Every murder is a tragedy, and my deepest sympathies are with Reamonn Gormley’s family and friends, as well as with the wider community. Reamonn was clearly an outstanding young man who had so much to offer. Every tragic incident and every life lost because of knife crime is one too many.
The Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland a safer place in which to live and work. Latest statistics show progress. Crime in Scotland is at its lowest level in 32 years, the number of people killed by a sharp instrument is down 39 per cent over the past year and the number of people who have been caught carrying an offensive weapon is down to its lowest level in a decade. In South Lanarkshire, violent crime is down 12 per cent, and handling offensive weapons crimes are down 27 per cent.
However, there is always more that can be done, which is why this Government will maintain 1,000 extra police officers on our streets, and it is why, last month, I announced a doubling of the funding for our no knives, better lives education campaign.
I appreciate the minister’s answer, but within a square mile of that tragic murder there have been around eight murders over the past 18 months. My local paper can report on four murders over a six-week period, and page after page reports violent crime. The police tell us that violent crime is down and that crime in general is down, but that is not the feeling on the streets of Hamilton and the surrounding areas. What will the minister do to further reassure people in those areas that it is not just fancy statistics but the reality of life that will eventually make them feel better?
We appreciate that some areas in Scotland face significantly greater problems than other areas face. We must get matters into perspective; equally, we must remember particular problems and instances such as Mr McCabe mentioned.
We are doing what we are doing. We are maintaining a significant police presence. More than a quarter of a million stop and searches have been carried out in Strathclyde alone, which disclosed that fewer people are carrying and more people are getting caught. The people who are caught are getting longer sentences, which is as it should be. The average sentence for a knife offence is nine months, and people who perpetrate serious offences such as murder face a mandatory life sentence, as of course they should do.
We will work with the local authority, and discussions are on-going, to see how we can roll out the no knives, better lives programme, which has delivered remarkable success in Inverclyde, in areas that are equally blighted.
I thank the cabinet secretary for taking time last week to meet my constituents John Tierney, Michelle McInally and Dominic Flynn, from Blantyre, who were among the organisers of the solidarity march that followed the death of Reamonn Gormley. They were left in no doubt about the cabinet secretary’s personal commitment, and that of the Government, to tackling knife crime and making our streets safer.
The cabinet secretary recently announced a doubling of funding for the no knives, better lives education campaign, and work on the roll-out of the campaign in South Lanarkshire—
Does the cabinet secretary agree that training and equipping a range of organisations in communities, such as the Blantyre walk ’n’ rollers group, to take the no knives, better lives message to young people will help to empower communities to tackle knife crime directly, as it affects them?
The work in Inverclyde has been successful and we hope to roll it out in South Lanarkshire—it is already being rolled out in Edinburgh, Clackmannan and Glasgow. It is appropriate that we train the trainers. Money to deal with the problems and consequences of knife offending is being provided to people who are involved in youth work in a variety of organisations.