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Knife Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:58 am on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 11:58 am, 27th June 2019

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 10 May 2018 in the Inside Politics section of the online version of Holyrood magazine. It was an extensive interview in which he explained his achievements in the current context. There was a sentence in it which was compelling. He said that when people came first of all, he thought they were looking for a magic bullet and there was none—if they were to reduce the level of violence, a complicated approach would have to be taken. They were shocked by the fact that the level of violence in Scotland is still appalling, but the point he was making was that it had been halved in a relatively short period and there was still much more work to be done. In no sense was this man complacent.

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.