Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note
Moved by
Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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That this House takes note of (1) the current level of violent crime, gang activity, and burglaries, and (2) the strategy of His Majesty’s Government for addressing these problems.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, violent crime and the fear of crime concern many people in this country. I will illustrate some statistics, particularly in the West Midlands area, which I am familiar with—I represented part of it in the other place for some years. I am grateful to the police and crime commissioner of the West Midlands, Mr Simon Foster, for providing these statistics.

The Office for National Statistics’ figures for violent crime, which is mentioned in the Motion, show that there were over 1.5 million such incidents in the current year, from March 2021 to March 2022. There were no fewer than 710 homicides in the United Kingdom, which represents a 25% increase year on year.

Of course, other crimes fall within the category of violent crime, and I shall deal with them solely in the West Midlands in the next few minutes. Some 3,601 rape crimes, for example, were recorded in the West Midlands in 2021, representing a 562% increase in rape offences from 2012. Similar increases in other sexual offences short of rape were recorded, particularly over the last year for which statistics were collected.

There was a 116% increase in homicides in the West Midlands between 2014 and 2022. I could continue with offences of violence against the person, but one in particular that concerns people countrywide is the increase in domestic burglary, particularly in the West Midlands, where there was an 88% increase between 2014 and 2019.

On gang activity, which is also mentioned in the Motion, the Children’s Commissioner estimates that some 27,000 young people are active in gangs engaged in criminality in the United Kingdom, particularly the movement of drugs through county lines. “County lines” is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries, usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into such activity by gangs. The county line is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs. Importing areas—areas where the drugs are taken to—are reporting increased levels of violence and weapons-related crimes as a result of this trend.

In 2019, the NCA estimated that over 2,000 individual county lines were in operation. It said:

“These deal lines are controlled by criminal networks based primarily in urban hubs and facilitate the direct purchase of illicit drugs, primarily class A (crack cocaine and heroin), by drug users in smaller towns and rural areas.”

The three urban areas most affected by county lines are London—obviously—Liverpool and Birmingham. When the Minister replies, could he say what activities the Government are planning to reduce the involvement of children, particularly young children, in such county lines?

According to police statistics, there were almost 50,000 knife crimes in the year to March 2022. In the West Midlands, there is considerable concern about such incidents, with an increase of 163% between 2010 and 2021. It is of course easy for His Majesty’s Government to blame knife crime in London on the Labour mayor. The previous Home Secretary—I cannot remember who that was because there have been so many—was adept at blaming Sadiq Khan, although surely the Government must bear most of the responsibility for criminal activity and the response to it in the capital.

Countrywide, there were 192,060 burglaries between March 2021 and March 2022. That is 526 every day, or one burglary every 164 seconds. As I indicated earlier, there has been an 88% increase in domestic burglaries in the West Midlands between 2014 and 2019. I will detain your Lordships on burglaries for a moment because I feel strongly about this. I have lived at my present address in south Birmingham for 32 years. In that time, I have been subjected to no fewer than five burglaries, two of which were successful—from the burglars’ point of view—and I assure your Lordships that few incidents are more depressing than arriving back from London to find your front door smashed and every room in the house turned over. Burglars are not known for tidying up before they leave; the contents of every drawer and cupboard are taken out and strewn across the place.

Although it is sometimes said that burglary is a victimless crime because we claim on our insurance, it is sometimes months after the event that we realise that certain items are missing. Many of the items stolen are not particularly valuable financially but mean a great deal to the people concerned. In my case, among the things stolen was a silver casket I received from the borough of Sandwell with my citation as a freeman of the borough. They dropped the medal and the citation itself in the garden, so at least I can still prove that I am still a freeman of the borough of Sandwell but the solid silver casket disappeared with the other valuables. Various other silver items were taken on this occasion, which, quite frankly, were irreplaceable: a silver tankard which I and other members of the Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council received when we were abolished—by a Tory Government, incidentally—following the Local Government Act 1972. I cannot replace that and it was not worth very much, but these are the sort of items and the sort of distressing results of the number of burglaries that take place in the United Kingdom.

The Home Secretary—at least, the Home Secretary until yesterday—made a speech to the Conservative Party conference recently, promising to restore police numbers to those we enjoyed when the Conservatives first came to power in 2010 and that a police officer would visit every burglary. No consultation has taken place with the Police Federation about the practicalities of such a scheme but, then again, it served its purpose by drawing a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference. Alas, her opportunities to draw such a standing ovation in the office of Home Secretary have now been curtailed by her own act of yesterday, but it placated the crowd at the time. Indeed, it roused it to some degree of enthusiasm.

I have dealt with the outline of the situation so far as the terms of the Motion before us are concerned, but I could not leave this subject without talking about police morale generally. Under a Conservative Government—a so called Government of law and order—police morale has plummeted considerably. The vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales has lobbied the Government over many years, particularly about the reckless cuts made to police forces during austerity, which have resulted in rising levels of crime. He said that

“we are seeing this pressure disillusion colleagues with years of experience, driving them to leave the service due to pay and morale issues and the devastating impact of unfair and discriminatory pension changes.”

I spent a couple of years when a Member of the other place as a home affairs spokesman and spent some time during that period accompanying police officers on their duty, some in the Metropolitan area and some in the West Midlands. I read lately of the problems in the Metropolitan Police area and the decision of the new police commissioner to get rid of, as he puts it, literally hundreds of police officers for improper behaviour. Of course, I support that. However, I have to say, without in any way defending the sort of behaviour that the new police commissioner outlined, that I was struck by the youth of some of the police officers I accompanied and by the sort of tasks they had to undertake.

One that sticks firmly in my mind was accompanying two police officers, a man and a woman, in their mid-20s to the flat of an old person who had not been seen for some months. It was necessary to break down the door accompanied by a member of the local authority. The sight and smell of a corpse that had been in that property for some three months remains with me after 30-odd years. When we give police officers tasks such as that at a fairly young age, it is perhaps inevitable that they develop a carapace—a thick skin—concerning the duties they have to undertake. We followed that up within a couple of days by picking up a hopelessly incontinent drug addict from the arches near Waterloo Station. We should appreciate that young police officers perform tasks that no one else would want to do and, while quite properly taking action against those who misbehave, we should recognise that, for many of them, coming to work means the sort of role that I have just outlined.

As for police officers in the West Midlands, I am grateful to the police commissioner for some of the facts and figures on financial cuts to policing in the West Midlands since 2010. In 2010, the West Midlands had a total of 8,765 police officers. Austerity meant that 2,221 were cut and £175 million slashed from the police budget. That is 25% of police officers in the West Midlands, plus hundreds of essential police staff, including 300 community support officers. At the same time, there were huge cuts in the services vital to preventing crime in the first place, such as youth clubs, mental health services, local council funding and probation services. When these arbitrary cuts are made, it is often forgotten that although the Government of the day can show an instant saving, the cumulative cost of those savings far outweighs the initial amount saved. So many young people in the West Midlands being deprived of some of the services that I have outlined has resulted in the increase in crime that I have mentioned. As of March 2022, because of the Government’s change of heart, the total number of police officers in the West Midlands now stands at 7,642 but that is still over 1,000 officers short of the situation back in 2010 when that Government came to power.

As of today, we are to have a new Home Secretary, Mr Grant Shapps, who is taking over. He has had a versatile career since he entered the House of Commons. He has changed his name a few times as well, but I will come to that in a moment. He has been the Transport Secretary, the International Development Secretary, the Conservative Party chairman, the Housing Minister and now he is the new Home Secretary. He is a very versatile chap. According to this morning’s Guardian, he is a man of many roles and many names. He has been known as Mr Michael Green, Mr Sebastian Fox and, most unlikely of all, as Ms Corinne Stockheath during his career. Which name and guise he will adopt in his present role, only time will tell. I hope he will prove a better Home Secretary than he was a Transport Secretary. Noble Lords might recollect that I have bored the House on numerous occasions with transport stories. He was notorious for every problem being a photo opportunity when he was Transport Secretary. One would hope that he will change his tune in his new and extremely important role.

