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Knife Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:16 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 1:16 pm, 27th June 2019

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.