My Lords, according to the BBC this morning, a teenager has been stabbed to death in west London. Knife crime is increasing at an alarming rate, having reached its highest rate in eight years in 2017–18. Every death is a tragedy, and too many of our young people are losing their lives. However, the parents, friends and relatives of those killed want not just our sympathy but to do something about this. I propose a five-point public health approach to knife crime, only one point of which involves more resources for the police. This should be primarily about addressing the causes, not the symptoms, of knife crime.
The picture of knife crime is complex. First, there are those who rely on violence. Drug dealing, because it is an illegal activity, cannot be legally regulated. It can be fatal in a direct way, because there is little or no quality control—no information about purity or potency, and no restrictions on who can buy drugs or in what quantity. But it is unregulated in another way—deals are enforced and competition is challenged using violence, because there is no legal means of doing so. Whether to ensure that your stash of illegal drugs is not stolen or that the buyer pays, or to defend your turf, knives are used to regulate. This trade is spilling out from our big cities into the countryside and seaside towns through county lines. Vulnerable young people are being exploited, being sent to live in appalling conditions to sell drugs hundreds of miles from home under the threat of being stabbed by their own and rival gang members.
However, many in the black community feel that the drugs element of knife crime is overplayed, even racist. All the drug dealers I have met have been white. Use of knives among criminal gangs is as likely to be about so-called respect: respect for senior members of the gang, who stab junior members who step out of line, and respect for a gang’s territory and standing by threatening or stabbing members of rival gangs. It is not just me saying this, but the College of Policing’s evidence-based report on knife crime.
Connected to gang rivalry are the violent lyrics of drill music and violent YouTube videos. Some say they are legitimate artistic expressions of lived experience, reflecting the violent environment in which they live. Others say they encourage, incite and drive violence, as the competition to be the gang with the greatest number of hits or views on the internet rises in proportion to how shocking the violence contained within them is.
At the same time as the criminal gang culture has grown, the visible presence of authority on the streets has diminished. Community police officers and, more importantly, police community support officer numbers have been decimated. There has been a 19% real-terms reduction in total funding from central and local government to police and crime commissioners from 2010-11 compared with 2018-19. Central government funding for commissioners has fallen 30% in real terms since 2010-11. Since the peak of
I am a member of the All-Party Group on Knife Crime, ably led by Sarah Jones MP. We have heard from young people involved in knife crime about the impact of these cuts and the impact they have had on them. One told us that she used to feel safe when she saw safer neighbourhood teams, who worked out of her local police station. The safer neighbourhood teams—one sergeant, two constables and three PCSOs in every ward in London—now consist of two officers per ward, provided that they are not on their day off, on holiday, off sick, or on maternity or paternity leave. There is no backfilling. That same young woman described her term in Holloway prison as the best time of her life. Detention is no deterrent and knife crime prevention orders work against a public health approach, potentially criminalising more and more young people.
The second group of knife carriers are those young people who believe that they need to carry a knife to protect themselves from those who rely on violence because they see no visible uniformed presence on the streets. Even if the police were there, many believe they are not there to protect them. Many in the black community still feel they are overpoliced and underprotected—that the police are there only to stop and search them or arrest them, even when they are innocent. Blanket Section 60 operations simply add to that perception. Community policing is not just a visible deterrent to criminals and a reassurance to victims; it enables community intelligence more accurately to target stop and search on those who the community know are knife carriers—policing carried out with the community, not done to a community.
Some noble Lords, including the Minister, might say that they do not recognise the scenario I am describing, and it is easy to ignore the reality when the violence is largely contained within these communities, rarely spilling out to disturb the likes of you or me. However, I have talked to young people who live in these areas, I have worked in these areas, I still live in one of these areas and I recognise what young people are describing.
What makes young people join gangs? At an individual level, many of them are suffering from adverse childhood experiences: domestic violence; abandonment through divorce or separation; a parent with a mental health condition; being the victim of physical or sexual abuse or neglect, either physical or emotional; where a member of the household is in prison; or growing up in a household where adults are experiencing alcohol or drug-misuse problems. Many have grown up in a situation where violence is seen as the normal way to resolve problems, where bullying and misogyny are normalised and where involving outside help is alien. When members of the APPG visited the only young offender institution in Scotland, without exception the inmates had experienced multiple ACEs.
Scotland invests in young offenders. There, they are counselled about their adverse experiences. A resident police officer explains that the police are there as much to protect them as to lock them up. A woman’s refuge worker explains what normal families and healthy relationships look like.
Some of this emotional neglect—not being made to feel loved, wanted and belonging—is not the fault of hard-working parents, some of whom must do multiple jobs working 16 hours a day six or seven days a week to pay the rent and put food on the table. They simply do not have the time or energy to do what they want to do for their children, to do what their children need and want from their parents.
Many children do not belong to a school community either. Whether it is a rigid traditional education that fails to engage all pupils, or whether ACEs result in disruptive behaviour, many find themselves officially excluded from school or informally off-rolled. School performance targets result in schools taking the easy option of jettisoning so-called difficult pupils. On the APPG’s visit to Glasgow, we learned that the number of pupils excluded from school in the city was less than the fingers on one hand. In the London Borough of Croydon, more than 1,500 pupils have been excluded from school in recent years, and that is just in one London borough.
I suggest five priorities for government action. First, we need to tackle in-work poverty by mandating the real living wage and providing parents with the support that they need in order to provide for their children, through such things as children’s centres and Sure Start. Councils have suffered a 77% decrease in government funding between 2015-16 and 2019-20.
Secondly, we need to provide safe and healthy alternatives to criminal gangs by properly funding youth services, outreach workers and the kind of modern youth clubs that really engage young people. Charities and sports clubs need to have long-term core funding—which local authorities used to provide—and churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples and others that provide somewhere safe for young people to go should be acknowledged, supported and encouraged.
Thirdly, we need to heal the damage caused by adverse childhood experiences, investing in children’s mental health and intervening in teachable moments, such as Redthread’s work in emergency departments with the victims of knife crime.
Fourthly, we need to provide truly inclusive education, where no pupil is left behind. Compulsory sex and relationship education for all pupils without exception needs to include teaching the violent, exploitative realities of criminal gang membership, like the excellent work done by the charity of which I am patron, GAV.
Finally, we need to create an environment in which communities and the police can unite against knife crime by restoring community policing.
The situation is far more complex than I have been able to outline in the time available. I hope noble Lords will add to my necessarily limited opening to this important debate. I must emphasise that this is not a Liberal Democrat plan; it is the result of my membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, under the excellent leadership of Sarah Jones MP. If noble Lords have had the chance to look at the Barnardo’s briefing which they will have been sent in relation to this debate, they will recognise a lot of what I have said in my opening.
As I previously mentioned, the evidence-based briefing of the College of Policing talks about heavy-handed stop and search resulting in it being less likely for communities to come forward with the vital intelligence that police forces need. Even though there is no direct proportionality between crime reduction and the number of police officers, once you get below a particular level of policing criminals feel that they can act with impunity and victims of crime feel that they have no choice but to defend themselves.
One of the most disheartening responses this morning on Twitter to the plan which I have just outlined to your Lordships was, “And who is going to pay for this?”. The people who are paying for this now are the victims who are dying on our streets, and the families and relatives of those who are dying. If we do not do something about this, those families and young people will continue to pay for our inaction.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for seeking a debate on this very timely subject and for his wide-ranging and comprehensive introduction to it. I also commend him for the piece he wrote on this subject for the latest issue of the House magazine. In his article, which I am sure many noble Lords have read, he describes the complexity of the knife-crime phenomenon and discusses its underlying causes and its potential solutions. The solutions he mentions in his article, and has just mentioned in his speech, are not the kind of things one would normally associate with someone who spent most of his professional life as a police officer on the streets of London. But they are the kind of things required to solve complex social problems such as violent youth crime, which results from an amalgam of, among other things, poverty, inequality, poor schooling, unemployment, social alienation and racial prejudice. There are no quick fixes in this world and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for making this abundantly clear.
I also commend the Government for taking a similarly broad and longer-term approach to this problem. As my noble friend Lady Barran said in answer to an Oral Question about youth violence last Thursday morning:
“'The Government are taking steps to address all aspects of youth violence, from prevention to enforcement. Diverting young people away from crime is at the heart of our approach, which is why we are investing more than £220 million in early intervention schemes to steer children and young people away from serious violence”.—[Official Report, 20/6/19; col. 842.]
How refreshing to hear a Minister discuss a complex social problem without either minimising its significance or promising to deal with it almost instantaneously, without giving any indication of how this is to be achieved.
Having said this, I do not believe that we are condemned to live with blood-stained streets for decades until these longer-term solutions finally work. Although tackling the underlying causes of social violence will take time and money, on the basis of my own experience of working in the New York and Philadelphia police departments from 1996 to 2004, I would say that the level of violent crime on our streets can be significantly reduced in the short term by proactive policing based on good intelligence, adequate resources, a well-developed strategy and effective tactics and leadership.
We do not have to look overseas for examples of successful policing operations. The recent success of our own Metropolitan Police in tackling moped crime is an excellent example of how effective policing can eliminate, within weeks, problems that have reduced whole communities to an abject fear of public spaces. That is why what is required to tackle our present knife crisis is a two-pronged approach: a longer-term strategy focused on underlying social problems of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned, as well as short-term tactical action based on high-quality, proactive and innovative local policing using good information and good technology.
