Knife Crime
Neil Coyle Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2019

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Justice
Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill - Hansard

I absolutely agree. In fact, part of the Petitions Committee system is outreach work, and on Friday last we went to a school in Hartlepool, where the young people repeated much of that argument.

Many will agree that that £100 million is too little, too late and compare it with the £2.7 billion that has been taken out of the policing system since 2010, but any money targeted at tackling and preventing knife crime is welcome. For the record, my police force, Cleveland police, has had its number of police officers reduced by 500, a 37% reduction in staffing, following cuts of £25.5 million since 2010. The Prime Minister may be of the opinion that there is no correlation between police cuts and knife crime, but senior figures in the policing community, such as Cressida Dick, disagree. Considering that officer ranks have depleted by 20,000 across England, small wonder that people make that link.

The net effect of policing cuts was writ large when my constituency became the focus of a BBC film, which was broadcast on the national news, exposing that, in a town with a population of 92,028 at the last census, only 10 police officers were on duty on a Saturday night. Such a lack of visible police on the streets has resulted in our communities feeling less safe and more under threat. There is a real perception that crime will rise unless the police are better resourced. Cleveland police saw an increase in cautions and convictions for knife crime last year, and there has been a 4% rise since 2015. The police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger, is doing excellent work on crime prevention and intervention, but without the necessary resources he is swimming against the tide.

There truly is an argument not only for resourcing the police better but for increasing the tariff on custodial sentences. Clearly, in the mind of the public, current tariffs are not sufficient to act as a deterrent to criminals. The petition reflects that. The fact that the maximum penalty of four years applies only to reoffenders and not to first offenders is deeply worrying.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab) - Hansard

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate so well. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. Families in my constituency who have suffered the tragedy of losing a loved one to knife crime say witnesses have not come forward as a direct result of their lack of confidence that those who committed the crime will receive lengthy convictions. Does my hon. Friend agree that the aims behind the petition would help address that concern by delivering longer sentences, encouraging witnesses to come forward and increasing the chances of securing prosecutions overall?

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill - Hansard

I absolutely agree. If anything, the petition opens up a debate about that whole subject, including prevention.

The petitioners’ call for mandatory tariffs of 10 years for possession and 25 years for the use of a knife may be seen as excessive, but there can be no doubt that, in the mind of the general public, the courts need to play their part in preventing the proliferation of knife-related criminal activity and, frankly, the murders that occur on our streets day in, day out.

Break in Debate

Andrew Rosindell - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 5:02 p.m.

I agree. There needs to be a restoration of police in schools; there are still police going into schools, but nothing like so many as there used to be. That has been reduced. Stop and search is also something that my constituents and I fully support. I do not think that any law-abiding person need fear. We all get stopped and searched at the airport, and members of the public are stopped and searched when they come in here. When we are seeing knife crime in our communities I think that, provided the police show respect and do it in a way that does not offend people—I am sure they are able to—knives can be found and confiscated, which will make our communities safer.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 5:03 p.m.

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman’s support for Operation Venice, which has had incredible results in my constituency as well, and I totally support his call for greater action on this issue across the board. The Prime Minister suggested last week that Brexit was blocking Parliament from taking action on NHS, education and knife crime issues. Does he agree that that premise is unacceptable? It is not an either/or for any Government; knife crime must be acted on. Having met with the Prime Minister, as he has already outlined, when does he expect further action?

Andrew Rosindell - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 5:03 p.m.

I cannot speak for the Prime Minister, although I am sure the Minister will be able to speak for the Government later, but whatever is going on with Brexit cannot be an excuse for doing nothing on knife crime. It does not necessarily require legislation; it requires strategies, more resources and communities working together, so a lot can be done without necessarily having to pass new laws. However, in this instance, we are talking about increasing the penalties for carrying and using a knife, and I am totally in favour of that.

I can tell hon. Members that there is not a single constituent in my area—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster will have had the same experience—who feels the current penalties are sufficient. They want to see much tougher action, much stricter penalties and a real deterrent, so that people fear being caught, apprehended and imprisoned for a long time if they carry and use a knife.

Returning to my comments, stopping low-level disorder and petty crime helps to curtail the invitation to more serious crime, which is why I hope that knife crime prevention orders will help. Yet we must not turn away from difficult questions. My constituents are particularly fortunate that Havering starts from a base of historically low crime, and they want to keep it that way. As legislators, we cannot throw money at a problem and expect that that will solve everything, that no questions need be asked and no reforms are required. That is simply not the answer; more needs to be done.

We must smash the myth on some estates that carrying a knife is a normal thing to do, and we should take a long hard look at compulsory custodial sentences for knife crimes. I hope the Minister will address that later. Law-abiding citizens, fearful for their children when they walk home from school or simply relax in a park with their friends, are sick of seeing soft sentencing for knife offenders.

I therefore call on the Government urgently to consider a minimum custodial sentence for a knife or offensive weapon offence. What do we say to the parent of a victim who is in despair at the cautions handed down to the perpetrators of these horrifying crimes? How have we arrived at the stage where a man who tries to smash a car window and attack an individual with a huge zombie knife in broad daylight is given a suspended sentence? The Minister needs to ask himself how that kind of sentence can be justified. The decision was only overturned after public outrage, when appeal judges replaced that notoriously lenient sentence with jail time.

Legislators and the courts are at real risk of becoming detached from public opinion on what is fast becoming a national crisis. We in this place have a duty to ensure that an effective deterrent exists to combat this evil culture, and to do everything in our power to prevent more young people from being slaughtered in our communities. We must now take action and, in so doing, honour the memory of Jodie Chesney.