Crime: Birmingham, Edgbaston

Petition - Recommendations of the Infected Blood Inquiry – in the House of Commons am 6:01 pm ar 14 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Aaron Bell.)

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health) 6:07, 14 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to speak on behalf of my constituents in this debate on crime in Birmingham, Edgbaston. I am pleased that I have been able to secure it, as it comes on the back of a spate of issues that constituents have raised with me in the past number of years, which appear to be getting worse.

In the west midlands, neighbourhood crime has been steadily rising since 2020. Although the title of this debate covers Birmingham, Edgbaston, I know that the experiences and challenges that we face in my constituency are felt across Birmingham and the whole of England. My constituency covers the wards of Edgbaston, North Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton and Bartley Green.

Let me start by focusing on an issue that has been an absolute stain on the lives of so many of my constituents in recent years: the rise in car-related crime. As the Minister will no doubt be aware, this is one of the many areas of crime where outcomes have steadily worsened over the past 14 years.

By 2010-11, when Labour last left office, vehicle thefts in England and Wales had dropped to a third of what they were 10 years previously. In the years since, numbers have risen again by a third, to over 130,000. But while thefts have risen, the number of cases solved has not. Home Office data for the outcomes of reported crimes show that only 2% of car thefts recorded led to a suspect being charged or summoned. In total, this figure amounted to 3,378. A total of 76% of car thefts were not solved last year.

However, what I really want to talk about today is not the headline statistics, as bleak as they are, but some of the real stories behind the statistics, because debates about crime are not abstract. The experience of my constituents cannot be described by lines on a chart. The result of crime is often a life shattered, confidence shaken and a trail of devastation in its wake, with the victim forced to pick up the pieces.

A recurrent issue that is causing misery for many residents is car stripping. In 2022 one of my constituents had her Toyota Aygo stripped at a parking bay in her residence. In a matter of 17 days, her replacement car was once again stripped. On that occasion another car on the same compound was stripped at the same time. My constituent’s neighbour was a witness to the latter incident and called the police as she watched someone pick apart the cars in real time, but was apparently told by the police that they were far too busy. As my constituent put it:

“I am on a state pension, and I live alone, this has caused me financial problems. But more than that it has left me emotionally and mentally exhausted. I feel if I was to buy or borrow a car that the same would happen. The police had a great opportunity to catch the criminals and at least send a message to others.”

I received another similar case from a member of a street watch group in Harborne:

“A constituent had their car targeted 4 times in one year and swapped to another car as their Toyota Yaris was uninsurable. Their new car was stripped in less than a week.”

A constituent from the same area contacted me to say that a resident on their road had seen one of these incidents taking place in broad daylight. She immediately rang the police but, despite informing them that she was witnessing the incident happening before her eyes, and despite there being a police station around the corner, she was told simply to log the incident online.

The impact that these crimes have on people’s lives should not be understated. I want to share the story of another of my constituents, who works within the NHS at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in my constituency. She says:

Last Thursday afternoon on my return to my vehicle after a long day in clinic, I discovered that my new car of only 4 months had been stolen. Although my insurance is fully comprehensive, I am not entitled to a courtesy car as it has not been involved in a smash or been vandalised, and funds to cover the cost of the vehicle will not be paid out until at least 30 days have passed—in case the car is recovered. As you can imagine, I am devastated, and this will impact my working day as well as my life outside massively.

In our department alone, a small team of 11, we have personally experienced, break-ins, stolen belongings, vandalism, damage, a stolen catalytic converter from my previous car 6 months ago, and now vehicle theft. We have all been witnesses to multiple cases of car cannibalism to the cars of other QEHB staff too. The only members of the team who haven’t been directly affected are those who arrive very early and as a result are able to obtain on-site parking. There has also been multiple cases of car theft and vandalism amongst the wider department staff.”

We can see that these are not just isolated incidents, but a pattern of worsening, more frequent and more brazen crime. For the victims, such as those hospital workers, it is devastating; it turns ordinary people’s lives upside down and takes them away from otherwise contributing to society, whether through working in the NHS, looking after their families or supporting their community. However, particularly when so many crimes go unresponded-to and unsolved, crime also has a poisonous impact on our society as a whole, because it shakes our confidence in the very people and institutions we are meant to trust to keep us safe. Take Katy, who also found her car stripped. She said:

“Reporting to the police, for reasons that might be resource related, has been inconsequential and thieves seem to know that, given their increased audacity and frequency of such incidents... This is simply a call for help since my neighbours and myself are growing increasingly hopeless.”

