Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
24 MARCH 2009
Q500 Chairman: Mr Grayling, may I welcome
you most warmly to the Select Committee and may I, on behalf of
the whole Committee, congratulate you on your recent appointment
as the Shadow Home Secretary.
Chris Grayling: Thank you very
Q501 Chairman: We are very keen in
this particular inquiry to take the views of all parties. We started
this inquiry in October of last year. We wanted to make sure that
it was a consensus inquiry. We felt it was important that all
the political parties needed to contribute to our deliberations
and that is why we have invited you to come and give evidence
today. I want you to imagine 1 June 2010 and you arrive as the
Home Secretary. What measures would you take immediately, if you
were the Home Secretary, to deal with this very important issue
of knife crime?
Chris Grayling: First of all,
Chairman, may I say thank you very much to the Committee for inviting
me today. I very much applaud your aspirations to have a cross-party
dialogue over this. This is an issue where, whatever party we
are in, we have the same objectives, which is to reduce and ideally
to eradicate knife crime. We may have different views about how
to achieve that, that is part of the political debate, but we
all share the same objective. We should listen to good ideas.
I very much welcome this inquiry. I will look forward to reading
your final report with great interest. I think the thing that
I hope to bring to the table and which I would seek to bring to
Government, if we win the election, is all around the principle
of early intervention. We will no doubt talk quite a lot about
the penalties for knife crime which I think are important and
I very much support the line I have inherited from within my own
party. I think that the way in which we make the biggest difference
to knife crime and indeed to other violent crimes, particularly
amongst the young, is through more effective early intervention.
I believe very strongly we are a society that does not say no
early enough, that does not seek to intervene when the first signs
of troubles and misdemeanours occur, very often when young people
are relatively new in secondary school, when they may get involved
in some antisocial behaviour. I think at that point the system
has nothing in between the problem and the criminal justice system.
I think the current Government tried to address that problem through
antisocial behaviour orders, but they are much too complicated.
The agencies involved will say it can take several months to get
an antisocial behaviour order. What I am looking to bring additionally
to the table in my new role is a portfolio of ideas to give the
police the ability to intervene earlier without criminalising.
I do not want to criminalise 12- and 13-year olds because it messes
up the opportunities they have ten years later to get the right
job, but I do want society to be able to rein them back and say,
"No, that's not on. We will not tolerate that," particularly
when parents do not always do that. The first idea I put forward
was the idea of grounding orders based on extensive discussions
with police officers who want something they can do quickly, simply
and straightforwardly to try and say no. The concept of the grounding
order is you go down to the local magistrate's court, you have
a problem with these two kids and it is a simple injunction issued
by the courts to ground those young people at home for up to a
month except to go to school. The principle is that we get there
early, we address more minor misdemeanours and we head off some
of the young people who might be tempted into more serious things
before they can do so.
Q502 Chairman: Thank you very much.
You mentioned the age of 12. I know children are different. Is
it that sort of age or should it be in fact primary school age
where some of this violence seems to begin?
Chris Grayling: There is not a
single answer to that. I would not see it applying to children
younger than ten. Ten is the age that the Government has picked
out in its current Policing Bill for dealing with antisocial behaviour.
That is about putting forward powers to allow the police to move
on 10-year olds. I happen not to agree with that. I think moving
on 10-year olds to a different street is not the point. We should
be removing them from the streets, taking them home and using
grounding orders or whatever. We have got to intervene early if
we are going to remove some of the pressures for gang activities,
for the propensity to carry a knife and the propensity to get
involved in more serious issues later in life.
Q503 Ms Buck: I want to ask you about
school exclusions because all of the evidence indicates that a
child excluded from school is at particularly high risk of getting
involved in criminal behaviour at a later stage. There are contradictory
pressures within your party between a desire to give head teachers
more authority for easy exclusion and a desire to keep children
within a framework of education so they do not end up on the street
and at risk.
Chris Grayling: I think there
are two groups of children who are potentially likely to be excluded.
There are those for whom a first exclusion will be a wake-up call
and those for whom it will not. One of the things that I hear
from people working with young offenders, particularly those in
the Prison Service, is that they are frustrated that when a young
person later in life has committed an offence and they have served
their sentence they are put straight back into the same environment
they came from with all the same pressures that have led to criminality
in the first place. One of the things I think a school exclusion
does is it breaks a troublemaker out of a comfort zone. You are
suddenly transposed into a new environment with different people
in a much stranger setting without the comforts you had of the
gang you hung around with and so forth. I think a school exclusion
can serve as a wake-up call for young people who have gone off
the straight and narrow in school. I fully accept that there is
an issue of those for whom it does not serve as a wake-up call.
