Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)


27 MARCH 2007

  Q40  Mr Clappison: But they can deal with it themselves and impose a custodial sentence.

  Mr Coaker: We shall write to the Chairman on the points that have been raised.[5]

  Q41  Mr Clappison: You could tell us how many cases are dealt with by the magistrates and how many by the crown court.

  Mr Coaker: Of course.[6]

  Q42  Mr Clappison: I should also be interested to know whether possession of a knife in a school is regarded as an aggravating offence from the point of view of sentencing.

  Mr Coaker: Again, we will have to write to you on that point.[7]

  Q43  Mr Clappison: I should like to ask about amnesties. Last year you had an amnesty in which a substantial number of knives—nearly 90,000—were surrendered. You regard that as successful. But we have had a memorandum from the Centre for Crime and Justice that puts a different complexion on it. It suggests that the 90,000 or so knives collected is only a small proportion of the total number of knives and asks whether there has been any evidence of success in the amount of knife crime that has occurred subsequently.

  Mr Coaker: I believe that the amnesty was successful in terms of getting 90,000 weapons off the street. From our point of view it was successful. I am sure that many of us in our local communities saw some of the horrific weapons that were destroyed and are not out there now. The point about amnesties is that they are important. That is why people now ask why we do not have a national gun amnesty. They raise the profile of the issue but are not a solution on their own. It is not the intention—this is not what you suggest—that there is a knife amnesty, that every knife is collected and therefore every offensive weapon comes off the street and knife crime stops immediately, but it does enable one to raise the profile of the issue with young people and older people and across society. It also enables one to start to talk about law enforcement being part of the answer, but alongside that are other actions related to the family and community that need to be taken which we discussed earlier. I have never pretended that amnesties are successful on their own; they are one part of the strategy that one adopts to raise the profile of the issue.

  Q44  Mr Clappison: I take your point that there are 90,000 fewer knives on the street, but what do you say in answer to the point made to us by the Centre for Crime and Justice that you should also measure it against the amount of knife crime that is taking place? According to the centre the Metropolitan Police found that six weeks after the end of the amnesty knife offence levels had returned to pre-amnesty levels. What is your view on that?

  Mr Coaker: My view is that it just shows that the amnesty on its own is not the answer to the problem but is one part of the strategy that you adopt to raise awareness of the issue. I do not pretend that you have an amnesty and next day all knife crime stops, but it is important and is something that gives you the opportunity to show the sort of weapons that are being brought off the street. How on earth could anyone have a reason for possessing them? It shows the importance of the issue, the need for tough police action and the need to look at the broader context in which this occurs and the policies we need to pursue and adopt to tackle it.

  Q45  Mr Clappison: You mentioned police action. There have been police operations: for example, Operation Blunt run by the Metropolitan Police and Operation Shield run by the British Transport Police. They used different strategies in those operations, if I may put it that way. What do you make of those operations? What evaluation of them has been carried out?

  Mr Coaker: From the response we have had from the Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police both operations have been extremely successful. They have managed to catch a number of people who were carrying weapons and they have managed to ensure the message goes out that the police are taking firm action against people who seek to carry knives.

  Q46  Mr Clappison: If those two campaigns have been successful do you seek to promote such operations on a national level?

  Mr Coaker: Yes. The toolkit that I mentioned earlier—the Home Office knife crime best practice that we are putting together with ACPO—will look at how we can build on effective operations that various police forces have had in their area so that police forces can learn from one another about what makes an effective law enforcement strategy in their own areas. That is a very good point and something that we shall seek to do as well. In our own areas, if we look at operations across the country there are a lot of individual examples of forces taking action in their own areas to tackle knife crime. We want to see what are the best and most effective ones and how we can learn from them so we have a more co-ordinated, coherent strategy across the country.

  Q47  Mrs Dean: To clarify one point, is it the work that you have done with ACPO on best practice that is due to be published in June?