All these things contribute to a growing sense of despair that nothing in this country works any more.

Burglaries are another increasing issue; it is bad enough to have one’s car stripped or stolen, but it is uniquely disturbing to know that strangers have broken into and stolen from one’s own home. There is a unique sense of violation and fear that many victims share with me when they find they have been burgled. One constituent who contacted me told me:

“My wife was home when miscreants broke into the house and since then we don’t feel safe in our own home. During this week as many as 3 more burglaries have taken place. No house which is locked even for a few hours during the day is safe... Police officials come and do the formalities of paper work and rest we don’t know...”.

In Quinton we have faced a spate of burglaries, even as families are at home eating dinner and during the day. Residents say they have noticed how much more brazen criminals have become: they do not care if one person is in, or even if whole families are at home. That has left residents terrified in their own homes. Almost all of them have Ring doorbells, but they do not seem to deter the culprits.

The point I am making is that the fear that crime puts into victims lasts so much longer than the time taken to experience and report the crime. As we can hear in these testimonies, there is a sense that in this country certain forms of crime simply happen without any consequence. That feeds a sense of isolation, hopelessness and powerlessness that is corrosive to the society that we surely want to create. That is why I applied for the debate and am raising these stories in the hope that the Minister can give my constituents some reassurance that the Government are taking the matter seriously and that the perpetrators of these crimes will see justice.

On car cannibalism especially, we know that parts are often stolen to order and passed on for the valuable materials they contain. Ministers have suggested previously that they would consider a review of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 if necessary. Will the Minister consider it? What additional funding have the Government made available to tackle illegal unlicensed operators in the metals recycling sector and launch a wider campaign to tackle that crime? I appreciate that he may mention the National Police Chiefs’ Council metal crime steering group, but what actions have been implemented as a result of that group’s recommendations, and how are the outcomes measured?

The National Crime Agency has referred to

“an overall increase in organised acquisitive crime”,

including car theft. That was evident in the shocking 30% rise in car theft in the most recent year, according to the Home Office’s own statistics. Why does the Minister think his Government have failed to prevent serious organised crime groups from taking hold across Britain’s towns and high streets?

A concern that my constituents raise frequently is that they do not feel that police are adequately resourced to handle the crimes that they report and have to deal with, and, what is more, that the reassuring community police presence needed to deter criminals in the first place is not there. Given that 4,500 police community support officers have been cut since 2015, and only 12% of officers are assigned to neighbourhood policing teams, my constituents have a point, don’t they?

Over the past 14 years, the Government have overseen a litany of broken promises on policing across England. The decision to cut 20,000 experienced police officers, before trying to replace them with vastly less experienced officers, was just one of a catalogue of errors that have had a lasting impact on people’s trust in the police. I have heard colleagues talk about the glory days when they had five or six police officers and police community support officers in every ward, while I am having to fight to get numbers increased. Meanwhile, the number of arrests has halved, prosecutions have almost halved and the number of crimes solved has halved. More crimes are being reported, but fewer crimes are being solved. Criminals are getting away with it on this Government’s watch.

Those figures are accompanied by cuts to youth services and other institutions that were set up to support young people and reduce the causes of crime in our communities. After years of Tory austerity, youth services in Birmingham have been starved of the resources they desperately need. The total core budget for youth services last year was just £2.1 million, and there are currently just 25 full-time equivalent youth workers providing services to around 120,000 teens across the city—one youth worker for every 4,600 teens.

Young people in my constituency deserve better. They should have the same opportunities to develop and thrive as every other child across the country. That is why the next Labour Government will launch Young Futures, a new national cross-Government programme aimed at giving Britain’s young people the best start to life. A specific strand of activity will be targeted at the young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime, and will deliver support for young people struggling with their mental health.

In my patch, the high number serious violent offences has become a persistent problem. Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their communities but, heartbreakingly, many of my constituents do not. In 2021, our city was shaken to its core by the murder of 14-year-old Dea-John Reid. His attackers chased after him in a car, yelled racist slurs at him and then hunted him down—a child—like a pack of animals. Dea-John’s death was horrifying. He was a much-loved young boy with so much ahead of him. To lose him in such a sudden and brutal way is heartrending. Dea-John was a victim of knife crime—and he is far from the only one.

