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Knife Crime strategy - Breaking the Cycle


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Mr Speaker,

With your leave I would like to make a statement on knife crime.

As the House will know, we have faced growing concern about knife crime in the past few years. While we do not have reliable data on recorded “knife crime”, we can see the trends in the data we do have. In 2006/07, there were 5,720 hospital episodes resulting from assault with a sharp object, up from 3,667 in 1998/99 - an increase of 56%. Tragically, nearly 1,000 of those episodes - 931 - were children under 18, a figure that has more than doubled since 1998/99.

All too often, Mr Speaker, we know the sad story of knife crime, because we as MPs hear it from our constituents and the people on the front line every day. And as fear ramps up, so too does the perception among a small proportion of people that a knife is a necessity when they leave the house. And we know that this sad cycle begets more crime. 

I am not going to stand here and say that the solutions are simple, Mr Speaker. I do not think it is as simple as just a tough justice crackdown to break the cycle. Nor do I think that, alone, education, amnesties, and campaigns will stem the tide of knife crime and send a clear message that carrying, threatening with, and using a knife is unacceptable - after all, the overwhelming majority of people do not leave their homes carrying a weapon.

Therefore, today I am announcing a three step Knife Crime Strategy - Breaking the Cycle. The three steps are as follows.

First, we will send a clear and unambiguous message that carrying, threatening with, and using a knife is unacceptable. I will lay legislation before the House that will create a presumption of prosecution for knife related offenses - including carrying a knife without reasonable cause. All too often these offenses are let off with a warning or a caution. That is not sufficient for the circuit breaker that we need now. Prosecution will not always mean prison, and we will give Magistrates and youth justice partners new powers to include knife-related rehabilitation and education as part of community sentences. This will be laid before the House alongside reforms to community sentencing to make it more effective, which will be announced in due course.

But presumption of prosecution is not enough in cases where we have people are openly carrying knives in a public place or in schools and where doing so is openly threatening others. As the Prime Minister has already set out, that should come with the expectation of a prison sentence. So that legislation will also set out a new offense between possession and use of a weapon that covers those eventualities.

Second, we will tackle the causes of knife crime. To do this, we will look to the big society: I will not be using public money for newspaper headline photo-ops to launch the next big media campaign or Daily Mirror initiative. Instead, we want to focus on what works and on harnessing the skills of the many excellent community groups and leaders working in this space and who can get to the nuanced root of the problem far more effectively than any bureaucratic initiative can. 

I have agreed with the Chancellor to establish a £25 million “Breaking the Cycle” Fund at Budget that will be focussed on supporting those community groups, working in partnership with local police and justice forces. The Home Office will publish full details of how grants can be made, but the broad terms of any grant will be that it undertakes to support community activity that reduces knife crime, in particular by reducing the number of knives on the street, education and support of those who may be more likely to carry a knife, and rehabilitation and education services of those convicted or cautioned in a knife related offense. What matters is what works, which is why we are making these funds available broadly and immediately, to encourage a range of community-led solutions. I have asked Enver Solomon, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, to lead a review of the schemes that are funded this year from this pot, which will then inform future funding priorities.

Third, we know that we need to take a targeted approach to knife crime. There are areas of the country that are “hotspots”. The Metropolitan police trialed effective use of additional search technology in some crime hotspots to improve their ability to detect and confiscate weapons. We are hamstrung in this by a lack of data on where to effectively deploy resources. Therefore from this year onwards we will begin reporting knife-related crimes more consistently across the country, to allow local police forces and authorities to identify crime hotspots and for the Home Office to deploy technological support to those areas, such as search wands and arches. £5m will be allocated this year to support setting up the apparatus and deployment of equipment, and in future years that funding will support the deployment of the apparatus and technology.

Mr Speaker, Breaking the Cycle is our country’s first comprehensive plan to cut knife crime. It cracks down on those who carry, or threaten others with, a knife. It harnesses the big society to tackle the root cases of knife crime. And it shines a light on knife crime hotspots so that police and can make targeted interventions to get knives off of our streets. I commend it to this House.

Katherine West

Conservative MP for Watford (2007 - )

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Mr. Speaker,

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. I have an important question for her as to item three. Many of us know all too well that "hotspots" can often be code for exceptional enforcement in some communities, particularly those that are impoverished and/or primarily comprised of minority groups, whereas there is lax enforcement in other, more affluent areas. 

Can the Home Secretary lay out clearly how the Home Office will ensure that enforcement is done across the board, and that the targeting of "hotspots" will not result in disadvantaged and minority communities being targeted for jail sentences while those carrying knifes in other, more affluential areas, are not subject to the same scrutiny and enforcement?

