Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very pleased that we are having this debate in the House today and that there is a strong willingness, across both Houses, to tackle this most challenging issue of serious violence.
We have been extremely concerned about the increase in the rates of knife crime, gun crime and homicide, and the horrendous attacks involving acids and corrosives. Since the beginning of the year, there have been—sadly and tragically—74 reported homicides on London’s streets alone, and many of these have been stabbings. It is, however, not a London issue alone. Tragically, for example, we have also seen fatal stabbings in Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Sheffield in recent days. The Office for National Statistics has reported that, from December 2016 to December 2017, police-recorded knife crime increased by 22%, the possession of knives increased by 33%, offences involving firearms increased by 11%, and homicides increased by 9%.
Too many young people have, sadly, lost their lives in needless violence, and it simply has to stop. This is clearly unacceptable. We are determined to end this deadly cycle of violence, and that is why the Government published the Serious Violence Strategy in April this year. Anyone committing these acts of violence must feel the full force of the law. Our absolute priority is the safety and security of our citizens, and my heart goes out to the victims and their family members and friends who have been affected by this senseless violence. It is incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to help tackle it in every way possible.
On 9 April this year, as I said, the Government published their Serious Violence Strategy, which set out the action we are taking to address serious violence and, in particular, the recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. The strategy sets out an ambitious programme involving over 60 commitments and actions, supported by £40 million over two years to back the initiatives in the Serious Violence Strategy.
It is very important to stress that the approach to tackling serious violence set out in the strategy is a multiple-strand approach. Law enforcement remains very important, but the strategy is not solely focused on law enforcement, as it depends also on partnerships across a number of different sectors such as education, health and the voluntary sector. In particular, the strategy stresses the importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes of serious violence and to provide young people with the skills and resilience to lead productive lives free from violence.
The scope of the strategy is concerned with specific types of crime such as homicide, knife crime and gun crime, and the use of acids and corrosives as weapons. It also covers areas of criminality where serious violence is inherent such as gangs and county lines drugs dealing. Serious violence extends to other forms of serious assault, of course. We know that a significant proportion of violence is linked to either domestic abuse or alcohol, but these two important elements are not driving the increases we are seeing in violent crime. The strategy does not address specifically sexual abuse, modern slavery or violence against women and girls. They may all involve forms of serious violence but there are already specific strategies that address those important issues, and so they are not included within the scope of the strategy.
What is behind the recent increase in serious violence? Our analysis shows that about half the rise in knife and gun crime is likely to be due to improvements in police recording of crime, but for the remainder a major factor behind the increase is changes in the drugs market. Crack-cocaine markets have strong links to serious violence, and the latest evidence suggests that crack use is rising in England and Wales due to a mix of supply and demand factors, such as increased supply of cocaine from overseas and the spread of county lines drugs dealing which is associated with hard class A drugs.
In addition, drugs-market violence and gang-related violence is facilitated and spread by social media, which has become more and more accessible and part of everyday life through the widespread adoption of smartphones over the past decade. Social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram are used to glamorise the gang or drug-dealing life, to taunt rivals and to normalise weapons carrying. Sadly, it leads to tit for tat.
Through our analysis in the strategy, we have also identified that the increases in violence have been accompanied by a shift towards younger victims and perpetrators than earlier in this decade. We have also identified that we are not alone in seeing recent increases in serious violence. The US, Canada and a number of other European countries have seen similar long-term trends. This suggests that there is a global component to the trend and so our strategy includes a commitment to hold an international violent crime symposium in autumn 2018. This will bring together academics and experts to explore the trends in serious violence in different parts of the world.
Our analysis points to a range of factors driving increases in serious violence. The issue is complex, but our analysis is that changes in the drugs market are a major factor behind the recent increases. While there is good evidence that enforcement can play a vital role in tackling these offences, most academics agree that big shifts in crime trends tend to be driven by factors outside of the police’s control—such as drugs trends and markets, changes in housing, vehicle security and so on. Available evidence suggests this latest shift in serious violence is no exception. We are aware of, and have noted, though, what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said recently about police resources, and the Home Secretary has committed to making police funding a priority at the next spending review, which will set budgets for the longer term.
As I have said, the Serious Violence Strategy puts a greater emphasis than previously on early intervention and prevention. It is at the heart of the approach in the strategy and has been informed by our analysis of the evidence of what works and is most effective with young people. The work on early intervention and prevention focuses on steering young people away from crime and tackling root causes. As we all know and accept, we cannot arrest our way out of the issue, so we are clear that we must prevent young people from committing serious violence by developing their resilience and supporting positive alternatives to a life of crime, with timely interventions.
The Serious Violence Strategy sets out a range of universal and targeted interventions, including the early intervention youth fund, which will be launched this summer, to which police and crime commissioners can apply. The fund is designed to help local partnerships support early intervention and prevention activity with young people. It has £11 million available over two years to support such local activity and will link up with existing programmes.
We will also provide support additional support for organisations such as Redthread to expand and pilot its youth violence intervention programme outside London in Nottingham and Birmingham and continue to develop its service in London hospitals. The Redthread programme is based on the concept of the “teachable moment”. This means that hospital emergency department staff will ask a youth worker to speak to a young person who has been admitted with violent injuries caused by stabbing, for example. If they need help, the youth worker will help identify and refer them to where they can get help to leave a gang for example.
I now move on to how the strategy will tackle specific areas of violence, beginning with county lines, because drugs are a major factor behind the recent increases in violence. What are county lines? Gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas in the UK, use dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use violence. This is a major cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, child criminal exploitation, modern slavery and missing persons, and it involves the police, a wide range of government departments, local government agencies and voluntary sector organisations.
We are particularly concerned about the county lines issue because of the violence and exploitation of children and vulnerable people that it involves. That is why we are supporting the establishment of a new £3.6 million national county lines co-ordination centre to help bring together the law enforcement effort. The links behind county lines are complicated, and the threat crosses police force boundaries. The centre will support the police operationally, help build the intelligence picture and support police forces to close down mobile phone numbers used for county lines drug dealing.
The strategy also sets out how we will work with the Department for Education on the support and advice offered to children educated in alternative provision, including those who have been excluded, to reduce the risk of them becoming victims of county lines exploitation and being drawn into crime.
We are taking a range of actions to tackle knife crime focused on operational enforcement, work with retailers, legislation and early intervention and prevention. In March, we launched a major media advertising campaign, #knifefree, which is aimed at raising awareness among young people and young adults about the risks of carrying knives. This was chiefly delivered through social media targeted at young people. We are currently evaluating the campaign, but it has had a very positive response from our partners.
We are also providing up to £1 million for each of the next two years for our anti-knife crime community fund. This fund, which was launched on 18 May, provides support for local initiatives which work with young people to tackle knife crime. It includes early intervention and education, as well as mentoring and outreach work. Last year, we supported 47 projects across England and Wales through the community fund.
We are also taking action to improve legislation and practice in relation to the ownership and licensing of firearms. We are actively strengthening controls on legally owned firearms to mitigate the risk of them coming into someone’s possession illegally and being used for criminal purposes. It is clearly important that the controls are as robust as possible to prevent firearms getting into the hands of criminals, and we are taking action including the greater regulation of antique firearms, statutory guidance to be issued to the police on firearms and shotgun licensing, and improving the arrangements for the use of medical information in licensing decisions.
Attacks on people involving acids or other corrosives are a serious matter that can result in huge distress and life-changing injuries. We are taking action, with proposed new legislation to make it an offence to sell the most harmful corrosive substances to someone under 18 years of age. Although the strategy places a new emphasis on early intervention, we are clear that, where individuals commit serious violent offences, they must be met with a robust law enforcement response.
Taking effective action means that the issue needs to be understood and owned locally. Communities and the relevant partners must also see tackling serious violence as their problem. Police and crime commissioners have a vital leadership role to play through working with and across community safety partnerships. Other local partnerships can also play an important role.
Our strategy also sets out how we will continue to support communities to build local resilience and awareness by continuing to match-fund local area reviews. The reviews help to identify the resilience and capability of local areas in responding to gang-related threats, with follow-on support to help partners. To date, we have funded 28 local reviews across England and Wales and two strategic reviews in Bedfordshire and Thames Valley. In turn, MOPAC has to date supported 16 reviews since 2016. We are increasing our offer of support to local areas this year with further local and strategic reviews, with follow-on operational support available.
Finally, to support delivery of the strategy, the Home Secretary has established a serious violence task force to drive implementation of the strategy and support delivery of its key objectives. This task force brings together Ministers, Members of Parliament, the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Director-General of the National Crime Agency, other senior police leaders and the public and voluntary sectors’ chief executives. The task force met for the first time on 26 April and discussed the issue of county lines and what more could be done to tackle this issue. The task force also met again this morning to discuss the challenge of serious violence material on social media and again considered what further it could do to support action on this issue.
The multi-strand approach set out in the strategy, with a greater emphasis on early intervention, will address the increases in serious violence and help young people to deliver the skills and resilience to live happy and productive lives away from violence, as well as ensuring that people feel safe in their communities and their homes. I beg to move.
I thank my noble friend for his statement. I recognise that both those factors are an important part. I alluded in my opening speech to the importance of support. However, I recognise that other noble Lords will be speaking today and, in order to keep my speech short, I thought I would include those issues in my concluding remarks.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I do so, however, with a heavy heart. As many in the House will be aware, I speak from the unenviable position of having been widowed because of violent crime. I am a mother of three children—of whom I am really proud—who have no father because of violent crime. As the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, I have spent the past six years travelling around the country listening to and standing up for other victims of this devastating crime.
Overall, crime in this country is falling, but homicide, knife crime, gun crime and robbery are up. Reading about this on what seems to be a daily basis in our newspapers, I am saddened and hurt to see the faces of mothers who are broken-hearted at the death of their sons. We need to do more. Signs that a child is at risk of gang involvement or involvement in youth violence can be identified in children as young as seven. However, no child is born with a knife or a gun in their hand. We must do something in the intervening years before those weapons become essential accessories attached to their hands. They have weapons already—hands and feet. Any strategy must start long before the children have been sucked into gangs and a hostile and violent culture.
If we are going to ask schools, youth services and local authorities to help spot and support these children, then the £40 million committed in the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy is to be welcomed, but I fear it will be a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem we have to tackle.
The challenge to tackle this issue is obviously for government but it is also for perpetrators. However, let me be clear that when I say perpetrators I do not mean only the children armed with knives or the gang leaders causing terror in our cities but also the middle-class drug users who are funding this wave of violence. City workers who drink their fairtrade coffee out of a reusable cup during the week think nothing of the supply chain of the stuff they snort up their noses at the weekend. In my view, they are as guilty as the moped riders.
We need to change social attitudes and to stem the increase of crack cocaine use. For example, the south-east and eastern England have seen a rise in cocaine users of a fifth in recent years. We also need to understand that the impact of this crime is not just a London problem, nor is it limited to our inner cities.
