Serious Violence Strategy Debate

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Department: Home Office

Serious Violence Strategy
Sir Edward Davey Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd May 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
22 May 2018, 2:21 p.m.

I welcome the statement over the weekend from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on consulting on measures to remove both illegal and legal harms from the internet, and on the exposure of people, certainly young people, to those harms on the internet. I would welcome any suggestions from either side of the House, and the Home Office, alongside DCMS, will tackle those harms.

I met Google this morning to discuss how it can do more to take down violence-inspiring videos. The level of violence to which my young children are exposed quite early in the day on television, let alone the internet, will come back to haunt us.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Hansard
22 May 2018, 2:21 p.m.

In his answer to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), the Minister said that he was not blind to the idea of resources, particularly in relation to London and the real crisis that is happening in our city. Will he give us a little more hope because, like the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and many London Members here, I worry about the trend continuing into the summer months?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
22 May 2018, 2:24 p.m.

In the Home Office we are always open to listening to more demands. After Manchester last year I, as Security Minister, received a demand from Mark Rowley and the head of MI5, and we worked hard at the Treasury to get £50 million of extra money to respond to the operational pressures.

It is not just London. Merseyside MPs saw a spate of murders and gun crime at the start of last year. There is a real pressure that we have to try to address. Of course the Home Office will work with colleagues to see where we can get more out of the resources we have.

We have found more resources. We have put £49 million into the strategy, and we have put more money into some of the broader responses, including local government and community responses. We will work with the Mayor of London, with whom we will discuss what his priorities may or may not be, on which we may or may not agree.

I wish I had more money. We did not come into Government to cut things. There is sometimes a suggestion that we had a choice and we chose not to spend money. We will try to do our best to meet the resources, but burden share is important, and it is the same in other growing areas of crime. We cannot arrest our way out of some of these things. We have to burden share, and we are doing a whole range of things. A new contest will be launched in the next few weeks and, in order to meet the growing scale of the threat, we have to burden share with both the private sector and the public sector on keeping us safe on the ground. That is the scale we face not just here but internationally.

Break in Debate

Sir John Hayes Portrait Mr Hayes - Hansard
22 May 2018, 3:27 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is always a well-informed and intelligent contributor to these debates, and, not for the first time, I both recognise and respect his view, but I suppose that what I am speaking about is the culture of policing rather than just the extent of it. I was describing a kind of policing that was once taken as read—routine. Policemen understood that their role was largely non-adversarial, with the policeman coming to one’s school, popping into the shop to pick up local information, or seen as a friendly face in the town, village, suburb, shopping parade or estate like the one I once lived in.

I am a great supporter of the police, as my local chief constable will testify, and an admirer of all that they do. I do think, however, that a sensible conversation at the Home Office and more widely in Parliament about the kind of police service that we want to grow, and the culture that prevails in it, is timely. People would be much more comfortable with the idea of police engagement if they perceived the police in the way that they once did.

Therefore, I do not think it is entirely about numbers. I am not saying that this is unrelated to them, but I think the Minister was right when he pointed out—as, to be fair, did the shadow Home Secretary—that it is not wholly about numbers. It may be about resources, but it is not wholly and probably not even mainly about them.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
22 May 2018, 12:59 p.m.

I suggest the right hon. Gentleman reads the serious violence strategy, which says on page 24:

“Some have questioned whether the reduction in the use of stop and search is driving the increase. The data do not support such a conclusion.”

Sir John Hayes Portrait Mr Hayes - Hansard
22 May 2018, 12:59 p.m.

I am coming to that now. Although stop-and-search has become more targeted, with 17% of police stops leading to an arrest in 2017 compared with 9% in 2010, we cannot ignore the fact that, in 2010, there were 13,833 weapons-related arrests, compared with 7,794 in 2017. Fewer people are being found with weapons, and fewer people are being arrested for having or carrying weapons with intent. It is all very well speaking about a more targeted approach, but in terms of the numbers—

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
22 May 2018, 3:30 p.m.

indicated dissent.

Sir John Hayes Portrait Mr Hayes - Hansard
22 May 2018, 3:29 p.m.

I have already said that this debate stretches well beyond party politics. I know that it is always difficult for Liberal Democrats to step outside party politics, but I implore the right hon. Gentleman to raise his game and do so. I do not mean to be unkind; I am simply trying to be helpful.

