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 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.