I say “local” policing because I believe that violent crime on our streets is most effectively tackled by local police forces acting with the support of their local communities. There are two main reasons for this. First, street crime is basically a local problem. Although it is now widespread, it does not affect every city or town to the same extent. Even within a single county, there are major differences between one part and another. As Matthew Ellis, PCC of Staffordshire, said in a press release only yesterday—announcing new measures against knife crime—although some places in Staffordshire have an issue with knife crime, most places in the county do not.
Secondly, effective policing depends critically on community co-operation. Even American police chiefs, whose approach to policing is often derided in this country as overly aggressive, recognise that community support is the foundation of community safety. For example, Bill Bratton, who dramatically reduced crime as chief of police in both New York and Los Angeles, writing in a national UK newspaper about knife crime in London, said that it is not a matter of simply putting more cops on the streets—although he called for more cops on the streets—it is a question of what they are doing on the streets. I quote:
“You don’t want them just being seen, enforcing all the rules and regulations, you want them interacting with the community. [They] need to be developing a relationship with the community that allows … an intimacy of understanding”.
It is only when such an understanding with the community has been established that police operations such as stop and search can be effective. Without this understanding and rapport, police officers carrying out this basic policing operation are often seen as an occupying army. That is why I urge the Government to adopt this two-pronged approach to knife crime: a combination of national policies, programmes, resources and leadership aimed at tackling the underlying complex social issues that lie at the heart of the problem; and local policies, programmes, resources and leadership aimed at tackling the immediate problems on our streets.
The good news is that our local police and crime commissioners and their forces are more than able to rise to this challenge, not only in tactical policing operations but with imaginative social programmes involving local schools and doctors. I wish I had time to tell noble Lords about some of these programmes, such as those developed in Norfolk by PCC Lorne Green, in Bedfordshire by PCC Kathryn Holloway and in Staffordshire by PCC Matthew Ellis.
I believe that knife crime is best tackled by our national and local institutions working together. I feel strongly about this, because I fear that a new Prime Minister, whoever he may be, will wish to demonstrate the smack of firm government by taking personal control of the fight against knife crime and directing it from No. 10—which I call the Tony Blair approach to fighting crime. I do not for a moment oppose all interest in this issue from the centre. Indeed, more funding from Whitehall is always welcome and useful, provided of course it is distributed to those programmes and forces that have most need for it. What I fear is operational direction from Whitehall, which is almost always counterproductive. It is aimed primarily at attracting national headlines rather than solving local problems. Our present arrangements for ensuring local community safety are more than fit for the purpose of tackling the problems of knife crime effectively and sensitively. There is no need to develop new arrangements for this job. Let us simply provide those who are doing the job with the support they need to do it.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, and would be happy just to adopt his speech. He clearly has significant knowledge of policing. The part of his speech that I really want to own is his commendation of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for securing this debate and for the way in which he introduced it. Clearly, I follow two speakers who have significant knowledge of policing, and I do not intend to compete with that. We find ourselves in a debate where there will be violence—but it will be violent agreement with each other.
However, I feel qualified to contribute to this debate because, before I was elected to Parliament, I spent about 25 years practising law in the west of Scotland. In that 25 years, I was in courts at every level and every single day I was confronted by the tip of the iceberg of the violence in the society of which I was a member. All across Scotland, the level of violence was horrific. In the court I most practised in, I saw the same names coming up generation after generation, behaving in exactly the same way and producing the same damage to their own families and to others. There was a general sense of resignation that that was just the norm—a combination of things that nobody would ever be able to shift.
When I became the Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, for a period that did not change. But then a police officer called Carnochan came on the scene, who was appointed to a position that most people who do not know about policing would recognise as essentially the Taggart of Scotland. He was in charge of Strathclyde Police’s murder squad. He transformed the way in which, even after a quarter of a century of knowledge of it, I looked at the issue of violence. It was a remarkable event for me when I met him and Karyn McCluskey, who worked with him and who started what is now referred to as the Violence Reduction Unit but then had another, more sophisticated name—but that does not really matter. He told me an interesting anecdote. He said that Strathclyde Police’s clear-up rate for homicides was extraordinarily high—well above 90%. They were in great demand across the world as people wanted to know how they could clear up these crimes so well when many other places had terrible challenges. He told me that, as he was about to mount a podium—I cannot remember exactly where it was—he had a road-to-Damascus moment. He thought, “Why should I be so proud of clearing up murders? I should really be preventing them from happening”. From his knowledge, he had an instinctive sense of why such violence was happening and set about, with the permission and instruction of the chief constable in Strathclyde at the time, who was a man called Rae, to concentrate on it. Within five years of setting up the unit and implementing what has become known as a public health approach, he and others had halved the level of violence in the community that they served as police officers. It was a stunning statistic.
In preparation for this debate, I came across an interview that John Carnochan gave recently—he has been very busy with visitors from London and the south as he explains to people, including the Mayor of London and others, how he did this. I commend the interview to everybody. It was published on
I shall quote one sentence that is crucial and is the lesson that we should all take away—it is not nearly a sophisticated approach, but it is a very strong truth. He said:
“I said to them, you need to get past the crime figures. Stop talking about knife crime and talk about violence, and try to understand the patterns”.
He then goes on to explain what he means by that—noble Lords can read it for themselves. He pushes back against those who suggest that such phraseology diverts attention from victims and the consequences of crime, because it does not. He said that he would never give up on these issues—aspects that the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Wasserman, identified—which are important to individual communities and their safety. But the most important thing is to learn from that. Having grown up in this environment, I cannot imagine a more difficult one in which to try and shift the pattern of violence. Despite the complexities that we will hear about in this debate, if it can work there it can work elsewhere.
My second point is in a sense more important for the House than for this debate. I have been immensely impressed by the quality of the seven briefings I have received, including one from Barnardo’s which has been referred to. At a few minutes past 11 pm last night, my mobile phone alerted me to an email and I got, for the first time, a copy of the College of Policing’s Knife Crime Evidence Briefing. I am giving the college a subliminal message that 11.10 pm the night before the debate is a bit late. I have not read it yet, but I have looked through it. As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that I cannot do justice to any of the briefings I have received, but they are full of great stuff. We are constantly searching for a way for Parliament to be relevant and to bring people in. Why do we not open a portal for every debate—it would have to be moderated—where those who wish to engage could post their briefings in real time? People could consider and relate back to them. It would stop all noble Lords having to read them and give them name checks; they would be part of our deliberations. In this environment it would be a good thing to do.
I have run out of time and I apologise, but I have a question about government accountability. I have been trying to follow what the Government are actually doing on strategy and planning in relation to violence. There has been a lot of activity and renaming of committees and after the Prime Minister’s summit on this there was a Written Statement. The last paragraph of the Statement says that the deliverables of the summit represent,
“an increased programme of work across Government”.
It promises some things which I hope the Minister will refer to in her summing up. It promises to keep Parliament updated, it promises a plan of action and it promises some detail on how the Government will go forward. We know the strategy; we now need to hear what the plan of action is.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime. The incidence, and to a lesser extent the nature, of crime may vary from place to place and from generation to generation, but crime is something that all communities have to come to terms with and devise appropriate strategies for in their own way. Over the years, we have learned much about the underlying causes of crime and had a good deal of research into the effectiveness of various responses. Overall, most research has tended to refute rather than confirm hypotheses about the causes of crime and the effectiveness of punishment and treatments. In essence, public and political mood is conditioned more by hunch, gut feeling and media hype than by outcomes of detailed research.
Knife crime has achieved much publicity in recent times. There is a widespread public perception that our society is becoming increasingly lawless. This is supplemented by statistics of offences recorded by the police. Austerity, and the subsequent cuts in public services since 2010, has contributed to this phenomenon. A reality we fail to appreciate is that not all crimes are reported. Public expectations of the police’s ability to solve crimes are far greater than the service’s ability to deliver. The grim statistics of rising knife crime are well known and well publicised, as are the tragic consequences of knife crime for victims and their families. Last year the number of recorded offences involving knives was at its highest since comparable data became available.
What can be done to stem and reverse this alarming trend? For any approach to tackling knife crime to be effective, we must stand back and look at why young people decide to carry knives. One study summed up the reasons in the phrase “fear or fashion”. Fear, because many knife crime offenders say that they carry knives for their own protection. They have the misguided belief that it will make them safer, as they can use their knives to defend themselves if they are attacked. In fact, the truth is the opposite. All the evidence shows that offenders who carry knives are more likely to end up in a violent confrontation in which they are stabbed with a weapon—either someone else’s knife or their own—as well as being more likely to end up causing the tragedy of injury or death to someone else. Fashion refers to many impressionable young people carrying knives because they see it as part of a macho self-image.
Drug misuse and dealing is also an important part of this picture. It is unrealistic to think that we can ultimately solve the problem by punitive approaches to this issue. In recent years the proportion of knife crime offenders receiving custodial sentences has sharply increased, partly because the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 introduced minimum sentences for a second offence of carrying a knife of four months for juveniles and six months for those aged 18-plus. However, this has not stopped knife crime rising; nor have increases in the stop and search policies we have adopted. Study after study has found little correlation between the use of stop and search and the rate of knife crime or violence generally, and the resentment the heavy-handed and racially disproportionate use of stop and search produces in young people all too often drives them into the arms of gangs, rather than achieving the opposite.