The franchising of drug supply across our country, called “county lines”, has brought violent crime into provincial towns and villages—indeed, right into the heart of our countryside. It is a symptom of the rotten supply chain of middle-class drug-taking. For example, some of the most rural areas in the country have seen the biggest increase in violent crime. Let us be clear what that means. Let us remember what the consequences of violent crime are. It means more families in Durham, Devon, Cornwall and Cheshire are now missing a loved one or dealing with life-changing events.
The county lines issue is, however, a symptom of a rot that goes far beyond drug use. Why are these children so vulnerable to exploitation? They are getting money that they could not dream of earning waiting tables in cafes, and the attention and respect that they are getting in the home. Never has it been clearer that this must be a whole-government response and a committed response from the enablers—the technology and social media companies.
It will be 11 years in August that I will have been thinking of my husband and my three young daughters. I have travelled around the country. I have been in prisons; I have been in youth offender centres; I have done documentaries and spoken to young children. All of them say, in no matter what circumstances, that they do not feel safe where they live, and they want to talk to somebody without a threat.
That is why I stand here today with a disappointed and a saddened heart because we need to look at positive alternatives, and we need to be more creative. I stand here as well as patron of Warrington youth zone, which will be built next year. What is a youth zone? It is not a youth club—it is a youth zone built with respect for young children, designed by young children, because we are giving them a top-notch building.
Bolton Lads and Girls club is 10 years old, with a better David Lloyd gym than we pay hundreds of pounds for. They get a hot meal; they feel safe; they can have peer mentoring and they get an education. More importantly, they feel they have a future.
I ask the Government to be more creative in what they do. Last Thursday His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, even spoke about how he was involved in OnSide. He said that it,
“showed me how well we can do this on a scale and a level of ambition”,
that His Royal Highness had never seen before—young people safe in a safe space. It is fully inclusive, culturally empowering and enriching all who come into contact.
That is what we need to create. We need a sustainable programme, and we need something that will give respect to the children; in that way, we will get respect back.
My Lords, I declare an interest, in that I am a patron of St. Giles Trust. It cannot be declared as a business interest, but it is relevant because it is mentioned in the serious crime strategy.
I will talk mainly about police and law enforcement, although I accept that the strategy is more broadly based, and very properly so. This Serious Violence Strategy is well thought through and has much to commend it. It is good to see that the Government have created a strategy rather than just a task force, and by creating a task force to lead the strategy it has created a mechanism for implementing that strategy to achieve the best effect. In the past we have not always seen those two elements together. We sometimes see the strategy; we sometimes need a task force; but seeing them together is a positive development.
I will talk about the causes of violence, concentrating on London, where my most recent experience has been. There are three issues affecting the serious violence rate in London, some of which is covered in the Serious Violence Strategy. Because London is such a significant part of the national picture, I think it is relevant to concentrate on it. The three issues—if I have chance in the time available, I shall speak about a fourth—are: London is getting younger in certain areas; the drugs market, which the strategy refers to; and too many people carrying knives.
London getting younger is contradictory to what is happening in the rest of the country; there are contradictions, too, within London. It is in the north-east of the capital where we are seeing more young people. This is caused by higher birth rates and migration. Research shows us that where there are more young men in society we tend to see an increase in crime generally and an increase in violence in particular. If we look at a heat map of the violence in London during the past 18 months to two years, we see a high correlation between the increase in the number of young men and the increase in the incidence of violence. Should we need any further proof of the gender effect on crime, we know that of the current prison population of 84,000, 80,000 are male, not only indicating a male-female link but confirming that men in general are responsible for committing more serious offences.
There are various options for approaching this challenge. The law enforcement response will mean permanently stationing more officers in those areas where there are younger people, and flexible deployment of specialist squads to help them. However, that challenges the present reduction in police resources, particularly for London. The past few years have seen police numbers in the country drop by around 20,000. In London, we managed to preserve our 32,000 officers by making £600 million of savings and efficiencies, but now even that number is dropping: presently, it is 30,000, with estimates of 27,000 in future years.
I know that someone like me may always be accused of asking for more money for public services, and I will always ask for more money for the police. However, I hold out some hope as to where some of that money may be found. It is not always necessary to find growth; there can be reallocation. First, the Home Office has a transformation fund just for the police service. It started back in 2012 and at that time had only £50 million in it. In the next few years, that will rise to £350 million. The fund’s original aim was help forces work more efficiently in fighting crime across force borders—which is relevant to the county lines issue highlighted in the report. Its political aim was to do this without creating regional police forces; that is, bigger forces and fewer of them. I am afraid that it has not delivered its aim. Each force is expected to bid for its own money from the fund. This bottom-up strategy has led to multiple small projects with no strategic design or effect. Why not spend more of it on the police?
The apprenticeship levy, which I support, is 1% of the police pay bill. I applaud any attempt to match the apprenticeship standards of Germany, Poland, and Switzerland, but I propose a five-year apprenticeship levy holiday for the police. At the moment, they are recruiting in small numbers and they cannot claim the levy back for police officer training or salaries. I estimate that this takes around £150 million from police funding nationally, with little in return. The combined total of £500 million would pay for around another 10,000 police posts. This could make a significant difference at a time when we need most help.
The second issue is the drugs market. It is clear from the report and from my experience that the increase in the amount of serious violence is linked to drugs crime. The strategy suggests, without proving it, that the increase in supply of cocaine has had two effects. First, as a stimulant, it is more likely to cause violent offending and, secondly, in a bid to create demand, more expansive and aggressive drug gangs have been driven to export their product. While I agree with the analysis of the problem, I am less impressed with the remedy. The county lines phenomenon of big cities supplying rural areas will need more than a co-ordination centre to interrupt it.
Drugs in this country are policed in three tiers. While the supply of skunk cannabis has changed to home-produced in the past few years, controlled drugs are generally imported: 90% of cocaine comes from Colombia, and 90% of heroin from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The international supply route is level 1 and it is the remit of the National Crime Agency to co-ordinate this country’s response to it, working with other countries as well, of course. Drug supply around Britain and across the regions is level 2 and it is the responsibility of the NCA and the 46 individual police forces to interrupt that supply. Level 3 is street dealing. Street dealing has changed over the last few years. It was literally in the street—the client came to the dealer, or to the dealer’s home. That was of great benefit to the police, because lots of people noticed how many people turned up at someone’s house and would let the police know that they suspected drug supply. Now, the drugs are delivered to the client. Noble Lords may have seen a report in the last few weeks stating that it is now apparently quicker to get cocaine than to get a pizza, which I do not think is to anybody’s benefit in any way.
In this strategy, which force is going to interrupt these supply routes? Each force is restricted broadly to its boundaries. There is a very thin layer of regional crime units. The National Crime Agency’s mission is to disrupt this supply, but there are no clear figures on how they are enforcing the law in this vital area. I invite Members of this House to look at the annual report of the National Crime Agency, which I generally support. I fear that it is a number-free zone when it comes to enforcement, drug supply and recovering cash from the people who are making money from this. Of course, the main area we need to target is the money that the drugs generate, yet recovery levels are very low, considering the size of the market from which it is garnered. This attack on criminal assets is not explicitly recommended in the strategy, and I would have expected to see more about it, because it is the underpinning motivation for selling drugs.
Will county lines be targeted by interception of communication warrants and then given the priority they deserve? When intelligence is gathered from those telephone lines, which surveillance units will follow up on the intelligence that is gathered? There is a very thin layer of surveillance out there—more reason, I would argue, for resources to be made more available to the police, particularly at the moment. There is no recommendation in the report that the Crown Prosecution Service should work with the police in dedicated teams. We know from experience that, when we have worked as teams, with the Crown Prosecution Service properly maintaining its independence, we have always had a better outcome in terms of detection and, more importantly, in terms of successful prosecutions through the courts—because lawyers bring a forensic approach to the application of police skills. So, in short, I do not think that the law enforcement part of the strategy is incisive enough. I do not say that law enforcement alone is the answer; I am commenting only on the law enforcement elements of the plan.
I move now to the carrying of knives. Clearly one of the large problems, particularly in London, is that too many people are carrying knives and that too often an argument is turning into a murder or a very serious event. In my time as commissioner, we reduced stop and search very significantly. I cannot blame the present Prime Minister for this, because I believe it was the right thing to do. I took over in London days after the riots of 2011. In the two years preceding the riots, the Met had stopped and searched or accounted 2.6 million people. That is a very large number and a very large proportion of the 8.4 million people who resided then in London. Members will know that obviously not everybody who lives in London will be on the streets and available for stop and search, by age or inclination. Yet even though we reduced stop and search over the succeeding four years by 60%, we arrested more people—rising from 43,000 to 45,000 people—and we saw crime reduce by 20%, including knife crime and violence. I think we now need to increase the amount of stop and search again, but it must be intelligently targeted or its risks will outweigh its benefits.
I believe that the Home Office needs to work together with the police in three areas to improve stop and search. First, it must help produce technological scanning devices to help officers find knives on individuals and in cars. It remains quite a difficult process for officers stopping people on the street. It is quite difficult in airports, but the challenges in the street are greater. Secondly, it must help develop facial recognition software to work on police body-worn cameras, which are increasing in number across the country—in London there are now 23,000 officers with this equipment. That would help officers to know who to stop. Quite often, intelligence is led by whether the person has a vehicle with them. If they have a vehicle, it is the start of identifying who the person is and whether the police should start a search. I am afraid that, if the first words from the officer, usually to a young person, are “Who are you and where do you live?”, it indicates that the intelligence may not be spectacular. They do their best in a very big city and a very complex society, but facial recognition may help, working together with body-worn cameras.
Finally, we can improve the way Crimestoppers works, particularly for young people. The Crimestoppers that we as adults may understand has always worked. It is an idea that came from America—it was brought over by Lord Ashcroft—whereby people can anonymously report who has committed a crime or where stolen goods are, and thousands of people are arrested every year from that. I do not think young people generally know about it—they prefer to use social networking sites to share information. It is not really targeting that group of young people. But my principal point is that research shows that people know who carries a knife; it is not a secret. Their friends and families know, but the question is: will they tell the police, and will the police then act quickly and go and find them in a taxi or the Tube, or wherever they happen to be, and make sure they catch the right person carrying the knife? I genuinely believe that families and friends are terrified of people carrying these knives, but we have to find a way to unlock that intelligence and then for the police to react to it.
I will mention two other things. There is talk in the report about firearms supply, and generally I agree with what it says—but it misses one or two opportunities. There are only a limited number of ways that people can obtain firearms in this country. Clearly, criminals can get hold of them by stealing from legal owners: that is mentioned. There is always a way for registered dealers, as there is in any business, to get hold of gash or extra stock. The general industry is very good—I am not saying that generally it is not—but you have to make sure that the register is controlled and this report mentions that.