For a Government who pride themselves on their economic abilities, this Government have virtually bankrupted the nation. For a Government who wrap themselves in a flag of patriotism on every occasion, they have reduced the British Army to its lowest level for two centuries. For a Government who brag about law and order, there is nothing at all to brag about, given the situation that many of our people in this country find themselves in at present. I beg to move.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, not only for obtaining this timely debate but for his introduction to it. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I will focus on just one specific area of this huge topic, which I imagine many of us will want to address: knife crime. The diocese I serve encompasses Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire; in Bedfordshire, knife crime has increased by a third since 2010. There are various estimates about the increases over the last year, but it is something in the region of 10% across our nation. There was a fall during the lockdowns, but we are now rapidly reaching the same levels as pre Covid and the projections are stark—so it is deeply worrying.

It is engendering huge levels of fear: as I go around talking to people, many of the elderly are fearful of their houses being broken into, although they are statistically unlikely to be the victims of knife crime. However, when you go into schools, it is a topic of which many young children are terrified, not least as they make their way to and from school. Hospitals are dealing with soaring numbers of stab victims: 4,112 cases were recorded last year, a 2% increase on the previous year. Of those, 855 were in London, 405 in the West Midlands, 310 in Greater Manchester, 240 in West Yorkshire hospitals, 175 in South Yorkshire and 140 in Merseyside. In other words, this is not just a case of stories being particularly highly reported in the papers of London; it is something that affects areas—particularly urban but even sometimes rural—across our country. It is particularly concerning that a recent report suggests that only one in six crimes involving a knife in London has been solved by the police over the last two years.

I know that others will comment on the police, but we need to start by thanking them for being on the front line, which is the most terrifying place to be when you are confronted with a knife. Having been out sometimes with a night shift to watch what our police are having to cope with, I have nothing but admiration for them putting their lives on the line and having to deal with situations I would not know how to begin with—and some of them are doing it night after and after. We really need to support our police. This is why we need to ensure that the promises that have been made to recruit 20,000 new police officers are met, and that we get those people in place. The latest I can find out on recruitment is that we are sort of half way there. I will ask the Minister a bit more about that at the end. We need to have people on the ground who are policing, and we need to support our police and everybody in our criminal justice system.

Having said that, when someone is convicted, it is too late: we need to get far ahead on preventing it before we are simply dealing with the effects. As noble Lords know, some people say it costs—we hear various figures—something like £40,000 a year to keep someone in a young offender institution. It would be far better if we were spending that money on preventive work with youth workers and other people to get ahead of the game. We need to try to work out how we can support the police and get ahead of this terrible problem that is affecting so many communities.

How can we work to beat our swords into ploughshares and our knives into useful tools? In the areas where I work with voluntary groups and churches, there is an awful lot of work going on and a lot of analysis about how we can build the sort of communities that are likely to reduce the levels of knife crime. This is not a problem for just the left or the right; we need solutions from all political sides if we are going to get on top of this. According to a very interesting analysis I read, there is poverty of resources, poverty of relationships and poverty of identity.

On the poverty of resources, we are not investing in the way that we used to in youth work, and we are not investing in enough groups, sports and other activities to give young people activities to engender their sense of competition, pride and so on. We really need to think about how we are investing in this. In the communities in which I work, so many of our youth centres are being sold off. I think I am right in saying that my diocese now employs more youth workers—as a voluntary organisation—than Hertfordshire County Council and the Bedfordshire unitary authorities combined. That is good, but we need to invest more and recognise that there is a poverty of resources.

From the perspective of the right, there is a poverty of relationships. We have a crisis of children being brought up in families with absent parents and where there are no role models. A lot of the extended family has gone—where, for example, when a marriage broke up there was probably an uncle who would come round and be in loco parentis. A lot of that has gone. We need to look at how we can invest in our family life and how we think about young people having real mentors who can hold them responsible. It is vital that we think about these role models.

Finally, on the poverty of identity, many young people feel as though there is nothing to which they can aspire. They are being sold an awful lot of guff in the media about how everybody can be successful and famous. It is no wonder that they are dismayed when they know there is no way out of their local community. How can we provide ways for these young people to see that there are alternatives to finding their identity and role in society that are not based on holding a knife and saying, “Do what I say, or else”? Some of the very interesting work that has gone on with our churches has involved knife amnesties. Some noble Lords will have seen the extraordinary sculptures made of the knives that have been handed in; we had one recently in one of our churches in Luton.

I will ask the Minister three questions. First, may we have an update on the recruitment of police and police community support officers? That needs to include how many are leaving, not just how many we are recruiting: are the total numbers going up, because we need to ensure that we have the resources on the ground? Secondly, may we have an assessment of the success of serious violence reduction orders in reducing knife crime? Thirdly, may we have an assessment of the troubled families programme, which ran from 2013 to 2020 and worked with over 400,000 families? What lessons did we learn and are we implementing them?

Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate and thank my noble friend on securing this debate. I intend to speak about my experience as the police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland between 2016 and 2021, in particular in the area of serious violence and particularly as it affects young people. To be fair, it is an area in which the Home Office has acted over the last few years, significantly with the introduction of the serious violence duty—the guidance was published in May last year, the month I stood down.

However, to begin, it is important to state in the clearest possible terms, so it is never forgotten, that a major factor in the depressing figures around crime mentioned by my noble friend, including serious violence, was the early decision taken by the coalition Government to sharply cut the number of police officers in England and Wales year after year from 2010. This was a disastrous decision, the consequences of which are felt today everywhere. My feeling is that my friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches now regret their part in this, but I have never heard an apology from the major party in that Government, which continued the policy after 2015. There was no acknowledgement that the policy was wrong, counterproductive and hugely expensive in human and financial terms.

Of course, very late on, the Conservatives came to their senses and now boast constantly about the 20,000 new officers being created in the next three years. That is not enough to get back to the 2010 figures, but they are still not apologising for those wasted years. Will the Minister, who is new to his job—I welcome him very much to it—apologise today for cutting police numbers in that way and can he confirm that police cuts will not play a part in the cuts the Chancellor promised earlier this week? I am not sure that all Conservatives have learnt the lesson.

In Leicestershire, there were 2,317 police officers in 2010. At its lowest, the figure went down by 23% to 1,777. By 31 March this year, it was 2,242, with an agreed extra 100 officers by 31 March 2023, at last reaching the 2010 figure. I am afraid that my successor cut the 100 extra planned for this year, even though it was agreed by all parties. Claiming that it was unaffordable, he called in the Home Office civil servants to back him up. Unfortunately for him, both they and the then Policing Minister disagreed and the plan for an extra 100 was given a clean bill of health. The extra 100 officers would have mostly been in by now. Given the recent violence and unrest in the great city of Leicester and the need for four other forces to supply reinforcements at enormous cost, I hope the present police and crime commissioner regrets his damaging and irresponsible decision.

In 2006, there was one officer per 430 residents of Leicestershire and Rutland. In 2018, that one officer was for 615 residents. Last year, the figure was 500 residents. By March next year, it should have been 488 residents, but now it will not because of the cut of 100 officers. That is a sad story. My question to the Minister is this, although he may not be able to answer it: has the Home Office made any representations about the decision taken in that particular part of England, which is obviously against government policy?

I want to say a word about serious violence. Noble Lords will know of the Scottish violence reduction unit based in Glasgow, led by an ex-police superintendent, Niven Rennie, which over the years has inspired other police forces and police and crime commissioners in England and Wales and has, I believe, influenced the Government favourably too. We in Leicestershire were certainly inspired listening to him speak at a conference at our multiagency committee, the strategic partnership board, held at police headquarters in Leicester.

