Knife Crime Awareness Week

– in Westminster Hall am 4:17 pm ar 21 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Llafur, Walsall South 4:17, 21 Mai 2024

I would like to inform Members that the parliamentary digital communications team will be conducting secondary filming during today’s debate for its series of procedural explainers.

I will call Fleur Anderson to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. As is the convention for a 30-minute debate, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Knife Crime Awareness Week.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Vaz, for this important debate on Knife Crime Awareness Week, which is this week. It is important to raise the urgent need to tackle knife crime across the country. As a mum, it is a big concern for me every time my children walk around the streets. Every time we hear of a life lost so brutally—usually a young life—it breaks my heart.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Llafur, Manchester, Gorton

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Indeed, it is a tragedy whenever any family loses a young life. Last month in Moss Side in Manchester, we lost Prince Walker-Ayeni, a 17-year-old boy who was stabbed and sadly later died in hospital from his injuries. Does my hon. Friend agree that the loss of any life to knife crime is unacceptable but particularly the life of a young person, and that this Tory Government are simply not doing enough to tackle knife crime on our streets?

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I thank my hon. Friend for remembering Prince in this debate. It is on behalf of Prince, and on behalf of so many young people who have lost their lives, that we are holding this debate. We do not want to see any more of that. I agree it is unacceptable.

Since 2015, knife crime has risen by a staggering 80%—some of the steepest increases have been in towns and suburbs—devastating families across the country. Despite promising more than 16 times to ban dangerous weapons from Britain’s streets, the Government have dragged their feet, and there are still gaping loopholes in their policy that have left lethal blades such as ninja swords available to buy legally.

There were nearly 50,000 police-recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales in 2023. Tragically, there were 244 murders involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales in the 12 months up to March 2023—244 murders in just 12 months—and 78 young people aged under 25 were murdered with a knife or sharp object in the 12 months up to March 2023, 10 of whom were aged under 16. In their name, in their memory, we must take action.

I have been out for an evening with my local police violence reduction unit. I pay tribute to the police, who are tackling this head-on. Every time the door of that van opened, they did not know what they were going to face.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank my hon. Friend for making such a passionate speech on this important issue—an issue that we cannot afford to politicise. She has mentioned violence reduction units. We have fantastic VRUs in London working with communities, including those in my constituency. Those VRUs have been funded directly by the Mayor of London’s office. Does she agree that the Government need to keep working on and funding those VRUs, where we see youth workers essentially acting as a line of defence, mentoring our young people and turning them away from crime? That can only happen if our VRUs have adequate resources.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I thank my hon. Friend and fellow London MP for raising that. Violence reduction units are really important, as is learning what works from the youth workers and police on the ground. I will talk about building on what works and using it to tackle knife crime later in my speech.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady for securing this debate, to which I want to add a Northern Ireland perspective. Just this week, the Police Service of Northern Ireland warned of a surge in the illegal import of knives disguised as belt buckles, which has been happening since January. It is clear that there is a market for hidden knives. Does she agree that this needs to be addressed in a co-ordinated fashion in each constituency across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—ever mindful that, while the Minister is responsible for England, all the regions have to follow suit?

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that up. I did not know about knives disguised as belt buckles. That just shows how legislation has to be good enough to keep ahead of every new device and new weapon that comes up. I hope that the Minister will respond on that issue in this debate.

When I was working in a youth centre before I was a MP, I worked with organisations across south-west London to look at what we can do as a community to learn from public health approaches to tackling knife crime. I have also been a youth worker.

Photo of Kate Kniveton Kate Kniveton Ceidwadwyr, Burton

In my constituency, the Streetwise Young People’s Project has had significant success in raising awareness among young people of the dangers of carrying knives. Does the hon. Lady agree that education plays a critical role in preventing knife crime? It is vital that we do all we can to support community-led initiatives that deliver vital education and mentoring to our children.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that. I absolutely do agree: education and prevention is crucial to this, and I will also be talking more about that.

I also thank the hon. Lady for mentioning the organisation working in her constituency. I pay tribute to the other charities working to tackle knife crime, which include the Ben Kinsella Trust—which is organising Knife Crime Awareness Week and has written a report on keeping young people safe—along with Lives not Knives, Street Doctors, the Damilola Taylor Trust, Justice for Ronan Kanda, and Triple P. They are just some of the many organisations working across the country to tackle knife crime. Often, education is the key.

Knife crime destroys lives, devastates families, and creates fear and trauma in communities. Labour has made it our mission to halve knife crime within 10 years of a Labour Government. It is right to be ambitious to change the current situation. For 14 years, the Conservatives have failed to grip this epidemic and take the action necessary to get these dangerous weapons off our streets. The Government’s response has been wholly inadequate. The serious violence strategy is more than five years out of date, the serious violence taskforce was disbanded, and everyone knows from their own communities that too little is being done to divert young people away from violence and crime.