We need to look at more constructive solutions to the problem. Custodial sentences are inevitable for offences that have caused death or serious injury, but I see little point in passing short custodial sentences on young people apprehended for carrying a knife. Short custodial sentences are commonly agreed to be the most pointless and ineffective sentences courts can impose. They have much higher reoffending rates than any other form of sentence. Their containment effect is very short-lived. They are not long enough for any sustained attempt at rehabilitation in custody, as they do not provide enough time for an offending behaviour programme, a drug treatment programme or a vocational training programme. However, they are long enough for offenders who have stable accommodation to lose it, for those who have jobs to lose them and for those involved in education or training courses to lose the chance of completing them. This means that, on release, these offenders are more likely to be homeless, jobless and not involved in training or education—all things which increase rather than reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
Moreover, young offenders can all too often react the wrong way to a short spell in custody, deciding they have to live up to a hard image in front of their peers. For all these reasons, short custodial sentences often do more harm than good. A demanding community sentence is much more likely to provide the opportunity for intensive work to tackle the attitudes that lead offenders to carry knives, yet the use of community sentences has been falling. The approaches most likely to change young people’s attitudes to carrying knives are programmes or interventions that show young people the real consequences of this misguided way of thinking.
Many of the most effective interventions are those that involve former offenders who have now matured and seen for themselves the awful, negative consequences of carrying weapons. These ex-offenders can often act as credible and positive role models for young people, particularly if these interventions are combined with practical help with education and training, which can equip young people to lead a more constructive lifestyle. Any available funding to tackle knife crime would be far better spent on funding more interventions of this kind than on any other approach to the problem. This approach would be more likely than any other to reduce the number of families whose lives are blighted by the appalling consequences of young people’s willingness to carry knives.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for obtaining this debate and for his excellent analysis of some of the causes and, indeed, the work that has been done on how we might address them, which is a holistic approach. I am also delighted that a number of experts in policing are speaking in this debate. I come to this with little knowledge of that, but I have knowledge through the 136 schools in my diocese—I have been to two this week—and in many of the urban areas across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, which seek to bring together groups of young people to reflect on how this can be addressed.
This debate looks at the impact of government policies on serious youth violence. As the causes are many and varied, we need to look at a wide range of different issues. We are all aware that access to lethal weapons has escalated and intensified conflict. Demonstrably, when the year to March 2018 represented the highest number of knife homicides in England and Wales since 1946, it is all too clear to us that it is too easy to obtain weapons, notwithstanding the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. Indeed, from previous problems, for example acid attacks, we are aware that simply removing one way of attacking other people does not necessarily immediately solve a problem. I am therefore delighted that government action in reducing weapon accessibility has had some success, with Operation Sceptre taking some 10,000 knives off the streets. Yet piecemeal approaches will never be enough.
Other speakers have raised our approach to the stop and search policy. We need to hear, and I hope the Minister will be able to comment on, the latest evidence on how this policy is being implemented and where it is achieving the aims we want it to. Assessing government policy’s impact requires an appreciation of the complex and interlinked factors that drive young people into violence. As Centrepoint has said, there are many factors driving youth violence, whether poverty, exclusion, disadvantage or other situations. It is nevertheless significant that 21% of young people convicted of possessing a knife had been excluded from school. The lack of children’s support generally, whether due to the cut of 62% in council early years services spending since 2010, the loss of more than 1,000 Sure Start centres or the rise in school exclusions are all contributing factors to serious youth violence.
If we do not provide children with support in their lives, whether in their communities or schools, we risk alienating them from participation in wider society. I therefore welcome the Home Office working with Ofsted and the Department for Education in focusing on the risks surrounding crime and exclusions. All children deserve education, opportunities and support, as they will have the potential to contribute to the good of society. If young people are to play a full part, it certainly means that they must have access to employment. That is why we must consider the impact of government policies on tackling unemployment. I am shocked, like, I am sure, many other Members of this House, that young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts. Can the Minister explain to the House what impact government policy is having on addressing this specific issue?
Communities have a significant influence on the people in them. I note the views of the Children’s Society, which produced one of these briefing papers:
“Children carrying weapons should be seen as a child protection issue which needs a safeguarding response. A whole-system approach must include all government departments. Young people thrive best when their lives are given validity through positive community affirmation, yet when young people feel they have fallen short of being worthy of affirmation, the power of society as a redemptive force is crucial”.
With a presence in every community, we in the Churches and on these Benches want to play our part in combating serious youth violence. In a couple of weeks’ time, the General Synod of the Church of England will hold a debate on this subject during which the Reverend Canon Dr Rosemarie Mallett, a prominent campaigner and a parish priest in an area that has seen a great deal of serious youth violence, will call on parishes to open the doors of our churches after school hours to make safe places.
This type of community-led action is about providing safe spaces for the young, who can sometimes view the church or other religious premises as a neutral group. Perhaps this is why the capital city’s busiest knife amnesty bin is in the church in St John’s, Hoxton. We want to explore how we can play our part to help with that. We are not blind to violence: we see its impact on our streets in our parishes in many urban areas. It has been widely reported in the press in the past week that some churches in the centre of Luton in my diocese, inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah—
“they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”— have been reclaiming knives delivered through a knife amnesty and made a striking sculpture of a phoenix rising from the ashes. Just like the phoenix, communities can rise together. This is much bigger than just unemployment or policing. We need to engage everyone we possibly can at the grass roots for a much wider debate and much wider ownership by society if we are to address this problem, which is causing devastation to so many individuals and families across our nation.
My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on introducing this debate and the manner in which he introduced it, but I intend to pick up many of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in a thoughtful and interesting speech.
Over the past week, I have been reflecting on the years that I have been in Parliament. Last week marked the 49th anniversary of my election in June 1970. In thinking about this debate, I have been reflecting on some of the great changes that have taken place in our society during that time. Three in particular stand out. I am not making value judgments; I am merely stating facts. The family has changed very much in that period. What was then the norm is no longer the norm. The drug culture which has grown up over the past years, to which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred in his opening remarks, was unknown in 1970. Another enormous change is the advent and prevalence of social media. Without social media, the county lines to which he referred could hardly exist. We are having to cope with a very different sort of society than existed when I was first elected to Parliament.
Of course, it is right that we should talk of proactive policing and community policing, as we have today, but although he did not use these exact words, the right reverend Prelate was in effect saying to us—and I believe very strongly in this—that prevention is better than cure. We must try to develop a culture in which the use of a knife in violence is just not contemplated. It will take time, but I believe that it must begin in the home and in the school. Many times in your Lordships’ House, I have been critical of the deficiencies in careers advice in schools and citizenship education. I believe—I have mentioned this before—that every young person leaving school in our country should have had to do some community service during his or her last year in school. It does not particularly matter whether that is taking meals to the elderly, looking after the young or whatever, but community service—putting something into the community—should be obligatory, frankly.
I would like to see every young person leaving school go through a citizenship ceremony, rather like those who take British nationality. I have attended some of those ceremonies, and they are very moving. The people taking part are very serious about what they are doing, and I think every young person should go through something like that. Citizenship education should not only prepare them for a world in which they will take part—by voting, participating and in many cases, one would hope, answering the call to public service—but make them realise that they have rights, yes, but also responsibilities and duties. I honestly think that if we placed more emphasis on citizenship education, we would be going a long way down the route to creating a better society.
I thought the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about short sentences were so very pertinent. Wherever possible, young people should be kept out of institutions. I had a young offender institution in my last constituency. It merited a damning report from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he was Chief Inspector of Prisons, and pulled itself up considerably; he was then able to give it a much better report. But many of the young people in that institution became nurtured in crime by being there.
When I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I saw some of the positive effects of community restorative justice. I genuinely believe that we ought to place more emphasis on that. I ask my noble friend the Minister to refer to this when she winds up.
Any of us who are parents or grandparents—in your Lordships’ House it is more the latter than the former—are deeply concerned about our grandchildren growing up in a world in which violence is endemic. It should be our collective determination, not just wish or endeavour, to ensure that future generations of children leave school with a sense of belonging to a community, feeling that they have an obligation not only to receive from but to contribute to that community, and realising that violence of the sort we have been reading about in the press this very week is completely unacceptable.
As my noble friend Lord Paddick said in opening this debate, there are many facets to the horrors and challenges of knife crime. One of these is that there is an established link between the very large cuts to local government funding and the increase in knife crime. At this point I remind the House of my relevant interests as a local councillor and vice-president of the Local Government Association.
In February this year a group of major children’s charities—Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, the Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau—produced a joint report containing a new analysis of the research they had done on local funding per child. They found that the funding available to local councils per child has dropped by as much as 52% in real terms. Furthermore, the report stated the view of youth and social workers that the dramatic cuts were inextricably linked to a rise in youth knife crime and the criminal exploitation of children by county lines gangs.
The Local Government Association figures paint a similar picture. The LGA statistics show that more than 600 youth centres closed and nearly 139,000 youth service places were lost between 2012 and 2016 alone. Councils were forced to cut spending on local youth services by 52%, from £652 million in 2010-11 to £352 million in 2017-18 as a direct result of government cuts to local government funding.
The sad fact is that the statistics also demonstrate that early intervention by youth services and youth offending teams—I am surprised that no one has mentioned them so far today in the debate—can and does significantly reduce the number of young people who become involved in criminal activity and knife crime in particular. Youth services design targeted approaches so that those young people who are more likely to be enticed into, for instance, knife crime are diverted from it. Youth offending teams both divert young people from criminal activity that may lead to knife crime and provide support that steers young people away from further involvement in illegal and possibly violent activity.