We have a number of centres around the country that provide support
for young people in that situation who have been permanently excluded
and not been able to settle in their new school. I think there
is work to be done on that front to try and strengthen that option.
I do think that exclusion can serve a purpose. Where I think we
go wrong is not to entrust our head teachers and governing bodies
to take the decisions on exclusions because you undermine authority
in a school monumentally if the staff running it take a decision
to exclude but that is overruled by somebody outside, the child
concerned is returned to the school and they then effectively
feel they have a carte blanche to do anything.
Q504 Patrick Mercer: Can you explain
your view on the links between strengthening families and preventing
knife crime in the first instance?
Chris Grayling: I think one of
the big challenges we have got is that in many households there
is an utter absence of any sense of responsibility. It is not
an issue of lone parents versus couples. Actually in many cases
there are children growing up in nothing that vaguely approximates
a stable family home of any sort. I have spent time out on the
streets of Toxteth with some very good youth workers who work
around there who tell me that there are kids who grew up without
any parental guidance, a parental home and who are very often
moved around from relative to relative weeks at a time. I spent
time teaching a 15-year old in a school in north Liverpool who
had gone off the rails. I felt at heart he was probably a good
kid, but he had the most terrible upbringing, no parents in his
life and so forth. I think there is a direct correlation between
the absence of the love, affection and stability that many children
have in their upbringing and a desire to belong. Sadly, gangs,
which is where knife crime is a particular problem, provide a
perverse kind of security for some young people who have been
brought up in very difficult circumstances. I do not purport to
say that strengthening the family is either easy or will make
all the difference, but I am absolutely certain that if in the
future we can get back to a situation where more young people
are being brought up in a more stable family environment we are
likely to reduce the incidence of criminality later on in life
as well as the incidence of educational failure and addiction
and ultimately mental health problems.
Q505 Patrick Mercer: Last week I
was at "Help for Families" in North Wales and their
view about this and a host of different issues is that the male
role model is so important and more often than not is absent.
Chris Grayling: It is a big issue.
I think our lone mums do a heroic job often because it is extremely
difficult being a lone parent, but there is no doubt that fathers
play an important part in the lives of children and particularly
of young men as they grow up. We have also seen this week the
figures that suggest there are very few role models in primary
schools. Some of the more public role models in our society do
not show the best of examples.
Q506 Chairman: Could you give us
Chris Grayling: I picked out previously
Joey Barton, the Premiership footballer who has been in serious
trouble on many, many occasions as being exactly the wrong kind
of role model. If I were to pick out a good role model within
sport I would look to someone like Gary Neville, for example,
who has been to my mind an excellent professional over a long
period of time and has never done anything of that kind. I think
sportsmen can be really good role models but equally I think they
can be very bad role models. As and when they are bad, it certainly
does not help to set the right kind of example for young people
growing up without having some very good reference points in their
Q507 Mr Winnick: Do you believe that
the situation would be helped if there were easier rules for the
police on stop and search?
Chris Grayling: Yes I do. The
reason that we have the stop and search powers that we have now
goes back to the whole Stephen Lawrence affair. Nobody would defend
for a second what happened either in that particular investigation
or many of the issues that occurred at that time. It is very noticeable
that since then we have had calls from within the black community
for increased stop and search. It is very noticeable that we are
asking our police officers to go through extremely complicated
bureaucratic processes to stop and search and provide protection
because that is what they are doing. If they stop and search someone
and find that they have a knife they are protecting a potential
victim from that knife. I believe very clearly that we should
not remove the safeguards to stop and search because it is right
and proper that there should be some safeguards, but I think we
have become too bureaucratic and too complex and I think we need
to rein back from that. I do not know whether you have seen the
form we ask our police officers to fill out for stop and search.
Imagine yourself on a wet night in a town centre intercepting
a partially drunk young person who you suspect of carrying a knife
and trying to get that young person to stay there and wait to
be searched while you fill in the form. I think it is utterly
unrealistic. I think we have got to trust our professionals more.
I would like to see a much simplified system possibly using technology,
a radio link to say you are going to do a search, but not the
bureaucracy we have at the moment.