Youth services are an essential part of that. I have spoken many times about youth services, and I wanted to use this opportunity to speak about them again. The YMCA’s research shows that real-terms expenditure on youth services has been slashed by 73% since 2010-2011, which equates to a £1.1 billion loss. The number of youth centres has been cut drastically, from 917 in 2011 to just 427 across the country in 2023. It is not enough. No wonder we are seeing this epidemic of knife crime.

Half of young people do not have access to a youth service. Too often, when teenagers are caught with knives, nothing happens; there is no action or support to stop a spiral into even more devastating crime. Too often, when there are signs that a young person is getting into trouble, being groomed by gangs or getting lost in a dangerous online world, nothing is done. There is not enough parenting support either. Too often, when teenagers say they do not feel safe or are struggling with trauma or abuse, no one listens and no help is provided. That is the reality of Tory Britain. Labour will change that.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Annibynnol, Dwyrain Caerfyrddin a Dinefwr

There was a horrific incident at Amman Valley School, in Ammanford in my constituency, in which a pupil attacked two teachers and another pupil. Miraculously, nobody died, but one of the teachers sustained especially horrific injuries. Does the hon. Lady agree that there needs to be a focus on weapons in schools? For me, the fact that weapons are being produced in schools in somewhere like Carmarthenshire, of all places, is extremely worrying.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that horrific-sounding incident. I agree that weapons in schools are extremely concerning and need to be tackled. We need a holistic approach; it cannot just be about weapons in one place or another, or education in one place or another, or about one particular service. We need to address the issue in the round, and weapons in schools are definitely a part of that.

Labour will extend the ban on zombie knives to ninja swords, establish an end-to-end review of online knife sales and close the loophole that allows online marketplaces to sell dangerous knives. Importantly, Labour will introduce a new young futures programme to establish new youth hubs, with both mental health workers and youth workers. The new young futures programme will draw on up to £100 million a year, based on combining existing commitments to fund youth hubs with mental health staff and youth workers in every community, and will be paid for by ending tax breaks for private schools. We will provide mentors in pupil referral units and youth workers in A&E, paid for by full cost recovery for gun licensing and a programme of public sector reform.

We will deliver a targeted programme in every area to identify the young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime and build a package of support that responds to the challenges they are facing. That will be achieved by bringing together services at a local level to better co-ordinate the delivery of preventive interventions around the young person, rooted in a strong evidence base. We will develop a national network of young futures hubs and end the postcode lottery of youth services, which are better in some places than others. We will bring local services together and deliver support for teenagers at risk of being of drawn into crime or facing mental health challenges. Where appropriate, we will deliver universal youth provision, which has been cut so badly by the Conservative Government. We will also deliver youth workers in A&E units, custody centres and communities, as well as mentors in pupil referral units.

Under a Labour Government, there will be tough consequences for carrying a knife. A Labour Government will end the empty words and apology letters for knife possession, and will guarantee sanctions and serious interventions for young people who carry knives. There will be tough new laws to restrict the sale of knives. A Labour Government will implement a total crackdown on the availability of knives on Britain’s streets—no more loopholes, no more caveats and no more false promises. The Government have published 16 press releases about zombie knives since 2015, yet despite repeated promises to toughen the rules, a full ban is still not in place. Labour will urgently legislate to ban zombie-style knives, introduce tough criminal sanctions on tech executives who allow knife sales on their online marketplaces, and conduct a rapid review of online knife sales from the point of purchase through to delivery. In particular, we will strengthen ID checks and checks conducted by Royal Mail and Border Force for UK-bound parcels.

There are ways to take action. We can stop the increase in knife crime and see an end to this. I again thank the Ben Kinsella Trust, and recommend its report on keeping young people safe, in particular with regard to the need to work with young people in primary schools, which is where some of the belief systems about knife carrying start. I urge the Government to take more action to end knife crime.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Llafur, Walsall South

I expect the debate to end at 4.47 pm, when I will move to the next debate.

Photo of Sarah Edwards Sarah Edwards Llafur, Tamworth 4:29, 21 Mai 2024

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson on securing this incredibly important debate.

When I speak to constituents in Tamworth, I hear how worried they are about increasing antisocial behaviour. I recently attended a town centre forum in St Editha’s church, meeting people from local businesses. They told me how their experiences of antisocial behaviour and crime in the town centre are impacting the local economy. Reports of knife crime continue to rise. In the last couple of months alone a serious stabbing took place in a Tamworth nightclub in the early hours of the morning.