There is no talk about military sources. There are two potential sources for the military. Clearly, the military have access to firearms—the same challenge about stock control applies there—and they also return from war zones with a potential for trophies to be returning with them. By working with the military police you can do something about that by bag searchers and various other things that can make a real difference to the supply of illegal firearms. Clearly, there are illegal imports and that is where the Border Agency has to work on the intelligence that is provided.
Finally, there is the control of ammunition. Guns do not work without ammunition. There is very good control of ammunition, but it can sometimes get out of control, and those are areas I would expect to have seen a little more about in the report.
The final thing I will mention is that the way the statistics are presented is very important, because it allows good analysis from which good reports like this can flow. But we are not completely sure about all the statistics in this area. We know that more people have been murdered—is very clear—but can we say clearly how many people were stabbed? I am afraid the answer is we cannot. What we can say is how many people were wounded—but a wound is not always a stabbing. We can say how many people were arrested for possessing a knife. We can say how many people were involved in a crime that was knife-enabled—for example, where the knife was seen but not used. The critical test is how many people were stabbed.
Five years before I joined the Met, each year 136 people on average were murdered. In the five years that I was there that came down to around 106 murders a year—not an insignificant reduction. Of course, I claim it because we in the police did some great things—I think we did. But I have to accept that during that period the health service got better, too. What happened is that people were treated on the street, not rushed to hospital. The question we have to be sure about is: are more people getting stabbed or are more people dying? It may be that law enforcement is vital for the reasons that the strategy outlines, but there may be other things that have to be looked at to make sure that the great care that has been provided over the last few years is maintained. The health service is under stress and any best practice, as the police know, can be forgotten and lost.
Those are just some thoughts which I hope may help in the implementation of a strategy that I generally support, and I hope that my comments are not regarded as negative: they are meant to enhance it rather than detract from it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president and former chairman of the Local Government Association. I welcome the Serious Violence Strategy as it places a significant emphasis on early intervention. This is vital for preventing young people becoming involved in crime in the first place. Over the years, one of the key successes in tackling and preventing crime has been effective local partnerships working between councils, police and the health service. I am particularly pleased to see that the strategy commits to providing funding to continue to support this important multi-agency work. The Serious Violence Taskforce, of which the Local Government Association is a member, has a vital role to play in ensuring that we make progress on the strategy. I hope that we can have an update on the progress made by the new county lines co-ordination centre in raising awareness of county lines issues, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, suggested, more is needed to tackle this problem that a mere co-ordination centre.
As we have heard from other speakers, county lines is an emerging national issue. It involves the exploitation of vulnerable young people and adults by violent gang members in order to move and sell drugs across the country. Nearly every police force in England and Wales has been affected by county lines issues to some degree. The majority of police forces have identified the involvement of vulnerable people, particularly children, in county lines activity. Police forces in England and Wales have identified links between knife and gun crime and county lines activity, as well as with other forms of serious violence. The strategy also highlights that drug-selling gangs are generally more violent than the local dealers who previously controlled the market.
It is clear that this issue affects all our communities. I know that the Local Government Association is holding a conference for local government and its partners to share best practice and experiences. I am also particularly encouraged to see the new county lines awareness-raising campaign led by the Home Office. This includes promotional materials that have been developed to support front-line staff. The campaign highlights the signs to look for in potential victims and what to do about it. Increases in homicide, knife crime and gun crime are a serious concern. There is also concern that younger people are often the victims or perpetrators of these horrendous crimes.
This increase comes at a time when councils are facing significant rises in demand for urgent child protection work. With a children’s services funding gap that will reach almost £2 billion by 2020, councils are increasingly having to divert funding away from preventive work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm. We need to renew our focus on early intervention and prevention. For example, council youth offending teams are key to supporting young people to help prevent them getting involved in crime in the first place. Only with the right funding and powers can councils continue to make a difference to people’s lives by supporting families and young people. This will help tackle serious violent crime in our local communities.
Today’s debate is incredibly timely, given that we have heard that the Serious Violence Taskforce met earlier today. I wish it well in its work and hope to see progress on this and the other important issues being debated this afternoon.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for introducing this debate. I shall begin by quoting some stark facts from Barnardo’s, which works directly with young people. Barnardo’s is increasingly concerned about the worrying trend of children and young people becoming victims of criminal exploitation. They can be controlled by criminal gangs and forced to carry weapons, carry and trade in drugs, go missing from home and be victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. In a recent survey, almost 60% of Barnardo’s children’s service managers said they believed that they had supported a young person involved in criminal activity over the past year. Approximately 75% of them said they thought the young person had been coerced, deceived or manipulated, and thought they were into criminal activity because of those reasons. We have to remember that most of these young people are already vulnerable. In her excellent speech the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, mentioned finding creative and positive solutions, and I entirely agree with her. The Barnardo’s figures are shocking and point to the need to examine locally and nationally how we are dealing with and supporting young people and their families, and what we can do better. Therefore the strategy is welcome, with its broad perspective on what might be done and what the solutions might be.
I feel that the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, with all her experience of local authorities, might agree with me on the next points that I make. We need to examine the functioning and funding of local safeguarding boards and to ask why schools are not involved in them. We need to look at why there are discrepancies in the quality of authorities’ activities nationally. We need to ensure that social services work well and positively with young people and their families. We need to look at why children are sometimes shunted between care homes, foster care and adoption agencies. We need to look at the influence of social media; this is perhaps a long way from the full force of the law, but I think it needs looking at.
Last November I was involved in a Council of Europe/UK Parliament seminar on child mental health and child-friendly justice with representatives from the police, academics, parents, European MPs and the voluntary sector. I declare an interest here as chair of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly sub-committee on children. Half the participants were young people aged up to 24. One young woman described children and young people as “experts by experience”. These young people have been involved in mental health initiatives and with the law. Their insights were extraordinary, and I hope that in considering any strategy affecting young people the Government will note the importance of involving those young people in proposed interventions. Their voices are important. The concern of the seminar was that mental health was a driver in motivations for many young people. Mental health is the key to self-esteem and resilience—the ability to reject negative influences.
I hope the Government are taking note of the implications of the Green Paper on mental health. I hope there will be genuine dialogue between government departments to tackle both mental health and crime. Such dialogue is of course mentioned in the strategy. I would be interested to know from the Minister if any evaluation of what works has been incorporated into the Serious Violence Strategy. A lot of money is being spent so we should know, eventually, what the outcomes are.
In the European seminar that has also been mentioned today, issues such as counselling in schools, the need for early intervention with children and families, safe houses for children and the training of those dealing with children and young people were considered vital. A report on the seminar has been launched in Strasbourg and will be launched in London in July. I am delighted that the Minister for Public Health and the Minister for Youth Justice will both be attending and speaking. The launch will be led by young people from NGOs committed to listening to young people’s views, and noble Lords are of course invited to attend. I am delighted to see that in the strategy the Government emphasised the importance of,
“partnerships across a number of sectors such as education, health, social services, housing, youth services, and victim services”,
“tackling serious violence is not a law enforcement issue alone”.
The Government have announced new initiatives such as an early intervention youth fund, a new county lines co-ordination centre and a new round of heroin and crack action areas. Of course any enthusiasm for reducing violent crime is welcome, but I wish that local authorities were not being weakened by a lack of funding and that police services were not being eroded. My brother was in the police force for 33 years, ending up as chief superintendent in Manchester. He always emphasised the importance of having police on the beat, of making local connections and of recruiting and enabling women and men from black and minority-ethnic communities to join the police force. I think he was right.
I wish there were more counsellors and programmes of personal, social and health education in schools. Such programmes encourage communication skills, self-esteem and teamwork among young people. I salute the Government for at last making such programmes mandatory, although there is a long way to go in implementing the initiative successfully. I wish there was not a threat to community services such as libraries. All community initiatives help people bind together and encourage concern about young people in communities. Youth services are desperately needed in communities.
I know that the strategy places drugs as central to serious crime. I ask the Government to look at this very carefully and perhaps do more analysis. Public Health England and the national drug treatment monitoring system have useful figures on this. My impression is that the use of hard drugs such as crack cocaine by young people is actually going down, with a rise in drugs such as cannabis. I should like a dialogue on this. It is very important. We need to know exactly what we are tackling. There are many splendid initiatives which help develop strong individuals and strong communities, such as those from the voluntary sector. Sports groups, such as the Chance to Shine and the Wicketz initiative, funded by the Lord’s Taverners, enable young people in disadvantaged areas to play sport, to work as teams and to develop communication and leadership skills. Sport is a great unifier and can develop self-esteem, involvement and co-operation. Present schemes deserve more attention and guaranteed funding. The police are encouraging groups of young people who have been in trouble with the law to set up initiatives of their own to engage young people in danger of becoming involved in crime and in gangs to think again. I have talked to lots of young people who are doing this good work. They all report excellent results. This is an example of creative thinking. I do not know if there is a list of such initiatives nationally. Is there? If so, there could be a survey of what works in engaging positively with young people.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply and to the rest of the debate, and in particular to comments on the involvement of young people, and on gathering information on what works to enable learning and the sharing of good practice in this important area of addressing serious violence.
My Lords, I too welcome the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy and the opportunity to debate it. Importantly, the strategy commits to tackling the deeply troubling trends which the Minister and others have outlined, by establishing a new balance between prevention and law enforcement. However, it will be greatly hampered in its effectiveness by the lack of an equally—if not even more necessary—strategy to address the veritable tsunami of family breakdown that has engulfed many of our communities. This has direct links to the violence, as I will make clear.
As the Centre for Social Justice, which has helped me with data for this speech, has repeatedly emphasised, we have one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the OECD. Just two-thirds of all children aged between 0 and 14 years live with both their birth parents. According to the Office for National Statistics, a quarter of families in the UK are headed by a lone parent, and 86% of these are headed by mothers. Some 2.7 million children have no father figure at home; more than 1 million children have little or no contact with their birth father, and 15% of the UK’s children grow up without a resident father.
The Serious Violence Strategy does hint at an understanding of these issues by euphemistically referring to “disrupted family environments” and describing the need for parents of troubled young people to be taught,
“strategies for improving the quality of their interactions with their child, reducing negative child behaviour and increasing their efficacy and confidence in parenting”.
Yet there is no recognition that often the parents in question are women on their own raising violent and out-of-control sons, who have far superior physical strength, with the fathers long gone. We are so frightened of appearing to be critical of lone parents that we forget what a difficult and gruelling job it is to do single-handedly. Many did not choose it as a lifestyle, do not enjoy it and certainly do not want their children to repeat the cycle.
