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.