The Action for Children report quoted a youth worker whose role currently is to support victims of stabbing in an A&E in London. He said:
“Young people and their families are not getting the support they need and things are reaching crisis point. Dealing with the issues at A&E is too late”.
There are consequences to severe cuts in local services and local communities and families are damaged, sometimes beyond repair. Preventative services, such as youth services, are a vital element in keeping individuals and communities safe.
One of the key recommendations of the report by the APPG on Knife Crime is that, as part of the public health approach, the Government should use this autumn’s expected spending review to provide a considerable increase in funding to youth services so that they can provide safe spaces and access to the support that some young people need. What is so frustrating is that this pattern of large cuts in youth services leading to a rise in young people involved in crime is entirely predictable: it has happened before; the link is known. That makes the continued cuts to local youth services as a consequence of government funding decisions even more to be reprimanded.
The Government have at least responded, in a piecemeal way, to the knife crime crisis by providing additional funding to police services. In West Yorkshire, ad hoc funding has enabled early intervention and prevention work with young people, schools and communities to tackle knife crime. Disappointingly, the funding is a one-off and therefore there is no sustainability either in the funding or the prevention work. It is as if the Government see a horrific problem and throw some one-off funding at it in order to reduce critical media headlines. What they should and must do is provide continuing year-on-year funding to local government to provide the intervention and prevention work that will turn lives around, keep young people safe, remove the trauma of violent knife crime from a community and enable young people to turn away from knives. The win for the Government is that this approach costs the public purse less in the long run. It is a win-win. The only thing that is surprising is that it is taking the Government so long to accept that this change is absolutely essential.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on enabling us to debate this pressing issue. I should declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, because that is the subject to which I wish to refer.
Perhaps the most devastating of the many statistics included in the first House of Lords Library briefing is the fact that the number of under-16s admitted to hospital has increased by 93% since 2012. The Government are clearly worried about that figure and have introduced a wide range of initiatives. The Home Secretary clearly realises that drugs are at the heart of this problem and has launched a review of the illegal drugs market led by Dame Carol Black. Tragically, her review was castrated before it began because she was explicitly prevented from looking at drug law. Without reform of our drug laws it is difficult to imagine that this problem can be solved. The Government will struggle uphill all the way because they have a deep problem right at the centre of everything.
Of course there are very important remedial measures which Dame Carol Black will consider, such as the need to reverse the cuts to drug treatment services and the swingeing cuts to local authority budgets which have led to the closure of youth services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, outlined so strongly. These services offered activity, support and just a little bit of hope to these very vulnerable people. I have not seen any mention of the need to restore the budgets of schools to enable them to re-employ class assistants and others to work with vulnerable children. I heard only this morning that a school has had to cut out completely its volunteer programme. It must cost thruppence-ha’penny—almost nothing—yet it has had to destroy that volunteer programme to try to make ends meet. Class assistants and volunteers work with the most vulnerable children who have behaviour problems. Without that support those children are excluded from school, and we have heard appalling numbers about exclusions over the past 10 years or so. Alongside these policy disasters, which urgently need to be reviewed, are the cuts to the benefits budget which have left youngsters looking for some money somewhere, and it does not take them long to find illegal drug dealers—a veritable gold mine, if you are prepared to take a bit of a risk.
The Children’s Society report on knife crime points to another policy needing revision, knife crime prevention orders. Branded as preventive, these orders are in fact targeted at children who may be the victims of exploitation. As the right reverend Prelate noted, the society rightly points out that any child found carrying a knife should immediately prompt a safeguarding response. Does the Minister accept that important recommendation? The Children’s Society’s concerns mirror those expressed in this Chamber when the Bill was going through. The orders risk criminalising young people and pushing them further from support rather than the other way round. Does the Minister accept that analysis and the need to revisit that legislation, or at least the regulations within it?
Even with those policy changes, if they occur, the Government will be working uphill, as I have said, unless they are willing to look at the evidence of the relationship between our drug prohibition laws and knife crime and many other societal problems, although today of course we are concerned with knife crime.
I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I spend a couple of minutes explaining why I have fairly recently come to the view that the legalisation of cannabis for adult social use would do more to deal with knife crime than any other initiative. The Government seem to accept that most knife crime occurs because youngsters are caught up in drug gangs or carry knives in case they are attacked by a gang wanting to recruit them. The demand for cannabis is on a different scale from the demand for any other drug, so what would a legal cannabis market look like? The legal cannabis would be a well-balanced, uncontaminated product. Good up-to-date research has shown that that sort of product has no risk of causing psychosis. There has been a lot of publicity about cannabis causing psychosis, but it absolutely does not. The illegal stuff does but a legal product would not.
The only other possible risk from cannabis is of inhibiting brain development in children. If legalisation led to more children taking cannabis, I would not support it, but the US evidence suggests that that is simply not the case. In Colorado, the use of cannabis by teenagers has fallen, and in the other legalising states it has remained much the same as it was before the change in the law.
If the supply of safe cannabis were regulated and available only in pharmacies or other legal outlets, the illegal market would largely collapse. Yes, skunk would continue to be available from the drug dealers, but if young people could buy legal cannabis safely from somewhere else, children would not find their way to the illegal drug dealers. No doubt children would get hold of the legal product—they get hold of alcohol, after all—but it would be considerably safer than what they take at the moment. The important point is that the cannabis they got hold of would not be skunk. That is crucial. Skunk is horrible, dangerous stuff. What about class A drugs? We do not know the proportion of cannabis users who move on to class A drugs but we know that the gateway effect is crucial. This would end. There would be separate markets for legal cannabis and illegal drugs.
I realise that the Minister cannot respond to any of those comments until we get a new Home Secretary but, if and when we do, I hope that I can have a discussion with him about the possibility of revisiting the terms of reference of Dame Carol Black’s review.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
We have heard too many harrowing statistics about knife crime, which is akin to a modern plague on our society. Many speakers have informed us of its awful impact. Of course, many more young people are involved in knife crime than the figures for arrests show. What is the impact on the lives of those young people and their families of carrying a knife, whether it be as part of a gang or as an individual for self-defence? I am sure that none of us can imagine what it must be like to lose a loved one through a fatal stabbing: the knock on the door and the police officer standing there with the family liaison officer to tell you that your son or daughter has been stabbed to death.
I want to spend my seven minutes drawing on my experiences in local government and education in an attempt to understand what is going on and why this is happening, and perhaps how we can prevent it. In my view, it is not just about the shocking rise in knife crime but the breakdown of the fabric of many communities and the alienation of young people from those communities, particularly those on the margins.
When I look back to my childhood, or indeed those of my children, I see a very different community experience than that faced by young people today. Many young people in school, and quite a few who are not in school, will grow up without being able to join a local youth club, or to go to the after-school club, as most of them have to be paid for now. They will be without a local library and unable to afford to go to the leisure centre or swimming pool, and they will never see a detached youth worker or indeed a neighbourhood bobby or community police officer.
Last summer, the Children’s Commissioner spoke of “battery” children—those barely leaving their flats during the long summer holidays. What has happened to holiday play schemes provided by local councils in parks and on playing fields? I can remember in Liverpool marvelling at a national programme called Summer Splash. The young people, with student mentors, enjoyed engaging, developmental, inspiring summer activities. The scheme involved thousands upon thousands of young people for every day of the summer holidays and changed their lives for good. That was in the days when it was fashionable to talk about community development and community cohesion.
Today, to ask about summer play schemes is to ask a purely rhetorical question. Local authority budgets, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Pinnock, have been so reduced that there is no money left to provide for these positive activities, which are now seen by local authorities as unaffordable luxuries. Many children are growing up in communities where the only contact with the local authority is if they come to the notice of social services, the fourth emergency service. Local councils are having to cut statutory services, let alone sustain more positive services and develop policies for community development and cohesion.
Noble Lords may be wondering what all this has to do with knife crime. The answer is: nothing, directly. I am trying to lay out the sort of community that too many people grow up in. We have succeeded in fragmenting and destroying much of the fabric of local communities. In tandem with dealing with the immediate, we must attempt to rebuild an infrastructure that will offer children and young people a range of positive activities that provide an alternative to the violent gang culture which is becoming normalised in some parts of our cities.
I am sure that the £40,000 annual cost of a place in a youth offending institution would more than cover the cost of a youth worker. Ensuring that just one young person a year did not stab someone is surely worth striving for. We hear a lot about early intervention; investment in the communities in which our young people are growing up is an investment worth making in simple economic, cost-benefit terms. In human terms, the dividends are far greater.
This debate should not be about knife crime: knife crime is a symptom, not a cause. Why are we allowing half a million young people, often in the most difficult circumstances, to be excluded from our schools? The Department for Education does not know how many children are excluded, nor how many are placed with unregistered providers who have never been inspected. Noble Lords need only read the House of Commons Select Committee report on alternative provision to realise how serious the problem is. We have thousands of young people—often in the most disadvantaged circumstances, often with learning and behavioural difficulties—with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It is hardly surprising that these young people are drawn into or recruited into gangs, with all that gang culture entails. Integral to that culture are drugs, violence and of course knife crime. Is this any way for society to allow its young people to be treated?
My Lords, I want to read out a list of names: Gavin Singleton, 31, Kavan Brissett, 21, Jarvin Blake, 22, Glenn Boardman, 59, Fahim Hersi, 22, Samuel Baker, 15, Ryan Jowle, 19 and Alan Grayson, 85. These are eight lives that ended early in my city of Sheffield last year: eight lives that ended early due to knife crime in a city that is dubbed the safest in England.
