was very impressed by how closely it worked with the local authority, and by the officers’ real care and concern for the victims. There is no doubt at all that they have saved many people’s lives and, for many people, prevented serious injury.
That got me thinking about the issue in the Motion about the cross-government mind-set. I then began thinking about the debates we have had in this House only recently about the funding for women’s refuges. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, who is not in his place, was very supportive of the women’s refuge movement and what it does, but at the same time decisions were made by the DWP that risked their funding model and undermined their work. In the end it was sorted out, but it took people from Women’s Aid, other campaigners and members of all parties in this House and the other place raising the same point again and again until finally the Government acted. That was good but it shows that, if you get these cross-cutting issues wrong, one department can decide something that will have a very difficult and negative effect in another department and be really damaging to policy. This is one of the key problems the Government have in trying to meet various challenges.
Looking at the Library briefing for this debate, with all its various statistics, it seemed to me that one could rely on some of the figures to support any argument that one wanted to prove at any time. For me, that highlighted what a complicated problem this is: if it were easy, it would have been solved a long time ago and there would be no violent crime, or at least very little. I very much endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey in this respect. My friend in the London Assembly, the leader of our group, Mr Len Duvall AM, has also raised these issues and has written an excellent article for the Fabian Society, making it clear how important it is to have this multifaceted approach to tackling the tide of violent crime. I recommend that all noble Lords read that article, and I make it clear that I am a member of the executive of that society and very proud to serve on it: it is the original think tank.
It is disturbing that you could make the case that crime levels are, on the whole, falling. One can see the figures, but serious and violent crime such as murder and knife crime has seen a worrying increase, along with links to the drugs trade. We have heard about the issues of county lines many times today. The number of police officers has fallen by 20,000 since 2010 and is now, as my noble friend Lord Harris said, at the lowest level since the 1980s. This has had a damaging effect on neighbourhood policing, which is a shadow of its former self, as he said. That has led to crimes not being able to be investigated and to gangs being able to operate openly in communities.
My noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green made a very important point about the effectiveness of body-worn video cameras. When I was at a police station a few months ago, one officer told me that when they came along he was very much opposed to these cameras. He thought they were a terrible idea but very quickly he discovered how great they are and became a very big supporter of them. They are able to give live evidence on the incidents they go to address and it is very important that we understand that.
Obviously I will wait for the noble Baroness’s response, but if she is going to suggest that there are no links between the levels of violent crime and the numbers of police officers, many of us just do not accept that. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, who is not in his place, spoke in this House on
The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, made a very interesting contribution. I am confident that the police can and do undertake significant work to keep us safe. The problem for the police and other agencies is the lack of funding in large parts, which makes addressing the problems all the more difficult. My noble friend Lady Donaghy talked about how small budgets for different initiatives are not helping to solve the problem. Some of the really serious issues with gangs need a multiagency approach. I have been out with the police when they have been dealing with issues that cause real problems in town centres. I was in Woolwich a few months ago. The council has spent a lot of money improving Woolwich town centre, but the gangs come in and drive customers away from businesses, making it a place where people do not want to go. It is left to people dealing drugs on the street, and the police have a difficult job going in there every night trying to disrupt their activities. It was not a safe place for local people.
At the other end, youth services that have been decimated and hardly exist at all. The consequence for everyone is severe, not least for the young person who could have their whole life ruined, if they got into a life of crime.
As many noble Lords know, I grew up in Southwark and went to primary school in Camberwell. A couple of years ago I visited a voluntary project on the Wyndham council estate, which is next to my old primary school, St Joseph’s. As a child, I had walked round the estate while walking home almost every day. But some of the young people at the project told me they would not cross the Camberwell New Road to go into Lambeth, as a particular gang operated there and it was their territory. It was a shock to hear that in an area I know really well. The project does great work, while operating on a shoestring, and tries to get children to play sport together—particularly, football—to break down these terrible barriers, but to do that there needs to be a proper youth service and proper youth provision. These problems are not unique to Southwark or south London but they are real and, if not tackled, can have very serious consequences for people who go off the rails, and for the victims of mindless crime and drug abuse.
As many noble Lords have mentioned, knife crime is a particular problem, with so many lives lost and others ruined by senseless violence. I have seen police officers conduct searches of areas outside schools to locate the knives left there by pupils in the morning; when they come back out of school, they pick their knives up on the way home.