Moreover, although the strategy treats family socioeconomic status as a risk factor, it does not fully reflect the evidence linking fatherlessness with criminal and gang activity. Fatherlessness is a well-documented risk factor for offending, and the risk factors for gang involvement are similar to those for offending. While, of course, not all serious violence is perpetrated by gangs, it should not be forgotten that, for a significant group of young people growing up in our most deprived communities, the gang has become a substitute family, with the gang leader as the father: 17 year-old André, who used to be gang-involved, told the Centre for Social Justice, “You can go out and be in that crew and have a family”.
Let me outline some of the characteristics of many boys growing up with physically or emotionally absent fathers. The rejection and inadequacy they feel as a result of growing up in a fatherless household is often internalised, creating resentment and anger. The absence of positive role models of masculinity leaves them with little choice but to learn what it is to be a man from traditional alpha male imagery, and this makes them vulnerable to being groomed for violence and susceptible to exploitation.
In consequence, what might be termed our national father deficit is a driver for criminal and gang activity: 25% of young offenders are already fathers themselves; only 30% of young offenders come from intact families; and boys with little or no involvement with their fathers are twice as likely to become offenders compared to boys with highly involved fathers.
The UK National Survey of Health and Development found that 27% of boys who had experienced separation or divorce had been cautioned or convicted by age 21, compared to 14% of those who had not experienced family breakdown. The Newcastle Thousand Family Study showed that the likelihood of a male being convicted up to age 32 doubles if he had experienced divorce or separation before age five. Drilling down to an individual case which is by no means unusual, an Islington borough police evaluation of one particular London gang murder found that of the 13 young people initially suspected of involvement in the killing, 12 were from lone-parent homes.
My recent review on the importance of family ties to prevent reoffending and the transmission of intergenerational crime in prison has found that two thirds of prisoners’ sons go on to offend. It is obvious that not all fathers—and not all mothers—have a good influence on their children. This is partly to do with the fact that those who grow up without a present father experience other disadvantages that can lead to or increase the risks of criminal behaviour.
Compared to children in two-parent families, children in one-parent families are significantly more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs weekly. Children from low-income households who have an active father figure at home are 25% more likely to escape the poverty they grow up in. According to a 2017 Oxford University study, where there is an active father pre-teen, children are up to 28% less likely to suffer behavioural problems.
When the Serious Violence Strategy was debated recently in the other place, the right honourable Sir Desmond Swayne disagreed with higher police numbers being the solution, saying:
“We would have to swamp the streets with policemen; there would have to be policemen available at every violent incident for it to make that form of difference. We would be back to Cromwell saying, “If I arm one in 10 will that be enough?” Of much more significance in terms of the propensity to violence is the lack of attention to the question of young people—particularly very young people—and parenting. That is where the Government’s efforts must be directed”. —[Official Report, Commons, 22/5/18; col. 739.]
Across the Floor in the other place, the Labour Member, Vicky Foxcroft, stressed:
“We need to start far, far earlier, working with families from birth by providing support such as Sure Start, which works with a child and their family from a pre-school age”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/5/18; col. 771.]
The Serious Violence Strategy mentions that police forces in Wales are giving attention to adverse childhood experiences, and the public health approach to serious violence in Scotland also aims to prevent these ACEs. England might have a little catching up to do here, although crime policy in the devolved Greater Manchester authority is also very ACE-aware. It should be noted that parental separation is also a recognised ACE—adverse childhood experience—but I have not heard about any policies north or west of the border to try to prevent this.
The Serious Violence Strategy did not agree that interventions aimed at pre-school children had the best results and said that some of the most successful programmes were aimed at slightly older children—those who had already offended or shown signs of anti-social behaviour. I passionately believe that every child needs the best possible start in life but the wheels can fall off the family wagon when children are older than five, the age at which much parenting support that is based in Sure Start ceases to be available.
That is why I have been pressing the Government to encourage the evolution of family hubs, often from—and continuing the early years work of—existing Sure Start children’s centres. Councils such as the Isle of Wight, Essex and Westminster are finding that they can reduce disadvantage and dysfunction for all their families by integrating a full range of help, including their troubled families programme, into these community settings. They are somewhere parents can go where someone will have the answers.
The need for family hubs is one of the recommendations of the manifesto to strengthen families that I have talked about before in your Lordships’ House. It also recommends that the Government bring into force Schedule 6 to the Welfare Reform Act 2010 which would make it mandatory for fathers to be named on birth certificates, with all sensible safeguards. There are over 247,000 children under seven in the UK who had no registered father at birth, and every year, one in 20 children is born with no registered father. The manifesto also recommended moving birth registration into children’s centres and family hubs, so that both mothers and fathers can see from the outset what kind of support would be there for them if they need it.
Finally, but most instrumentally, the manifesto calls for a Cabinet level family Minister in government. He or she would have the clout of a big department, such as the Home Office or even possibly defence, and would, like the Equalities Minister, have additional responsibility for driving policies to improve family stability and family functioning in every department of government. At the recent reshuffle, a Minister for Loneliness was appointed, yet various academics who have looked at statistics from studies going back to the 1940s, dispute claims that there is an epidemic of loneliness in contrast with the past. Professor Barreto, of Exeter University, quoted in the Times last week, said:
“Perhaps what we see is an epidemic of understanding, of interest in loneliness and an urge to try and understand what can be done about it. But we aren’t more lonely than before”.
Since studies began the prevalence of loneliness has hardly changed. The same thing simply cannot be said about the prevalence of family breakdown.
Can the Minister provide an update please on the progress in these three areas: holding men’s feet to the fire when they father a child, through mandatory birth registration; moving this process into places which could help put parents on to a good path from the outset; and giving a senior Cabinet Member overarching responsibility for developing and implementing a strategy to address the genuine epidemic of fractured and dysfunctional families? Support for family relationships, whether between parent and child or between parents themselves, cannot be rejected on the grounds that it is too intrusive for the state to be involved. The Government warn parents about the consequences of overconsumption of sugar, salt, screens, smoking and drinking. Warning them about the long-term personal and societal outcomes of poor parenting and fractured families and putting tools into their hands to enable them to be the good mothers and fathers who most long to be is not the nanny state, but the canny state.
My Lords, I am pleased to be speaking on the important and inclusive report and discussion from the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. She has got everything in there, absolutely everything. The noble Baroness has even included the roots, so we have to go to the roots; we have to solve the problems. We cannot just keep dealing in arithmetic or with the manifestation or effects; we have to get to the cause.
I commend the Government for saying such wonderful things, but I would like to know where the word “austerity” comes in, because I think that is the only term left out. We cut the youth offending team bill by 50% since 2010, and you think whether that brings us any nearer the solution. Is it necessary to cut money and take 20,000 policemen off our streets? Is that a strategy for improving the chances of us not having so many of our children murdered? Does cutting the YOTs add to our chances of getting nearer to Valhalla, when we will have the chance of enjoying our children knowing they are all out there, doing very well, prospering and having an incredibly long life?
That is the problem with this discussion, because we always leave out money, when it should be brought forward and talked about—the arithmetic of the capital that you put in and the returns from that capital, the social capital of investing. For instance, there is the bizarre situation where we fail 38% of our children at school and yet wonder why a decisive amount of those who fall into crime come from this failed group of people. According to some of the organisations that work there, 80% of the people who fill our prisons come from a failure at school. If you were to ask those children who were carrying and running drugs, and sticking their knives into other people, how they did at school, I bet you a pound to a penny they would say, “Not very well at all”.
It is interesting that we talk about wanting to sort out the tree by getting down to the roots. The roots all go back to poverty, unfortunately. There is no other major reason why we have crime on our streets, murders, gangs and young people who are prepared to move drugs around the country than this shortage of resources way down the line.
I will talk about who this person is. Imagine there is one person who ends up sticking a knife in somebody, dealing in drugs or even becoming a victim. If you look at that person, you will see that it is someone who comes from need and, often, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has pointed out to us, comes from a broken home—but that person will come from a family which was probably uneducated after the Second World War. In 1948, we had that wonderful thing called the welfare state, invented in a very strange sort of way, as well as a pretty good way. They creamed off the 11% so that they could run the system and become the managers, and then they created the secondary modern school system, which actually created a curriculum or pedagogy to produce people who did unskilled and semi-skilled work. If you look at those children who are now involved in crime, I bet that their fathers or grandfathers come from that cohort of undereducated people, where the state educated people for jobs that were seriously disappearing.
As Margaret Thatcher proved, when she broke the link with government support and removed all the subsidies for the major industries, what you need to do is to move forward with the times and close down the old industries. What happened was that an enormous number of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs disappeared, and we started to grow an underclass of people who moved from one generation to another generation and who themselves were blasted in the kind of culture that they were given.
I know many of those people—I come from them—and there was a person whose family I grew up with who imported the largest amount of cocaine into this country. I know why he did it—he was a criminal—but I also know that he was dyslexic and a person who, when he went to the North Thames Gas Board to get a job, was not given one because he could not read the meters. I know that there were precious few forms of skills that he could tap into, because he had been to a comprehensive school that did not recognise him as someone with enormous organisational skills who should be given the job of running the Bank of England.
I know all sorts of other things. If you actually look at the culture and social profile of most of these young children who are being murdered or are murdering people and running drugs, I am sorry to say that very rarely do they come from the comfortable classes; they come from the discomforted classes, the people who have been short-changed on the kind of education that they desperately need. Until this Government, the next Government or the Government after that really get behind the idea of skilling up the neediest among us, we will be talking about crime, inventing YOTs and JOPs and ROPs and all sorts of other things. We will be talking about cutting police officer numbers or putting on more—we will be doing all those sorts of things, but we will not be addressing the major thing until we hit poverty. That may mean that this or the next Government have to step back and ask what this ecosystem of failure is that we keep repeating and talking about; we keep coming up with solutions, but they never configure.
It is interesting what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said—that you can go to the marketplace and buy cocaine quicker than you can buy a pizza. There is another element, is there not? What is happening is the commercialisation of all the sensations that you can pick up, and this is a lot to do with how we train and educate our children. We have to break people from that kind of stimulus and that kind of world where they take any kind of placebo to hide the fact that their lives are ill formed, unadventurous and unexciting.
My Lords, I welcome the strategy and the Minister’s introduction. I read through the strategy a couple of times and found it higher on analysis than on solutions. It had a pretty good analysis of where the problems are, but I am not sure that it really came to grips with the solutions.
First, we seem to be imagining that somehow crime is completely out of hand. In fact, Britain has become a safer place over the last 30 or 40 years. What we do have, however, is a problem over the last short period of time. I was struck, for instance, by the assertion in the report that, with respect to assaults with a sharp object,
“since 2012/13, the number of episodes involving individuals aged under 18 has increased by 51%”.