The principle behind all this is common sense. If action can be taken early with young people who have suffered what are called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and suffered trauma as a consequence, and who may be susceptible as a result to committing criminal and even serious criminal behaviour, including violence, that multidisciplinary action may prevent them becoming involved in crime in the first place and, if they do, give them a second chance to get out of it. Examples and evidence of success are there. Of course, it takes a long time.

The Government were impressed enough to give grants for the setting up and support of violence reduction units in 18 of the 23 police force areas, including Leicestershire. Ours has been going for three years now, brilliantly led by Grace Strong. It has much police force involvement, of course. It is a multiagency network, existing to tackle and prevent serious violence and violent crime, particularly that involving young people.

To give an example of what it does, it has organised a small team, often made up of young people, who visit the local A&E at the Leicester Royal Infirmary to try to talk to victims and perpetrators of knife crime, who of course end up in hospital, at what is called the changeable moment—that crucial moment—with the hope of persuading them that knife culture and violence is wrong and counterproductive. I think that is a wonderful initiative.

We set up something called people zones in my time in Leicester. These are small, specific geographical areas in which we established multiagency groups to deal with preventing all offending, from anti-social behaviour at one end to serious violence at the other. I am extremely proud of this initiative and am glad that my successor, who I have perhaps been a bit hard on in this speech, has confirmed the scheme. I congratulate him on doing so.

I end by saying how right the right reverend Prelate was in saying that we owe so much to our police. I learned that very much as a police and crime commissioner.

Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Snape for initiating this debate. I have lived in Peckham in south London for over 40 years. I am afraid that it has had its fair share of knife crime. One claim to fame is that we have one of the world’s expert consultant surgeons on knife injuries. His name is TJ Lasoye, and he ought to get a knighthood or something. He spends his time going round schools telling children what the real effects of injuries are. Some children did not believe that stabbing somebody in the temple hurt or caused any problems. He devotes his time to the seriousness of knife crime.

I witnessed an invasion by a gang at King’s College Hospital, where he works. They came to look for the knife victim to finish the job. It was a terrifying experience which affects the local community every day. Having said that, it is a warm, wonderful community. It has more churches per square inch than probably anywhere else in the United Kingdom and so deserves better from the government policy on law and order.

One of the worst aspects of a failing Government treating deadly serious subjects as if they are a game in a children’s sandpit is that it drags all of us and the work we try to do down, and ignores the misery and stress of people waiting for justice, walking the streets in fear or working in a failing service and longing for early retirement. The only way to improve things is to have a general election, but we know that that is the one issue that unites the Conservative Party—not to go to the country until they absolutely have to. I understand that 5 January 2024 is the absolutely final date, so that is 442 days to go.

Although the resignation of the Prime Minister would not improve a single statistic in the sorry state of law and order, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Snape, it would be one of the only other options to achieve some stability. I checked the rules on the pensions of Prime Ministers and senior officeholders—moved, incidentally, in the House of Commons by a former Member of this House, Lord MacGregor. We were on the Committee on Standards in Public Life at the same time in the early 1990s, and I can only imagine what Lord MacGregor’s view of the current situation would be.

Anyway, back to the Prime Minister’s pension. If I understand the rules correctly, she is entitled to a Prime Minister’s pension when she leaves office. I would not like to see her go into poverty like the WASPI women who have been deprived of state pension money because they were not given sufficient notice. The WASPI women did nothing wrong, such as taking the “Great” out of Great Britain. If I have misread the rules on the PM’s pension and she is not so entitled if she goes, say, tomorrow, for the sake of argument, I would be happy to contribute to some crowd-funding venture, if that would persuade her to go.

I was distraught when I heard that Suella Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary yesterday, because the other half of my speech was devoted to why she was unfit for high office. She was Attorney-General in 2020—a government law officer. Not only did she not resign when the Government announced that they intended to override the Northern Ireland protocol, she publicly defended the situation. When Mr Brandon Lewis, as Northern Ireland Secretary, said that the new Bill in 2020 to amend the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU

“does break international law in a very specific and limited way”,—[Official Report, Commons, 8/9/2020; col. 509]

Sir Jonathan Jones, the Permanent Secretary of the Government Legal Department, the most senior lawyer advising the Government, resigned over this statement. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, resigned as a Government Minister in this House—a careful and thoughtful man who took 48 hours to do so.

This was a serious issue leading to serious resignations. Mr Brandon Lewis’s statement was not contradicted by No. 10 Downing Street. Clearly, we would not wish to put Mr Brandon Lewis anywhere near the law and order brief. Oh, wait a minute, he is Justice Secretary. I always have this image of a young urchin in Peckham, where I live, being held by a security officer for stealing juice and a bar of chocolate from the local supermarket saying, “I did break the law, but in a very specific and limited way.”

I turn to one of the aspects of the Government’s strategy to tackle crime and gang activity. I do not have time to deal with the virtual collapse of the probation and social work services, which is a stain on our country. A lot more could be said, if I had the time. But I do want to say something about our police and prison officers. Ms Braverman, when she was still in office, promised the Conservative Party conference that there would be 20,000 more police officers by March 2023. Is that still the Government’s policy? Does it simply make up for the 20,000 reduction when the Conservatives came to power? Is it sufficient when we have 4 million more people in the country? Nothing was said about prison officers. Will the Minister indicate the Government’s plan for recruiting more prison officers?

As chair of ACAS, 20 years ago I participated in a two-day residential seminar on how to improve working conditions in the Prison Service. The issues identified have worsened tenfold since that time. If prison officers are not valued for the important work they do, how will we achieve better safety, security and skills training in our prisons?

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, has already referred to Ché Donald, the national vice-chair of the Police Federation, who said that the increase in the number of police officers is desperately needed, but also pointed to other issues of stress and disillusion, pay and the impact of unfair discriminatory pension changes. These are such basic HR issues that only a Cabinet of millionaires could fail to see their importance. The pensions issue alone, capping the pension contributions of public service pensions, has had the consequences that I predicted when it was first imposed—a 10% cut. Ask any HR officer if he would like to hang on to 10% of his staff and not lose those skills, training and experience—

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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I remind the noble Baroness of the eight-minute speaking time.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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I would like to congratulate those governors of certain prisons who, I have been told, are wise enough not to allow the release of prisoners on a Friday. This is because out of the 70,000 a year who move out of the Prison Service, about 500 a month go straight into homelessness and the problems that they had before they came in. Lo and behold, in spite of all the efforts of people—probation officers, prison officers, policemen, members of the public and homeless organisations, et cetera—we still find that people end up back in prison.

I do not know how many governors do this; it is difficult to find out. As noble Lords know, governors are like captains of ships, who can do all sorts of things that we would like them to do. Some of the do and some of them do not. I used to go into a prison very regularly and talk to the prisoners. I had a brilliant time and took the mickey out of them and told them they were not as bright as me, because I was out and they were in. I had fun about it and actually built up a kind of attitude around education and social change. But lo and behold, another governor comes in and I find it incredibly difficult to get in because they do not have the same concerns.

When I spoke to a conference of governors and senior officers in the Prison Service, I asked how many of them had rehabilitation in the first five items of things that they considered. Not one of them had rehabilitation, because they had the usual stuff: security, so that the chaps and chapesses do not get away and officers are not attacked and hurt; and so that people do not commit suicide. They had those considerations and very few officers had rehabilitation.

I am really pleased there are governors—and I thank them—who have faced up to the fact that if prisoners are let out of prison on a Friday and they have had problems before, they will not be able to get to social security or support systems and will get into trouble over the weekend. Lo and behold, they might find themselves doing things that, after the event, they did not want to be doing. As I said, 70,000 prisoners a year leave the Prison Service and about 500 fall into homelessness.

We spend about £3 billion on our prisons. That is not a lot of money; it adds up to about £44,000 for each prisoner, but if they have problems and are likely to try to commit suicide or are violent, that figure can go up another £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000. We have prisoners who cost £100,000. As the right reverend Prelate said, we are spending the money in the wrong place. We are not spending it on prevention.

