Violent Crime - Motion to Take Note

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

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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

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 21 September and delivered its first week of intensification in October, which resulted in 505 arrests and—to answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton—320 individuals being safeguarded.

On 28 August, the Department for Education announced £2 million for a new national response unit that will be established to help local authorities support vulnerable children at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs. The unit will offer bespoke support to local councils and will operate from 2019 to 2022. It will build on and work alongside existing initiatives to provide strategic support to children’s social care working with multiagency partners within local areas. The Department for Education expect to launch the formal tender for the new service later this month.

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.