Q508 Mr Winnick: You started your
remarks by saying that all parties wish to see crime minimized.
Why do you believe that the government, who obviously has no less
interest than the rest of us in seeing knife crime reduced, has
not taken up what you have suggested about stop and search?
Chris Grayling: I think there
is a culture in this government which comes from a founding political
philosophy that probably emanates originally from Number Ten to
be frank of over-bureaucratization, over-complexity and the propensity
for ministers always to try to be involved in almost every decision.
Let me give you a very practical example of what I mean by that.
I talked to a senior police officer a couple of weeks ago and
I asked him how many sets of data he felt he needed to collect
in order to properly track the issues within the area of the relevant
force. Clearly we want to know if there is a surge in burglary
in your constituency so the police can respond to that. It is
right and proper they should track data. He said he needed about
15 different sets of data. I then asked him how many the Home
Office asked him to collect and he said 45. I do not really see
why the current Home Secretary or myself, if I become Home Secretary,
should seek more information than is needed by the police in order
to do the things we would expect them to do with the consequence
that we create processes and complexity that take police away
from policing. Just look at the level of stop and search forms,
at the stop and account process and at the way in which we handle
individual cases. I was shown last week the documentation that
has to be prepared by a police officer for a case of driving whilst
disqualified without insurance. You would think that is a pretty
bang to rights case: you either were driving or you were not,
you either did or did not have insurance and you either were or
were not disqualified. The documentation was really thick. I think
we have created systems and processes from the heart of government
in the whole field of policing and home affairs and across other
parts of government where we expect much too much of our public
servants, we interfere too much and we take away from the job
they are there to do and that is something I really believe we
have to change. I think that is the biggest area where the current
government has gone wrong.
Q509 Mr Winnick: Is it not the case
that on many occasions extensive stop and search has produced
great antagonism amongst an ethnic group who feel they have been
picked on and therefore overall, far from doing good, it has in
fact set back the fight against crime? Should that not be a factor
in your mind as well as in the Government's?
Chris Grayling: I think today
the issue of stop and search is not a race issue. I think you
will find parts of the country where the issues are clearly to
be found in the black community and you will find parts of the
country where the issues are clearly to be found in the white
community. If you stop and search in Norris Green you will be
stopping and searching young white men. If you stop and search
in parts of south London you will find yourself
Q510 Mr Winnick: The chance of you
being stopped and searched is rather remote. I am not likely to
be stopped and searched either.
Chris Grayling: I do not think
we fit the profile of likely knife criminals. What is clear today
is that young people are the ones who are most likely to be the
victims of knife crime. Young people in black communities and
white communities are likely to be the victims of knife crime.
I think we should treat all citizens fairly and equally and we
should try and protect them all fairly and equally. The power
will work differently in different parts of the country depending
on the ethnic mix of the areas in which we are dealing with the
issues, but it is no longer a black/white issue, it is an issue
about protecting our young people.
Q511 Mr Winnick: Everyone wants to
protect innocent people and to be able to go about our lawful
business without being mugged or knifed. Do you recognise that
it is not only a matter of stop and search but taking into account
the effect that they have on a community? If it causes that sort
of antagonism, far from helping the police, it does the very opposite.
Surely you would recognise that it is not just a simple matter
of giving the police more powers but doing so in a way which overall
will help to underline the very sort of criminality we all want
to see reduced.
Chris Grayling: I do not think
we help the security and stability and quality of life in any
community by exposing it to the threat of knife crime. I think
we should give our police the powers to try and deal with it so
that innocent law abiding people and young people can get on with
their lives without the fear that they may end up a victim of
Mr Winnick: We all want that. It is a
question of how we go about it.
Q512 Bob Russell: In evidence to
the Committee a month ago the Howard League for Penal Reform described
how young people can be pressurised into carrying knives for older
gang members, a "golf caddy" was the expression used.
In view of that, is the presumption of a custodial sentence for
knife carrying appropriate?
