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.