The numbers, however, are from 313 to 473. This is not 51% of many thousands to many more thousands. It is a problem, but we need to remember the numbers as well as the percentages. Similarly, homicide rates are up 20% for 18 to 24 year-olds and 26% for the 25 to 29 age group. Clearly, as you get older, you are more likely to murder people than stab them, according to the report. Again, we need to look at the numbers: the numbers are serious—particularly for those who are affected—but we are not living in Colombia. We are living in a society that clearly has problems. The report states on page 25, in respect of age and criminality:
“Underlying this pattern is strong evidence that crime trends tend to be driven by a small proportion of highly prolific individuals whose criminal career tends to decrease via a lengthy ‘ageing out’ process”.
I was entertained by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I was educated to an extent, but as the product of a secondary modern school myself I cannot agree that everybody who went to a secondary modern school was necessarily disadvantaged at all. In fact, I cannot remember anyone in our class at school who went to the juvenile court or anywhere else. Perhaps it was an exceptional class. Sometimes, when I sit on this side of the House and wonder why I am here, I realise that it is because of reports like this—I am not much good as a liberal in terms of thoughts.
A lot of people have to be responsible for their own actions. Many years ago, I was the research director for the Committee on One Parent Families, known as the Finer committee. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has already alluded to the importance of family, particularly a structured family and a two-parent family. We have become almost shy mentioning it; it is almost as though we are worried that we should not mention anything that might offend anyone at all. The fact of the matter is that the statistics show that a stable, two-parent family is a very good indicator of a stable life and a useful future.
My daughter has mild dyslexia. She is now working, and has worked every day since she left university. She got to university thanks to very good teaching. She is one of those people who had an exceptionally good teacher who taught her to cope, and now she is doing a valuable job. Many people overcome disadvantage. I do not intend to delay the House with personal sob stories, but I grew up in a children’s home. That is also seen in many ways as a disadvantage, but it is not necessarily a disadvantage. You can get over things and you can fight your way forward.
One of the things we saw in the Finer committee report, which is now many years out of date, was how many one-parent families actually won through. The great majority of them won through—not only the fatherless families but the motherless ones: the number of men who managed to bring up children, do a job and get through. I am not saying that people do not need help. Indeed, one of the things that report showed was the need for financial assistance and one-parent family benefits. However, that is part of the package, not the whole package.
I move on to social media. I point out that when the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who is not in his place, advocated a tough approach with those who were caught being given tough sentences, he was not necessarily that far out. Look at the quote about,
“via a lengthy ‘ageing out’ process”;
people who are doing their lengthy ageing out behind bars are not causing as much trouble as those who are, let us say, running around.
I want to look at the social media quotes in the report. On page 31 it says:
“There is strong evidence that rival gangs are using social media to promote gang culture, taunt each other and incite violence. Some gang members have thousands of followers … Social media also offers a method for promoting drug selling activity and recruiting others into the lifestyle … One of the most common things for drug-related groups to do on social media is to post pictures of themselves surrounded by money purportedly made from selling drugs”.
That is not poverty, is it?
On the online sale of knives, test purchases in 2008 and 2009,
“showed that 80% of the retailers sampled … would sell to a person under 18”.
By 2014, it was still 70%, and in 2016 it was 72%. Another quote is:
“Every time an online test purchase operation is undertaken, the large majority of online retailers tested break the law on sales of knives”.
But what do the Government say about it? They say:
“We are planning to introduce new legislation to take additional steps to prevent online retailers selling knives to young people under 18 years old”.
Why not just ban the sale of knives online? Surely that is the answer. It is not about saying, “Take new powers”, which almost certainly will not work. You can ban them. We can take the online adverts under control. We should look at stopping selling knives in shops where there is a problem. We should at least make it as difficult as buying alcohol, and not only have test purchases but make it obligatory for people to check the age of people buying knives. I would not be averse to putting the age limit up to 25, let alone 18, before people can buy a knife. In other words, we need to be a bit tougher.
On page 80, the report says:
“The Home Office will provide a fund for two years to support targeted prosecution activity against online and in store retailers in breach of the laws in relation to the underage sales of knives”.
Why does not the Home Office set up its own dedicated unit to do the job? Why is it setting up a fund that, presumably, people will have to apply for, and which presumably will be a big bureaucracy? It is online—it is not impinging on anyone’s territory. The Home Office itself could set up a dedicated unit and do this job.
Finally, I will say one or two things about the police—I was interested in the speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. In the preamble, written by the former Home Secretary, she says that the,
“Police and Crime Commissioners have a pivotal role to play”.
Nothing the Government and their predecessor have done has been more of a disappointment than the introduction of police and crime commissioners. One only has to look at Wiltshire to see how totally useless they are, and to put them into the foreword is an abuse of the foreword itself. I would like to see the police going back to doing a bit more policing.
I saw in one of my weekend newspapers that the police are looking at the possibility of setting up a unit to look at the Jeremy Thorpe case. Jeremy Thorpe has died, sadly. I do not think he was quite the rogue that his current reputation gives him. If he was, he was a fairly loveable rogue. But he has died and he was found not guilty by a jury. That really should be the end of the matter. If we have enough police to set up dedicated teams, it is a waste of police resources. I am afraid, in my view, the police are just a little too fond of undertaking fishing expeditions, and it is about time they got down to doing the job they are paid for.
As a starting point, I wonder whether it would be a good idea to recruit a full-time security service for this building. That would free up dozens of policemen to go back on to the beat to do their job, and a dedicated security force for this building would be much more able to be integrated with the other functions in this building. I do not know about other noble Lords, but the number of times that the front desk downstairs with our attendants on has failed to get a message registered in the police box, which is about 20 yards away, is a little too many. So I would like to see a few more of them on the beat and not doing an easily replaceable job around this House.
In conclusion, I thank the Minister for allowing us to air our views in this debate, but I think we have to remember the central role of families and society in tackling violence.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Manzoor for bringing this important debate to the House today, and those who contributed to the strategy in its formative stages.
Living in London as I do, it seems to me that violent crime is steadily on the rise. Every day we read new stories about violent muggings, assaults and even murders in the capital. For a time some months ago, the murder rate in London exceeded that in New York—a day I never thought I would see. This is not to be churlish. As the report notes, violence with injury in the year ending September 2017 was 40% lower than in the year ending June 2010 and 76% lower than its peak in 1995.
But we must always strive for the most peaceful and harmonious society we can, and it is worrying to note that some types of violent crime have recorded increases since late 2014. These concerning trends ought not to be viewed in isolation. As with all breakdowns in social behaviour, context matters and violent crime is no exception. I therefore welcome the approach set out by the previous Home Secretary and her successor, to work in partnership with other bodies in the public, private and voluntary spheres.
I have often called for government strategies and task forces to take a joined-up approach across departments, and I think this is one such policy area. I welcome the idea of setting up a serious violence task force to oversee delivery, with delegates from a wide array of stakeholders, but I fear that it may just become something of a talking shop. It will have no statutory duties and little power to hold Ministers to account, being chaired by the Home Office and reporting to a ministerial committee.
An additional layer of accountability would be useful for a strategy like this, but it is a Home Office strategy being scrutinised by a Home Office-chaired panel. In effect, the department will be marking its own homework, which I do not think is appropriate for a problem of this magnitude. Will the Minister commit to reviewing the proposed chairing arrangements for the task force? It would be far better if the chair were some sort of retired judicial figure or an impartial technocrat.
My second point has to do with the roots of the issue. Nobody wishes to see hard and damaging drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine being sold on our streets, but the evidence is strongly in favour of the legalisation of cannabis for sale. I am a fiscal conservative and believe in sound money. For me, one of the biggest draws of legalisation would be the vast sums of additional tax revenue that we would receive—a point made in a recent report by HPA, which estimates that between £1 billion and £3.5 billion could be raised. Legalisation would also take away an enormous incentive from criminal gangs to continue their violent business.
The fact that cannabis cannot be legitimately bought or sold pushes it beyond the realm of open trade, meaning that its sale is untaxed, unmonitored and uncontrolled. Teenagers out in the street could be buying anything, with no quality checks or fair trading practices to protect them. Fundamentally, cannabis will be purchased by Brits for recreational use, and it is up to the Government to choose how they react to that reality. The new Home Secretary has signalled that he is more liberal than maybe some of his predecessors were. I hope that he can live up to that promise in office. This would be an excellent place to start.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Brent Centre for Young People, a mental health service for adolescents which works in the youth justice system and in various other services. I am also involved in the Michael Sieff Foundation, a child welfare organisation with a long history of working around the youth and criminal justice system.
I join your Lordships in thanking the noble Baroness for introducing this strategy and for giving us the opportunity to debate it today. It seems to me that the strategy is a complex answer to a complex problem, and we really need to avoid seeing it as a simple problem with a simple solution. That is what I most welcome about the strategy.
I listened with the greatest interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. She has great personal experience and is a champion and campaigner in this area. It is tragic to think of the lives that have been lost to these crimes. While listening to her, I particularly remembered Damilola Taylor, the young boy in Peckham who seemed to have a life of promise in front of him. He was wounded in the leg and lost his life as a result, and I remember the grief of his family. The risk is that you become so emotional about these things that you do not think in making a response but, rather, have an emotional reaction, and I welcome the thoughtfulness of the Government’s response.
In listening to the debate, I have been thinking about the complexity and the various experiences of your Lordships, and I see what I think is a general reflection on our politics. I might be quite wrong about this and am probably overstretching myself, but my reflection is that somehow politics in this country does not rise to the challenges posed by an increasingly complex country; instead—laying no responsibility with any particular party—it tends to produce rather simple answers to complex questions.
In March last year I visited Germany, for the first time in many years, with a parliamentary group and I was impressed by what was going on in the Bundestag. I was most impressed by the fact that on Sundays shops still do not open and that businesses are not allowed to send emails to their employees after 8 o’clock at night. It is still the custom that you stop working at six and if you are working after six you are being inefficient. The Germans have balance in their lives. They can spend time with their families, children and friends, if they wish to, or do other things. We somehow have lost our way and have become unbalanced.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for the wonderful work he is doing in championing and supporting families. The statistics in the OECD report of 2011 on family formation showed that at that time 15% of German children were growing up without a father in the home; we were 20% or 21%, and the United States 25%. The troubling prediction in that thorough report was that we were set to outstrip the United States in terms of children growing up without a father in the home by a significant degree over the next two decades.
This is an important issue. It is not about blaming families but about supporting couples and families to stay together in every way we can. We have heard about many of the ways in which we can support families to stay together. In my own family experience, when I wonder what is the right thing to do next, I often think about what my father would do, and that gives me the direction in which to go. Often when I do wrong it is because I do not remember the good example set by my father. My sister was absolutely besotted with my father; he was hugely important to her. We have spoken a great deal about boys growing up without fathers but it is important that many girls are growing up without fathers. Part of the reason for the sexual exploitation of vulnerable teenagers is that many of these young women have not grown up with a positive man in their lives, and that big gap may be filled by unpleasant characters who wish to exploit them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to the training of social workers. I was pleased to see in the welcome report on children’s homes by Martin Neary, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, a recommendation that social workers should have a mandatory placement in a children’s home as part of their training. Children’s homes are wonderful places to learn about working with troubled and troubling adolescents. I could not agree more with him and I hope that that particular recommendation of his report is implemented.