Last month, it was reported that the West Midlands police are has the highest knife crime rate in England and Wales. Last year, Birmingham was named the gun capital of the UK, having overtaken London to have the highest gun crime rate in the country. Gun crime has emerged as a problem that increasingly haunts my constituents. Just last September in Quinton, residents were terrorised after a drive-by shooting took place on a residential street in broad daylight. A north Edgbaston constituent wrote to me after robbers jumped into her garden and tried to break into her home. After failing to enter her property, the gang held up her neighbours, who were only students, at gunpoint. What is the Minister doing to tackle the surge in gun crime in Birmingham? How does he expect my constituents to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities when neighbourhood police forces have been decimated and crime continues to rise?

I would also like to raise the catastrophic effects of dangerous driving, speeding, car cruising and off-road bike usage that many of my constituents repeatedly experience. Just yesterday morning, a child in my constituency was taken to hospital after being hit by a car during rush hour on a road in Bartley Green. The road where that poor child was hit is notoriously bad for speeding, and I have raised my concerns multiple times with the council and the police, but have repeatedly been told that it is not a priority for speed-calming measures. That shines a light on how speeding impacts people’s lives in my patch and how scarce resources are for tackling this blight on our communities.

Residents in Quinton write to me regularly about the scale of street racing, speeding and dangerous driving on their roads. Last year, two young girls aged four and two were hit by a car on West Boulevard. The year before that, two young boys were injured after a minibus they were passengers in crashed with two other vehicles. Pedestrians do not feel safe with so many crashes happening on our roads.

Off-road bikes have also been a cause of serious concern for my constituents. Recently, a constituent wrote to me to say that the issue of people riding off-road vehicles in his neighbourhood is escalating, as the offenders with illegal off-road motorcycles are now carrying offensive weapons. He said,

“I am now regularly reporting the incidents…But still at this stage nothing is happening to seize these bikes.”

I have taken this matter to the top of Government, asking the Home Office what assessment it has made

“of the adequacy of the (a) powers and (b) resources available to the police to deal with the illegal use of quad bikes.”

In reply, the Government said:

“The police have adequate powers under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles being driven illegally”.

Of course, though, what matters are resources and officer numbers, which I raised with the Government last year when I wrote to the Home Secretary asking when our region will see investment in resources and officer numbers. What exactly are the Government doing to tackle dangerous driving on our roads? Does the Minister accept that the police might not effectively have adequate powers to combat speeding and seize vehicles being driven illegally if resources have been, and continue to be, slashed? Average speed cameras, again, are a resource issue.

I will close my remarks with the comments of another of my constituents:

“I have lived here in Quinton most of my life and can honestly say I have never seen crime so bad to what it is now. There is constant racing on the West Boulevard and up/down” my constituent’s road

“including near the school where a young child was run over. There has been a stabbing on the road. There have been several cannabis farms and the road always seems to smell of cannabis. There was a serious assault in the early hours Saturday morning with the offender residing in the HMO… There is a vulnerable adult residing at the bottom of the road where the local drug dealers use his property as a ‘hang out’”.

There are similar stories across Edgbaston, Bartley Green, Harborne and North Edgbaston. My constituent also said:

“I know in other areas the police assist with CCTV or mobile cameras to assist with catching offenders. Can this not be an option for” my constituent’s road

“in a plea to catch local offenders and make residents feel safe again.”

That is a direct plea from my constituent.

Despite the repeated calls from families across Birmingham, Edgbaston and throughout the country, criminals are not being caught or paying the price. Some 90% of crimes are going unsolved, and 2 million crimes—including a shocking 74% of burglaries—were dropped with no suspect being identified. That is the shameful Tory legacy on criminal justice; we simply cannot afford to carry on like this. Labour has made a really important pledge to get neighbourhood policing back into communities with 13,000 extra police officers and PCSOs, to guarantee patrols in our town centres, and to tackle knife crime as part of our mission to halve serious violence.

I put on record my thanks to my local police officers for everything they do with the limited resources they have. I am also grateful to our new chief constable, who has agreed to prioritise neighbourhood policing, but the west midlands has had 2,200 police officers cut and we are still 800 short. Fundamentally, people do not feel safe, and do not feel that they get justice as victims of crime on this Government’s watch.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 6:23, 14 Mai 2024

I congratulate Preet Kaur Gill on securing this evening’s debate. Let me start by providing some national context before answering some of her questions. She mentioned a number of crime figures in her speech, and it is important to put on record that two sets of crime statistics are published: there is police recorded crime, which are the figures she is quoting, and then there is the crime survey for England and Wales produced by the Office for National Statistics. The police recorded crime figures depend on the propensity of the public to report and how good a job the police do in recording those crimes. Over the last five or seven years, the police have become a lot better at recording all the crimes reported to them, and that is why those numbers have gone up.

