Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
CAMPBELL MP AND
24 MARCH 2009
Q540 Chairman: Do both departments
have an ongoing knife crime project?
Mr Hanson: From my perspective,
Mr Vaz, we are looking at knife crime across the board. My responsibilities
include the Youth Justice Board but also prisons, probation and
sentencing policy as part of the department as a whole. We look
at knife crime really in five areas. We look at prevention first
of all and what we can do to help identify early intervention,
prevention, action at a local level, support to families and looking
at gang behaviour and prevention through the Youth Justice Board
activity, but we are also jointly support the efforts of the Home
Office on enforcement. Obviously from my perspective I have a
sentencing role within the department with my colleague Maria
Eagle to look at the sentencing framework and what we do with
that. What is particularly important is what we do with people
when they are in the system, in prison or in young offenders'
institutions, and how ultimately we resettle and reform to make
sure individuals do not come back. There is really a five strand
element for us as a department.
Q541 Chairman: When do you all get
together in terms of the departments? Is there one structure that
deals with it?
Mr Campbell: Throughout the period
of the programme, there are weekly knife crime meetings with each
of the departments but also with all the other agencies that are
Q542 Chairman: Who is that chaired
Mr Campbell: It is chaired by
my colleague Vernon Coaker or myself.
Q543 Chairman: That is on a weekly
Mr Campbell: Yes.
Q544 Chairman: Do you have weekly
Mr Campbell: Yes, but it rather
depends which department you are asking the figures for, but we
certainly have a feedback from the police officers who are leading
on it, who will tell us what has been happening in each of the
Mr Hanson: In addition to the
weekly knife crime meeting that we have, attended by Vernon Coaker,
Alan and myself, with Alf Hitchcock and other senior officials,
we have also been monitoring on a triumvirate basis (the Home
Office, Ministry of Justice and Department for Children, Schools
and Families) the Youth Crime Action Plan. We jointly chaired
between Beverley Hughes, Vernon Coaker and myself the compilation
of the plan but also in terms of monitoring its implementation
because some of the key preventative issues, which are very important,
are jointly responsible to the other three departments.
Q545 Martin Salter: This is probably
a question to both of you. Is there a danger in focusing on the
gang culture that we lose sight of the fact that young people
in particular tend to be herd animals and will inevitably form
gangs and that not all gangs are at the centre of problems? We
need to be careful to make a distinction between groups of friends
who learn and benefit from each other, and that can be a positive
influence on the development of young people, and gangs that can
develop a far more sinister role and have a far more negative
effect on the behaviour of young people?
Mr Campbell: My broad response
to that is: yes, if we are not careful, that is where we could
be. Of course we have had some work in the Home Office before
on the Tackling Gangs Action Programme and a lot of that work
fed into the Tackling Violence Action Programme, of which the
knife programme is a distinct part. It is interesting I think
that in the second phase of the Tackling Knives Action Programme
we are going perhaps to focus a little more on gangs, not least
because there is this growing concern. I very much welcome the
work that Iain Duncan-Smith has been doing in seeking to identify
the characteristics of gangs. I think the problem is that of course
gangs in different areas show different characteristics. Are we
talking about a group of people that have sufficient in common
that we can label them a gang and what different does that make
to the way that we respond to them? I am very conscious of the
point that you are making, and I agree with you, that just because
it is a stabbing incident, it does not mean that it is gang-related.
Unfortunately, that tends to be how it has been portrayed, particularly
in the media over the last year or so. We also have to be concerned
about the safety and wellbeing of individuals in local communities.
We have to be able to distinguish between what we would recognise
as a gang, where the culture is to carry a knife and both to use
it as a way of perhaps proclaiming your identity with that gang,
and young people who are hanging around on street corners who
may be dragged into incidents. I think we need to be careful not
to characterise the work that we are doing as entirely to do with
gangs. We need to look at the issue in the round, and also of
courseand I agree with what Chris Huhne was saying earlierthe
vast majority of young people in this country are not only law-abiding
but very decent citizens. It is the small minority that we need
to concentrate on.
Q546 Tom Brake: Mr Campbell, are
you familiar with the work done by the Scottish Violence Reduction
Unit and do you think we are missing a trick by not putting a
much heavier emphasis on the public health aspect of this?