  Mr Coaker: No. I am not sure when the ACPO/Home Office knife crime best practice guidelines will be published. A draft was put together in February. I am told that it will be in the next couple of months. The point I made right at the beginning in answer to the Chairman was that the Round Table had put together an action plan. We hope to get agreement at the Round Table for that in June and we will publish it soon thereafter. It is very important that the Round Table puts together an action plan and some points to try to help move this forward in a more co-ordinated way across government, but I do not want to give the impression that ACPO or anybody else is not at the moment already looking at what sort of strategies they need. There is a gun crime and violent crime strategy and a new knife crime best practice which ACPO is putting together. The Round Table's action plan needs to make sure that it is also consistent with and complementary to those plans. Does that answer your question?

  Q48  Mrs Dean: Yes. Can you say a little more about what will be in the Round Table action plan and what are the resource implications for the police forces and authorities?

  Mr Coaker: What we have done is try to set out a series of measures. Would it be helpful if we sent that very rough draft to the Committee?

  Q49  Chairman: Thank you.

  Mr Coaker: I should make the proviso that it is not agreed; it is a very rough working document. It sets out what we are doing in a whole range of areas in terms of current legislation, police activity and cross-government activity. It looks at a whole series of topics and asks what is being done, what we need to do and what other ideas people have. That is right across the piece; it is not just in law enforcement. What we have tried to do is say that we need a view of what is happening across government already, then take a view about what should happen and how we make it happen. In answer to Mr Streeter's earlier point, that includes not just the Home Office but the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health, Department for Education and, importantly, the police and various other stakeholders.

  Q50  Mrs Dean: Moving on to the sale of knives and other potential weapons, why are there so few convictions for the import, sale or hire of offensive weapons? Is it the law that is defective or are there insufficient resources to target this offence?

  Mr Coaker: It is something about which we need to speak to the police. We talked earlier about the action plan. Part of it is a review of the legislation. In answer to Mr Salter's point, we need to establish what legislation there is, how effective it is, where it is being implemented, how it could be more effectively implemented and if there are any gaps to try to fill them. Part of that activity is to look at issues where it may be thought that perhaps this could have been used more than it is. Is that a case of awareness or resources, or is there a defect in the legislation? Part of what we are trying to do is get a better understanding of all that. On the face of it, where one has a piece of legislation which says that people who market knives or offensive weapons in a way that encourages violence or combat many of us would think that perhaps some of the adverts we have seen come a bit close to that. I think that we need a better understanding of why that is so. I should like to see greater use of that legislation.

  Q51  Mrs Dean: I understand that the Government is looking to extend the ban on the manufacture, import, sale and hire of knives to cover samurai swords. What difference would that make given that there are so few convictions in this area anyway?

  Mr Coaker: We launched the consultation on 5 March. The consultation is that the Government is minded to ban samurai swords. Perhaps I may put on record that we are looking at an exemption for genuine enthusiasts and clubs, the names of which I cannot remember. We are looking for a balance between individual liberty and freedom to pursue those interests and also protection of the public. We have seen some very well publicised crimes where samurai swords have been used. We believe that alongside the other measures that we are taking a ban on the sale of samurai swords would contribute to public protection, with the proviso that we are looking for exemptions. I believe that it is one of those things that people would expect the Government to do, and that is what we are minded to do.

  Q52  Mrs Dean: How big a problem is the sale of knives over the Internet and how can you control it?

  Mr Coaker: The Internet is an issue for us in crime generally. The important point to make, which is often misunderstood, is that what is illegal offline is illegal online. We need to look at how we can more effectively use the law to tackle internet and e-crime. Just before I came to this Committee I attended a conference on e-crime and how we could more effectively use the legislative tools we have to tackle it. One example of that may be the piece of legislation to which you have just referred with respect to the Knives Act and what constitutes illegal advertising when it comes to the use of knives or offensive weapons. The law is there and we need to ensure that it is effectively implemented where appropriate.

  Q53  Mr Clappison: A report for the Corporation of London in 2004 concluded that "few dedicated public awareness or educational programmes have been developed or delivered" to address knife carrying by young people. There are few examples of good practice in this area and they have not been sufficiently disseminated. What is your view on that?