I welcome the fact that the Government have talked about a criminal justice response and the many other responses that need to be made. There needs to be a criminal justice response. About 18 years ago there was an outcry about the level of mobile phone thefts. Something had to be done and sanctions were toughened. One of the victims of this was a troubled young man called Joseph Scholes, who was a self-harmer. On his first day at a children’s home he was drawn into a crowd of young people, one of whom perpetrated mobile phone thefts and Joseph Scholes was drawn into this. We have to be tough on these people but, in the course of the trial, the prosecutor said that at no time was Joseph Scholes a physical threat to anyone. However, he was imprisoned. There was a shortage of suitable places so he was placed in an inappropriate setting—and he took his life at the age of 16. In an article in the Daily Telegraph in 2012, his mother described him as being in a strip cell. I think he had been self-harming. He was considered a suicide risk so was placed in a strip cell in a horse blanket. He was not properly supervised and he took his own life.
If we overreact, we draw in children and young people who are not a risk and should not end up in the criminal justice system. We can act effectively and pre-emptively to take young people who well might end up in the criminal justice system avoid that route. Once they arrive in it, two-thirds of them will offend again. They are just likely to learn to be better criminals. Thankfully the number of children in custody has been very much reduced over the last period, from 3,000 to below 1,000 currently. There are very tough and challenging young people there, so I welcome the fact that there is a criminal justice response but there are other areas to cover.
I do not wish to speak for too long. I welcome the fact that the Government have talked about youth work in their reaction. Redthread is catching young people when they are in hospital with an injury relating to knife crime and getting a youth worker to speak to them. Again, my reflection on this, going back to what I was saying at the beginning, is that there is a need for a more strategic and stable culture of politics. Youth work has alternately had great resources pumped into it, then been starved of resources, then been pumped with resources, then been starved of resources. This does not create a great profession which can consistently do the outstanding work that is necessary for young people.
I am not blaming any party. I am just saying, “Is this system working for us? Is this system working for the nation?” If you look at Germany, perhaps you can see a system which is more stable and has more continuity. If you look at Angela Merkel or previous Chancellors, they have been in their posts for a long while. Look at the way they make compromises; I know that coalition is unpopular. Negotiation and compromise are unpopular, but they seem to give better outcomes. The last coalition, between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, was very unpopular, but it seemed to give some very good results—on mental health, for instance. Of course, in Germany coalition is the norm. Again, it is deeply unpopular, but the proof of the pudding seems to be in Germany’s economy and a social system where the social contract is still strong.
I do not want to stray too much, but there is a statutory duty on local authorities to provide youth work services. It is a very weak duty so, when they are starved of funds, as they have been, they will tend to invest in other areas. I would appreciate the Minister’s looking at the statutory duty on local authorities to provide youth services and thinking whether that might be strengthened so that we can have consistently high-quality intervention from youth services. Perhaps she has time to meet me to discuss youth work and what we can do to ensure that in the future it grows more professional and more effective. As fathers are not as involved in their children’s lives as they were, youth workers become more important.
As I said earlier, I am a trustee of the Brent Centre for Young People. I shall give an example of the really effective interventions that can be made. I visited its Sport and Thought intervention in a local primary school and watched the boys playing football, supervised by a child and adolescent psychotherapist. He is a very highly qualified expert in child development. Sport and Thought—these boys do not think. They act, on any impulse that comes to them. You can use football to enable them to say, if they are getting into a scuffle, “Stop. What is going on here? Think about what you are doing”.
The subject is much more complex than that, but what struck me is hearing the teacher, who is the main beneficiary of this. She was struggling to manage with these boys, and I heard the gratitude coming from her at this intervention that made them manageable, that helped them to learn and helped the rest of the class to learn. We can invest in such interventions. For instance, I welcome the money that government has put into the troubled families initiative. It would be good to hear from the Minister that that will continue to be funded past 2020. I am afraid that cuts in funding to local authorities in recent years have been so extreme that, despite such welcome initiatives, children’s centres and other early interventions that could help struggling families and help parents stay together have been removed.
I am sorry to have spoken so long. I welcome this government strategy. The problem is complex and the answer needs to be complex. I am grateful for the Government’s approach. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The noble Earl has ranged far and wide. He talked fondly of his late father, whom I remember well. He was a member of Attlee’s Government, one of the seminal Governments of this country. Indeed, I believe that I am right in saying that he was the last Secretary of State for India—but I must not be tempted.
One thing to have come through in this debate has been the reiteration—it began with an intervention from my noble friend Lord Framlingham, who is not in his place now—of the importance of the family. This was brought home to me last week. Many of your Lordships may have heard in a news item anxiety being expressed at the number of young children in primary schools who knew nothing about basic hygiene. I intervened on a Question last week to urge my noble friend who has the education brief in your Lordships’ House to do more about the education of parents and for parenthood. It is clear that most of the problems which lie at the root of today’s debate occur because children have not been brought up in a stable home with parents devoted to their welfare, anxious to teach them the difference between right and wrong, cleanliness and filth, and all the things that we used to take for granted.
As my noble friend Lord Balfe mentioned, the strategy to which my noble friend the Minister spoke is a little turgid. It is long on analysis and a little short on solutions.
We can solve the problems troubling your Lordships’ House in this debate and on many other occasions only in schools and in prisons. We have to realise that many young people who are sentenced, often quite rightly, to terms in prison and young offender institutions have the most appalling backgrounds. I had such an institution in my former constituency in South Staffordshire, a place called Brinsford. I remember going there one day after there had been a fairly monumental riot; the place had been smashed up. Incidentally, a brilliant report on that prison was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he was the Chief Inspector of Prisons—and what a brilliant inspector he was. That report had a very salutary effect and the institution improved considerably. Going round and talking to those young men was a distressing experience. I could not honestly look at myself in the mirror and not say, if I had had their background, there but for the grace of God. It applies to all of us.
We must try to ensure that we do not stint on the resources going into the prison system, because prison must be the place where people are rehabilitated, and that applies most of all to young people. We must be able to give them a sense of self-worth, aspiration and hope. If we cannot do that we just create a sink generation. There is not enough emphasis on that in the strategy document we are talking about.
Of course, we should do everything possible to keep people out of prison. When I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I saw the dramatic effect of community restorative justice. If you can keep people out of prison and make them atone for their crimes and shortcomings without risking the contamination that frequently occurs in a prison, you are doing a great deal. I would like to see emphasis on that.
My final point is about schools. I hope noble Lords who have heard me refer to this before will forgive me if I refer to it again. I believe that we need to educate our young people as proper citizens of this country. I want to see an emphasis on citizenship. That does not just mean teaching young people about the way Parliament and local government works; it means trying to make them realise that no society can work unless they play a constructive and, indeed, aspirational part in it. I had the privilege a couple of years or so ago of going to the Terrace in your Lordships’ House when there was a citizenship ceremony for those who were receiving British citizenship. The sense of pride among those people of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities was palpable. They were dressed in their best; they had their wives, husbands or companions with them; they were going to celebrate afterwards; it was a moving ceremony.
I would like every young person in this country leaving school to go through a citizenship ceremony. They should be prepared for it. They should all do some community service. Whether that is reading to the blind, visiting the old, helping the sick or going on a National Trust conservation programme does not matter, but it should be community service of a sort that is worth while, challenging and through which they can actually achieve something. They should also be taught properly about our country’s history and its system—the preciousness of democracy—and at the end of the day they should receive a certificate.
I have suggested, when I have mentioned this before, that to take this out of the realm of party politics this should not be done by the local authority but through the lieutenancy. I think we all respect the lieutenancy. The lord-lieutenant, the deputy, the vice lord-lieutenant and the deputies, all of them—I speak as a DL myself, although now on the retired list—could play a part in this. If young people aspired to it and were taught how important it was to aspire to it, it would help. It might just persuade some of those who are now seduced into joining gangs or tempted by the false romanticism of weapons; it might just help a bit. We must make our prisons clean, rehabilitative places with no drugs, no violence. It is not a punishment while you are there; the punishment is being sent there and you are rehabilitated while you are there.
If we can try to inculcate a sense of pride in nation and community in our schools, fewer people will go to prison. That is the way we should seek to tackle this and I hope that any developed strategy for dealing with violent crime will bear in mind some of these things, but also bear in mind that there is no substitute in human life for the family unit. I was deeply disturbed last week when I read that a very senior judge had said that the day of the nuclear family was over—what an utterly irresponsible, reprehensible and silly thing to say.
My noble friend interjects to say that the judge was President of the Family Division. I must not criticise the judiciary on the Floor of your Lordships’ House, but all I say is that it is a pity that we do not have the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, doing that job, as she did so brilliantly for so long.
My Lords, this has been an interesting if relatively short debate considering its breadth. It is sad that more Peers did not participate in this important debate, considering how serious the issues are. Before I start I will pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her courage and her efforts to stand up for victims of crime. I cannot imagine what she has been through, but the noble Baroness has always conducted herself with great dignity.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, observed, almost all serious violence is perpetrated by men against women and girls—much of it within relationships and much of it fuelled by alcohol. Violence against women and girls and domestic violence remain major contributors to the problem of serious violence and we must not lose focus on these important areas. But that is not where the increase in serious violence is occurring at the moment. We are seeing an epidemic of violence on our streets, as the Minister said in her opening. Homicides, knife crime and gun crime have all been increasing since 2014—not just police-recorded crime but hospital data. Hospital admissions for stab injuries are up by 18%; recorded firearms offences are up by 31%; homicides are up by 18%; and 21% of robberies now involve a knife. This is both serious and urgent—unlike the Government’s response.
It is interesting to note that the homicide rate changes are reflected globally, decreasing between 2008 and 2014 and then increasing between 2014 and 2016. The same is true in some countries in relation to robbery. Something serious is missing from this strategy. It is an acknowledgement that an erosion of trust might be driving this violence. With Brexit, Trump, Grenfell, Windrush and #MeToo there are plenty of reasons for people to distrust the Government and their fellow citizens.
The world today feels to many unfair and unstable, and its future looks uncertain. Some studies have shown that violence correlates inversely with public faith in government and trust in the elected officials. My extensive police experience tells me that, if people feel society is unfair, they are less inclined to play by the rules. People are angry, social media has fanned the flames, and angry people are prone to violence. Will the Minister comment on this omission?