Mr Campbell: Yes, we are aware
of it. In fact, we have had several points at which the Strathclyde
unit has come into contact with the Knife Acton Programme and
we have learnt lessons from them. In broad terms our approach
is similar. I think we both appreciate that joined-up working
is crucial to what we are doing. The issue, however, around whether
or not it is a public health issue is an interesting one. Of course
our Department of Health has launched a framework for violence
and abuse prevention and will be bringing forward a document later
this year which does mirror very much the approach that the Scottish
model uses. We have a slightly different way of arranging things.
My understanding of the Strathclyde model is that it is very much
as a hub; it brings perhaps in an even closer way together the
various professionals. Ours has been working across government
in the way that we explained to the Chairman earlier about departments
meeting together regularly, about bringing together different
strands of work, but in terms of our general approach, how it
needs to be joined up, the various aspects that are working successfully
in Scotland, we have learnt lessons from them, and I hope they
have learnt lessons from us too.
Q547 Tom Brake: One good test of
how joined up things are is always whether there is any pooled
budgeting going on. Does the Department of Health work together
with yourselves on this issue trying to tackle the public health
aspects of knife crime?
Mr Campbell: It is very conscious
of that and of course is making it a big input. I suppose in recent
months it has been very much about data-sharing because, again
picking up on what Chris Huhne said, I think a lot of the work
that the Tackling Knives Action Programme has been involved in
is getting intelligence and then sharing that intelligence. Of
course the Department of Health is pushing out important health
messages at all times; it is focusing on things like alcohol but
also alcohol-related violence. I think it is less of a question
of pooling a budget for that than to make sure that, as the departments
work through, we are working to a common agenda.
Q548 Mrs Dean: Mr Campbell, you mentioned
data-sharing and we have heard conflicting evidence about the
extent to which data is shared between different practitioners,
namely the police and other agencies. What is the Government's
position and what barriers exist to effective data-sharing?
Mr Campbell: I think we have made
big progress because we identified very early on, and it was very
much echoed in the comments by the Prime Minister, just how important
data-sharing is. That means gearing up an organisation, the National
Health Service, which has perhaps not been used to sharing information
in that way and to get them into a place where they can. I am
very pleased to say that 38 key hospitals in the 10 TKAP areas
are sharing information. That is sharing in a number of different
ways. One is sharing with the police. The General Medical Council
made clear, I think in August of last year, that knives should
be treated similarly to guns in that hospitals should be sharing
that information, particularly because of course people who are
the victims of knife crimes can become repeat victims of knife
crime, and it is often a precursor to a homicide. So it is in
their interests that the information is shared, but of course
it is in the wider interests to make sure that a picture is built
up in an area of what the true picture of knife crime actually
is. It is a question of sharing it with the police. That raises
issues around patient confidentiality but I think we have made
important steps in the right direction there.
Q549 Mr Winnick: Do you have much
confidence, Minister, in conflict resolution? We had very impressive
evidence from the West Midlands on this. What is your view?
Mr Campbell: Yes, we think it
plays an important part. The important thing about the Tackling
Knives Action Programme is that it is a bit of a jigsaw. There
are many pieces to it, but when it comes together it creates a
very important picture. In fact, we have worked with the project
that you are talking about; we funded them to an extent in the
work that they are doing. It is perhaps a sad but necessary indictment
of where we are that we have to have an organisation which seeks
to mediate in crisis situations, where gangs are in effect at
war with each other in an area, in terms of the crisis resolution
that they do, but the longer term effect that they can have as
well by getting to some of the people perhaps becoming caught
up in gangs in those areas and actually taking them through a
process that will not lead them in the wrong direction I think
is very important work.
Q550 Mr Winnick: Would you go so
far as to say there is any purpose in the victim of criminality
meeting the person, perhaps after that person has come out of
prison or whatever, having been dealt with by the courts in one
way or another?
Mr Campbell: I think it very much
depends up on the case. I think we were carried away a bit with
the idea that somehow people would be taken into hospitals where
the victims lay and, in a sense, they would be confronted by the
crime that they had committed. We are doing quite a lot of intensive
work in some areas on getting people who might be caught up in
these matters and seeing how best they can be, if you like, confronted
with the problem they are getting caught up in and where they
could end up if they are not careful.
Mr Hanson: We operate a number
of restorative justice schemes generally across the country. Sometimes
it does involve victims meeting perpetrators of crimes that have
been associated with the victim and the crime individually. Sometimes
it involves perpetrators of crimes meeting victims of similar
crimes. We operate those in a number of prisons across the country.
