Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
COAKER MP, MR
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.
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.
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.
Q43 Mr Clappison: I should like to
ask about amnesties. Last year you had an amnesty in which a substantial
number of knivesnearly 90,000were 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 intentionthis is not what you suggestthat
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
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
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 earlierthe Home Office knife crime best practice
that we are putting together with ACPOwill 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 peopleI suspect it is much higherwho 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 problemwe know there is an increased issue hereand
decide what to do about it.
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