However, the Office for National Statistics tells us that the most reliable set of figures for long-term crime trends are not the police reported crimes figures for the reasons I have set out—they depend on the public’s propensity to report and the police’s ability to record them—but the crime survey. Let me give the hon. Lady some of the crime survey figures since 2010, which she mentioned as a reference period. On a like-for-like basis, all crime has come down by 54% since 2010, according to the independent Office for National Statistics, while violence is down by 46%, theft by 47%, domestic burglary by 55%, and vehicle theft by 39%. There is a lot more to do, particularly on shoplifting, vehicle crime and knife crime, which I will come to in a moment, but the overall crime trends are down.

On resources, which the hon. Lady mentioned a few times, across England and Wales as a whole, we now have record numbers of police officers. On 31 March last year, we reached 149,566 police officers. That is more than we have ever had before, and it surpasses the previous peak, which was in March 2010, by about 3,500 officers. So we have record police numbers, and those have broadly speaking been maintained since that record was reached in March last year.

On West Midlands police specifically, its budget this year was £790 million, which is an increase of £51 million year on year, or about 6.4%—considerably higher than the current rate of inflation. I think many of the questions the hon. Lady is asking are questions she should be addressing to Simon Foster, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, who somehow managed to get re-elected a couple of weeks ago, because he has those financial resources. Whereas other police areas around the country have hit record numbers, as has the total, that has not happened in the West Midlands. That is a question I would strongly encourage her to ask Mr Foster, now that he has somehow got himself re-elected.

The hon. Lady asked several questions about specific crime types. She went through quite a long list, so I will quickly go through some of the more important of them. She mentioned, for example, knife crime, which is a concern. The number of people getting admitted to hospital with an injury by a knife has come down by 26% in the last five years, but there is further to go. London is conspicuously much worse than the rest of the country. In the rest of the country, a lot more progress is being made, but there is an exception in London.

We are doing quite a lot to combat this. First, we are encouraging a greater use of stop and search—done respectfully, of course. That takes knives off the streets, and we would welcome cross-party support for the police to lawfully use stop and search more to get dangerous knives off the street. Secondly, we are investing in various forms of technology. In fact, just this lunch time I was with a company—an American company—that is developing a new technology that can scan somebody walking down a street to see whether they are carrying a knife, and it can distinguish a knife from a mobile phone or something else. It is not quite ready to deploy yet, but I think it will be ready to deploy experimentally this year. I think that could revolutionise our ability to look at a crowd and detect who in that crowd is carrying a knife, and then make sure they are stopped, the knife is taken off them and they are arrested.

We are also doing quite a lot of work on prevention, and the hon. Lady mentioned youth services. Notoriously, Birmingham City Council went bankrupt, but the Home Office is directly funding violence reduction units, to the tune of more than £50 million a year across the country, which are designed to work with young people—whether it is with mentoring, work experience, cognitive behavioural therapy or youth activities, sometimes in partnership with football clubs—to help get them on to a better path.

The Youth Endowment Fund does lots of work here—it has £200 million—and I commend the work of Jon Yates, the chief executive. From next year, there is going to be a £75 million increase in violence reduction unit funding over three years, which is about a 50% increase because, as the hon. Lady says, supporting those young people is so important. This autumn, we will also be piloting, with the Youth Endowment Fund, a new initiative to try to identify the 50 or so of young people or early teenagers who are most at risk of getting into serious violence and serious crime. That includes looking at a range of indicators, such as mental health, education, housing or having an older sibling who is involved in a gang—indicators that go beyond criminal justice, so that interventions can be made to stop a vulnerable or at-risk 12 or 13-year-old becoming a violent 17 or 18-year-old. That initiative has the potential to make a real difference.

The hon. Lady talked about car crime, and crime more widely, which is a concern. I recently met the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover to discuss exactly this point. We are stepping up work on car crime, and are working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead, Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Sims of the Merseyside force. Stolen cars are often sold and rapidly exported in containers to countries including the United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We will do more work to stop that export at the border. We will also increase the amount of intelligence work done, so that we can spot patterns and identify the organised criminal gangs who are often stealing these cars.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

The testimonies that I shared were so powerful because they are people’s experience of being victims of crime. Those people say that given that the West Midlands police are still 800 police officers short, the resource is just not there, so they are given a crime reference number, and that is it. That does not make people feel safe. The Minister is talking about youth crime and various initiatives, but youth services have been decimated. There is nowhere for young people to go, and there are no opportunities for good jobs or training, so they get exploited. Those are the kinds of things that young people need. They need hope and aspiration.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

Youth unemployment is of course a great deal lower today than it was under the last Labour Government. On resources and police numbers in the west midlands, as I mentioned, the police and crime commissioner in the west midlands has £51 million more this year than last year, so the hon. Lady ought to ask him, ideally publicly, what he is spending that money on, and why he is not addressing the issues that she raises.

