Violent Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:19 pm on 29th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 4:19 pm, 29th November 2018

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.