Indeed, the Knife Referral Programme that I talked about earlier,
Mr Winnick, in Liverpool has a session in that Knife Referral
Programme for people who have been convicted of knife crime to
meet with mothers of people who have been killed as a result of
knife crime. They may not have been involved in the incidents
which led to the mothers losing their children but they do get
a perspective from the victims' family of the impact of the death
to the family and to the wider circle in the community. That gives
them a perspective that they may not have had beforehand and,
for people who have been involved in low level crime and possession
of knives, it ensures that they feel an understanding of what
happens in their communities as a result of those offences.
Q551 Mr Winnick: I would have thought
that in most cases the last person that the victim wishes to see
is the thug who was responsible for inflicting violence, either
on that person or the family.
Mr Hanson: In restorative justice
terms, it is a question for the victim and for the offender to
come to an agreement on that because very often the victim does
not wish to be involved. In the case of the Liverpool Knife Referral
Project, we have a number of people who have been given a sentence
to go to the scheme over a period of weeks to cover a range of
activities, one of which includes meeting with parents whose children
have died as a result of knife crime. That is the very last session,
after a range of sessions that people undertake, which actually
brings home to them the impact of what at the start of the course
and the start of the intervention might well to be seen as something
that gangs docarry knives and have them. By the end of
the course they are actually meeting people whose children have
died. That has a major impact on the individual.
Q552 Chairman: Minister, is this
not also a very important role for probation and probation officers?
Mr Hanson: It is, and again as
part of the range of schemes that we are operating at the moment,
as part of community-based sentencing for those who are involved
in knife crime.
Q553 Chairman: You signed an answer
to one of my parliamentary questions recently telling us that
239,006 days where lost in the probation service last year. Are
you concerned about those figures?
Mr Hanson: I am. We have targets.
Mr Vaz, there is very patchy performance in the Probation Service.
There are some areas where there are high levels of sickness and
there are other areas where there are lower levels. We have a
target which I am attempting to meet that I want to drive down
still further because every day lost is both a lost day of time
and a cost to the state.
Q554 Chairman: There have been a
couple of million lost days for sickness. If you are dealing with
offenders and they are trying to work to try and prevent knife
crime reoccurring, surely we need to have the probation officers
Mr Hanson: We do and from my perspective
I want to drive down the level of sickness generally. As I have
said, the performance is very patchy. There are some which are
meeting and exceeding targets; there are others which are not.
With the 42 probation boards, I am very keen and do monitor on
a regular basis their performance on those issues.
Q555 David Davies: Minister, would
you agree that restorative justice in any form should only ever
be used as addition to prison or to existing punishments and not
as a way for offenders to get let out early?
Mr Hanson: Absolutely and the
restorative justice that is undertaken is part of wide-ranging
sentence. In the community it may well be as part, for example,
of the Knife Referral Programme and its courses, but also unpaid
work could be attached to that; a curfew could be attached to
that. In prison, equally the same is true.
Q556 David Davies: You would agree
that it would be absolutely wrong if an offender could get out
of prison earlier than would otherwise be the case by promising
to go and see a victim and say sorry?
Mr Hanson: The restorative justice
would be part of an agreement that is undertaken at the court
as part of a particular sentence.
Q557 David Davies: If an offender
refuses to get involved, would that mean they spend longer in
Mr Hanson: It would depend on
the circumstances of the court and what construction was put on
the particular activity.
Q558 David Davies: Is there not a
danger that they are simply going to say, "Yes, I will go
along and say sorry to someone if it gets me out of prison a bit
Mr Hanson: I do not think there
is because if I look at the figures, Mr Davies, over the past
year since we have put effort into this, more people are going
to prison for longer periods of time and are spending a much longer
period on either prison or on community-based sentences. Over
the past year, the sentencing trends in knife crime and sharp
bladed instruments have risen quite significantly. We have had
a 40% increase in the number of people who have served custodial
sentences in the past 12 months.
Q559 David Davies: Is that an increase
in the length of sentences given or the length of sentences served?
Of course a sentence served is not the one that is given out by
Mr Hanson: I can give you some
figures that show that, in the first quarter of 2007, 1,125 people
went to immediate custody in prison for offences and, in the first
quarter of 2008, 1,386 went. The longer sentences show that on
average the figures for immediate custodial sentences are113 days
in the last quarter of 2007 and 184 days in the same period of