Knife Crime: West Midlands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:19 am on 14 March 2023.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 11:19, 14 March 2023

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We have given police and crime commissioners resources. Next year, they will have, between them, over £500 million extra, and there will be more money for the west midlands as well. I understand that the West Midlands police and crime commissioner is even today looking at closing up to 20 police stations across the west midlands, which is a terrible mistake, and I certainly do not support those plans at all. I urge the West Midlands police and crime commissioner to think again about the closures that he is contemplating. I have heard Members today make the case that perhaps the powers currently exercised by the west midlands police and crime commissioner might be better exercised by the directly elected Mayor of the West Midlands. I will take that proposal away and consider it very carefully, given the serious problems that have been outlined.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge mentioned some of the serious problems with knife crime and violent crime in the west midlands, which are rightly of deep concern to Members of Parliament across the region. The problems are particularly stark given that they run against the national trend. The most reliable measure of crime is the crime survey for England and Wales, which is the only source of crime data authorised by the Office for National Statistics. Since March 2010, violent crime across England and Wales has fallen by 38%, from 1.84 million offences to 1.15 million. When it comes to measuring violent crime where a knife is involved, the Home Office has been tracking admissions to hospital with a knife injury, and since 2019 they have dropped by around 20%. I am deeply concerned to hear that in the west midlands the trend appears to be going in the opposite direction. It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge and others are raising this issue.

I have mentioned the additional resources being given to policing. We are also investing in prevention; in particular, violence reduction units have received £64 million. Those entail identifying people, particularly young people, in danger of following the wrong path, and intervening by ensuring they stay in education, have the right social care if they need it and providing them with alternative activities, such as sport. I visited Everton and the community on Merseyside in Liverpool last week to look at a scheme that is being funded there that also helped young people into employment.

Violence reductions units are critical, as is the Grip programme, which is a hotspot policing initiative funded by the Government, identifying geographical areas where there is a high risk of violent crime and patrolling and policing them heavily. Where that is done, it dramatically reduces crime. Interestingly, it does not displace crime somewhere else; it actually reduces it. I strongly encourage police and crime commissioners around the country to pursue the violence reduction unit and Grip initiatives. The west midlands receives funding to do those things, as would be expected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge raised a few questions. One of them was about sentencing for knife crime, and that is an extremely good question. We want to have strong deterrents for knife crime possession. Members will know that the maximum sentence for possessing a knife—or a “bladed article”, as the law describes it—is four years’ imprisonment. We recently legislated through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to strengthen the presumption, making it near certain that if someone is convicted for a second time carrying a bladed article, the court will impose a minimum six-month custodial sentence for adults, or a four-month detention and training order sentence for 16 and 17-year-olds. We have strengthened the law in this area to ensure that the consequences that follow knife crime are strong. The deterrent effect that my hon. Friend described is very important.

My hon. Friend also asked a couple of questions relating to the trial of Ryan Passey’s killer, and the jury acquittal that occurred. She asked me if I could signpost her towards the Ministers responsible for policy in that area. The policy around that sits with the Ministry of Justice. The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, or the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mike Freer, who has responsibility for courts, would be the right people to approach regarding that policy. Provision in the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance states that in exceptional circumstances, it can seek a retrial, where there is new compelling evidence that was not available at the time of the original trial. It is possible to seek the quashing of an acquittal, but that is extremely rare. I hope that gives my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge some assistance when she is thinking about who else to speak to.

We have heard harrowing stories this morning about the devasting effect of knife crime on people’s lives—particularly those of young people—in the west midlands, but clearly it applies elsewhere as well. Nationally, the Government are doing everything they can in terms of more police officers, funding violence reduction units, Grip hotspot policing, diversionary activities and stronger sentences for knife possession. Police and crime commissioners also play a critical role by using those resources in their local areas in a way that is appropriate and wise. I strongly commend my hon. Friend and her colleagues for shining a light on this issue. The Home Office will do everything it can to work with her and colleagues to fight this abominable crime.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.