I do not congratulate my noble friend Lord Paddick on the debate today. It is a national shame that we are having to have this debate. I could go through statistics about how Sheffield and South Yorkshire have looked at those carrying knives aged between five and 89. I could go through the statistics as others have regarding deprivation and other issues. But I want to talk about my time as leader of Sheffield City Council; I declare my interest in the register as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The most harrowing time was when we started to have a spike in knife crime. I talked to a victim, a parent, a perpetrator and an ex-offender. The victim was now scared to go out, and if he did, he was going to carry a knife. The parent had lost a child, and I have to tell you that when I spoke to them I had never experienced anything like that in my life. There are no words; it is harrowing. The perpetrator felt as though he had no other option. The thing that bound those people together was a lack of hope, a sense of helplessness and despair that they had no power to control how they got themselves out of this mess. Then I met an ex-offender. He was the one with hope, the one who had power and felt that there was a future for him.
I came away and reflected. The Government and the statutory sector do not own this issue in terms of solving the problem. We have to wrap around communities rather than communities wrapping around us; that is the lesson that I have learned. We cannot have a top-down approach. I am appalled that one of the approaches by the Government is a bidding process to save lives. That is unacceptable. I find it despicable that we are saying that the only way to fund communities is to bid to save your children. As my noble friend Lady Pinnock said, the funding has to be sustainable. One of the issues that government and local authorities should be judged on is how much of the third sector is involved and how it, along with parents, children and ex-offenders, is empowered to deliver solutions, not on tick-box exercises for how statutory organisations spend money.
In my professional life I work across the world, looking at government reform. The Government are not dealing with this in a systematically joined-up way, nor have previous Governments. A task force is not good enough. It has to be something akin to what was called the troubled families programme, which was a much more systematic and joined-up approach. In that approach, the Government should not judge the process. They should allow innovation at local level and judge communities and the statutory sector only on outcomes, not getting involved in how, why or what. I trust parents and ex-offenders to have a far greater understanding of what is needed in the communities of this country than some official or Minister sat here in Whitehall. We must empower them and allow them the freedom to deliver solutions.
Another learning point that I came away with from my time as a councillor and as leader of Sheffield City Council was about some of the people who get drawn into this. The youngest person carrying a knife in Sheffield recently was five years old. Over one-quarter of reported knife crimes were in schools, some of them primary schools, so our intervention has to start at a very early age. It is about wrapping around families so that parents can get support, not related to knife crime but support for nurturing, love and hope, and for giving them practical skills.
School exclusions are the breeding ground of gangs and dysfunctional families. Local authorities need power to deal with academies and free schools that more or less have free rein to exclude. There needs to be legislation for local authorities to have a role in making sure that exclusions do not happen; if one thing comes from this, it is that. If we need police to deal with knife crime, we have failed as a society.
There needs to be a much more systematic and bottom-up approach. It needs to allow innovation in communities, it needs to be a whole-family approach, and it needs to listen to the voices of those without hope who feel disempowered and who feel that the only option is to pick up a knife, to give them some form of safety in future.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for this useful opportunity to reflect on the progress of the Government’s serious violence strategy, announced last year, in reducing knife crime. The Government have taken useful action which has been effective in reducing knife crime, but there remain significant questions as to whether their approach will be successful in the longer term.
At times in today’s debate it has been suggested that there are alternatives and that the choice is between short-term and long-term measures. I am afraid that the reality is that we will need both. If we do not take some of the short-term measures, people will die while the long-term measures take effect. There will therefore have to be tactical responses as well as some of the more profound strategic measures. I continue to urge the Government to have a profound crime prevention strategy, which I do not think is in place. This can also be said of health but it is certainly true of crime. The strategy should have five elements: design of places and things, drug abuse, alcohol misuse, mental health, and self-education so that people can protect themselves from becoming victims.
Although today’s debate has veered, quite understandably, into discussion of economic circumstances and the level of government support for vulnerable individuals, it is about the impact of government policy on knife crime. While low economic vibrancy can certainly lead to more crime, the debate is specifically about how government policy is affecting knife crime. Why is the current situation disproportionately causing people, particularly young people, to stab one another?
The effective measures taken include finding an extra £1 billion, or something of that order, for police funding, which is a good thing. There has also been an increase in the average sentence for those convicted of a second knife offence. My friend the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others are not persuaded that prison sentences are the answer, but they certainly must be part of the answer. As I think he acknowledged, if someone is stabbed or there is an offence of serious violence, the young need to know that this is a terrible thing and that there is a serious consequence in the most extreme cases. It will happen only on a second conviction, and the average sentence has risen to eight months. The dilemma is that to arrest and to take serious action against someone carrying a knife before stabbing someone is a preventive measure against the murder that may subsequently occur. If we take no serious action against those carrying knives, we will have problems. The initiation of local serious violence units to work long-term on a public health approach, which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about, is a good investment, and I am sure that we will see its benefits in the coming years.
I do not necessarily share the confidence we have heard in the data we are offered to decide whether things are getting better or worse. The reports by the House of Lords Library are very good but are based on data that concludes in December 2018, and here we are in June 2019 and someone was stabbed to death yesterday. We do not know whether things are getting better or worse. Surely that data should be available. The statisticians often want this data to be perfect, but it must be available and transparent. I hope the Government have that data, and the police should have it so that they know whether or not the action they are taking is helpful. We also need statistical information because it helps us to stop having moral crises about things that may just be blips. I do not think the rise in knife crime is a blip, but there are statistical ways of checking that. This type of crime is seasonal. When the weather gets warm, the profile is different. Certain things can affect crime which can be analysed statistically. The bottom line is that every murder and stabbing is a serious event that we all need to take seriously, as we are doing.
My analysis, which is supported by that of the serious violence strategy, is that there are four principal causes of what we see at the moment. First is the increase in the supply of cheap cocaine, which has destabilised the controlled drug market, leading to more violence. Secondly, the distribution methods have changed such that there is now online ordering and delivery of drugs to customers rather than collection from their dealers. The very young are becoming involved in this, which is leading to the issue of county lines we see right across the country. Thirdly, clearly too many young people are carrying knives, and they are not deterred by being caught or by its consequences. Finally, communities that are getting younger see higher incidence of violence.
The questions that remain for the Government concern two things that have been in their control but have aggravated the situation I described. The first is the loss of 20,000 police officers since 2010. I am afraid I still cannot understand why, if the Government are putting £1 billion in, they have promised only 3,500 more when officers cost on average about £50,000 each; £1 billion should provide about 20,000. I do not understand why there is such a big discrepancy between the promise and the money being put in. My second point has been picked up by many people: the exclusion of young people from schools and the limited effectiveness of the pupil referral units, which I am afraid are becoming pathways to crime rather than inhibitors of it.
The questions that remain for the Government are these. First, if it is true that police officers costs on average £50,000, why can the Government not promise more officers? When they arrive, can they give any kind of assessment to the police about where they will put them? If they end up being shared politically or equitably that will not be the right way to distribute them.
Secondly, the National Crime Agency, which is charged with stopping the importation of drugs, still does not have a tier 1 objective to try to control the supply of controlled drugs. It has a very vague set of words and the performance data is almost meaningless. What about stopping some of the drugs getting in? How much is getting stopped and seized, with people being arrested and put in prison for 80 kilos of heroin? These are vital things that the NCA should have. The Government have not given it an objective to explicitly stop that supply.
Thirdly, have the Government considered amending the criteria for intrusive surveillance to monitor online ordering? It is currently reserved for the most serious of crimes, such as 80 kilos of heroin being imported, but in these cases we have very low volumes of cocaine being delivered and somebody, such as a 16 year-old who delivers it, dies. That is a serious event, which is why intrusive surveillance is so important to match the nature of the problem.
Fourthly, what is the Government’s analysis of the adverse impact of educational performance indicators on exclusions from schools? What are they doing to improve the performance of pupil referral units? Fifthly, what technology is being made available to the police to improve the quality of stop and search? That can make a real difference.
Finally, I recently did a documentary TV programme in which I suggested that there should be a tsar to pull this together. As a result, I saw the Home Secretary say that he did not agree with tsars. As it happens, I am not entirely confident that tsars always work, but if Ministers do not like tsars, who is pulling this together? Who will drive it forward and who will make sure that, across government, someone will do something week by week and day by day, and not report in six months’ time, when, sadly, things get out of control? It needs a drive. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, said, sometimes central government can make things happen.
My Lords, when I put my name down for this debate I had a series of points that I was going to raise, most of which, of course, have been covered. The basic premise, though, from reading all the information is that the spike in knife crime—let us hope it is a spike, as opposed to an upward trend—merely ties into what has happened before. The profile of the offender is almost exactly the same as it has always been. The first common denominator is that they are out of school by the age of 14. That is the one that has always been there. Anybody who has worked in prisons has discovered incredibly low levels of educational attainment and a fear of authority. Only while working in a youth offender unit have I been threatened and grovelled to in the same sentence. These people are difficult to reach.