When I was banged up, it cost £63 a week, I think. That seems low, but it was three times what my dad was earning as a plasterer—so there is a kind of weirdness. I would like to see the complete and utter reformation of not just how we treat prisoners but how we treat crime. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, talked about the enormous increase in burglary in the West Midlands. What is burglary? You can call it burglary, but you can also call it an economy. You could call it a form of trade. You could call it all sorts of things.

Something is going desperately wrong in our country when we are putting so much effort into all sorts of things but we are not putting any effort into dismantling poverty. What do you think knife crime is? I will tell you what it is. I remember, as a boy, being a member of a gang and having a flick-knife. I went round imposing myself on people who did not have a flick-knife. We did not use knives as often then because we had hanging over us the threat that, if we killed somebody, we ourselves would be killed—if we were over the age of 18.

I am not very liberal about the fact that what we have now is a complete devaluation of human life. When there is poverty, how do people who are stuck in poverty express themselves? How do they make themselves something on the block, something in their block of flats or something on the street? I know that, if I was back there, I would be seeking some kind of identity. A knife is a brilliant way of getting some identity. If, at the same time, you are surrounded by TV, Netflix and all this other rubbish that shows the devaluation of human life, with no spirituality or love for each other, you will not give a toss if that knife goes into somebody and reduces them to nothingness.

We are in the middle of a crisis. We are not in a crisis just because Truss has screwed things up. That is a manifestation of a crisis. There is a deeper crisis. When I came into the House of Lords, I came here to dismantle poverty. I did not come in to make the poor a bit more comfortable or move the chairs on the “Titanic”. We really need to stop, think and wonder why we let our police officers down. I know them. I know the guys who are coming back beaten up by what they have to see and the lives they live—like our prison officers, teachers and people in the community. It may sound weird, but I think we really need to reinvent our thinking around crime. We have to sit back and say, “Whatever we’ve done is not working”.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I wish I could speak with the same passion as the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate: it is very timely.

Recent ONS figures show that police recorded crime data for “violence against the person” offences in the year ending March 2022 showed an 18% increase on the 1.8 million offences recorded in the year ending March 2021, and the similar figure in the pre-coronavirus year ending March 2020. The 710 homicides recorded for the year ending March 2022 was a return to pre-pandemic levels, while knife-enabled crime recorded by the police saw a 10% year-on-year increase to more than 49,000 offences in the same period. There were increases across all knife-enabled violent and sexual offences, with the sole exception of attempted murder. Violence with injury offences increased by 22% to more than 560,000 in the year ending March 2022 compared with the previous year. This was also 5% higher than the levels recorded in the pre-Covid year ending March 2020.

While overall levels of homicides fell during 2021—a decrease that coincided with the pandemic and related restrictions to social contact—it is the case that young people, particularly girls, have been disproportionately affected, as recent terrible headlines have reminded us. In a survey this year, the ONS found that people now feel less safe walking alone, in a park or in an open space. Young people in particular feel unsafe using public transport after dark. We are going backwards rather than improving lives for the better.

Of course, recent statistics on crime levels have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. There are also difficulties around how data is collected, whether it is by crime surveys or as crimes reported to the police. However, there is no escaping the stark truth that, despite more than a decade of tough talking by the Government, we are still facing truly shocking levels of violent crime in this country.

Many of these crimes are driven by drugs and gang activity. Gang involvement with drugs is often, and most destructively, manifested through county lines activities. I saw the impact of this in my housing work, and I will focus my comments on violent crime as it affects young people—specifically county lines drug dealing and the dangers for young people, particularly those in care or in vulnerable families who get caught up in gang violence and knife crime. My noble friend outlined how county lines operate.

The Government have declared that this a priority for the police to tackle. In October 2021, they published their Beating Crime Plan, and money has been spent on dedicated task forces and 18 violence reduction units. They have also set up the youth endowment fund to fund early intervention projects. We have been given the stats to show that this is having some impact. Policing responses have interrupted and closed down some gang activity. In 2019, the National Crime Agency estimated that there were more than 2,000 individual county lines in operation. It revised that in April last year to nearer 600, ascribing the reduction to increased policing and new guidance on tackling this issue.

However, there is no room for complacency. The National Youth Agency warns that the county lines business model is adapting, making offending harder to detect and increasingly resilient to disruption by law enforcement. This is far more deeply embedded than can be resolved by policing alone. The threat of gang-led county lines drug dealing to young people and the risk of violence and exploitation remain at shocking levels. It is estimated that 20% of those involved in county lines are children. The most common age range is 15 to 16, but the NYA notes anecdotal reports of children as young as 7 or 8 being exploited.

It is our most vulnerable children who are most likely to become ensnared. This means those who lack a safe or stable home environment; those who have prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse; those who have mental health or substance misuse issues; those who have been excluded from mainstream education or are in care; and those who are homeless, in social housing or in insecure accommodation. They are the most vulnerable to exploitation.

We know the criminal exploitation of children is a common feature of county lines activity, yet we still have no statutory definition of child criminal exploitation. This potentially makes it all the harder for our public services to work together to identify how much support a child needs or, indeed, the level of risk surrounding an exploited child. Can the Minister tell the House when the Government will implement in law a definition of child criminal exploitation?

If we are to tackle the threat from gangs and violence associated with county lines, we must have sufficient youth services and support for young people living in areas of deprivation and disadvantage. Further, they must be trained and upskilled so that they can build capacity and outreach in order to work with vulnerable young people wherever they are. Sadly, along with years of cuts to policing and the courts—this has been mentioned already—we have had years of cuts to funding for youth services. The provision of safe spaces and group activities for young people, with trained youth workers and skilled volunteers, is enormously patchy. This leaves young people vulnerable and prey to gangs. Again, from my work in housing, I have seen where youth workers now have so few resources that they are not able to offer alternatives to keep young people out of gangs and off the street.

The YMCA report Out Of Service noted that, since 2010, more than 4,500 youth work jobs have been cut and more than 750 youth centres closed. In 2010-11, local authorities spent an estimated £1.36 billion in real terms on youth services in England. By 2018-19, the real-terms reduction was £959 million—a 71% cut during that period. The consequences of these cuts during 12 years of this Government are seen in our shocking levels of knife crime, rates of serious violence and the rise of mental health difficulties among young people. Youth services are a lifeline for many young people, but these cuts have left many without local safe spaces or support.

The NYA’s 2021 report, Between the Lines, called for a high-level government strategy—a youth workforce development to recruit, train and deploy 10,000 full-time qualified youth workers. This goal should sit alongside the target of 20,000 more police officers outlined in the Government’s Beating Crime Plan. The NYA is now also calling for revenue investment to recruit a further 20,000 youth support workers and 40,000 trained volunteers. Have the Government listened to the call from the Home Affairs Select Committee last year for a youth service guarantee? How have they responded?

If it is the case that violent crime is disproportionately committed by young people, we need investment to deliver viable alternatives. We must increase support for those initiatives that have proved successful. All this points to the vital importance of the levelling-up agenda and investing in skills development to put people on a more productive path.

The pattern of job-related crimes is changing all the time. Our most disadvantaged communities and our most vulnerable young people continue to live with serious crime and the reality of gang violence. We need to tackle the roots of these problems, but we are running out of time if we are to keep our communities safe.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Lord Austin of Dudley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for securing this important debate. He commented on the fact that the former Home Secretary received a standing ovation for announcing that the police would in future visit every home that had been burgled. It was amazing that she thought it was something to boast about or something that should be applauded. It is a complete disgrace that the police have not had the resources to visit homes that have been burgled. In the majority of cases, people who have been burgled have not even had the police visit them at all. It amazes me that you expect to be applauded for presiding over a situation such as that and announcing that it is going to be changed.

I want to raise two issues, both shocking instances of gang violence. The victims in both cases were children. I draw your Lordships’ and the Government’s attention to the shocking murder of Dea-John Reid. He was a 14-year-old black lad from Birmingham, killed by a gang in the city last year. What more can the Government do to secure justice for him and for his family? I have spoken about this case in the House before and I shall do so again and again until justice is secured for his family.