The important thing is that fewer people are being arrested, and fewer people are therefore being convicted. Because of that, inevitably, more people feel they can get away with carrying a knife or a gun.

Break in Debate

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince - Hansard
22 May 2018, 4:43 p.m.

The hon. Lady again makes a very valid point. I do not disagree with her. She is almost certainly right when we are talking about mid-teenagers, late-teenagers and people in their early 20s, but we need to reset the dial and start this education in primary and secondary schools now. I am not suggesting that this is a panacea. I am not even suggesting that it is a quick or easy fix, but it has to be part of a solution and a package of measures that will help to eradicate knife crime in the medium to long term.

There is an organisation in my constituency called KnifeCrimes.Org, which is run by a lady called Ann Oakes-Odger. In the neighbouring constituency, a lady called Caroline Shearer runs another organisation called Only Cowards Carry. These inspirational women each lost a child to a knife crime attack—hugely tragic—but they have harnessed that energy and set up charities that are doing such great good around weapons awareness, particularly in schools. I look to the Minister because these organisations need funding in order to survive. In some cases, that comes via the police and crime commissioners, but I want to see more central funding made available for these organisations, which do such good work at a grassroots level.

I have been on one of the courses. I sat in a school and watched one of the presentations, it was really hard-hitting. Everyone leaves thinking, “Wow.” We were shown on a huge projector what numerous knife wounds look like. We learnt about the impact on families. If I had watched one of those presentations as a seven, eight, nine or 10-year-old, or even in the early stages of secondary school, I would have found it quite compelling.

Too many young people are carrying knives, and we need to understand why that is by getting in early. That is why primary schools are so important. We need to show these young people, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), that a knife does not keep them safe; statistically, it makes them far more likely to be the victims of a knife crime attack. We must hammer that message home—not just in schools as part of weapons awareness education, but as part of social media activity and in TV ads like those being run in Scotland. There has to be an overall package of measures to show them how it feels to have a life shattered by a member of their family losing their life through a traumatic weapons attack.

May I gently push the Minister on a couple of things? We need weapons awareness classes in school. We must support the organisations up and down this country that are providing that and support the creation of new ones. I would like to see mandatory weapons awareness sessions as a condition of a conviction for someone caught carrying a knife. It is not acceptable just to give them a caution, a slap on the wrist, and an “Off you go”. We have to do more by sending them on a mandatory course. Yes, there is a cost to that, but I think it would pay dividends in terms of the number of people for whom we could break the cycle. I also encourage the Minister to push for closer working between local police forces and the Metropolitan police to tackle the growing issue of county lines, which we desperately need to resolve.

Finally, probably the most important message that I can impart to the Minister is this: please, please can we treat the children and young people who are caught up and groomed, victimised and intimidated into county lines activity and drug dealing as victims, not as criminals?

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Hansard
22 May 2018, 4:46 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). The House is indebted to him for a speech that showed great understanding of the problem of county lines and how this new way of distributing drugs is harming individuals, families and communities; and also for the fact that he had some very constructive proposals to put to the Minister. I support him in that. I dare say that he might not like this comment, but it almost sounded like a Liberal speech. He was right to focus on county lines. I think that the strategy is very good on that problem. His point about co-ordination between different police forces is really important.

I will be very interested to see whether the Minister has any comments to make about the drug dealing telecommunications restriction orders that are now being rolled out. In his opening remarks, the Security Minister talked about some initial signs of real success in that they are seriously disrupting county lines. We must hope that they will continue to do so. I hope that Ministers will be able to report to the House about the success of those orders as we go forward in tackling county lines.

I wanted to start my remarks by remembering the victims of the terrorism in Manchester last year, as spokespeople for the other parties have done. I very much agree that those victims should be in our thoughts today, not least as we discuss this particularly important issue. We saw the tragedy of the families who were bereaved—the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. That must be in our thoughts. The fact that the people of Manchester responded so powerfully together in their unity is something that we should celebrate.