One of the contributing factors is clearly the fact that, in our current education system, it has become okay to get rid of your failing pupils: off-rolled, excluded, you name it, you get rid of them because of the way we are going. The Minister looks shocked. I did not say that the Government had done it; it is something schools have to do to preserve their status. The argument of losing your academy status has clearly had an effect here. There can be no real argument with that. There is something there: you are going to punish a school or change its status if it gets bad results. If you have pupils who will not get their five “C”s or whatever it is now—I think it will be five “4”s in the exam system my daughter will present to me in August—and there is a punishment, the perverse incentive is absolutely there. Very good schools will resist it, but it will still be there.
Of course people have always excluded themselves from school and there have always been people who did not like it. Schools do not want them there and say, “Just go away”. It has always happened, but it is becoming more prevalent and exclusions are rife. We have this lovely growth that can be exploited for criminal or social reasons. If I remember correctly, my noble friend Lord Dholakia said that fashion and fear lead to people carrying these blades. It has always been there, but it is now more common.
We have this horrible situation where something has become more prevalent and more exploited, then gangs move in to exploit it for a criminal activity. Drugs have mainly been spoken about, but there will be other areas of activity as well. So what we do to try to get out of it? One of the things civil society can do is encourage people who are very good at reaching these groups. Sport is one of them. It sounds a little like you are going to say, “Oh, if everybody played jolly good sport and had a cold shower afterwards, everything would be fine”. Having had the cold shower, believe me, it does not help you turn up next time. But all sports have a cohesive effect. They have an objective and discipline.
Bizarrely, from certain attitudes taken by the Government, boxing and martial arts are the best for reaching this group. They just are. Learning how not to get punched in the nose is a great way to make sure that you are less likely to get involved in violence. You have a community, a group and a reason to stay fit. If you are staying fit you are not hanging around drinking and taking drugs on street corners. If you do, when you go to the gym you will get hit. There we are: a great incentive for you.
Since we have this there, what are we doing to encourage it? We could bring boxing into prisons, but apparently we do not like that because it encourages violence. Possibly somebody should have a look at that at some point, but martial arts are a very good way in. Other sports, such as basketball and other good urban sports, will have opportunities as well, but the lead one seems to be boxing. Are we going to encourage these groups to integrate with the rest of society? There is a very good organisation called Fight For Peace. Its centre in the London Docklands, which I saw, grew out of the activities of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Since boxing is acceptable there it could cross gang lines. If noble Lords want to look at real problems when you get this wrong, they should look there. It is not a couple of people with knives; it is people with automatics and spare clips of ammunition on street corners and the police go in in armoured cars. We should bear in mind that it can get worse.
What are we doing to help groups such as this encourage into their gyms and training sessions social workers and people in careers support to make sure that these people can re-engage? We have a way in. All sports have it; boxing might have the best one. Anything that will build on what we are doing out there will work, because what they are saying is, “Re-engage with society”. The people who these young people respect, who are not the establishment or the teacher who failed them, should be the ones to come in and say, “You can succeed”. Bring in people who have the same accent as them to tell them, “You can succeed”, and to help. That is a way forward.
What are we doing to encourage these groups to have easy access to what the state can do to support and help them? This is a real question. We do it in small pockets and say, “Wonderful, isn’t it great?”, and then leave and do not change the rest of our activity. Ministers will have to lead this because they will always be punching through the Chinese walls of, “That’s not my budget”, or, “I don’t get the credit for it”. Everybody in Parliament can give a 10-minute speech on that any day of the week. What will the Government do to make sure good community projects can become part of this public health solution, which seems to be the only one we have identified? What are we do to make sure it happens? If we are not going to embrace this, we will probably end up losing out on one of our quick wins.
My Lords, this has been a very constructive debate, and the way in which it was introduced invited a cross-party approach, which we should carry forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Browne, about the quality of the briefings we have received. It is a good idea for the House authorities to look at them. They should be lodged in the Library and be available, because they have been extremely good.
My locus in speaking is that I was for three and a half years a Minister at the Ministry of Justice and then, for a further three years, chairman of the Youth Justice Board. Throughout this period, almost all budgets at all levels were cut. We have to take into account, though, that we were recovering from the coronary thrombosis that the financial system had in 2008. People sometimes forget that about government expenditure from 2010 onwards.
Let me concentrate on three areas where that experience may be helpful. The first is the period when I was chairman of the Youth Justice Board, which was one of the most fulfilling and constructive of my life. We have a great asset in the Youth Justice Board. Charlie Taylor’s hope and intention to move from what we have now, which are in fact child prisons, to places of more constructive rehabilitation for young offenders, should be supported and encouraged. Also, although they too have had the pressure of a squeeze on resources, youth offending teams are amazingly effective. This is exactly what has come through in today’s debate: they are cross-disciplinary and include experts from all aspects of local authorities and policing, and the cross-referencing of the work produces results. One thing that always sticks in my mind is a visit to Manchester, where the policeman on the YOT saw for the first time a very persistent young offender from a local care home. He said, “That kid’s autistic”, which he was, yet he had gone through a lot of his life and a lot of experts without anybody noticing. It is this cross-referencing of the YOTs and—to make the point again—the localism of their experience that gives them their strength.
Secondly, I want to say something about the police. When he was Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, was very committed to police officers being attached to schools. Attending a lecture the other night by Cressida Dick, I was very pleased to find that she is keeping up that commitment of putting policemen in schools, as contacts with the local community. That is again something that gives us hope.
However, the police still have a real problem with recruitment. I asked a Question 40 years ago in the other place about why police recruitment from black and ethnic minorities was so low. I made the same point 20 years ago when I was first in this place. It still worries me that we are trying to police black and Asian communities with white police forces. Each police chief gives me assurances about what they are doing for recruitment, but recruitment and retention are still poor. One of the things that most struck me happened during a visit from some local government workers from Birmingham. One, an Asian lady whose children were about the same age as mine, said, “My son really wants to become a policeman”. She hesitated and then said, “Of course, you couldn’t say that down at the mosque”. It sent a shiver through my spine. There is still this feeling that the police are “them” in many of these communities; David Lammy’s report warns of that as well. We have to persevere with recruiting and retaining people from these communities, so that the police force is seen not as some outside force but as part of their community.
Finally, I echo the point about the importance of sport. When I arrived at the MoJ, I was told there was no evidence that sport could be influential in rehabilitation. That seemed silly. All my life I have seen kids who could have gone wrong but had not, for all the reasons my noble friend Lord Addington gave. One of the most influential youth workers I ever saw was straight out of central casting; he was running a boxing club in Durham and, my God, did he get respect, and did he look after those kids.
I am not going to get the flashing clock, but we might take some money from the betting industry, and from our wealthy football industry, to put into some of these youth services that are being so depleted.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Safer London, which works with young people affected, or potentially affected, by the issues we have been discussing.
The title that my noble friend chose for his debate was very neat: “The impact of government policy on knife crime”. Noble Lords have addressed both knife crime policy and government policies, actions and omissions in other parts of the policy landscape which affect knife crime. The debate has illustrated how knife crime is a symptom, not a cause.
I have been wondering about the situation in other countries and what one might learn from them. I had hoped that someone would talk about Scotland. We can do without Mr Trump slagging off the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and describing our hospitals as “a sea of blood”, but I must not get diverted on to that. We have been briefed on headline statistics and we do need the detail to identify trends and spikes. I was struck by the correlation between cuts in youth services and the highest knife crime increases, and by the impact of ACEs—adverse childhood experiences. I think it is significant when quasi-technical terms enter the general lexicon. “Teachable and reachable moments” and “trauma-informed” are others. I do not want to lose sight of the fact that not all victims and perpetrators are young. Currently, a 36 year-old is on trial for killing a 51 year-old in a row on a train. Using a knife seems to have become “normalised”—a term which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, used.
It bears repeating that perpetrators are often victims too, because that directs us to the why. My noble friend Lady Pinnock powerfully and accurately talked about local authority funding and funding per child. I have always thought that local authorities should be able to be at the heart of both action and prevention; the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, referred to the local nature of these issues.
My noble friend Lord Storey talked about action taken in schools and the alienation of young people. What are the views of young people? They should be encouraged to contribute to society’s response. I was struck by the phrase of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the importance of hope. We know that many young people carry knives for their own protection; if you think that protection from the police is not available, that is not an irrational thing to do.
The Home Office talks a pretty good talk about what it is going to do. I may well be wrong about this, but I think I have heard the phrase “public health approach” from the Government only in the context of their recent consultation on a possible new statutory duty to have due regard to the prevention and tackling of serious violence. In the consultation, that seems to have been used as a synonym for multi-agency. Can the Minister tell the House, first, when the Government will respond to that consultation process? Perhaps she will even be able to trail part of that response. Secondly, do she and the Government support an approach that views violence like a contagious disease that transmits and spreads based on exposure to violence—the noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to this—and is preventable at the point of transmission with early intervention? Do the Government agree that they should set out what an effective public health response looks like and how it should apply at a departmental level?
My noble friend Lord McNally talked about sentencing and what works; too often, detention does not but it is sometimes unavoidable. Believing that you are likely to be caught is a better deterrent. We might not want to admit to it as individuals but we all know other drivers who are deterred from speeding more by the thought of being caught than the impact—sorry, that was not intended as a pun—or effect of what might happen if they drive at a greater speed. We understand that children make assessments in a different way from adults, so that fear for their own safety outweighs other factors. Detention is not rehabilitative. We have so often made clear from these Benches, as my noble friend Lord Dholakia did today, our views on short sentences. I do not suppose that it will now harm the career prospects of David Gauke or Rory Stewart if I express my appreciation of them. Does stop and search work? We are not keen on Section 60 powers and are therefore concerned about how the community reacts to the new pilots. How will officers conduct themselves, since trust in the police must not be jeopardised? Stop and search has form.