One evening in May last year, after an altercation between two groups of teenagers—the sort of thing that happens routinely—Dea-John was chased down a busy street by a group of five males, including two grown men, shouting racist abuse. One of them, who was 14 years old at the time, killed him with a knife. A 14-year-old black boy was chased by a gang and stabbed to death. His mum, Joan Reid, said he was

“hunted by a lynch mob reminiscent of ‘Mississippi Burning’”.

Following an earlier altercation, the boy who killed Dea-John had phoned George Khan, aged 38, who was drinking in a pub with his friend, 35-year-old Michael Shields. They collected the three boys in Khan’s car and, the court was told,

“set off to hunt down the Dea-John group”.

According to the prosecuting barrister:

“Khan carried the plan to seek retribution forwards and actively encouraged the attack.”

A witness said that Khan pointed and shouted, “Oi, you …”, using the N-word. Dea-John and his friends ran but he went in a different direction from the group to get away. Khan and the other defendants ran after him. A witness said that the men had their tops off, using them to cover their faces. They were carrying weapons. Khan allegedly shouted “Bang him out” and “Eff him up” to one of the teenagers. These were grown men. If that is not incitement, tell me what is.

The 14-year-old lad had asthma, ran out of breath, was caught, stabbed and killed. Imagine it: on the streets of Birmingham last year, a boy chased by a racist mob, cornered, stabbed and killed. This is incredible. No one doubts that those five people were responsible, but four of the five defendants who chased him, including the two adults, were found not guilty by an all-white jury. The fifth, aged 15, was convicted of just manslaughter. He will be free in less than three years. Someone in Birmingham asked me what lessons have been learned from this—a gang shouting racist abuse and the stabbing of a black boy?

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, will remember Birmingham in the 1980s, as I do. Failings of the police and the criminal justice system resulted in riots on the streets. Handsworth, Lozells—on fire. There is never any justification for such behaviour.

Dea-John Reid’s mum called for calm in the black community. It listened, because it trusted the authorities, but it has clearly been let down. Why are those men walking free? Was there a problem with the evidence? Did the CPS not prosecute it properly? Did someone get to the jury? What happened? Why has there not been an immediate public outcry about this?

If this had been in London, it would have been a national scandal. It was a racist attack—an issue about knife crime, community safety, policing and the failure of the criminal justice system. The Opposition should be all over this, holding the Government to account. Why am I the only person who has raised this in a detailed way in either Chamber of Parliament? I want Ministers to look at it. I think the Attorney-General should refer it to the Court of Appeal. I know that we cannot have political direction of the police and the courts, but this cannot be allowed to stand. Will Ministers call in the chief constable and the CPS of the West Midlands to find out what has gone on. Could other charges be brought, such as affray or racially motivated assault? Something has to be done to secure justice for this family and for the black community in Birmingham.

The second case I want to raise is the racist attack on a group of Jewish children celebrating Hanukkah in Oxford Street last December. They were attacked by a mob of anti-Semites who made Nazi salutes, yelled, “Eff Jews; eff Israel”, spat at the children and threatened to smash the windows of their bus. The whole terrifying incident was caught on camera yet, despite clear CCTV evidence, mobile phone footage and multiple witnesses, investigators concluded their investigation, and the attackers remain at large.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who is a former government reviewer of anti-terror legislation, said:

“The police must start to prioritise violent and explicitly racist attacks, especially where there is photographic evidence of a kind which would enable the perpetrator to be identified.”

Referring to this, and to another attack in London last year, he said:

“Both of these cases are examples of institutional failure to prioritise significant cases involving serious danger to members of the public. Letting this slide makes other incidents and even possible terrorist incidents more likely.”

The Board of Deputies has demanded an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary. Dave Rich, the director of policy at the Community Security Trust, said:

“This comes in the same week that the Home Office revealed only eight % of all racist and religious hate crime lead to a charge or summons.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism said:

“If even high-profile hate crimes such as this are not solved and the perpetrators brought to justice, what hope do the many other crimes against Jewish people have of being satisfactorily investigated?”

That campaign, the Jewish News and the Jewish Chronicle have jointly offered a reward of £30,000 leading to the conviction of any of the perpetrators. I draw attention to my declaration in the register as a columnist for the Jewish Chronicle. Will the Minister or his colleagues speak to the Met and find out what else can be done to bring those responsible to justice?

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I join previous speakers in thanking my noble friend Lord Snape for introducing this important debate. It is clear from what we have been told so far that the Government are not doing enough to address the problems. There is not a simple solution, but I do not think the solutions are mysteries. We know where we need to go; it just takes an effort of will and the resources to achieve it. We know that the solution does not rely on tough talk. We have to reject the “bad actor” model of crime as a simple way out. We have to recognise that society as a whole has a responsibility to set the circumstances in which crime will not flourish. The obvious example of this is poverty and what society can do to alleviate the circumstances in which crime will develop. I think that is well understood. What is also understood, but I want to say more about, is the intersection between crime and poor mental health.

I need to be clear that I am not saying that people with poor mental health are a cause of crime. They are actually far more likely to be victims of crime than the culprits. There is no doubt, however, that improvements in mental health services can have a major impact on the current levels of crime, including violent crime and gang activity, both in reducing the incidence of crime in the first place and then in more effectively supporting the measures that we can take to ensure that the perpetrators of crime can escape the cycle of their criminal activity.

I draw particular attention to the joint inspection report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Inspectorate of Prisons, the Inspectorate of Probation and the Care Quality Commission. Last year they produced a report that set out some important conclusions about what needs to be done. They identified how thousands of people with mental illness are coming into the criminal justice system each year, but their needs are being missed. That, of course, is a tragedy for us as well as for the individuals concerned. There is a shortage of services and there are long delays in accessing what services are available—made worse by the pandemic, of course. A specific problem is delays in reports for the court and for transferring extremely unwell prisoners into secure mental health hospital beds. Clearly, these problems do not help. They let down the individuals and society as a whole.

One interesting reference in the report is the finding that police officers had a good understanding that the causes of minor crime required a health response rather than a crime response. This is a key issue. I hope we will address these issues in the context of the forthcoming mental health Bill, and I hope the Minister can tell us in his reply that the Government understand the nature of this problem and that dealing with the issues that people have identified today is a priority.

Secondly, I want to say something as a resident of the inner city, where youth crime is a particular concern. It needs to be understood that it is not a middle-class panic about crime in the inner city. The people who really suffer from crime in the inner city tend to be those who are least well off; they are the real victims of what is going on. It is not a question of victims versus criminals and a case of just locking them up, going hard on them and throwing away the key. Most of the young people who tragically fall into this cycle of crime are victims of crime themselves and have gone through difficult and challenging childhoods. It is not just a question of telling parents to be tougher; those parents are struggling as well. The parents themselves have often had complex childhoods, and they need support. That is the pattern and, if we do not fund services correctly and fully, we will see these problems repeated generation after generation.

I thank my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe for a very clear and good exposition of the issues involved, particularly in county lines crime, and the fact that children are being exploited. I very much hope the Government will give a clear response to the points raised. It is a wide problem, but it is worth emphasising again that there is a specific issue of local services, both from councils and from community groups. It is a totally false economy to cut back support for this work with young people, because we pay a higher cost in the longer term. I ask the Minister to say something specifically about the support provided by public services and the community to support young people so that they do not fall into this cycle.

In my final minute, I want to say something about the police. We very much rely on the police to look after us, and that is right. That is why it was of particular concern to get the report from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. It seems that the Metropolitan Police is addressing these issues, and we need to recognise the good work it is doing. Last night the Met Excellence Awards showed the good side of what the police can do. We have to encourage that and root out the problems identified by the noble Baroness’s interim report.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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My Lords, I express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Snape for introducing this very important debate. I also welcome the Minister to his new role. I think it is going to be rather a bed of nails for him. My noble friend and I last worked together on the Select Committee on Crossrail, which after long delays is finally with us. The Minister who is now the new Home Secretary supervised a long delay. Let us hope he will not take so long in dealing with many of the issues confronting us today.