Chris Grayling: I think that it
makes the life of those young people much easier with that presumption
because actually if we create an environment where it is utterly
unacceptable to carry a knife, where there are serious consequences
for having a knife and everybody realises and recognises that,
then it actually gives those young people justification to say
no. I do not think we help young people in that position by having
a situation where our handling of crime means they are likely
to be let off with a warning. I think we have to create a culture
where the carrying of a knife is utterly and completely unacceptable,
everybody knows it and so people do not do it and people who do
it know there are consequences. I cannot get rid of a situation
where it is possible that some young people are put under pressure
by gang leaders to do something unspeakable. I was told last week
by a prison officer that they are beginning to discover now incidences
of gangs where there is an initiation ceremony that involves somebody
who wants to join the gang going out with a knife and mutilating
an innocent passerby. I cannot stop that from happening except
by taking tough action when it does, but I can say that the message
to everyone who might be tempted to carry a knife is that if you
do carry a knife there will be a presumption of you going to jail
and I hope that will at least deter that act before it can ever
happen. That is the best I can do. I can try and deter and I can
act really toughly when it does happen. I do not think we should
create the environment where we tolerate in any way the principle
of somebody walking round with a knife. If people recognise that
it makes it easier for them to say no.
Q513 Bob Russell: I accept the point
you are making, but in the real world it is not quite like that,
is it? If you are a younger person, perhaps not the brightest
one in that community and you are put under pressure by older
youths, is it the presumption that that person should go to prison
that will work or do you think the judges should have the discretion?
Chris Grayling: We have not said
in 100% of circumstances where somebody is carrying a knife they
should go to jail. What we have said is the presumption should
be that if somebody is carrying a knife there should be a custodial
sentence. We are not seeking to take away absolute discretion
from the courts. At the moment the reality is a substantial proportion
of people caught carrying a knife do not receive a custodial sentence,
a significant proportion end up with a caution and I do not think
that sends the right message. I am not seeking to take away the
power of the courts to apply discretion in all circumstances,
but what I do think we need to do is send a tough message saying
the norm is that that is what you should expect.
Q514 Bob Russell: I am grateful for
the clarification and the qualification there. Do you think custody
acts as a deterrent?
Chris Grayling: It is one of the
deterrents we have as a society. Custody does not deter everyone.
It certainly deters some. There are some who will go to jail,
come out and simply re-offend and not be worried about going back
to jail and may make many appearances in the criminal justice
system throughout their lives. I think we have a moral responsibility
at all stages to try and wean people away from the criminal justice
system. That is why I want to intervene early. Your previous question
was about young people. If we can intervene early and try and
peel those kids away from the gangs before they get to that pointI
appreciate that in the case of an initiation ceremony that is
rather differentthat is clearly beneficial. We should be
trying to do everything we possibly can and starting pretty early
to stop young people finding themselves in the criminal justice
system and then going on to offend and re-offend.
Q515 Gwyn Prosser: In your last answer
you talked about a category of young people who go into custody,
come out and re-offend again and that is a concern to us all.
The Howard League gave evidence to us recently and they came forward
with a number of recommendations to reform these institutions.
Perhaps one of the more radical ones was that the ability of a
prison or a young person's institute to prevent re-offending should
be linked to rewards. In other words, the governor and staff should
perhaps be paid a bonus or extra funding should be available if
they are successful in not continuing that cycle of re-offending.
What is your view and the view of the Conservative Party on that?
Chris Grayling: This is very much
in keeping with my party's thinking on this. The prison reform
proposals brought forward by my colleague Nick Herbert about 18
months ago involved a very similar approach, where what we have
done is quantified the savings to be made if we can prevent somebody
from re-offending. I have put forward a proposal for a structure
that would allow governors to access that in partnership with
independent organisations on a payment by results basis to deliver
much better rehabilitation within prisons and after people have
been in prison. I can give you a very practical example of the
kind of project I would like to see in our prisons from a visit
that I made to HMP Liverpool recently where they have formed a
partnership with the footwear company Timpsons. They have established
a workshop in the prison where they are training prisoners as
they would train their own staff in the technical stuff, the repair
stuff and the customer service element of what is done and then
they are seeking to provide jobs for those prisoners when they
leave within the company as a whole. It is a partnership between
the prison and the company. I think that is a great initiative.
I am very impressed by what they are doing. I think it is the
kind of thing that we could benefit from throughout the prison
system. If we give prison governors the ability themselves to
form that kind of partnership without the need to go off and deal
with bureaucracy at the centre then I think we have got the ability
to get more positive work done for prisoners in our prisons and
hopefully reduce re-offending.
Q516 Gwyn Prosser: Are there any
other ways we could reform life in custody and after custody?