With resources under strain, I am pleased to see Staffordshire Police’s DitchTheBlade campaign, as well as knife banks being located across the constituency in places such as St Editha’s church, St Martin’s church and Sacred Heart church. However, with cuts to the police it is becoming increasingly clear that such initiatives cannot succeed without a greater focus on tackling knife crime from a number of angles.

I am proud of organisations such as Changes Tamworth. This provides a lifeline to those in a mental health crisis and at risk of suicide but also, via referral from the police, now offers anger management courses and mental health support to recent offenders on their last strike. In doing so, it helps to reduce the levels of violence and reoffending in our community. They need support. Not enough is being done at the national level to combat what is becoming an epidemic of knife crime, with some of the steepest increases in towns and suburbs just like my constituency.

Since 2015, knife crime has risen by 77% and the Government have failed to act. I urge the Government to adopt Labour’s bold plan to tackle knife crime by rebuilding security on our streets and building confidence in the criminal justice system. This includes putting youth workers in our A&E units, as well as re-invigorating a national network of youth hubs to bring local services together and deliver support for teenagers. We could be building on the work done by groups such as Mercia Boxing Club, which successfully won funding to convert a community centre in Tamworth that had been left derelict by the Conservatives, leaving our young people with nothing to do. We could be making sure that groups like Tamworth Table Tennis have a long-term base, so ensuring that we have a wide range of activities for young people.

Labour will clamp down on knife sales and create a new law on the exploitation of children and young people by criminal gangs. It will also establish a new cross-Government coalition to end knife crime, bringing together those political and community leaders with a role to play in tackling knife crime and keeping young people safe.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 4:32, 21 Mai 2024

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Vaz. I thank and congratulate Fleur Anderson for securing this debate and Sarah Edwards for managing to make her contribution as well.

This is an incredibly important topic; any of us who have attended the funeral of a young person who has been the victim of knife crime will know that. I very painfully recall attending the funeral of 15-year-old Elianne Andam, who was murdered in Croydon on 27 September 2023 at 8.30 am. Seeing the grief of her family, her parents Michael and Dorcas and her little brother Kobi is something I will never forget. All of us need to keep in mind the tragic stories of young people who have lost their lives and the importance, therefore, of the work we are doing in making sure that we protect as many as we possibly can.

It is worth setting out some of the facts. When we see reports on social media about knife crime and individual tragic incidents, it sometimes creates the impression that homicides caused by knife crime are more prevalent than they are. We need to keep in mind where we are with progress made. In the year running to March 2010, there were 620 homicides across England and Wales. Last year, there were 577—a reduction in the number of homicides over that period, even though the population of the country has grown.

Over the same period, the Crime Survey for England and Wales—according to the independent Office for National Statistics, the most reliable source of data on offending—reported that violent crime was down by 44%. Hospital admissions following injury by a knife is another measure used to get to the heart of how much knife crime there is. Since 2019, that has reduced by 26% for people under 25.

As those figures show, quite considerable progress has been made, with reductions in homicides since 2010, reductions in violence since 2010 and a reduction in hospital admissions following a knife injury in the five years that we have been tracking those, since 2019. Despite all that progress and all those improvements, more needs to be done because every single death and every single injury is a tragedy. That is why the Government are determined to do everything possible to end the scourge of knife crime up and down the country. Of course, part of that is ensuring that the police have adequate resources. We now have record police officer numbers across England and Wales. In March 2023, we hit 149,566 officers. That is more than we have ever had at any time before. The police funding settlement this year is at a record level. The frontline budget spent by police and crime commissioners went up by £922 million this financial year compared with the last one. The resources are being made available to the police, but we need to do more than that.

We heard reference to banning different kinds of knives. We have been progressively widening the scope of knife bans. Far more knives are banned today than was the case in 2010. The most recent tranche of bans will come into force on 24 September, which will ensure that all zombie-style knives and certain kinds of machetes will rightly be banned. Curved swords have of course been banned since 2008. Wherever we see evidence that a particular kind of knife needs to be banned, we will take action to do that, but I remind the House that possession of any kind of knife, even a kitchen knife, in a public place without reasonable excuse is itself a criminal offence punishable by up to four years in prison.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I must say how encouraged I am by the Minister’s response to Fleur Anderson. I mentioned in my intervention buckle knives, which the Police Service of Northern Ireland has indicated are something new that is coming through. The Minister is right that the law will encompass all those issues, but is it possible to contact some of the regional police forces to ascertain some of the issues they face? That would help in bringing forward better legislation.

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

We are always open to consulting with police forces around the country, including Police Scotland and, of course, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to ensure that we are quickly picking up those trends, as the hon. Member says.