We have had a very important debate, covering a wide front—perhaps there is something there for us to reflect on when we come to address some of these fundamental issues. One thing that came through very clearly is the requirement for more money to be spent in this area. It behoves us to see how we can raise the money. Invariably, it will mean that taxes have to be found in one way or another, but I also share the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that there ought to be more fundamental work done in shifting from dealing with the problems that arise in crime to looking at the fundamentals that cause crime in the first instance. That takes us back to really basic issues about the family and so on. Yes, poverty is a very big factor in dealing with this, but the other factor is the poverty of spirit that we now have in the country. We really ought to go back to some basics. Even though we were in poverty, people in my youth did not necessarily commit crime. Therefore, it is not solely an issue that stands on its own ground.

I am grateful to the Lords Library for providing us with an excellent, comprehensive briefing. I am also grateful to the Alcohol Health Alliance for the briefing it provided me on crime and alcohol. It will probably not surprise noble Lords that I will say a few words about the link between crime and alcohol. If I had more time, I could spend as much time on drugs as well, because these are two really major factors that cannot be ignored in the context of trying to find solutions.

Some 53% of police time on casework is spent on alcohol-related issues, in the widest possible sense. That is a very big amount of time. Serious violence is often linked in some way to alcohol. In more than a third of homicides, either the victim or the suspect has consumed alcohol prior to the incident. Alcohol-related violence accounts for two-fifths of all violence in England and Wales, and one in 10 people experiences alcohol-related anti-social behaviour every year. Evidence has demonstrated that the most deprived groups in our society bear this burden to the greatest extent.

Alcohol use can also increase the occurrence and severity of domestic violence, with approximately 1 in 3 victims reporting that the perpetrator was under the influence when they were attacked. Again, those in the lowest socioeconomic groups experience up to 14 times as many incidents of alcohol-related domestic violence, compared to the least deprived.

As my noble friend Lord Snape reported, alcohol is often used to exploit children in the context of county lines. He talked about the county lines problem, and you often do find that there is an alcohol factor. Alcohol-use disorders are significantly more numerous within the prison population. Despite this, the number of those in alcohol and drug treatment in prison has steadily dropped in recent years, again because of a shortage of cash. Volunteer organisations are finding that because of shortages of prison staff, it is very difficult indeed to help people with alcohol and drug problems because they cannot gain entry as they used to and so, in turn, the voluntary services they can offer are not being made available on quite the previous scale. That is no fault of the prison officers. There are just not enough of them to provide the facilities required to admit people from outside.

In England, alcohol-related crime is estimated to cost £11.4 billion per year. Cuts and freezes to alcohol duty since 2012 are estimated to have led to more than 111,000 additional crimes in England. There has also been a large loss of revenue because of the Government’s decision to freeze or cut those duties, although in fairness to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, one good thing he has done is to reverse the previous Chancellor’s decision to freeze duty on alcohol in the mini-Budget, which is a very welcome change.

With the right package, we can reduce alcohol-related harm by limiting the affordability and availability of alcohol. Two measures were recommended by the World Health Organization as two of the most effective and cost-effective interventions to reduce alcohol consumption and tackle alcohol-fuelled crime. The first is reducing affordability, which is directly linked to consumption levels. As with petrol, if you increase the price, less of it is used. Increase the price of alcohol and there is less consumption. There is much evidence to indicate that this works. We have minimum unit pricing in Scotland, and the Welsh Government have adopted it too. It is high time that the Government turned their attention to this.

In the absence of MUP, Ipswich pioneered “reducing the strength” schemes, reducing the strength of alcohol in the area. There was a very substantial gain in reducing the incidence of street drinking—a 23% reduction by persuading people to move from high-alcohol to lower-alcohol drinks. Anti-social behaviour went down, crime fell in stores and crime overall fell in the Ipswich area.

The second initiative is to reduce availability of alcohol. Why are we able to purchase alcohol all through the night at petrol stations? That invariably will cause trouble. It is not of benefit to society, so we hope again to look at that wide availability.

If I had the time I could speak at length on drugs. There is a fundamental link between alcohol and drugs and violent crime, burglaries and gang activity. Importantly, we now have the Government’s 10-year drug strategy, which I welcome. It is time that they set up an inquiry to see whether we should have a similar strategy for alcohol, particularly in relation to crime and violence.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for the opportunity to debate these issues. It has been an interesting debate, with much of the focus being on policing and resources.

When I joined the Metropolitan Police, in 1976, sometimes it was very busy, you were rushing from one call to another, and it was difficult to empathise with the third burglary victim you visited that day. At other times, there was time to sit on a wall on a housing estate and talk to the skinheads and punk rockers—I am that old. However, not any more. Police are seriously under-resourced and overstretched. Difficult decisions had to be made to cut costs. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about the very difficult decision that he had to make when he was Metropolitan Police Commissioner, in the light of those cuts. It is very easy for me to say that I would not have made the cuts that he did. I was not the commissioner at the time and so did not have the accounts.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, talked about cuts during the coalition. Cuts were universal during that time, and we have seen the consequences of unfunded public spending. But, as the noble Lord said, the Conservative Government continued to cut after 2015, when the 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto said that we wanted to increase public spending in line with economic growth.

Public trust and confidence in the police are essential. The significant reductions in—and, in places, almost total absence of—visible policing, with cuts in police community support officers, have not been restored by this Government. There has been decimation of frontline supervision. Putting a chief superintendent in charge of multiple London boroughs, given that I just about managed to effectively lead one London borough, Lambeth, as a commander—the equivalent of an assistant chief constable—illustrates why we have some of the current problems with the Met.

I fear that it has gone past unreasonable cuts to police budgets. There may now be a culture whereby cuts are used as an excuse not to provide the service the public requires and deserves—a policy-driven situation. Police officers on the front line want to give members of the public the service they deserve, but they are unable to. For example, there was a burglary at the block of flats where I live, and there was CCTV footage of the suspect. Nobody came, and the crime was written off within days. I spoke to a serving superintendent who said that many crimes that could have led to prosecutions are now being written off, rather than being investigated.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, have said, this is about the whole criminal justice system, not just the police. When I made an allegation of homophobic abuse, the police were great. It was a hate crime, to which they responded very positively. Then we went to court, my husband was a witness, and we were both treated as though we were the ones on trial—we were the ones in the dock. He is Norwegian, and he says that he would never give evidence in a British court again after the way he was treated. The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, are of course far more compelling.

We operate a system of policing by consent, and the support and co-operation of the public are essential to the police operating effectively. That means we have fewer police, unarmed police, who rely on the public being their eyes and ears and dialling 999 when they see something suspicious and giving evidence in court as witnesses, rather than large numbers of armed police officers acting without the active involvement of the public.

If the public do not like and do not trust the police, it is not just a PR disaster; it makes the police ineffective. We cannot have, and do not want, a police officer on every street corner, routinely armed—policing by force rather than by consent—but without the active support of the public, the current system fails.

I will comment briefly on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, talking about young people being seen not as criminals but as victims. When I was the police commander in charge of Brixton, I said that if you randomly stopped a young black man in Brixton, they were statistically far more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of crime. Unfortunately, that was not the way a lot of officers treated them. That is why the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, is so important. It is not just about what is morally right about political correctness: it is about treating everyone with dignity and respect, and the fundamental effectiveness of the police, by getting the public on their side.