The Government say much of the violence is being driven by the misuse of drugs, and they are right. Criminals have no legal way of enforcing their deals, protecting their territory or disciplining their workforce, so they resort to guns and knives. The strategy claims that the Government’s approach to dealing with drug misuse is succeeding, yet more young people are using cannabis and dealing in class A drugs. As other noble Lords have said, there is a cocaine epidemic in the UK, with increased use of crack cocaine, a drug closely associated with serious violence. The higher purity levels in cocaine seized by the police is a sure sign of the increased availability of that drug in the UK. As we have heard, county lines are exploiting young people.
There were 3,744 drug poisoning deaths involving both legal and illegal drugs in the UK in 2016, 70 higher than in 2015 and the highest number since comparable statistics began in 1993. Scotland has the EU’s highest rate of drug-related deaths, double that of 10 years ago. The number of opiate-using clients in rehabilitation has fallen by 14% over the past seven years and recovery rates are falling. Can the Minister explain how the Government can maintain that their drugs strategy is working against the background of such statistics?
New psychoactive substances—“legal highs” as they were known—were developed to replace drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act because they were illegal and legal highs were not. The new psychoactive substances have proved to be more dangerous and more likely to result in violence and psychosis, yet personal possession of these substances is not an offence. The police cannot stop and search for possession of new psychoactive substances. In short, the whole legislative framework around drug misuse is confused and is creating more harm, more deaths and more violence. We will continue to campaign to take drugs out of the hands of criminals, to adopt a harm-reduction, health-based approach, and to legalise and regulate cannabis to control its potency and to keep it out of the hands of children and young people.
It is not just the Liberal Democrats and the noble Lord, Lord Suri, who are saying that. In an editorial last month, the British Medical Journal said that it was firmly behind efforts to legalise, regulate and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. In April, the Royal College of Physicians took the important step of coming out in favour of decriminalisation, joining the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal Society for Public Health in supporting drug-policy reform. In Portugal, where non-violent possession of drugs has been decriminalised, consumption has not increased but drug-related deaths have fallen considerably. In the Netherlands, the USA and Canada, regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues. Can the Minister explain the downsides to this approach?
Sadly, I am not as positive as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about the Serious Violence Strategy. It may be 112 pages but it is thin on content. As the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Cormack, said, the analysis is good but effective answers are lacking. I think it was Mintzberg who said that strategy was little more than post-event rationalisation—and I think this is Mintzberg’s sort of strategy. Where are the action plans? Where are the smart objectives and milestones? Where are the measures of success? I share the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Suri, about the task force.
Despite the fact, highlighted in the strategy, that each incident of violence is estimated to have an economic and social cost of £13,900, there is a woeful lack of government investment to tackle the problem of serious violence and a total lack of investment in police resources. The strategy contradicts itself. On the one hand it says that stop and search is not correlated with violent crime, but on the other it says that certainty of punishment has a greater impact on preventing crime than severity. Despite those facts, there has been a reduction in the number of arrests and in the number of charges for serious violence—but the Government are obsessed with increasing prison sentences and reducing police budgets.
The APPG on Knife Crime, of which I am a member, has talked to young people involved in knife crime. They told us they felt unsafe, and that they did not have confidence in the police to protect them so that they have to carry a knife to protect themselves. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, warns, a knife or a gun is coming to be seen as an essential accessory. Prisons were seen by these young people as training camps where they could learn to be smarter criminals and hang out with their mates. Having been to prison, their status among their peer group was enhanced.
As a result of the 25% reduction in police funding from central government since 2010—and the real-terms reduction is continuing—there has been not only a dramatic reduction in the number of police officers but the near-eradication of police community support officers, because the latter can be made redundant whereas the former cannot. As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, pointed out, the Metropolitan Police alone have had to find savings of £600 million to date. The strategy then gives an example of where visible policing by PCSOs in hotspot areas for serious violence has led to a 39% reduction in crime. How can you replicate that when there has been a 99% reduction in the number of PCSOs?
It is not just visible deterrence, crime prevention and enforcement resources that are sadly lacking. In terms of other interventions, there are far too many expressions in the strategy of “we will look at” or “we will examine” and not enough “we will do”. For example, young people’s advocates support gang-affected women and girls. They have been going since 2012, yet the strategy says the Government will explore whether the YPA model should be expanded and supported in other areas. Is the initiative working? If it is, why, after six years, has it not been expanded? If not, why is it in the strategy at all? The strategy appears to be filled out with such examples of small initiatives involving tiny numbers of people and no promise of future government investment.
Time is against me so I will say just a few more things. As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, the police and community need to stand together to tackle gun and knife crime. They did it before with Operation Trident at the end of the 1990s, when community leaders identified witnesses to black-on-black gun crime and encouraged them to come forward, protected by the police. Stop and search can be effective in taking guns and knives off the streets if the community tells the police who the gun and knife carriers are and when they carry them. However, that requires trust and confidence between the police and the community, which requires neighbourhood policing and PCSO numbers to be restored, and that requires cuts in police budgets to be reversed. That is why the Liberal Democrats, in our fully costed manifesto last year, pledged an extra £300 million a year for community policing, more than any other political party. That figure should be compared with the total promised in the strategy of £40 million, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, described it, is a drop in the ocean.
We need to get out the counternarrative to the pro-gang, pro-drug-dealing and pro-crime message that pervades social media. That is where charities such as Growing Against Violence, of which I am a patron, come in, changing perceptions and behaviours. Only those at the top of the pile in gangs and drug dealing networks earn vast wealth and avoid becoming victims of serious violence. The street dealers and those lower in the gang hierarchy take all the risks, are subjected to serious violence, and the cost-benefit analysis for them rarely turns out positively. We need to get this message across and this requires government funding. There need to be positive alternatives to gangs for young people who tell us they need a sense of belonging. This is partly as a result of family breakdown, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said.
I complain about central Government cuts to police funding but these are nothing compared with the cuts to local authorities which could, should and used to provide youth services and outreach workers, and sustainable core funding to charities and community groups which can provide a safe and positive alternative to gangs.
Young people may predominantly be involved in the increase in serious violence, but we are all to blame. We are letting them down by not listening and by not providing them with hope and opportunity or with the support that they need. As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, we are not providing them with the education that engages them. There is some good in this strategy but it falls way short of what is required.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for tabling this Motion which enables the House to debate the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
All of us in this House want the Government to be successful in tackling serious violence. It destroys people’s lives, families and communities. We are in the midst of a very serious problem and it is on the rise. There is no one agency to tackle this. A number of organisations have an important role to play—not only the police and the justice system. Local authorities, the health service, the youth service and many other partners and charities are involved as well.
There have also been cuts to the number of police officers—a reduction of around 20,000. This has undoubtedly affected the ability of the police to deal with crime. It is definitely a reason—not the only one, but it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Noble Lords may be aware that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, in her evidence last week to the Home Affairs Select Committee, said it would be naive to suggest that police cuts had not impacted on levels of crime. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, identified a number of ways in which we could raise some additional funds to help with this. I hope that the Minister will respond to these points.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, made some important points about police cuts, cuts to youth offending teams and generally about the loss of the youth service. Young people are being failed and put on the wrong road. Getting them back on to the right road becomes more and more difficult as people move on.
Having said that, most people are law abiding. Looking back at my time in my comprehensive school, most of my friends have done pretty well for themselves and hold down reasonable jobs. We must not forget that there are a few upper-class criminals knocking around as well. It is not just the working class. One of my best friends is a single parent. She brought up a very fine young man who is in his second year at university. She has done a marvellous job with him. There are a lot of wonderful single parents who do a wonderful job. We must never forget this.
Most serious crime is actually committed by quite a small group of individuals who make everybody else’s lives very difficult. The criminals are fully aware that they will be pursued and brought to justice for the crimes they commit. It is important that people understand this.
We have talked about the scourge of drugs, which is at the heart of a lot of serious violence—particularly crack cocaine. I was struck by the report’s stating that in half the murders between 2014-15 and 2016-17, either the victim or the suspect was known to be involved in dealing or taking drugs. At every point in the supply chain, there is serious violence and the profits from the trade are used to fund other serious violence and even terrorism. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was absolutely right when she commented about middle-class use of crack cocaine. She was absolutely spot on and is respected across the House for the important work that she does for victims.
The age of people getting involved is also shocking, with young children of seven, eight, nine or 10 being used as mules to take drugs across county lines and coming to the attention of police forces many miles away. I know that some kids from south London were picked up in Southend. It is ridiculous, where we have got ourselves to. The new national county lines co-ordination centre should help but, as Noble Lords have said, much more needs to be done.
During my time on the parliamentary police scheme, I spent a few weekends in Greenwich looking at the work it has done with young people. It is wonderful work to try to steer children away from crime. Early intervention from the police, social services, schools and other professionals is required to tackle this problem.
As we have heard, knife crime is on the rise and the number of young people who have lost their lives is truly tragic. Young people carry knives for all sorts of reasons, and some clearly do it as a form of protection, but the fact that they carry a knife means they are more likely to get involved in a serious incident.
Schools have an important role to play here in the work they do with young people and making sure that knives are not brought into school, although I have also heard of the prevalence of knives being hidden around the edge of the school in bushes or trees, or on council estates. They bring their knife with them, hide it, go in to school, come out and pick it up again. I know that there have been searches in some places, with police officers checking the area around the school, and I was shocked at the number that had been found.
There is an even more worrying tendency for weapons to be made. In one case, someone had filed a spoon to turn it into a knife. It looked like a spoon, but it was actually a very sharp blade. You look and say, “Oh, he has a spoon”, but actually he has a knife. Young people may see people on television making shanks and all sorts of things. Early intervention to steer young people away from that is of the utmost importance; otherwise, they get trapped in a cycle of criminality and we all pay for the consequences.
Youth violence is a complex problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said, the role of gangs in providing a kind of family is clearly an issue. I went to primary school in Camberwell, where there has been a gang problem. I was amazed to learn that the gang that operates there would not dare cross Camberwell New Road into Lambeth, as that is another gang’s territory. That is an area I grew up in and know very well, but I had no idea that such things go on. They literally would not cross Camberwell New Road—not on their own, anyway.
Intervention must start straight away. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have loving parents to look after them, parents with the right skills to bring them up or, as we have heard, the right role models. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, made important points about the problems that can develop where there is no father figure in the family or someone they can look up to.
We have also mentioned Sure Start, which was of course one of the legacies of Baroness Jowell. It is disappointing that over the past eight years, we have seen the decimation of Sure Start centres, because they play a really positive role. The Government should look carefully at Sure Start and provide further funding to expand that service.
Schools and teachers also have an important role to play in equipping children with the right skills, and in being able to spot the signs of distress and trauma—as I said, not everyone has the benefit of a loving and supportive family. The youth service is crucial to that, but that too has been decimated. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made those very points.
Other noble Lords mentioned social media, which, of course, has changed our lives dramatically—unfortunately, as we have heard, not always in a positive way. It is extremely disappointing that social media companies are still not quick enough to take down illegal content and things that encourage serious violence. More should be done, and I wish the Government well in this as we need to deal with it properly. It is disappointing that we have to return to this issue again and again, and some of these companies still do not act promptly enough.