Chris Grayling: The other big
thing that I myself proposed when I was in my previous brief for
the Shadow DWP team was that we should make it a matter of absolute
routine that somebody who leaves prison without a job to go toand
one assumes that is pretty much everybodygoes straight
onto a structured back to work programme of the kind that we would
offer across the welfare system for the longer-term unemployed
and of the kind that is used in other countries, North America,
for example, where you have an independent provider providing
tailored back to work support, organising work placements, doing
interview training, trying to overcome some people's own person
individual issues about getting into employment and I think that
should happen with prisoners on the day they leave. I do not think
any prisoner should be allowed to leave prison and just go down
to the pub and say "What happens now?". I think we should
take them straight out into a structured programme to try and
get them into work.
Q517 Martin Salter: Mr Grayling,
you talked about the perverse security of a gang culture. Do we
not as politicians have to be slightly careful that we do not
completely demonize the concept of gangs because there are clearly
good gangs and bad gangs? You are in a gang and I am in a gang.
Gangs can provide a positive approach for young people. They provide
friendship, mutual support and all the rest of it. Do we not just
have to be a little bit careful about the language we use on this
and not get too lazy?
Chris Grayling: To a degree. I
think we know what we are talking about. I fully accept in our
society that there is a danger we end up demonizing all the young
people. The vast, vast majority of young people are perfectly
good. One reason I do not want to criminalize it, if we are dealing
with antisocial behaviour, is because we also have teenagers who
sometimes go off the rails but who are not bad kids. I do not
want the system criminalizing them because we are telling them
off for doing something that is unacceptable when they are 12
or 13. I think we have got to be quite smart about that. We should
not demonize all young people. There are times when as an adult
society we are over-tough on the young. I have been out with the
police to 999 calls which turn out to be an adult calling the
police because there is a gang of kids kicking a football against
the garden fence. I think we have to have a sense of proportion
as adults, but nonetheless there are some real issues in many
parts of our community where the gang is much more than just a
group of friends hanging around. That is where we have got to
focus our efforts. Friendships and groups of young people providing
a positive outlet for energies is excellent. There are some great
projects going on around the country, eg the Friday night football,
to try and get people engaged rather than hanging around on street
corners, but nonetheless we know that in many of our city areas
there are real problems with a culture that is utterly, utterly
damaging and the concept of the violent initiation ceremony is
utterly repugnant and that is something we want to break up.
Q518 Gwyn Prosser: Mr Grayling, you
were telling us about your ideas for rehabilitation and providing
back to work groups. How would you answer, especially during these
difficult times, the majority of law abiding citizens who would
say, "It's hard enough for me or my son to get a job and
yet if you do go into jail or into an institution you come out
and it is all handed to you on a plate"?
Chris Grayling: We are in difficult
times. We know we are in difficult times. There are groups of
people in our society who always find it difficult to find work.
There is a real danger that if we do not put an effort into trying
to help those people now they will be completely left behind,
whether they are people on incapacity benefit who could and should
be helped back into work or whether they are former offenders.
What we cannot afford to do as a society is to leave the hard
to help right behind and forget about them in difficult times.
I think we have got a moral duty to provide them with an extra
bit of help so they do not get left behind.
Q519 Tom Brake: In these difficult
times what sort of incentives do you think it would be appropriate
to give employers, because clearly now they are looking at a much
larger pool of people that they can tap into? It is cheaper for
them to take someone who has perhaps just been made redundant
from a job than it is to work with prisoners. What incentives
should we give them?
Chris Grayling: First and foremost,
there is still, even in difficult times, a sense of responsibility
around. We should not expect any employer to take on somebody
just for the sake of it. No employer is going to want somebody
who is a complete passenger in their organisation. If the rehabilitation
process has done its job properly what we should be doing is putting
people out into the community and into work who have got something
to offer. That is why I think the Timpsons project is such a good
example, because it is taking advantage of somebody's time in
prison to give them transferable skills that will work in the
workplace. It will not work for everybody. Some will be tempted
back into a life of crime. If we can break some of the people
who are going through that course out of crime and get them into
employment where they are offering as much value as the former
unemployed person who is also looking for a job then it is a benefit
to everyone. We have to be willing to give people a second chance.
They will not always take it, but as a society we need to do so.
I hope employers will be willing to give people a second chance.
I hope everybody, even in difficult times, even if they are looking
for a job themselves, will accept that we do have to give people
a second chance in all of our interests.