The Government are clouding the crime figures, claiming that crime is falling, by ignoring the fact that criminals are increasingly moving online, committing telephone fraud by conning vulnerable people—many of them elderly—who can lose their life savings. They are not including these crimes in their publicity. They claim that crime is falling, but when you include online crime, it is actually increasing. But there is hope. The current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley, whom I do not know, seems determined to turn things around. Nationally, the police have committed to attending every burglary. In my opinion, either a forensic examiner or a police officer should attend, but only if it is necessary should they both attend.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, the issues of gang violence and knife crime are complex and deep-seated. Restoring a visible police presence may at least stop the vulnerable from carrying knives for their own protection, but only if they believe that the police will be there to protect them, whatever the colour of their skin.

Concerning gangs—here we go, I am going to be controversial—drug law reform needs to be seriously looked at, to take drug dealing out of the hands of criminals and put illegal drug dealers out of business. The two main political parties in this country need to get over the ideological aversion to serious drug law reform. People are dying: from knife crime, from drug misuse and from overdose—including a former partner of mine—because of ideology.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, said, county lines is child criminal exploitation, and the victims of that exploitation need to be treated as such. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has again reminded us, alcohol misuse is an even bigger problem in terms of the damage that it causes and the drain on police resources.

Not only has the Conservative Party lost the confidence of the public for financial competence; it can no longer claim to be the party of law and order.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in the debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on introducing this incredibly important topic which we discuss here today, and also so many members of your Lordships’ House, who have made really important statements and contributions to this debate.

I will start by saying that the statistics tell us to an extent what is going on, but every statistic is about an individual, a family, a community. I think of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, reminded us of: many of those individuals live in incredibly difficult circumstances of poverty et cetera. Those are never an excuse for a criminal act but are something that we ought to understand. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, in her contribution, pointed out that it is not only the police but the youth services and all the other services that people depend on that actually matter. Homelessness and housing are clearly one of those as well.

Let us remind ourselves: just over the last few weeks, we have read of horrific crimes. Just a few weeks ago, a nine year-old girl was hideously killed in Liverpool. In the summer, an 87 year-old pensioner was killed in Greenford. Another nine year-old was killed in Lincolnshire. There are regular murders on our streets: as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, pointed out, over 700 homicides last year. I would point out that, whether the statistics are going up or down, that is an awful lot of crime, and violent crime, that is taking place.

I ask the Minister: it would be helpful to know what the actual figures are. It is not helpful that the Office for National Statistics says one thing and the police recorded crime figures say another—which is why I say that violent crime is too high however you measure it. That is the real issue.

My father was a police officer. He was not in the Metropolitan Police when the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, was commissioner: it was before then. It was a long time ago. But I know, as the son of a police officer, that he said it was important that, whatever the level of crime, you treat every single crime as the most important crime. That is the point. We can argue about statistics and get carried away with them, but it is actually the crime itself which is important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and others, mentioned the county lines phenomenon. Let me give one statistic that I think should shock us all: 27,000 children are involved in county lines, according to the Children’s Commissioner, some of them under the age of 10. That is an absolute disgrace, and something that this Parliament and our country should be jumping up and down about: that criminal gangs are exploiting children, some as young as eight, in county lines. You can argue why that is, and what has happened, but it should be a priority for any Home Office Minister or Home Secretary to do something about it.

In too many communities, that happens, and it seems that we fail to tackle it. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, however many police officers have been recruited now, what we need to know is whether they are simply replacing the thousands of police officers that were cut and the neighbourhood policing teams that were slashed, or are we actually seeing an increase in the numbers of officers on our streets?

Let me just ask the Minister some specific questions. Can the Minister tell us what the latest police recorded crime figures for this year are for gun and knife crime? Despite the recent announcements by police chiefs, over the last three years a burglary was reported in 21,000 neighbourhoods in England and Wales, but in 17,000 of those areas, not a single burglary was solved. How will the Government ensure that the recent announcement by police chiefs that a police officer will visit the victim of a burglary is followed through, and that that shocking statistic, which was unearthed recently, will not be repeated in the future?

Is it not true that rape and sexual offences are at a record high, with a woman who is raped having only a one in 77 chance of seeing her attacker prosecuted? Is it not true that police forces are now solving only 6% of reported crimes, down from 15.5% six years ago? How many cases of violent crime are waiting to go to court? There are 58,000 cases waiting to go in front of a judge and jury. The average delay between a crime and verdict is nearly 15 months. How will that reduce violent crime, and why is that not a priority for the Government to solve?

The Government have published their crime plan, because it does not have to be like this. Poverty needs to be tackled, youth services need to be improved, local government needs to be given the money it needs to deliver the services people require, and police numbers need to be dramatically increased with the restoration of neighbourhood policing.

The majority of violent crimes are committed by a small number of offenders, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, would be able to point out. How are the Government targeting the offenders who offend again and again to give communities a rest from them but also to give them a chance of preventing their reoffending? My noble friend Lord Davies and others have talked about mental health.

The majority of violent crime takes place in a limited number of hotspots across the country. What are the Government doing to tackle those hotspots of violent crime, where—whatever the level of poverty among the families and communities, to be fair to them—the victims of violent crime are nearly always other people within that neighbourhood? What are the police doing about that?

I want to make an important point to the Minister. It has been demonstrated that the argument that if you push down on hotspots then they occur somewhere else is not true. The evidence does not point to that. If you tackle violence in an area, you reduce violence overall, and that is what has to happen. Can the Minister give us an update on that?

There is no doubt that the Government’s crime plan says that they are going to take action. I say to the Minister that there are a number of particular things that they need to do: the restoration of local government services and youth services; the restoration of neighbourhood policing; targeting particular individuals who perpetrate the majority of offences and concentrating on those offenders; and targeting hotspots. If we were to do that, we could make a real difference.

I said to the Minister that I would cut my remarks short to give him time to respond. The fact is that it is violent crime, crime on the individual such as burglary, that people fear most. What people want to know, and what the Government should push, is that if people report a crime they will be visited by an officer and it will be taken seriously. In that way, we can push down crime wherever and whenever it occurs. We cannot have a situation, whether it is serious crime or less serious crime, where the response to too many people is, “You can have a crime number”. We will not get rid of or reduce crime if that is the response. I do not believe that is what the police want. The first thing we should say to the police is that where a crime occurs we should investigate it, try to find who the perpetrators are and put them before the courts.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for securing this debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in it. Tackling crime is a key priority for any Government. As set out in our Beating Crime Plan, we are particularly determined to see reductions in homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime. These offences strike at our sense of security in our homes, on our streets and in our country, which is why combating them forms a key part of our Beating Crime Plan.

As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted, at the heart of efforts to reduce crime will always be the police. I pay tribute to the work of the many dedicated police officers who do the difficult and sometimes dangerous job of keeping our communities safe, day in and day out. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, about police morale but, as an ex-policeman myself, joined on the Front Bench today by my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower, another ex-policeman, we can say categorically that morale is affected by many factors, internal and external.

I detected a degree of gang activity on the Opposition Benches when it came to members of the Government. I will not engage with all of it. I am afraid I will not apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I appreciate that the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, was passionately delivered, and I will make sure that the Ministry of Justice is alerted to his contribution in Hansard. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that I will visit a petrol station after I have given this speech.

We need to make sure the police service is properly supported and resourced. That is why the Government set a target to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers across England and Wales through the police uplift programme by March 2023. These are new posts. We are on track to succeed: as at 30 June 2022, 13,790 additional officers had been recruited. To the right reverend Prelate’s point, we are actually better than half way.

It is worth remembering that, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, the nature of crime has changed and moved, as have our times. If this descended into a debate solely about numbers, we would not be taking into account technology, tactics and all the rest of the factors that go into effective policing.

I turn to some of the specific crime types that are referenced in the title of this debate and that noble Lords have discussed in their contributions today. The Government are determined to reduce serious violence and bear down on violent criminal street gangs. We are pursuing a robust twin-track approach that combines tough enforcement with measures to prevent young people becoming involved in the first place. I will talk to this strategy more in a moment, but first I shall outline the data. I accept the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about data; it can of course be used in many ways. He asked me a number of detailed questions about data. I will write to him on all those, because I simply do not have time to address them all. I hope that is acceptable.