I agree that car crime and other crimes affect the victim terribly. That is why police across the whole country, including of course in the west midlands, have committed to always following reasonable lines of inquiry where they exist, including in relation to car crime. A big technological change that we are already exploiting is retrospective facial recognition. If the victim has an image of an offender—a Ring doorbell image, a mobile phone photograph of someone taking a car, closed circuit television footage from a shop where shoplifting has occurred—even if the image is blurred or partially obscured, it can be run through the police national database for a match. The facial recognition algorithm is now extremely accurate. That is a way in which we are already catching a lot more criminals, including some involved in car crime.

I encourage victims who have a picture of a suspect to please give it to the police, because they have committed to always—not sometimes—running it through the facial recognition database; and they have committed to always—again, not sometimes—following up reasonable lines of inquiry where they exist. That is for all crimes, even crimes that some people would historically have considered minor. That commitment was made last September, and it is vital that the police deliver on it and support victims, for the reasons the hon. Lady set out.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

Will the Minister give an example of where that technology has been used, because I have never known that to happen? When residents send images that seem to be blurred, the police are very clear that they cannot do anything with them. Can the Minister tell me how many forces are using the technology, and when there has been a conviction?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I wonder how much longer I have, but the technology is being used across the whole country. This year, over 100,000—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Order. To answer the Minister’s question, he has until 7.30 pm, which is some 57 minutes away. How long his speech takes is of course a matter for his discretion; I am putting no pressure on him.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I am tempted to use all 57 minutes, and I am sure the hon. Lady has interventions that would take up a fair chunk of that, but I will be a lot briefer, which I am sure will be popular with colleagues.

Retrospective facial recognition is being used thousands of times every month, and there are all kinds of examples of it being used successfully. For example, a murder was committed in a Coventry nightclub a couple of years ago, and the only piece of evidence was a photograph of the suspect taken in the nightclub. Running that through the police national database got a match, and the police went to the suspect’s address and found the suspect there, with clothes covered in the victim’s blood, and he has now been convicted. There are hundreds of examples just from the past few months of retrospective facial recognition being used. A photo that is blurred or dark can often be matched. Obviously there needs to be some sort of image that the police can look at, but it is remarkable to see the images that can now be matched, using that algorithm. I strongly encourage everybody to send images to the police. If the police do not run them through the facial recognition database, people should ask why and push the police to do so, because they have committed to doing that.

We now deploy live facial recognition in a way that allows suspects who are wandering around a high street or a train station to be identified and arrested. I have also mentioned technology such as knife scanning. Facial recognition has the potential, in the coming years and months—this is not a long way off; it is being used now—to transform how we catch criminals, so that we do a better job for victims.

The hon. Lady also asked about scrap metal. Interestingly enough, I had a meeting today with the all-party parliamentary group on metal, stone and heritage crime, chaired by my hon. Friend Andrew Selous. Lord Birt, who is a member of the APPG from the Lords, also attended. We discussed what more we can do. Scrap metal theft is estimated at about £500 million a year. When the Scrap Metal Dealers Act was passed in 2013—it was a private Member’s Bill from my predecessor Sir Richard Ottaway—the figure was about £800 million a year, so the value has come down by more than a third since 2013, but we would like to go further.

The hon. Lady mentioned the NPCC group on metal theft; it is my intention to invite myself to that group and attend its next meeting, which I think is on 11 June, to press for more action in this area. The theft of catalytic converters and lead are the areas of most pressing concern.

The hon. Lady briefly mentioned shoplifting, which is a matter of extreme concern. The police have a national retail crime action plan, which includes a plan to target prolific shoplifters, and to follow reasonable lines of inquiry, including by always running the pictures from CCTV through the facial recognition database. The Government published our additional action plan just a couple of weeks ago, which includes a plan to meet the calls from Members of this House, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and others to create a stand-alone offence of assaulting a retail worker. That has been widely welcomed.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you will be relieved to hear that I am not taking up all 57 minutes. I have set out the actions that are being taken and, more importantly, the results that are being delivered. There are some disappointing trends in the west midlands, but I know the hon. Lady will take those up with the police and crime commissioner, Simon Foster, and will ask him what he is doing with the £51 million extra he has got this year. I will work constructively with her and other colleagues to make sure that our communities are kept safe.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.