I also want to talk about real people in the rest of my speech. In my constituency we have had people suffering from the effects of knife crime. I have been particularly engaged with a family who lost a son in June last year. Derick Mulondo was in his 30s. He was stabbed by a former partner. He was one of those people who everyone loved. He was a community activist. Young people would see him as a leader. He would go and organise football matches at the local park. After he was taken from us, the young people would go to his mother’s door and say, “Now Derick’s gone, who do we look to?”, so we doubly suffered as a result of that awful murder.

His mother, Sophie Kafeero, is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. She is still suffering, and she goes to her son’s grave very regularly to talk to him. She, in her grief, has had support from Derick’s friends to set up a campaign called “Drop a Knife, Save a Life”. That campaign is in its infancy, and I hope that in due course it will make an application to the Government’s community fund, because it could do a lot of good work with other organisations such as Oxygen in my constituency, which is also tackling the problems of knife crime.

We must learn from these victims and listen to them—listen to their pain and their strength, and listen to what they are saying about what needs to be done. The Government have done some good things to support community initiatives, but I urge them to go further, because I am afraid there are too many mothers like Sophie.

The strategy has many positive aspects. I will come to some criticisms in a minute, but the positive aspects are worth focusing on. Some of the analysis in it, written by good Home Office officials and with lots of evidence, is definitely worth reading and debating, because we need our policies to be evidence-based. I wish more of the Government’s policies were evidence-based. Let us hope that this one will be.

The fact that the strategy puts prevention high up the agenda was welcomed across the House and the country. There are some issues with putting money behind that, but ensuring that prevention is a priority is important. A few Members have touched on the international aspects we are facing, which we need to say more about, and I will come on to that.

Some of the Government’s initiatives deal with new aspects of the debate, including not just county lines but social media and its link to drug distribution, and the glamorisation of drugs; young people are told about the money they can make, but they are not told that they could lose their lives. Social media is having such a big impact. I think the Government are taking that seriously. I may question their judgment and their decisions at times, but I do not question their motives on this at all.

As other Members have said, two big things are missing from the strategy. The first—I am sorry to say this to the Minister, but I have to—is the lack of acknowledgment of the impact of police cuts. If we look at the evidence printed in The Guardian, which was not published and which the former Home Secretary said she had not read, it is absolutely clear that the cuts were likely to have been a contributory factor to the rise in violent crime.

The other key problem, linked to that, is resources. This puts a challenge to the Government. They talk about the need for prevention, but a lot of the activities in local government, the health service, schools and the police that were focused on preventing crime in the first place have been cut, and the Government’s welcome extra funding mentioned in the strategy does not come close to replacing the money that has been lost.

Let me return to some of the policies, which are important. The strategy refers to the

“large potential benefit to preventative intervention”.

It talks eloquently about the need for both universal preventive interventions and targeted interventions, and that is worth focusing on. The strategy talks about looking at young people and families where there is a combination of high-risk factors, and where it is very beneficial for the local authority, Government and police to come together to intervene really early. We hear about early intervention on so many subjects, but here it is about saving lives. The Government should talk more about that and then put the money behind it. Other Members have touched on the importance of helping children who have had chaotic lives, whose health and education have been affected and who are so vulnerable to the drug gangs that prey on them. Unless we intervene to help them, we are setting the whole of society up for failure.

Lyn Brown - Hansard
22 May 2018, 4:54 p.m.

I have been working with mums whose children are or have been involved in county lines, and one of the messages they are very keen to get across is that this could happen to anybody, whoever they are. A police officer who spoke to me the other week told me about how the child of one of their colleagues had got involved. I want us to be very aware of the fact that this could genuinely happen to anybody, and we should not stereotype any group of people we think may be involved.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
22 May 2018, 4:55 p.m.

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. She has actually anticipated what I was going to say next. One of the other groups who are very vulnerable and are preyed on are those with mental health issues. As she said, this could happen to anybody or any family. That comes back to the crisis in child and adolescent mental health services. As I am sure is the case in colleagues’ constituencies, CAMHS are absolutely on their knees. If we are talking about prevention, we really must tackle that as quickly as possible.

I want to talk about the positive international aspects of the serious violence strategy. Some of the statistics, particularly those on pages 19 and 20, show that Britain may not be alone in experiencing such a rise in violent crime. I know that the Government are planning an international symposium in the autumn, and that is very important. It may well be that issues such as austerity—the cuts in state spending not just in the UK but in other developed countries—have had an impact. Let us be frank about that. Linked to this are the growth in social media, strengthening organised crime, bumper coca crops in Colombia and the reduction in prices. All these international elements wash up on our shores and affect our communities as well as other countries.