  Mr Coaker: We try to support a wide range of educational and public awareness activities. The Be Safe project trains people and is also used in a number of schools, youth clubs and other establishments across the country. We have supported the work of the Damilola Taylor Trust and the Respect Your Life, Not a Knife campaign, and Rio Ferdinand was regarded by the Home Secretary as a positive role model with respect to that. Attempts are being made to raise public awareness of it and get more educational resources into schools. There is a huge range of material that goes into schools. For example, in my area of Nottingham the No More Knives website has been launched. Again, that is an example of the police, schools and community working together. A huge range of national initiatives is being undertaken. We have also tried to support local initiatives to raise public awareness of the whole problem.

  Q54  Mr Clappison: In your own words there is a huge range of national and local initiatives. Do you believe there is sufficient co-ordination between them and evaluation of them?

  Mr Coaker: Sometimes there is a need to evaluate more effectively what works and makes a difference. What is the best way in schools to pursue anti-violent and anti-knife behaviour? What makes an effective public education campaign? That is not just true in this area; it is a discussion that we all have. What is the best way to get this message across? In answer to the question whether we need to do more to evaluate it, we do and we shall certainly do so.

  Q55  Mr Clappison: The Prince's Trust has called for more robust funding of existing initiatives rather than the creation of new ones. What do you think of that?

  Mr Coaker: One of the big cries from the voluntary sector and NGOs and so on is the sustainability of funding. You establish something and it becomes good practice and people then worry about what will happen next year or the year after. What we need to do is see how we can make funding more sustainable to those groups, organisations and community associations that clearly make the most difference. I think that part of the work we need to do is to evaluate what is effective and then try to make the funding to those that are shown to make a real difference more sustainable. We have the Connected Fund and are reviewing the use of it. Often, what are needed are small sums to community groups and organisations. We are reviewing the use of that and looking at what we can do to support more of that community-type activity.

  Q56  Mr Clappison: You mentioned the Be Safe project which is one that has been recognised by the Home Secretary as being successful. We believe that its funding is not certain from 2008 onwards. Can you make any comment on that, or would you like to come back to us?

  Mr Coaker: There is a whole range of things that will need to be looked at from 2008 as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The only point I make is that we see the funding of community organisations like Be Safe, the Damilola Taylor Trust and a whole range of community groups as very important. The point I made in answer to your earlier question is that it is the sustainability of funding that is the crucial part of this so that people do not set up a good way of working, gain the confidence of people and the local community and then have uncertainty about their funding. We need to find a better way to ensure that those things that work are supported for more than a year or two.

  Q57  Ms Buck: What evaluation has been made to demonstrate whether or not awareness campaigns have an impact?

  Mr Coaker: As I said to Mr Clappison, this is an area in which we need to do more to evaluate what is effective and what works with respect to all of these various campaigns.

  Q58  Ms Buck: We put a degree of emphasis on doing awareness without any evaluation. You talked earlier about more intensive project work with young people and the question of security of resources. Look also at the issue of scale. The latest Youth Justice Board research undertaken by MORI in 2004 on the behaviour of young people aged 10 to 16 indicated that 11% of young people had carried but not used weapons. If I take my constituency as an example, that would represent about 1,000 young people—I suspect it is much higher—who have carried weapons. We have certainly one body working with young people. I imagine that it probably is able to work with 30 or 40. Do you incline to the view that, whilst there is good practice, compared with the scale of behaviour we are not even on the page?

  Mr Coaker: I make two points in answer to that. First, one of the difficulties is to get a firm grasp of what the statistics are. One set of statistics may say one thing; another set says something else. Clearly, there is an issue with respect to this, and I absolutely accept the point you make. Do we need to do more to support community organisations or educational programmes so they reach more people? The answer must be "yes". We need to look at how we do it, what is effective and how we support it. The first part of the question is entirely appropriate. I believe that these community groups make a difference. We do not have the formal evaluation of that which is what we need. When we have done a formal evaluation of what actually works we can decide how we should more properly and broadly support them.

  Q59  Ms Buck: At the beginning of your comment were you disputing those statistics?

  Mr Coaker: Not at all. All I am saying is that I have seen the Youth Justice Board survey on the number of people who carry knives and then I see the Crime and Justice Survey which gives a different figure. The only point I make is that government needs more clarity about the scale of the problem—we know there is an increased issue here—and decide what to do about it.

5   See Ev 25, Ev 23 Back

6   See Ev 25, Ev 23 Back

7   See Ev 25, Ev 23 Back

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