Violent Crime: Young People

Home Department – in the House of Commons am ar 26 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

What steps his Department is taking to identify young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Llafur, Luton North

What steps his Department is taking to identify young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Since 2019, we have invested £160 million in 20 violence reduction units across England and Wales, and a further £55 million has been committed this year. Violence reduction units have reached more than 270,000 young people. They bring together specialists from health, the police, local government and community organisations not just to tackle violent crime, but to identify the young people who are most at risk of being drawn into it and provide evidence-based interventions to support them.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful for that answer. Children as young as 12 are being recruited by local drug dealers in the central wards of Stockton, and are provided with pocket money—huge sums for them—to carry and deliver class A and class B drugs. Many of them are in thrall to their balaclava-wearing controllers, who largely act with impunity. Although the police and other agencies work hard to combat such organised crime, Cleveland has the highest crime rate in the country, and police and councils do not have the fair funding needed to deal with criminals or provide good diversionary activities for those vulnerable young people. What will the Minister do to sort that out?

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, under our tackling organised exploitation programme, we are keenly aware of the difference between victims and criminals, and that children are being drawn into criminal enterprises and gangs at ever-younger ages. I want to provide reassurance that where we have evidence of that happening, the child should be referred through the national referral mechanism—the framework for identifying victims of exploitation by county lines groups and equivalents. That can be done with or without the child’s consent, and it provides the police with a vital tool not just to protect the child but to disrupt the criminal activity in which they are being enlisted.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Llafur, Luton North

Last week, Bedfordshire police reported that two drug dealers who had trafficked a vulnerable 15-year-old child from Luton to sell drugs were sentenced under modern slavery laws. Although that conviction is of course welcome, I think we can all agree that this is not just slavery; it is the despicable act of grooming children into a life of drugs, gangs and violence. Why do not the Government back our plans for a new specific offence to lock up such criminals for exactly what they are doing and stop them exploiting children and young people for a life of crime?

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says. The Prime Minister implemented new measures to deal with child sexual exploitation in April of last year, but part of that deals with organised exploitation, which goes wider. I am glad to hear that those two criminals were convicted under modern slavery laws. I want to reassure her that, under our Criminal Justice Bill, which is making its way through the House, grooming gangs will receive enhanced sentences.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Ceidwadwyr, Chipping Barnet

It is deeply disturbing when children and young people are involved in violent crime. Experience from around the world shows that a whole-of-Government approach is crucial in tackling the problem, as has been acknowledged in successive Government strategies. Will the Minister give us an update on how the Government are ensuring that that is delivered?

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

If I have understood my right hon. Friend’s question correctly, I can tell her that we are doing a huge amount on child exploitation. Only last week, we implemented the No. 1 recommendation of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, for mandatory reporting, and we have more to come. This remains a Government priority.

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Crime Reduction)

The Minister says that the Government are doing loads, but since 2018 there has been a huge increase in the number of weapons seized in schools in some areas of the country, with knives and Tasers found in some instances. Our young people continue to bear the brunt of the Tories’ decision to hollow out youth services and prevention work in our communities. Meanwhile, ninja swords and other weapons remain just a google search away. Parents should not fear for their children’s safety at school. When will the Government match Labour’s ambition for a Young Futures programme and prioritise the safety and opportunities of our young people?

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I make no apology for the success of our violence reduction units and the difference that they have made to young people’s lives since 2019. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire made the point that the crime survey for England and Wales shows that there has been a 51% fall in violent crime since 2010. More than that, our violence reduction units, working in conjunction with our Grip hotspot policing, have delivered a statistically significant fall in violent injuries. Hospital admissions for knife crime and equivalent have fallen by 25% since 2019, and overall knife crime has fallen nationally by 5% since 2019, all in the life in this Parliament. We have banned zombie knives and cyclone knives, and our Criminal Justice Bill will give the police more powers to make pre-emptive seizures.