We heard some discussions around the online sale of knives. The Online Safety Act 2023 passed through Parliament last October. When it is fully commenced—Ofcom is currently consulting on the codes of practice to implement that—it will impose obligations for the first time on social media platforms and online marketplaces, such as Facebook Marketplace, to ensure that they are applying the law to take proactive steps to ensure that, for example, under-18s cannot buy knives online. The Criminal Justice Bill, currently going through Parliament, will increase the penalty for selling a knife to an under-18 to up to two years. The Online Safety Act, which I worked on with my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds when he was Security Minister, will do a great deal to prevent the sale of knives online.

We heard some discussion around prevention, which is critical. That is why the 20 violence reduction units up and down the country are receiving about £55 million of funding a year. Next year we will increase that by 50%, and that 50% increase in funding will ensure that those preventative interventions are made. It will fund things like mentoring schemes, cognitive behavioural therapy, diversionary sporting activity and so on to ensure that young people at risk of getting on to the wrong path can be helped. We are doing that in partnership with the Youth Endowment Fund, which has £200 million to invest. The fund researches which interventions actually work, because some interventions sound like they might work but in fact have no impact. I was discussing those interventions with the fund’s chief executive Jon Yates just a few hours ago.

A new initiative that we will be pioneering with the Youth Endowment Fund this autumn is a piece of work starting off in four local authorities, but I hope it will be expanded to all local authorities, to identify in each area the 100 young people at risk of getting into serious violence. That is not youngsters who are already involved in serious violence, who are being supported already, but younger people, maybe in their early teens, who are at risk of getting into serious violence and where we can make an early intervention to stop them ending up on that path. If the pilots in the four local authorities are successful, as I think they will be, part of the extra violence reduction unit funding that I mentioned could support its roll-out nationally, which I would certainly like to see.

The prevention, the bans, the Online Safety Act 2023 and the violence reduction units are all preventive measures, but we also need proper enforcement action. That includes the use of stop and search, which I have not heard mentioned so far this afternoon. Stop and search is important. In London it used to take 400 knives a month off the street, but in London the use of stop and search has gone down by 44% over the last two years, whereas in the rest of the country it has been maintained. It might be no coincidence that knife offences in London have gone up at the same time as stop and search has gone down, which bucks the national trend.

I was very pleased that the commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, said that he would increase the use of stop and search—done, of course, lawfully and respectfully— because it does take knives off the streets and save lives. Victims’ families have said to me, “I wish the person that killed my child”—typically a young man—“had been stopped and searched before my son was murdered.” So stop and search is an important tool that needs to be used.

To support that, we are developing new technology. It is not ready to deploy yet, but I hope it will be ready to deploy experimentally by the end of this year. It is technology that allows police officers to scan someone at a distance of, say, 10 or 20 feet—perhaps the distance that we are standing apart now—and detect a knife in a crowded street, enabling officers to identify and remove knives from the people carrying them. We are investing about £3.5 million to expedite the development of that technology. I saw it demonstrated last week. It is not quite ready to deploy, but it is very close. As soon as it is ready, I want it to be trialled. I will certainly volunteer Croydon, the borough that I represent—

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I think Wandsworth would like to volunteer.

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

Wandsworth might want to volunteer, and perhaps Tamworth also, and get those knives off our streets.

Also when it comes to technology, the use of both retrospective and live facial recognition is helping us to catch the perpetrators of knife crime and other crimes who would otherwise not be caught. We debated this a lot in the Criminal Justice Bill Committee. The technology is getting more powerful every day and is enabling the police to catch criminals who would otherwise not get caught. Facial recognition, obviously within guidelines and respecting privacy and so on, will help us take more dangerous people off our streets.

The other thing we are pushing is hotspot patrolling. In areas where there is antisocial behaviour and serious violence, all the evidence shows that hotspot patrolling helps stop criminal offences, so we have given police and crime commissioners additional money for the current financial year, over and above their regular budget. It totals about £66 million, of which London is getting about £9 million. That is to fund hotspot patrolling in areas where the police have identified a particular problem. The evidence from pilots last year shows that intensive hotspot patrolling reduces antisocial behaviour and serious violence. I expect that money to fund, in the current financial year, about 1 million hours of extra hotspot patrolling to keep our streets safer.

In summary, it is good that violence and homicide are lower now than they were in 2010, but there is more to do. Every single death is a tragedy and it behoves all of us to do everything we can. I have set out our plans in the preventive and law enforcement arenas. I am sure all of us would want to work with police forces in our constituencies to make sure they have the support that they need to catch perpetrators and keep the public safe.

Question put and agreed to.