I also saw on the news last night some terrible violence with a zombie knife. This leads me on to the role of the internet providers and platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, about the responsibilities of companies. Companies should pay their fair share of tax and spend a little less time on being advised how to mitigate tax. I also recommend that they follow the example of the Co-op by getting the fair tax mark if they pay tax fairly. Allowing zombie knives to be sold on the internet, where other illegal material is hosted—there are, frankly, poor excuses from businesses for not taking swifter action to remove and prevent the posting of illegal content—is just not good enough. The Government will have to take further action to prevent this material being hosted when it fuels hate, abuse and crime. Claiming that nothing can be done, that “We are only a platform and not the publisher”, or that “We are doing all we can” is just not good enough. People are sick and tired of these excuses. I also think that the social media providers which make a proper effort to sort this problem out will benefit, as consumers will flock to them and support their businesses for taking that action.
The destruction of Sure Start has removed from communities a solid support for young parents and children. It has been left a shell of its former self, as the programme was not protected from local government cuts. That has been hugely damaging. Mental health provision has to be part of the joined-up thinking that we need as well. I was shocked to learn of the amount of time that police officers spend dealing with people who have serious mental health problems and need specialised treatment on the NHS—and how often, when attending an incident, it results in people being taken to the hospital rather than the police station when the officer determines that they need to been seen by a health professional first, before anything else happens. I very much support the comments of my noble friend Lady Healy of Primrose Hill about the work of the Youth Violence Commission, chaired by my friend Vicky Foxcroft MP, the Member for Lewisham, Deptford. I also endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, about indeterminate prison sentences. I know that the Ministry of Justice seeks to deal with this issue, along with the Parole Board, but more needs to be done. I fully accept that these sentences were brought in by a Labour Government but this need to be resolved very quickly.
There is lots that the Opposition can support in the Serious Violence Strategy but, as my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey said, it is long on analysis and short on remedies. I agree with him that the strategy should be much more ambitious. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has a number of questions to answer so I will ask only one further. Can she explain to the House how she, as a Minister, seeks to have proper cross-departmental discussions with her ministerial colleagues on key policy initiatives which are affected by the actions of other departments? That is crucial in this debate. Finally, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this wonderful debate and my noble friend—my good friend—for tabling the Motion. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who took part in this debate. In all my time as a Minister it has been one of the best debates I have heard, because the contributions were both constructive and far-ranging. They have given me food for thought as we address what has become a growing problem affecting communities across the country. We heard this from the outset as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, gave the stark example of the event along the road from him. It must have had a terrible impact on his community, and the issue faces all local authorities and police forces across England and Wales.
It is a horrible statistic that since the beginning of the year there have been 128 reported homicides in London alone, and the majority have been stabbings. In this month alone three teenage boys were fatally stabbed in separate incidents in Bellingham, Clapham and Tulse Hill at the beginning of the month, and just last week another teenager was stabbed in Romford. It is horrific for families, friends and communities, and it cannot continue. There is no sugar-coating what is going on at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, brought domestic homicides into the mix. I was interested to find out whether the incidence of such homicides had increased. In fact, the figure is static at about 95 a year. Well, the deaths of 95 women through domestic abuse is still far too many, despite all our efforts.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about a cross-government approach to this. Almost all noble Lords who spoke talked about this approach, and they were absolutely right to do so. The noble Lord challenged me at the end of his speech to say how the Government intend to go forward with a cross-Whitehall approach to something that is at the heart of the priorities of most Members of both this House and the other place. Having made the commitment to a cross-government approach, I can say from my local authority point of view of the old days that that is something I was very keen on. I looked at it in the context of troubled families and it is absolutely the right challenge for government in the fight against serious crime.
I will talk about our overall approach to the strategy. It is a priority for this Government and it is why we published our Serious Violence Strategy in April of this year. I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talk about the strategy from the point of view of a 19 year-old girl. She challenged the Government by saying that we could not let this girl down. I agree that we cannot let her down. We cannot let down any 19 year-old girl—or any other young person—in what we do to tackle this, because it is one of the most serious problems of our age and of young people’s lives, particularly in London.
The strategy sets out the Government’s response, which involves 61 commitments and actions. It represents a step change in the way we think about and respond to serious violence. We completely agree with the point made by all noble Lords about a cross-government approach and the fact that our approach needs to be multiagency across a number of sectors, including education, health, social services, housing, youth services and of course victims’ services—all the things that most noble Lords, and the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, in particular, talked about. Law enforcement is very important, but we also need the active engagement of partners and different sectors so that we can address the causes of violent crime, especially among young people. That is why we placed our multiagency, early intervention approach at the heart of the Serious Violence Strategy.
The noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Kennedy, pointed out, quite rightly, that the drivers of knife crime are complex. They are.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, talked about the impact of police cuts, but I think all noble Lords who spoke recognised that there is not a simple solution. I think it might have been the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who said that if there were a simple solution, we would have cracked this years ago. I am not decrying any factors. I think we can agree that there are multiple factors involved in the rise in serious violence, particularly the notable changes in the drugs market over the past couple of years.
