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.