Sir Tristian Brown

Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth

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Mr. Speaker,


I once again thank the Right Honourable Lady for making this statement to the House - especially on a subject as serious as this is. The sad fact is that Britain is bordering on a knife crime epidemic. I know in my own home and constituency county of Durham, knife crime is on the rise, with 93 cases reported in the 2007-2008 period alone - and that’s only the cases reported. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming the news that the Home Office will be cracking down on knife crime in this country,


Mr. Speaker, I am glad to see that the Home Office will be sending a clear message that carrying or using knives for malicious reasons will be totally unacceptable, as well as heighting punishment for doing so. The differentiating of possession and usage speaks for itself, but it must be made clear that both are totally inappropriate. In the forthcoming legislation will the Home Secretary confirm that this Government will ensure that there will be a zero tolerance approach to knife crime in Britain?


While I do believe tougher sentencing on knife crime is completely warranted to deter the issue, I am glad that the Home Secretary - like myself - values rehabilitation over punishment, and those found guilty of an offence will be educated on the dangers and effects of knife crime. I would like to ask the Home Secretary, will repeat offenders be given tougher sentences if they show that education and rehabilitation is not getting through to offenders? We do not want to see a new breed of Jack the Rippers in our country.


Mr. Speaker, I think it is honourable that the Home Secretary will be working with community groups to help tackle this issue. These groups, in conjunction with the police, are the key to solving this problem over knives, not beauracrates in Westminster. But can she tell the House today what exactly she plans to do in this regard? What support will be given to help their communities lessen this type of crime? I understand that a £25million “Breaking the Cycle” fund will be set aside, but throwing money at a problem and leaving it to the local communities will not solve the problem alone. Furthermore Mr. Speaker, how will this so-called “Breaking the Cycle” fund of £25million be spent to help these community groups at addressing the issues, and ensure that the public money is spent wisely on tackling knife crime? Is it really policeable to ensure funding is used correctly? I do however commend the Government that this money will be made available immediately.


Just on her third point Mr. Speaker, while I welcome the ability and funding for our police forces to be able to identify hotspots more easily and tackle knife related crime in areas, can the Home Secretary tell the House on whether this will see an increase of stop and search powers for police? Whilst I believe in safety, we as a Parliament have a duty to protect the liberties of the citizens of this country too, and more often than not stop and search can infringe on these rights.


Secondly I would like to echo the comments of my Honourable Friend, the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, and ask will the Home Office ensure that the identification of hotspots is done fairly, and not just an excuse to target disadvantaged and minority communities?


To close Mr. Speaker, maybe in a rare moment, I will commend the Government for putting together a good strategy to tackle a problem before it becomes a more serious epidemic than it already is - although with some questions naturally from Opposition benches on how it will play out. As I said earlier, we do not want to see a country of Jack the Rippers, running rampant - let’s hope this House can ensure that it does not happen.

 

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Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Shadow Home Secretary

 

Former Roles:

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare (December 2007-January 2008)

 

 

NPCs:

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare: Dianne Abbot MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Infrastructure, and the Environment: Barry Gardiner MP

Minister for Northern Ireland: David Anderson MP
 

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Mr. Speaker -

I too would like to thank the Right Honourable Lady for her work on this urgent topic, and a good mixture of punishment, rehabilitation and proper sentencing will hopefully go a long way in helping to abate this national scourge.

However, I would like to share some concerns. And this is around the concept of "data."

As the Home Secretary stated, this program will use data to identify criminal "hotpots" where crimes are more likely to occur as a way to marshal resources to those areas. Many of my colleagues have already addressed a concern that I do share with them -- and how this will lead to more stops and searches in minority and underserved communities from law enforcement, and how this could lead to mistrust between police and these communities, which may make it harder in the long-term to deter knife crime.

But I am happy that this government will do a better job in collecting data on the topic of knife fights.  I just hope this government will use this data beyond just using it to direct police where to go -- especially when this data can certainly also be used in conjunction with the Breaking the Cycle fund.

Why not use the better collected data to better steer grant money to programs located in areas of concern? Or why not use this data to connect community organisations to police forces to effective do as this government intends -- deliver an effective form of prevention, rehabilitation, and punishment to decrease knife crimes? And we can also certainly use data over time to make sure money from the Breaking the Cycle fund goes to programmes that don't just say they're effective in helping solve this problem, but can back up what they claim with evidence. After all, we are all in agreement that we want the £25million to not just be a figure tossed out to make us all feel good, but we want this sum to be used to the best extent possible. 

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Mr Speaker,

Members opposite have raised a number of points that I will attempt to respond to overall.

First, on data. I acknowledge that the last thing we want to happen is for indiscriminate targeting of deprived or more ethnically diverse areas. And that is precisely what improving our collection of data is intended to achieve. Indeed, Mr Speaker, I would flip it the other way too: there is often a risk of police resources being captured by those areas with the most powerful or influential voice that raises that voice in response to local crime. At the moment, police are often flying blind, and it is precisely in these circumstances without solid evidence that assumptions come into the equation. I want decisions to be evidence-led rather than motivated either by assumptions or by which area or community can shout the loudest for resources.