As the Chancellor recognised in his Budget speech, the police are under pressure from the changing nature of crime, and I think the past five years have probably seen the biggest change in the type of crime that we are looking at now and in the future. In addition to the extra money that the Chancellor announced for counterterrorism, the Home Office is looking at how it can ensure that the police have the resources they need ahead of the 2019-20 police funding settlement. To answer the question asked by noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, the Home Secretary has been clear that his priority is to ensure that the police have the right resources in place as well as, as the noble Lord also pointed out, looking at the effectiveness of police forces at the same time. The noble Lord posed a challenge about the number of police forces we have. I think that is probably a debate for another day because we could make a full two-hour debate of it today.
The noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Framwellgate, referred to Sara Thornton’s point about less hate crime policing. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, talked about more neighbourhood policing. I am going to irritate him when I say that it is up to PCCs to decide the priorities of their forces. I read an article by Lynne Owens in the paper the other day. She posed the question: are we looking at 19th-century solutions to 21st-century problems? We possibly are. I will leave that question hanging. The reason I raise it is because noble Lords have talked about cybercrime, the harms of online crime and the whole different way in which perpetrators of crime operate, such as county lines, and the advent of technology which makes that pattern of behaviour easier.
I accept what the Minister says about the changing world of technology, but surely, given that a recent survey shows that 50% of the public have not seen a police officer in a year and that neighbourhood policing plays a role in dealing with terrorism and in communicating with the community, there is no substitute for it.
I do not dispute the role that local policing plays. I am trying to set out the broader context and the changing way in which criminals operate. I am not decrying local policing. I am saying that if it is a priority of local police forces, then that is what they should do. I appreciate that local policing gives reassurance to communities, which it definitely does, but I was trying to point out the broader context of the changing face of crime.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, talked about police pensions not being adequately funded. I can tell him that Her Majesty’s Treasury has provided additional funding of above £165 million to cover some of the impact of the increase in employer contributions in 2019-20. Decisions on police funding will be announced at the settlement on
I think that is a hint. The Minister may not have been listening earlier when her noble friend Lord Agnew said quite explicitly that school pensions were being fully funded by the Government, so why is it that the schools settlement can be determined and those pensions fully funded yet at the moment she is unable to provide that commitment?
What I am trying to trail, without giving any commitments, is that I am very hopeful that the announcement on
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. To return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, the Minister said that each force has to decide how it applies its funding. Neighbourhood policing has drastically reduced over the last few years; it has been the biggest chunk of the lost 20,000. The problem really, not that it is anyone’s fault, is that this is the part of policing that struggles to make its case. Cybercrime, fraud online and harassment online have gone through the roof, harassment generally has become an offence and sexual offence reporting, including historical offences, has risen by probably 80% in the last four years. These and other types of crime are offences about which we all say something like, “Why are we not doing something about domestic violence or harassment?” That type of offence drags in resources at pace—specialist resources, not merely volume. In comparison, the neighbourhood officer struggles to say, “Actually, I have walked down the street over the last six months and got two informants, arrested three people and intervened in a terrorist plot”. The challenge is how we collectively address neighbourhood policing, partly by resources but also by prioritisation. I think at times we all struggle to say that we did not argue for specialists when we prefer neighbourhood officers.
I totally accept the point that the noble Lord is making. I guess that all the things he is talking about require a specialist response but of course people take great comfort from the presence of the local bobby, even if he is not going to solve the cybercrime that is happening on their computer at home or deal with the terrorist plotting an offence. Those types of new offence have gone through the roof and the public have called for them to be resourced. As I say, we could talk all afternoon about police funding and the police budget. I think we are generally in agreement that a prioritisation process is necessary in any local police force but that the police have to have the resources to be able to carry it out. I think that has been widely recognised.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, asked about the number of special officers rising or falling. In fact it has fallen, and part of that fall has been because recent police officer recruits have come from that cadre.
To return to the strategy, our analysis clearly points to the range of factors in serious violence, and we think changes in the drugs market are at the heart of that. We know that crack cocaine markets have strong links to serious violence. Last time the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, used the catchy phrase “the crack cocaine pizza-delivery model”, which is frightening but absolutely true. The latest evidence suggests that crack use in England and Wales is rising due to a mix of supply and demand factors, such as the increased supply of cocaine from overseas and the spread of county lines drug dealing associated with hard, class-A drugs. However, my noble friend Lady Bertin pointed out the elephant in the room, which is middle-class cocaine use, which people seem to think is harmless and a natural thing to do on a Saturday night. It is not, it is also fuelling demand in the drug markets.
In our analysis in the strategy, we also identified that increases in violence have been accompanied by a shift towards younger victims and perpetrators. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who talked about those who are both victims and perpetrators. We know that we are not alone in seeing recent increases in serious violence. The US, Canada and a number of other European countries have similar long-term trends.