We should also recognise that smartphones and electronic equipment are helping with serious crime. The encryption services make it easier for criminals to communicate with each other and difficult to detect them, which is a problem. Having said that, smartphones often also provide a lot of evidence of criminality, but it is a difficult issue. Working on making it harder for criminals to get hold of firearms is to be welcomed, as are the restrictions on the sale of acids to those under the age of 18. A number of noble Lords mentioned knife sales, which must be kept under review. It is relatively easy to buy knives here; I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, spoke about making it at least as hard as it is to buy alcohol. We could do more work on knife sales to see that they are as they should be.
Domestic violence is a horrific crime that in many cases should be seen as really serious violence. I have spent some time with the domestic violence unit in Greenwich, and the work it does with the local council in tackling this horrific crime is to be commended. I was shocked when I saw some of the cases, involving really serious beatings and appalling stuff. I look forward to the domestic violence Bill coming to this House. What works in Greenwich is the positive collaboration between the local authority, the health service and the police, and I was impressed by what I saw there in dealing with the problem.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on citizenship. I have been to a number of citizenship ceremonies in Lewisham, where people turn up in their best and are very happy to receive their certificate. The noble Lord is absolutely right on the points he made.
This is not the first report that Governments have done to try to tackle the issues we all want tackled. My worry is that although a lot of these documents—from Governments of all persuasions—have lots of good things in them, where is the follow-through? We have to make sure that these issues are followed through. Maybe the Minister can tell us how she will do that, so we will not be back here again in two, three or four years’ time with another document about serious violence. This needs to be dealt with.
This has been a very useful debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in the debate this afternoon, and what an interesting, wide-ranging and informative debate it has been. We can all agree that there is a real willingness across the House to work together to tackle this serious issue and to see an end to the tragic loss of lives in all our communities.
I start with the issue raised by Lord Southwark, which is how to move on from here and how we do not want to be here in a few years’ time again addressing the Serious Violence Strategy. I entirely concur with him. I have been pressing the department and officials very hard on this issue, and I can give a categorical assurance here that we are taking it very seriously. It is a complex issue with complex solutions, but it is something that we want to tackle together through partnerships, working with a whole range of partners for the first time, and breaking down those barriers that have previously existed.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very important debate. I particularly pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Newlove, who gave a very moving account of the effects of serious violence on families. I am very sad about the tragic incident that happened in her life. I know she is using her experience, and we are grateful for the significant work she is doing to help support other victims.
I have been asked a lot of very serious questions, and I have made copious notes. If I do not answer all questions today, I will endeavour to write to noble Lords and place a record in the Library for their reference.
Almost all noble Lords, in one form or another, raised the issue of funding for the strategy, including my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and Lord Southwark. I agree that the strategy will see only £40 million of Home Office money invested, but this is to support new and specific additional initiatives to tackle serious violence. It is not the only bit of money; it is in addition to the significant funding already provided to police for law enforcement and to local authorities for youth services.
The strategy includes the £11 million early intervention youth fund, as I mentioned in my opening speech, and £3.6 million over two years for the new national county lines co-ordination centre. The idea behind this centre is to work closely across all police forces, so that we have information and an evidenced approach, learning from what is happening across the country.
The noble Lords, Lord Farmer, Lord Bird, Lord Balfe and Lord Cormack, Lord Southwark and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave an excellent account of the importance of family support and issues around lone parenting. This strategy recognises that family environment is important for its impact on a child’s upbringing and the risk of them being drawn into crime. That is why the Government stress the importance of early intervention, and this includes supporting families and supportive trusted relationships. The troubled families support programme provides whole-family support including a designated key worker to families with complex needs, which could include families where there is the risk of serious violence or of offending. The Government have committed £920 million to the troubled families programme from 2015 to 2020, which aims to achieve significant and sustained improvements for up to 400,000 families by 2020.
I also recognise the importance of the Sure Start programmes mentioned by Lord Southwark and others. I cannot give a categorical answer to the question he raised with me, but I recognise the importance they have had to play in the lives of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We have also recently launched the trusted relationships fund. The Home Office is providing £13 million over the next four years to support young people at risk of child sexual exploitation, gang exploitation and peer abuse. The fund aims to support interventions which will help young people to build positive and trusted relationships with adults who are there to support them, and will reduce the risk of them becoming victims or perpetrators of crime.
I was interested when my noble friend Lord Farmer said “be in that crew and have a family”. I recognise that term, and it is really important and absolutely essential that we address that issue so that young people do not feel that they have to be part of a particular gang or part of a crew. I hope that what I have identified stresses clearly the importance that the Government place on family and family life and parenting.
Additionally, the Home Office is supporting police forces to develop new models of preventive policing. Around £7 million has been awarded to the four police forces in Wales which, in collaboration with Public Health Wales, will test a new approach to policing which prevents and mitigates against adverse childhood experiences. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned social workers and the impact of adverse childhood experiences, which need to be addressed. That work is based on research; it is going to be evidence-based and about the impact of childhood trauma and environment on the future risk of being a victim or offender. We will monitor and evaluate that work very closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, raised the importance of good schools and resources, as did other noble Lords. Once again, I was struck by the noble Lord’s phrase when he asked, “Who is this person?” He said that it came from a sense of need and raised the issues of disadvantage. Once again, those issues are recognised in the strategy, and we will look at implementing proposals as we gain more information on how we can tackle this complex issue.
A number of noble Lords referred to police numbers and resources. Police and law enforcement play a vital role in tackling these offences. However, as I have already said, big shifts in crime records tend to be driven by factors outside of the police’s control, such as drug rends and markets. Overall, public investment is growing, from £11.9 billion in 2015-16 to just over £13 billion in 2018-19. However, the Home Secretary has made it clear that he will work with the police to assess and put forward the evidence to ensure that the police receive the resources they need to do their vital work.
I am conscious that I still have pertinent questions to answer. One other area that most noble Lords mentioned was to do with youth services. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, my noble friends Lady Eaton and Lady Newlove, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and others were all concerned about reductions in youth services funding. Of course, we all recognise the importance of activities and services that help young people to develop their skills, but we must remember that local authorities are responsible for allocating funding to youth services, in line with local needs. The Government have made more than £200 billion available to councils for spending on local services up to 2019-20.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked whether I would be happy to meet him to talk about youth services. Of course, Ministers, such as my noble friend Lady Williams, and I are always very happy to discuss with anyone any issues outlined.
Stop and search was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. Stop and search remains a key priority for the Home Office. The best use of the stop and search scheme is a powerful vehicle for driving improvement. Of course, police use of stop and search must be done proportionately and fairly, and member forces are held to high standards to ensure that that is done.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, also talked about the importance of new technology. I agree with him that there are a number of benefits that come with the use of body-worn cameras in stop and search. These include the protection of both the officer and the public. These cameras have been used to record stop-and-search encounters and we support their use for this purpose by forces across the country.
Lord Southwark, my noble friend Lord Balfe and others raised issues—
I am so sorry. I have to stop referring to “Lord Southwark”. There is no such person: it is the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I sincerely apologise to the House and to the noble Lord. Ever since I came to your Lordships’ House, I have thought of the noble Lord as “Lord Southwark” —I bet that people were wondering who on earth this person was, so I again offer my sincere apologies.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, social media itself has nothing to do with serious violence, but he is right that there is strong evidence that rival gangs are using social media to promote gang culture, taunt each other and incite violence, and this must stop. The Home Secretary and other Ministers are meeting with various media platforms to ensure that we can get them to take off any material very quickly and to go faster to tackle illegal content online.
I turn now to specific questions that were raised. They are not in any order, but I thought they were very important. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and others have said, it is important that we have a multistrand approach; this is essential to tackling serious violence. It involves a range of partners across different sectors. We cannot do this on our own, and therefore, while the amount of money—£40 million—seems small, there is already a significant amount of funding in place. This will pump-prime better co-ordination.
My noble friend Lady Newlove raised the importance of positive alternatives for young people. We recognise this, and that is why we are addressing the image issue and are looking at positive role models, as well as addressing county lines and looking at exploitation of young people. We will be providing £11 million over the next two years to support early intervention and prevention through the early intervention youth fund. We are pleased to have Kathryn Morley, chief executive of OnSide, on the serious violence task group.
On the tackling of county lines, we are providing £3.6 million, as I said, to support the new national county lines co-ordination centre. My noble friend Lady Eaton raised this issue. The centre will also help the National Crime Agency and the police to improve their understanding of county lines. It will also support operation policing. We need to do this because, if we do not, the evaluation that we talked about before and the improvements that we want to bring about will not happen. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also talked about county lines and the exploitation of young people, and asked what works. I have already addressed that; the strategy places a strong emphasis on building on evidence of what works, and the College of Policing is looking at this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also spoke about evidence that class A drugs are driving serious violence. The strategy sets out clearly some of the issues and does the analysis of what is driving serious violence, and, as we have mentioned, drugs are an important factor. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also mentioned the importance of social workers, and it is key that we ensure that they are engaged early. Through this, the co-ordinating centre will ensure that this is taken forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, asked what action we are taking to disrupt supply of firearms at the border. As the noble Lord will know, we have been applying the lessons learned from Operation Dragon Root, which was a multiagency operation undertaken in autumn 2016 that involved the NCA, counterterrorism policing, regional organised crime units, border forces and others. That includes a new joint firearms unit, funded by the Police Transformation Fund, and we will give money to have more effective responses to illicit firearm supply. I will not say too much more about the Police Transformation Fund, because I addressed that in my opening speech. However, it is a police-led and police-driven fund, and people are bidding into it; the Home Office will look at how they deliver those services and evaluate them.
My noble friend Lady Eaton spoke about children’s services and the funding gap. Over £200 billion has been made available to councils to deliver local services, including children’s services, up to 2020, and of course we will concentrate on spending about £1 billion on the most vulnerable.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, talked passionately about the root causes of crime and the issues of education and poverty, and I agree entirely with him. My father, who died when I was in my 20s, advocated the importance of education—I do not come from a privileged background. We recognise that the root causes of violence are complex, which is why the strategy places a new emphasis on early intervention and prevention. In January 2018 it was announced that £90 million of dormant accounts money will go to supporting disadvantaged and disengaged young people with their transition to work.
My noble friend Lord Balfe talked about the sale of knives online. A new offensive weapons Bill, which will be introduced within weeks, will include a new offence preventing knives being sent to people’s homes when bought online.
A number of questions were asked by the noble Lords, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lord Suri. I have already said that I will write to reply to all the questions that have been asked. As I have run out of time, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for not answering their questions, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who asked a number of key questions about YPAs; I will of course write to him.
In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. I very much look forward to working with them closely on this important strategy, because we all want to make a real difference to young people’s lives.