I am also happy to confirm that improved use of data will be used to target community support too. I see improving data as a valuable tool to decision makers at all levels on all issues, and hope this serves as a pilot to roll it out more widely.

Second, on the Breaking the Cycle fund. What we're trying to avoid here Mr Speaker is precisely, I'm afraid, what the Shadow Home Secretary has implied we should be doing: setting schemes up in Whitehall and imposing them elsewhere. I want to harness the big society and the multitude of excellent ideas and initiatives that are not simply led by the Home Office, or even just by the police - hence opening up this money to all community groups that may be involved in education, youth work, drug services, family services - and so on. I accept, and this is just a fact of life, that some schemes will be more successful than others. That is the nature of all government initiatives, especially when we are casting the net wide and looking for local, nuanced, targeted ideas that are tailored to local circumstances and needs. We are making sure we have good use of taxpayer money in two ways. First, the funding comes with clear objectives that applicants will need to demonstrate that they can meet. Second, we are asking as a condition of grant money that our independent reviewer is permitted to study the outcomes. That isn't because we are marking their homework or doubting their integrity or intending to recover funds - although naturally, any abuses of taxpayer money would not be tolerated - but because we want to use this opportunity to understand what interventions are most effective. That means that in the future community groups can learn from one another and from a clear evidence base, and the Government can allocate funding in the future on that basis too.

Finally, I heartily agree with the Shadow Home Secretary on the importance of a clear sentencing regime for offenders that shows a zero tolerance approach to knife crime. That is why we will be introducing a presumption to prosecute knife-related offenses. That will not always mean jail for the most minor offenses - but it will mean action and community and restorative justice, where the severity of their actions are made clear and they undertake to repay the community and learn from their mistakes. But we want it to be unambiguous that being out that on the streets, wielding a knife or other weapon, is an offence in our present circumstances beyond that. That is we are proposing what you might call a new "mid tier" offense - more serious than simply having a knife in your backpack, but less serious than actually using it - which  would carry an expectation of a prison term. I also agree that repeated offenses should generally come with tougher sentences, which is laid out in sentencing guidelines to judges and magistrates.

Katherine West

Conservative MP for Watford (2007 - )

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Mr. Speaker, 

Being a Liberal Democrat, it’s not surprising to hear both sides talk to each other about the need for tougher spending and about the need for money tacked here and there, to then call it a strategy, pat ourselves on the back and call it a job well done. 

It’s an approach we’ve tried and failed again and again. Previous Conservative governments tried it. It didn’t work – crime rose during their last administration. The New Labour government tried it, and it didn’t work. And now we’re back to the same old pattern and the same old mistakes, with the government calling for tougher sentencing with throwaway cash and Labour supporting them. 

Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Speaker, questions about the fair use of data are valid, as are some other points raised. But too many are missing the wider, more fundamental approach. Instead of being smart on crime, we opt to look tough on it even when that doesn’t work. 

Sometimes new sentences or harsher sentences are necessary Mr. Speaker. But often they merely make our prisons more unsustainable and put non violent or low risk offenders into a cycle of career crime, leaving our streets more unsafe in the long run. I fear this same kneejerk response is what we have seen from the government today. 

But it could be forgiven if the government had learned from successful evidence based, local led initiatives instead of throwing money at an array of disparate and disconnected groups. The House may be well aware of my recent attempts to promote the work of Glasgow’s Violence Reduction Unit — taking a local led, evidence based approach and learning directly from community leaders internationally who successfully tackled violent crime.

That is the ambition Britain deserves. The successful approach we see in Glasgow is the approach we deserve to see replicated across the country. It is both more simple and yet more comprehensive, in contrast to both the Government and Labour Party tying itself in knots on this issue with kneejerk responses. 

But unfortunately we have not seen that ambition or clearheadedness from the big Westminster parties today, and while that is the case I fear we will see continual failure — failure where the burden of knife crime disproportionately falls on the poorest communities and young people.

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Mr. Speaker,
I appreciate her comments, and understand the usefulness of some of these plans, but the Home Secretary must give the House a clad iron confirmation that the powers of this strategy will not be abused or lead to disadvantaged communities being targeted.


In regard to the Breaking the Cycle fund, I must stress that throwing money at a situation doesn’t make it go away, so I am glad to hear that safeguards will be in place to ensure it is being spent correctly, and not squandered, Mr. Speaker. We need this fund to not only support communities, but to ensure that the funding achieves its goal. 

I am thankful that the Right Honourable Lady agrees with me in regards to the punishment and rehabilitation side of the Government’s strategy. And I look forward to seeing how this will look in the Government’s forthcoming legislation.

 

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Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Shadow Home Secretary

 

Former Roles:

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare (December 2007-January 2008)

 

 

NPCs:

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare: Dianne Abbot MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Infrastructure, and the Environment: Barry Gardiner MP

Minister for Northern Ireland: David Anderson MP
 

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