Of course, we were going to have to discuss police funding, and that additional funding must be sustainable. We are looking for more officers, not the same number doing more—I would say even more—overtime. On funding, can the Minister give the House some sort of breakdown of the £100 million for the serious violence fund? What will it be spent on and how and when is that planned?
I would like to understand more about violence reduction units. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, says that they are a good investment; I hope so. I think that funding for 18 has been announced. Can the Minister expand on this? There is so much for them to consider: links with the criminal exploitation of children though organised crime; that homeless young people, who are particularly hard to reach, are conversely particularly easily exploited; that to many of their members gangs are their family, providing a sense of purpose, role models and, as my noble friend Lord Paddick said, respect; and that young people need communication skills. The briefing from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists should not have been unexpected and I really welcomed it. Finally, they need to consider that services should not be concentrated geographically, otherwise 50% cannot access them because of rivalries.
There has been reference to what is now the Offensive Weapons Act, which felt very much like a knee-jerk, populist response—particularly the KCPOs. Those are not a new category in the honours system, although maybe in some eyes they are.
The public health approach takes time and painstaking effort. The Government cannot do it themselves. They need to involve civil society and when we discuss funding, as my noble friend Lord Scriven reminded us, we must not forget the third sector. Its organisations need core funding to survive if they are to provide services; no doubt that applies to boxing clubs just as much as any other service. One-to-one work is intensive and needs to involve the whole family—I do not mean a gang.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, so much of our debate leads us back to contextual safeguarding, where the risks and the environment are viewed through a child protection lens. This debate is about knife crime; it is also about child protection.
I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on securing this debate. His opening speech was as thoughtful and comprehensive as one expected it would be. Judging by the number of briefings we have all received, the debate and its subject matter has attracted a lot of interest, particularly among those organisations directly involved in seeking through various means and approaches to counteract the driving forces behind knife crime and to reduce its incidence.
The Library briefing for this debate refers to recent ONS statistics, which indicate that in the year to December 2018 the police recorded 44,443 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument—a volume rise of 6% on the previous year and the continuation of a four-year rising trend. Possession offences of an article with a blade or point also rose last year by 20% to just under 21,000, in line with increases seen over the last five years. Ministry of Justice figures on cautions and convictions for knife and offensive weapon offences reflect the increases in the police figures, as do NHS figures for admissions for “assault by a sharp object”.
The ONS figures show that urban areas have generally seen the highest rates of knife crime over recent years, with young people increasingly involved as both perpetrators and victims. In the year to March 2018, the number of homicide victims aged 16 to 24 increased by 45% compared to the previous year, with the number of homicides committed by those aged under 18 rising by 77% between 2016 and 2018. The figures would have been even higher were it not for medical advancements, which have led to significant improvements in survival rates from stabbings. The number of under-16s admitted to hospital due to knife attacks has also increased by 93% since 2012, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned.
The driving forces behind knife crime are numerous and have to be looked at in their totality if the issues we now face are to be addressed. A review in one London borough of 60 serious cases of youth violence has apparently shown that in nearly all cases, if not all, the young person involved was outside mainstream education. Further common factors were the absence of the mother, for one reason or another, and the lack in most cases of a trusted adult, whether from within the family or outside it. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned other factors, including living with a background of domestic violence, divorce, parental mental health issues, alcohol issues, a parent being in prison and parents having to work excessive hours just to make ends meet, all resulting in emotional neglect. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others also referred to the impact of drugs and county lines, and the attraction to the dangers of gangs of many young people.
There is also the question of school exclusions: some schools make temporary or permanent exclusions that run into three figures a year; others make only a handful or even none at all. That suggests that very different approaches are being adopted, and it is difficult to believe that frequent exclusions—permanent exclusions have increased by over 50% in the last three years—help to address the driving factors behind knife crime. Indeed, they appear to be a contributory factor. Why, apparently, can some schools largely avoid exclusions without this leading to disruption of classes for other children, while others cannot? Roughly half of exclusions are of children with special needs, and one must question whether enough is being done in many of these cases, through interventions, to endeavour to keep such young people in mainstream schools.
Another potential issue is the effectiveness or otherwise of pupil referral units, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. It appears that a third of local authorities do not even have any places left in their units. Do the Government have any information on the quality and effectiveness of pupil referral units? Are we in a situation where many are good, but still too many are not delivering for the most vulnerable young people who are the most likely to end up committing offences? Pupil referral units tend to finish earlier than mainstream schools, so the young people concerned are likely to be on the streets for longer. My understanding is that the evidence shows that knife offences peak after school and in the time before parents come home from work, after which the number goes down again. If that is the case, surely something can be done to address this reality and its impact on the incidence of knife offences.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans confirmed that the Church of England is looking at whether more can be done to keep churches open during these hours after school, so that they can be a form of safe haven for young people who feel vulnerable and at risk, and have no trusted adult available to turn to during these seemingly crucial hours. Churches and other places of worship can have their doors open during hours when they currently are not only if sufficient suitable people are able to make themselves available in the place of worship to offer comfort and assurance. That may be easier said than done in many instances, but such an initiative can only be welcomed as positive action, as opposed to mere words, to address the problem we are discussing.
Much has already been said about the public health approach, meaning active co-ordinated interventions to reduce and stop the violence and prevent its future spread, and changing attitudes and mindsets to prevent it starting up again. My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton referred to the approach adopted in Glasgow and its considerable favourable impact, which has led to people from the south hot-footing it north to find out how it has been achieved.
The Library briefing tells us that, as part of the #KnifeFree campaign, the Home Office has worked with schools and the PSHE Association to provide new material on knife crime ahead of the 2019 summer holidays. At the beginning of this month, I understand, 20,000 PSHE teachers received new lesson plans to help,
“further equip them to challenge myths and communicate to their pupils the realities of carrying a knife”.
Significantly, in the light of the Government presiding over a rundown in Sure Start centres over the past 10 years, the lessons are for children aged between 11 and 16. These lessons are no doubt also part of the Government’s serious violence strategy, but what are the specific short and long-term aims of the strategy? What are the specific goals it intends to achieve? Against what criteria will its impact, or lack of impact, be assessed?
In a debate in the Commons on knife crime on
“Nationally, we have Operation Sceptre, where every single police force in the country has a week of action of tackling knife crime in a way that is appropriate for their local area”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/1/19; col. 257WH.]
That sounds fine, but what is happening to tackle knife crime in the other 51 weeks of the year? Why does Operation Sceptre, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans referred, not operate every week of the year if it is effective? Is it lack of resources? This is the problem the Government have not yet addressed. It is about resources—resources to enable the public health approach to be meaningful and the necessary action to continue, and not just be undertaken for a limited period, following which the resources dry up and the problems promptly start to resurface.
The Home Secretary has now accepted that we need to put back the approximately 20,000 police officers cut since 2010. Neighbourhood policing has been decimated and, with it, a vital link between local communities and the police, which not only delivered increased trust in the police in local communities but, as a result, provided much-needed knowledge and intelligence to counteract crime and, more significantly, prevent it happening in the first place.
The Government have also presided over a rundown in our youth services over the past 10 years, through its squeeze on local authority finances. Youth services provide valuable support for potentially vulnerable young people, as well as a source of constructive activity off the streets. I am involved with a football league with 82 clubs in London and the south-east. Most of our clubs run teams for all the younger age groups. I do not think their contribution, through volunteers, to the well-being and development of young people is recognised as fully as it should be by the Government or sometimes by the relevant local authority. Our education system has faced real financial pressure as a result of insufficient government funding since 2010, which restricts the support that can be offered to more vulnerable students, as well as making the teaching proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, unlikely at present.
The Conservative Party leadership campaign has led to a mini-blizzard of additional spending pledges in areas such as defence and tax cuts for the better off. As I said, the Home Secretary has now, in effect, admitted that cutting police numbers by some 20,000 was a mistake, since he has advocated reinstating them. We have not, however, heard any pledges from the main candidates to provide the substantial co-ordinated resources and activity needed to address for good, and not just in a piecemeal way, the problems we are addressing today. The Government have to move on from poring over spreadsheets in the Treasury to cut, cut and cut again, and recognise the reality that excessive short-term savings eventually lead to even more excessive long-term costs, both financial and, even more damagingly, social and human, as today’s debate has highlighted.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for introducing this debate on the impact of government policy on knife crime. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important wide-ranging debate, and join the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in commending organisations such as Redthread for the invaluable work they do, in many cases saving young people’s lives.
A comment was made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, about the briefings. I would love the House authorities to make those briefings available online, because sometimes Ministers do not actually get them. I have full support for that. I agree with many of the sentiments that have been expressed this afternoon, particularly on the complexity of this matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said. The violence we are seeing on our streets is a major concern to us all, with people becoming both victims and perpetrators, as the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. We have heard movingly today from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, about the victims of knife crime and their families in his area of Sheffield. Our hearts go out to all of those who have been affected by violence. There was one such incident the other week, literally around the corner from my house. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of parents and families who have lost their loved ones.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke also of the latest tragic such incident here in London, reported just this morning, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, mentioned the cycle of repeated offending that needs to be stopped in its tracks and prevented by a public health approach—the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right that people are hotfooting it to Scotland to see the fantastic work that has been done up there.