We recently announced £40 million of Home Office money over two years to support the initiatives in the serious violence strategy. This includes £17.7 million for the early-intervention youth fund, and is in addition to the resources that the Government have already committed through the troubled families programme, the national citizens programme and the trusted relationship fund. Building on the ambitious programme of work in the strategy, the Home Secretary announced in October major new measures to address violent crime.
Finally, there is consultation on a new legal duty to underpin that public health approach to tackling serious violence that so many noble Lords have mentioned. This will mean that police officers, education partners, local authorities and healthcare professionals will have a new legal duty to act to prevent violent crime. The noble Lords, Lord Harris, Lord Kennedy and Lord Hogan-Howe, all talked about early intervention and prevention, as did others. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that early intervention was worthy. I am sure that he was not undermining it, but it is an essential part of our strategy, as it is in so many areas of tackling societal problems. We need to develop resilience; we need to support positive alternatives for young people and timely interventions to prevent them being drawn into a life of crime in the first place.
Earlier this month, the Home Secretary announced 29 projects that will receive £17.7 million from the early-intervention youth fund, which will focus on diverting vulnerable young people and those who have already offended away from crime. In addition, the Government are in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund and have invested £80 million—£40 million to the #iwillFund and £40 million to the youth investment fund—to create opportunities for young people to develop their skills and participate in their communities.
I turn to the point about county lines, which so many noble Lords have mentioned. Not only do drugs and county lines have a significant impact on serious violence, they have emerged as the most significant driver of violent crime. Tackling them is a major cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, child criminal exploitation, modern slavery and missing persons. Our response therefore needs to involve the police, a wide range of government departments, local government agencies and voluntary sector organisations.
In addition to delivering a cross-government action plan to tackle the issue, we have provided £3.6 million to establish a new national county lines co-ordination centre to tackle violent and exploitative criminal activity associated with county lines. The new centre became fully operational on
I shall ask noble Lords to indulge me because I allowed interventions during my speech and I have another five minutes, according to the clock. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, mentioned the really important point of exclusions and the effect that that has in drawing children further into gangs, crime and other activities that will not benefit their long-term future. We recognise that a number of risk factors can increase the likelihood of a young person’s involvement in crime, and this is definitely one of them. We are considering what further support might be needed for children who are excluded from school, as we know that they are overrepresented as victims of serious violence.
I was very interested to hear my noble friend Lady Bertin talk about corporate responsibility in preventing serious violence. I was grateful for her thoughts on this the other day, and for raising it today, and I am keen to explore this issue further.
Noble Lords also talked about people with mental health problems coming into contact with the police. It is a very serious issue; the police are not there to arrest them but to support them. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Harris, or the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, people with mental health problems need to be taken to hospital and not to a police cell. We have banned the use of cells for children with mental health problems and, as noble Lords will know who have debated with me on this, they are used only in absolute exceptional circumstances for adults with mental health problems. Getting people to a place of safety is the prime objective when the police come into contact with people with mental health problems.
The noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Hogan-Howe, and Lord Young of Norwood Green, talked about moped crime. There was an important point about supporting the police in the decisions that they make. Much has been made of giving the police greater confidence to pursue suspects, and when deciding whether to conduct a pursuit the police take into account guidance from the College of Policing on the authorised professional practice on roads policing and police pursuits. The stopping of motorcycles and mopeds has been permitted in the national guidance since October 2015, and the guidance makes it clear that the key consideration is whether the pursuit is necessary, balanced against the threat of this and the harm of the pursuit to the person being pursued, the officer and others who may be affected.
My time is up. There is a whole section on knife crime, but if I go through it, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will be unable to speak. I shall conclude my remarks there. I thank noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for the debate, and I shall allow him to conclude.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed; I know that the previous debate overran significantly. As we get older, we may all have cause to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for tweaking and developing House of Lords procedure and practice.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Donaghy and Lady Massey, stressed the importance of the multiagency approach. However, what we have heard today from the Minister is that, yes, she understands the importance of it. She talked about 61 commitments and actions to be followed through. Perhaps she needs to go back and ask, not just in her department but across government, who is overseeing and progress-chasing that. It is all very well to have 61 actions, but they can get lost in the miasma of the government machine unless there is someone senior and central. The point of my mentioning Tony Blair’s COBRA meetings was because he had Ministers of State and junior Ministers in the room and would say, “What’s happened since last week? I expect this to have happened by next week”—and, my goodness, it made a difference.
In conclusion, it is not a question of my saying that these things were worthy; my concern was that they were worthy in the context of being platitudinous. My point too is that they are essential. When I reviewed the tragic deaths of 87 young people in prison, the reality was that most of those need never have got into the criminal justice system had there been the appropriate interventions much earlier in their lives by the agencies of the state.
House adjourned at 4.46 pm.