On 5th November 2018, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, tabled a Private Notice Question ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of four fatal stabbings in London in the last week, what action is being taken to address the dramatic rise in knife crime in that city and in the rest of the United Kingdom.’ The exchanges and supplementary questions from other members can be found below:
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, knife crime has a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. To combat serious violence, our strategy addresses the root causes of crime with a focus on early intervention alongside tough law enforcement. The Government are very concerned about increases in knife crime and its impact on victims, families and communities. The action we are taking is set out in our serious violence strategy and includes new legislation in the Offensive Weapons Bill, the community fund to support local initiatives, the #knifefree media campaign, and continuing police action under Operation Sceptre.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Behind these terrible, tragic stabbings, and the general rise in knife crime across our country—not just in London—lie countless human tragedies. Many families will never recover from the loss of a loved one through such a murder, and our sympathy goes out to them. Does the Minister agree with the call from the London mayor for a long-term public health approach to this problem, and will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that it is properly funded?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: I join the right reverend Prelate in his sympathy for the families—it must be devastating for every family that has lost someone to such a dreadful crime. The right reverend Prelate may remember that in October the Home Secretary announced further measures, including a commitment to consult on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, bringing all relevant partners together and making this a top priority. It will be supported by a youth endowment fund— £200 million over 10 years from 2020—to divert young people from crime and violence. He is absolutely right to suggest a multiagency approach.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, we all deplore the level of knife crime and its impact on the many people who are affected. We all support the London mayor’s call for a long-term approach. Nevertheless, since 2010 the Government have maintained that the level of crime is not influenced by reductions in the number of police officers and in neighbourhood policing. The Met Police Commissioner said last week that forces were stretched. In the light of the increase in violent crime, the increase in reported crime, falling clear-up rates and the increase in the number of crimes that do not even get properly investigated, will the Government confirm that it is still their view that the number of police officers, which has fallen considerably since 2010, has no impact on the incidence and level of crime?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord would agree that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the policing Minister have acknowledged the increasing calls on police time and resources, particularly over the past two years, but our analysis points to a range of factors driving serious violence, most notably in the drugs market. The Government, therefore, understand that police demand is changing and becoming much more complex. Noble Lords will know—I have said it before—that the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service has visited police forces across England and Wales and that was why the funding settlement of more than £460 million in 2018-19 was arrived at. Early intervention is, however, crucial in this area, particularly for young people.
Lord Paddick: My Lords, these deaths are a tragedy, and our thoughts are with all those affected. Clearly there are long-term issues, which the noble Baroness has referred to, but if we are to get knives off the street we need the police and communities to work together so that stop and search can be accurately targeted at those actually carrying the knives. How can this be done when community policing has been devastated by the Government’s cuts to police budgets? There is nothing in the Government’s anti-violence strategy about increasing police resources.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the noble Lord points to something important about stop and search—it has to be intelligence-led and there have to be sufficient police officers to deal with it. In terms of the community, the noble Lord points to something very important. Community projects to tackle knife crime may be one of the most effective ways of dealing with this scourge that has blighted communities for the past few years.
Lord Hogan-Howe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are probably three major causes of the rise in violence, particularly murders, that we have seen more of in London than perhaps in the rest of the country? The first is the supply of cocaine. Street-level dealing is now online dealing—apparently it can be delivered quicker than pizza—and something has to happen to intervene in that supply. The National Crime Agency might do more because 90% of cocaine comes from South America. Street-level dealing has to be attacked by local police who must do something about that. The Government could invest more in that.
Secondly, more technology could help officers on the streets to identify the people who carry knives. There are clearly too many people carrying knives and we have to intervene where that is happening to stop the almost accidental use of knives.
Finally, there is a correlation between more young people, particularly young men, gathering and a rise in violence. We need to see more police resources invested in those areas. Does the Minister agree that the investment of resources in those areas in particular, where we have lost 24,000 police officers over the last few years, is vital now—not in the long term—for a public health attempt to improve the situation?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I agree with all the points made by the noble Lord; he will have heard the Home Secretary’s words about future funding. The noble Lord is right about the scourge of drugs, and the fact that cocaine can be delivered quicker than pizza is really concerning. The police should make the most of technology on the streets and of intelligence as well. But make no mistake: the issue of drugs is something that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has committed to tackle in the most vigorous of ways because the two are linked.
Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon: My Lords, back in 1999, at the end of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, when the spate of knife crime started, resources were put into Trident. This problem of people being killed on the street did not seem to warrant the same importance then. Now we hear when a young person has been killed that it is a fatal incident. What has changed from back in 1999 when so many young black men were losing their lives? Nobody took much notice then, but now it is seen as a fatal crime. Will the Minister explain the difference between then and now?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: The difference between then and now—and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all the work that she has done in this area following the terrible death of her son—is that the increase in knife crime has become quite unprecedented over the last few years. Therefore, the Government, through legislation, through non-legislative measures and through their work with the police and local communities, are determined to tackle it.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb: My Lords, the Minister will know that knife crime is only part of the problem. There have been 100 murders in London this year—45 happened in houses and flats and 21 of those were as a result of domestic violence. Is it time for the Government to make misogyny a hate crime?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, in terms of the types of hate crime that police forces choose to prioritise and the resources that they use to prioritise them, I do not disagree with the noble Baroness that reports of domestic abuse are on the increase. In some ways, that is good because people are actually reporting incidents. But what the police home in on has to be a matter for local police forces and what they think are the trends and needs in their areas.