The Home Secretary has described knife crime as a national emergency that we must tackle head on. This is why the Government have put in place a major programme to tackle knife crime and serious violence on a range of fronts. This absolutely includes supporting the police in taking the action needed to address the violence that we are seeing—as my noble friend Lord Wasserman said—but, as we have heard today, important though tough enforcement is, it is not the whole solution. My noble friend talked about a “two-pronged approach”, both national and local, to address this problem. I agree. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about both a short-term and a long-term approach. Who knows better than he does? I pay tribute to his work in bringing down the incidence of knife crime here in the capital.
Perhaps I may start by discussing the national approach. The Government’s serious violence strategy, published last April, balances the need for tough law enforcement with a greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention to stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place before it is too late. It is also clear that it is a matter not just for the police; it needs a multiagency approach, as many noble Lords have said, so that we can tackle violent crime and its causes effectively.
I was disappointed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, being critical of the Government’s strategy, as I do not think that our approaches are that far apart. The serious violence strategy sets out the overall approach that the Government are taking. It stresses the importance of a multiagency response, with education, health, social services, housing and youth services all playing their part—as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me about the consultation on the public health approach. As she will know, it has only just closed, but we will respond to it in due course.
The strategy also underlines the importance of tackling the drivers of serious violence. It recognises, for example, how changes to drugs markets—which the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about today and has done so previously—and the spread of county lines are driving much of the serious violence that we are seeing. My noble friend Lord Cormack also referred to that. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about the upstream effort to prevent the importation of drugs. I know that he will be pleased to hear that 2.1 tonnes of cocaine have just been seized in Cornwall, which is a very good outcome—that is just the latest seizure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, the Home Secretary has appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an important—and independent—review of drugs, which will inform our approach. I note the noble Baroness’s disappointment that drug law is not within the scope of the review, but I admire her persistence in raising this issue at appropriate moments. We do not have any intention to change the law to legalise illicit drugs, but I would be very happy to meet her if she would like me to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talked about how great the troubled families programme was. It was an absolutely brilliant programme. I was in DCLG at the time and was compelled by the, in effect, public health approach that it took in respect of families for whom there might have been several interventions from different agencies all the time, whereas this programme took a whole-family approach. I am pleased to say that it is still going.
I hope that noble Lords will find it helpful if I provide an update on the progress that we are making—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who asked me to outline it. Perhaps I may talk first about early intervention and prevention, about which the noble Lords, Lord Storey, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, all asked. Our focus on prevention includes the £22 million Early Intervention Youth Fund, which supports approaches that work with young people at risk of criminal involvement, gang exploitation or county lines to turn them away from violence before it takes a grip. Noble Lords may have seen that the Home Secretary announced yesterday that a further 11 projects will receive funding this year from that fund in addition to the 29 projects in England and Wales already doing so. That is in addition to the £200 million Youth Endowment Fund. This major new fund is about the long-term change that noble Lords have talked about, delivering a 10-year programme of grants that will enable interventions targeted at children and young people who are most at risk, and acting as a centre of expertise. The Government’s approach includes the #knifefree campaign mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Mostly on social media, it is working to educate young people about the dangers of carrying knives, using real-life examples to challenge the false perception that carrying a knife somehow makes you cool or safer or that everyone is doing it. The noble Lord talked about it being done in the lead-up to the summer holidays but asked, “What about the other 51 weeks of the year?”. He is right. The summer holidays can be a particular flashpoint for issues such as this, but it is not that we are taking a one-week approach; it is that some of our campaigns are timed for when the dangers might be greatest.
I absolutely agree with the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Addington, about the importance of sport for young people. I might have told this story before, but I remember when my son went to secondary school and the headmaster said, “Never worry that your son is doing too much sport”. He was so right. Sport not only improves people’s mental health but it keeps them in a routine, and it is a great achievement for some of the things that you can go on to do within sport.
The noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Dholakia, Lord Rosser and Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about supporting the police. Of course it is true that if we do not support the police this problem will get worse. I know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has acknowledged the demands being placed on the police, which have increased in the past few years. We recognise that they are on the front line in tackling those who carry knives. That includes the national weeks of action under Operation Sceptre mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. The last week of action in March saw more than 1,300 arrests and almost 11,000 knives taken off the streets. It is vital that the police have both the powers and the resources they need to tackle serious violence.
On resources, we have heard today about the importance of providing police forces and police and crime commissioners with the funding they need to recruit more officers to keep our communities safe. The Government have increased funding for the police by £1 billion this year, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, including through council tax and the new £100 million Serious Violence Fund which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about. I shall say more about the fund later, but it is worth noting that the overall settlement for the police this year represents the biggest increase in police funding since 2010. The partial answer—I am sure it is not the whole one—to why the amount going in does not seem to correspond to very many police officers is that there is always a lag between money coming in and police being recruited. I will try to answer that valid point more fully in writing.
The Serious Violence Fund was announced in the Spring Statement on
We are also supporting the police in their use of stop and search. The Government are clear that stop and search is an important police power and we encourage its fair, appropriate and proportionate use in helping to tackle serious violence. I note and support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about how we can also use better intelligence and technology to support that. Noble Lords may be aware that, to go further in supporting the police, on
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lord Cormack talked about county lines. We are working with the police to tackle this highly violent form of child exploitation, which we know is drawing vulnerable young people into carrying knives and serious violence. As part of the serious violence strategy, we have provided £3.6 million for the establishment of the new National County Lines Coordination Centre to enhance the intelligence picture and support cross-border efforts to tackle county lines. The centre launched in September last year and has overseen and carried out three separate weeks of operational intensification, leading to more than 1,600 arrests, more than 2,100 individuals being safeguarded and significant seizures of weapons and drugs.
On the public health approach, we know that there is no single solution to serious violence, and that no single agency can deliver a sustainable solution on its own. It is only by working together to tackle the root causes and prevent young people becoming involved that we will see lasting change. That was the underlying theme of the serious youth violence summit hosted by the Prime Minister at the beginning of April. A clear aim of the summit was to help forge a commitment to a multiagency public health approach to tackling serious violence. One immediate outcome of the summit was the establishment of a new ministerial task force, chaired by the Prime Minister, to drive action across government departments, supported by a new dedicated team in the Cabinet Office. The summit coincided with the launch of the Government’s public consultation on a new statutory duty to underpin the multiagency public health approach. The purpose of the proposed statutory duty is to make tackling serious violence a top priority for all key partners, by ensuring that agencies are working together to prevent young people being caught up in a life of crime and violence. The proposals set out in the consultation were not about giving new responsibilities to individual teachers, nurses or other front-line professionals; rather, they were about a new duty that would require public bodies such as schools, hospitals, councils, youth offending services and police forces to work better together, to share information and to jointly plan and target their interventions to prevent and stop violence altogether. As I said, the consultation closed at the end of May and we intend to publish the Government’s response shortly.
We have legislated through the Offensive Weapons Act to close the net around violent criminals by giving the police more powers to tackle knives, acids and firearms. In particular, it will make it illegal to possess dangerous weapons, including knuckledusters and zombie knives, in private. It will also bring in the new knife crime prevention orders. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is still very sceptical about these; he has made his views clear before. However, the police have told us that they need the new orders to help divert at-risk young people from knife crime, not to criminalise them. I emphasise that to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and other noble Lords. We want orders to be preventive, not punitive. They are not an alternative to prosecuting those who are already acting violently, where existing criminal offences are more likely to be the appropriate course. The important point is that the orders will enable the courts to place on the holder restrictions, such as curfews or geographical restrictions, and positive requirements such as engaging in relevant interventions.
I am aware that time is running out. A number of noble Lords talked about school exclusions. The noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Scriven, Lord Storey, Lord Addington and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans linked them to knife crime. We welcome Ed Timpson’s wide-ranging review of school exclusions, which adds considerably to our understanding of current practice. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, outlined the very patchy picture of school exclusions. The review makes 30 recommendations to support children at risk of exclusion to remain in mainstream education, to ensure that permanent exclusion is used only as a last resort, and to reduce disparities in exclusion rates between different groups. We welcome those changes, which will ensure that schools remain accountable for the outcomes of the pupils who they exclude and place a register—oh, that flashing light has made me completely lose my place: I will shut up very shortly.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans talked about employment and about churches keeping their doors open. I commend them for that; people do feel that churches are a very safe place. My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about the importance of citizenship. I do not know if he has come across the fantastic National Citizen Service, introduced under the previous Government. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned the importance of mental health. Redthread has been instrumental in working in hospitals, including mental health work. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked that we have just community sentences, rather than short ones. You cannot have a community sentence if the option of a custodial sentence is not available. As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, custodial sentences have their place in some instances.
I have run out of time. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. There is clearly no simple solution to knife crime, but that is no excuse for not pursuing everything that we know does make a difference. Many solutions are long term, but that is no excuse for not taking action now. Despite what the noble Baroness has said, current government action is not enough, not co-ordinated and not properly funded for the long term.
I said that the plan I proposed in my opening remarks was not a Lib Dem plan, but maybe I can put a Lib Dem spin on it, and I look to the Cross-Bench contributions to this debate for inspiration. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, talked about legalising and regulating cannabis, and the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, in his documentary for Channel 4, highlighted the vast sums of money raised through taxation in American states as a result of cannabis being legalised. Maybe that is how we could fund some of this.
The Government’s approach to knife crime needs to be looked at again, tsar or no tsar. I hope that the Government will do exactly that.