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Knife Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:09 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 1:09 pm, 27th June 2019

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.