We need to work with other countries; in doing so, let us learn from them—their successes should be shared with the House—and remember the importance of international co-operation. I forget which colleague said that Brexit may undermine such co-operation. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) brushed that aside, but he is totally wrong. I had the privilege of going to Eurojust and Europol in The Hague 10 years ago to see how with them, and tools such as the European arrest warrant and joint initiatives, we could be far more effective in catching criminals and bringing them to justice. Let us remember that the sort of criminals Eurojust and Europol go after, using the European arrest warrant, are the organised criminals who span boundaries. I know that colleagues who think Brexit is a terribly good idea will say, “Don’t worry. It’s in everyone’s interest to work together”. Yes, it is, but we will not be in the room or making the rules for Eurojust and Europol’s use of the European arrest warrant. These are relatively young tools that will be more and more developed in the future, but we will not be in the room.

Anyone who goes to see how Eurojust operates will find that there is just one representative from each member state, and when there is an investigation—such investigations often involve drugs—a representative just calls those of the other member states through which the investigative forces will have to travel to arrange the right warrant and so on. Such co-operation can happen at lightning speed so that we can catch the criminals who try to escape justice by playing people off against each other and going across jurisdictional boundaries. By not being in the room, we will undermine our ability to take on such organised criminals, so although the Government are right to talk about international co-operation, they are not really in a very good place.

My final point about international co-operation concerns the Border Force. We often think about the Border Force in terms of stopping illegal immigration, but it is actually critical in stopping drug trafficking. The Border Force has been devastated, particularly when the current Prime Minister was Home Secretary, which is not a good policy if we are trying to tackle serious violent crime, county lines and the Mr Bigs behind such vulnerable people. We should be most worried about the Mr Bigs, but dealing with them requires an international response.

Before I finish, let me talk a little more about some of the problems in the strategy. I have talked about resources, but I want to come back to that issue. The strategy itself says:

“The recent downward trend in arrests and charges for some crimes lessens the certainty of punishment.”

In other words, because there are fewer police officers, fewer people are being arrested and charged. [Interruption.] I accept that the strategy does not say that, Minister, but I quoted it directly initially. The downward trend in arrests and charges has come only because there are fewer police officers. I say to the Minister that we need more detectives, as serious crime is rising and we need to go after the perpetrators. Not only that, but if we cannot arrest the perpetrators in the first place because there are fewer officers, that will reduce the deterrence against crime because people will think that they will not be caught. That is a real issue.

I lament the fact that the Government have not reacted quickly enough to the uptick in serious crime over the past two years. We have learned how to use police officers more efficiently, particularly with the new technique of hotspotting. The evidence shows that that can be very effective against drug dealers and all sorts of criminals. We know more about getting the best value for money out of the police, and reducing their numbers at this time just does not make sense. The shadow Home Secretary quoted Cressida Dick, and Ministers should be learning from her.

Finally, I know that the strategy includes an inter-ministerial group but, as other colleagues have mentioned, if we are going to take the approach that the Government rightly set out in the strategy, we have to see more cross-departmental work. This will come from the top only if Cabinet Ministers are sitting around the table regularly chasing the issue and making sure that their departmental officials see this as a top priority. I am afraid that I will not be convinced that the Government are treating this as a top priority in the cross-Government way they should until we start hearing the Secretaries of State for Education, for Health and for Housing, Communities and Local Government talking about it. When they talk about it, we will take the Government seriously because they will really have got the message.

Let me end by reminding the Minister—I am sure that she knows this, but I will remind her anyway—about why we need to take the issue seriously. Families out there are grieving and they want to know that we are responding as a Parliament and Government to the crisis; and it is a crisis. People have been taken aback by the rapid rise in violent crime, whether that involves knives, guns or acid. There is a sense that things are slipping out of control.

The serious violence strategy and the Mayor’s measures could not come early enough, but we have to redouble our efforts. When Ministers are sitting around the table with the Chancellor making representations, they really have to see that this must now be the top priority. They will have the support of the whole House if they do that. They will certainly have the support of the British people.

Several hon. Members rose—