I start with serious youth violence. I remember that behind these numbers and percentages, which are of course very dry, there are real people; I am not forgetting that. Serious youth violence, as measured by hospital admissions among under-25s for assault by a sharp object, is falling. In the year ending June 2022 it had fallen by 11% across England compared with the year ending June 2021. We know that those figures, as with all crime, have been affected by the pandemic, and we are not complacent in our efforts to continue to do all we can to reduce violence.

I noted the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, about the surgeon in Peckham, and I commend his efforts. I am afraid she rather lost me at the PM’s pension; I will not go into that. I also noted and was moved by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Austin, about Dea-John Reid. Obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with his family. That is an appalling set of circumstances and I will investigate a little more.

To go back to the serious violence and gang situation, the Government have made £130 million available this financial year, 2022-23, building on similar levels of investment in previous years, to tackle serious violence including murder and knife crime. This includes £64 million for our network of 20 violence reduction units, which are delivering a range of early-intervention and prevention programmes to divert people away from a life of crime, and £30 million for Grip, a police programme that—to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—uses a highly data-driven process to identify violence hotspots, often to individual street level, and target operational activity in those areas.

I shall give the noble Lord one specific example of how this works. In a hotspot policing pilot in Southend-on-Sea in Essex, which has recently adopted Grip, a 30% reduction in serious violence on days when patrols took place compared with days when they did not was noted. As he rightly points out, the activity was not displaced. VRUs and targeted police enforcement programmes have prevented an estimated 49,000 violent offences in their first two years of activity.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, specifically asked me about the West Midlands. It has had £16 million devoted to this programme since 2019, and £5.9 million this year. Its VRU is projected to support more than 21,000 young people in the region next year. The West Midlands is also very active in Grip.

We are determined to do more and to strengthen our response, including in the prevention space, which is why we have invested £200 million through our 10-year youth endowment fund to test and evaluate what works in reducing violence. Next year we will commence the serious violence duty, which will require specified agencies across England and Wales to work together collaboratively, share data and information, and put in place a strategy to prevent and reduce serious violence within their local area.

We will also pilot serious violence reduction orders, which will provide the police with the power to stop and search adults already convicted of knife or offensive weapons offences. Serious violence, as has been noted across the House, destroys lives, shatters families and plagues our communities. The Government remain wholly committed to confronting these crimes wherever and whenever they occur.

The noble Lords, Lord Snape and Lord Coaker, both referred to the homicide figures. The figures in England have remained relatively stable in recent years. That is not an endorsement, I have to say; I still think they are shockingly high. There were 710 homicides in the year to March 2022, while in the year to March 2020 there were 714. Obviously there was a decrease in homicide in the lockdown year.

I turn to county lines gangs, which were noted, movingly, by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe—I share her opinion on and outrage about child exploitation—and to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, also referred. They are driving crime across the country, not just by supplying illicit drugs but by perpetrating violence and exploiting the most vulnerable and, in some cases, the very young. Cracking down on this pernicious, poisonous threat is an obvious priority. The Government have a 10-year drugs strategy to save lives and cut crime. We have committed to investing up to £145 million to bolster our flagship county lines programme. The programme has provided targeted investment in those areas with the greatest county lines threat, with dedicated task forces in four key areas—London, Merseyside, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester—but county lines affect all forces, which is why we also established the National County Lines Coordination Centre to co-ordinate a national law enforcement response.

We are bringing the full force of our law enforcement capability to bear in tackling this issue, but we recognise that a wider system response is needed to support those vulnerable individuals being exploited by these gangs. That is why, through the programme, we are investing up to £5 million over the next three years to provide specialist support to victims of county lines exploitation, and their families. From the start of the programme in 2019 until April this year, the police have closed more than 2,400 lines. That includes 8,000 arrests and more than 9,500 individuals engaged through safeguarding interventions. Since April 2022, the programme has delivered a further 500 line closures, bringing the total line closures since the programme was launched in November 2019 to 2,900. It is a move in the right direction, but these gangs are resilient. We are not, and will not be, complacent, so we will continue to target county lines relentlessly, persistently closing them and putting those responsible behind bars.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made a very good point when he reiterated how important civil society is. Much of that is down to local authorities and activities in local areas, but the Supporting Families programme has helped thousands of families across England—162,000 this year alone—through a whole-family approach.

Before I get on to the thorny subject of burglary, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, suggested that the Government are blaming the Mayor of London for the state of play in London. Rather than repeating what I said yesterday in answering the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Lexden about the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, I refer him to Hansard where I endeavoured—I am afraid it is quite boring—to describe the split of accountability and responsibility as it exists in London. We can debate whether it is the right split, but it exists.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, burglary is a particularly harmful crime. The feeling that your own home, which should be a place of safety, has been invaded and your possessions rifled through is distressing and disconcerting. The impact on victims and wider communities can be profound. It is therefore right that proper priority is given to tackling burglary. Of course, primary responsibility for this, as it does for any crime, rests with police forces which are accountable to locally elected police and crime commissioners. It is therefore worrying that in a report published only two months ago, the independent His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services noted that when it comes to tackling burglary and robbery

“too often there is a failure to get the basics of investigation and prevention right.”

I know this is something that the leadership of the police service is very concerned about, and we will continue to work with the police to ensure that they do get the basics right. This is a top priority for the Home Secretary.

Providing reassurance to victims and making sure that evidential leads are followed up is a key part of this. We were therefore very pleased when, just two weeks ago, the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the chief executive of the College of Policing confirmed that chief constables and commissioners in England and Wales had collectively agreed that we should have police attendance at all home burglaries. I want to be clear that the Government are playing their part. As well as the police uplift programme, we have invested £120 million over the past three years in our flagship Safer Streets programme, which is supporting a range of crime prevention measures, including practical measures such as improved home security, street lighting and CCTV. According to the most recent statistics covering the year to March 2022—I appreciate what we have been discussing about statistics—burglary, as recorded by the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey for England and Wales, has fallen by 23% compared with the year ending December 2019. Of course, that number was recorded during the pandemic and showed a dramatic 27% decline, but I should note that as lockdown restrictions have eased police have recorded residential burglaries starting to increase a little. The figure for December 2021 was 11% higher than the figure for March 2021, but volumes remain substantially lower than pre pandemic.

The focus on preventing crime, including burglaries, sits across government. One core strand of this is our ambitious whole-of-government drugs strategy, which will drive down the burglary committed by those with a dependence on opiates and crack cocaine, who are responsible for almost half of all acquisitive crime, but I take note of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about alcohol. Evidence shows that drug treatment can have an immediate and sustained impact in reducing offending, which is why the Government have committed to expanding and improving treatment and wider support to tackle drug-related offending, which blights communities across the country.

I have had a go at answering all the questions. This has been a very worthwhile debate, and I reiterate my thanks to all who have participated. There is much that all noble Lords who have spoken have agreed on. Crime has a profound effect on victims and the communities where they live, and it is vital that we do everything we can to tackle it. As I have emphasised, this Government are committed to bringing down crime, and I have set out some of the many measures that we, working with colleagues in the police and across the criminal justice system, are taking to achieve that result. Our message is clear: we will not stand by while decent, law-abiding people suffer at the hands of criminals. We will support and empower the police to fight crime in all its guises, and we will use every available tool and resource to keep the public safe.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could he address the point I raised about the legal definition of child criminal exploitation?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I will have to disappoint the noble Baroness regarding the legal definition, but what I can say is that the data picture for group-based child sexual exploitation is currently poor. However, the Government are improving data quality in policing to support this. We are funding the Tackling Organised Exploitation programme, as well as regional abuse and exploitation analysts in every policing region, to develop enhanced intelligence about all forms of this. I appreciate that that does not answer the noble Baroness’s question, and if I may, I will write to her with a more enhanced answer.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, in view of the somewhat unusual circumstances going on in Downing Street, may I draw this debate to a conclusion by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part?

Motion agreed.