James Cleverly welcomes the Home Office’s Serious Violence Strategy highlighting the importance of early intervention and supporting communities and diversionary programmes, in particular, educating young people about drug use.
James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con)
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I now feel under a significant degree of pressure. I will crack on.
I welcome the strategy. Right from the start, and peppered throughout, the strategy makes the point that the issue cannot be resolved by just arresting people. That is absolutely key. Police intervention must form an important part of the solution, but it is not the only solution. I will come on to my thoughts about police intervention, and, in particular, I will address the points about police resourcing that were raised by the shadow Home Secretary.
In the years immediately preceding my election to the London Assembly, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) being voted in as the Mayor of London, the murder rate in London reached unacceptable levels. Without a shadow of doubt, the previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had not taken the issue as seriously as he should have done. Indeed, he accused the reporting of murders in London of being a media construct, with the particularly vile and inappropriate line
“If it bleeds, it leads”,
implying that the murders were being reported only because they were sensationalist stories.
In 2008, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and I were elected to London government, getting a grip on the unacceptable level of violent crime in London was a priority. It was done in two parts. First, Operation Blunt 2 was immediately initiated. The shadow Home Secretary, I think quite fairly, ran through some of the question marks over Operation Blunt 2. It is always very difficult to measure the exact implication of a policing strategy. She asked what message or signal it sends when politicians do or do not take action. Under Ken Livingstone, the message sent was that City Hall did not take this as seriously as it should have done. We were very clear that the message we wanted to send was that this was absolutely a priority for the incoming Conservative administration in City Hall.
Operation Blunt 2 was a very high profile, visual, police-led operation which made it completely clear that knives were unacceptable and that people carrying knives would be arrested and charged. I do not row back from the importance of such visual policing operations, but we were also very well aware that a policing response on its own could not and should not be the only response to knife crime. That is why, in addition and in parallel to Operation Blunt 2, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and I worked together to produce the Time for Action youth violence strategy, which addressed a series of potential intervention points in the lives of young people, up to and including rehabilitation of offenders.
There was a programme in Feltham young offenders institution to get young men who had been incarcerated after involvement in knife crime on to rehabilitation programmes, with a gateway to employment with a number of employers directly from the gates of that YOI. While they were on a ROTL—a release on temporary licence—they would be able to start working for their future employers before they had completed their sentence, so they had the incentive to stay on the straight and narrow when they came out of prison. We also considered looked-after children who, unfortunately, still disproportionately find themselves involved in criminality. The sad truth to this day is that looked-after children are still more likely to go to prison than to university. That is an unacceptable truth, but we worked to address that.
We looked at community programmes and diversionary programmes in communities. As the Mayor’s youth ambassador, I visited numerous programmes that were doing fantastic work around London. We also looked at such things as uniformed youth organisations, including the Scouts, the cadets, the Boys’ Brigade and Girl Guides. Why? Because in many parts of London, they became the quasi-parents of children who often led very dysfunctional lives. I had the pleasure of meeting the air cadets squadron not far from this place. They have an amazing mix of young people, from some of the most wealthy and privileged families in the country to children of recent refugees and some impoverished people. They rub shoulders, mix together and work in that military structure, which we know so often develops the kind of life skills that help to keep people out of trouble. Why did we do these things? We did them because we knew that we had to work upstream and had to do them to prevent young people from getting into trouble.
The shadow Home Secretary, who is not in her usual place, although she is in the Chamber, made the point about police resourcing. It is worth remembering that we halved the number of young people who were murdered on the streets of London between 2008 and 2016 against the backdrop not just of tightening budgets, but of having to deliver the policing operation for the Olympic and Paralympic games, which imposed a huge operational burden on the police. Yes, police officers, police numbers and police funding matter, but—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I want to put on record that the 2011 riots happened during that period. Against the backdrop of the riots, many of those young people were put in prison and that reduced the numbers, because the whole subject was about gang violence—he forgets all the media coverage at that time.
I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. The idea that somehow the police response to the 2011 riots swept potential murderers from the streets and locked them up is just statistically wrong. [Interruption.] No, the big drop in teenage murders in London happened in the operational year—
No. There was a massively significant drop in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 elections—in the 2008-09 year followed by the 2009-10, preceding the 2011 riots. [Interruption.] I am going to try to make some progress, because I promised Madam Deputy Speaker that I would.
The philosophical underpinning that works with the Time for Action strategy and the work that we did in London is exactly the same as the one that works here. That is why I welcome this strategy so much. I am very pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), is responsible for driving this through. We have spoken about it previously, and I do not think I am giving away any trade secrets if I say that I know her personal passion for getting this resolved.
As I come to my conclusion, I want to say—this has been mentioned by others—that we have to educate our young people, and I have discussed plans for doing that. However, we also have to educate the people who think that drug use—that occasional line of coke at some middle-class party—is a victimless crime. It is not. There is an absolute causal relationship between that so-called victimless crime at some party or some club and the kid that lies bleeding out in the stairwell of a block of flats in south London. Until we look people in the eye and remind them of that fact, this problem, as much as we try to mitigate it, will not go away. That might be a difficult conversation to have. To have celebrities bragging on social media about their drug use is unacceptable and it needs to be called out.
My final point is not explicit in the serious violence strategy, but it is implicit in what it says about some of the preventive measures that the Government are pursuing. It is that we need to find a way—I do not pretend that it is easy or that a solution would be perfect—of capturing the downstream savings of preventive activity, so that they can be recycled to fund those preventive activities. For example, typically, the layer of government that takes responsibility for diverting young people away from crime tends to be local government, which often funds community projects and so on. If it is successful, the bit of government that reaps the savings—through not incarcerating young people—is the Ministry of Justice, but there is no practical way of recognising the downstream saving, harnessing it and reinvesting it in the diversionary activities often discharged by charities and local government in the first place. If we could do that, I have little doubt that it would only take a small percentage of the downstream saving to put these projects on a much more stable financial footing.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister works incredibly hard—she is famous for it—and I hate loading up her shoulders with extra work, which she will tell me off for later in the Tea Room, but if anyone can come up with a plan, she can. I am more than happy to help. This is my offer and my ask. If we can find that alchemy, that way of capturing the savings and reinvesting them in front-end projects, we could really make a difference. I have little doubt about the Government’s commitment. It saddens me that some Members—unintentionally, I assume—question the Government’s commitment to protecting the lives of young people, and I urge the Opposition spokesperson, when he sums up, to be cautious about accusing anyone in the House of being uncaring on this issue.