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The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) talked about the rise in violent crime. In fact, there has been a fall in violent crime in England and Wales in the past five years. I remind him that in the last year of the Conservative Government there was a 9.2 per cent. increase in violent crime in Wales.
Contributions were also made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Caerphilly (Mr. David), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). I am sorry that I am not able to respond to all of their points.
Nationalism remains a pale reflection of Toryism in Wales. The Tories and the nationalists both say that we cannot build a stronger Wales. The Tories blame public servants, while the nationalistsdaffodil Toriesblame the English. They are welcome to each other. Wales does not want them, and neither do we. The brave new dawn of the nationalists that was predicted only months ago has turned into an endless nightmare. They have a weak and ineffective leader who is unable to take control or lead his party anywhere. Once again, we see the clear parallel between Toryism and nationalism. One party cannot decide whether to embrace or extinguish Thatcherism, while the other cannot decide whether to love or leave the language extremists. Both parties, though, are united by a narrow xenophobiafear of the outsider.
Wales is growing in economic strength and confidence. It is doing so as part of the world's fourth strongest economy and the world's largest single market, but it is also proud of its traditions of solidarity and care. It was no accident that the national health service was founded by a Welshmanindeed, a man from my county of Monmouthshire. It was no accident that in June Wales returned a Labour Government with a clear mandate for investment in and reform of our public services.
We will be true to that mandate. We represent the true spirit of radicalism and reform in Wales. We will continue to turn Britain from the country that it became under the Tories into a country of which we can all be proud. My colleagues and I are determined that this Labour Government will deliver on our manifesto pledges, as we are doing now, throughout the country. We will ensure that the people of Wales and the people of Britain gain the services that they deserve and that our country needs. I have no doubt that Labour will succeed in the Assembly elections and go on to win a third general election.
Mr. William Cash (Stone): I have the honour to present a petition of citizens of the United Kingdom amounting to 250,000 signatures supported officially by the Countryside Alliance, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and, of course, a large number of citizens of the United Kingdom.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons insist that Her Majesty's Government as a matter of urgent public importance, hold a fully independent public inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 into the causes, progress and administration of the foot and mouth outbreak of 2000/01, the adequacy of measures taken to investigate and to remedy the outbreak and with terms of reference to make recommendations (a) for the prevention of any recurrence, (b) with respect to financial compensation and relief and the application of European Union rules relating thereto and (c) for the future of agricultural and related interests and those of the rural tourist business community and the environment.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and my petition is along the same lines as his. The House will know that Cumbria was the county that was worst affected by the foot and mouth outbreak.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons encourage the Prime Minister to heed public opinion in south Cumbria and set up a full independent public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): I am glad to have the opportunity to raise the subject of gun crime, which troubles many Londoners, including a great many of my constituents. I have represented my constituency for 14 years. There is much to be proud of in Hackney. We have enormous creativity and culture, especially in arts and music. There are more artists per square mile in Hackney than in any other part of London. For generations, the area has been a staging post for economic migrants, and we are proud of that. Those migrants have gone on from Hackney to contribute to society as a whole.
Hackney has fairly good race relations, especially when one considers the diversity of its people. Hasidic Jews live side by side with people who have west African and Caribbean origins. Every language and nationality under the sun can be found in Hackney. When we compare our race relations with what happened in some northern towns over the summer, it is clear that we have much to be proud of because we have achieved genuine integration. Young people in Hackney mix and match each other's food, slang and dance music to astonishing effect.
But gun crime is casting a terrible shadow over my constituents. Hackney residents who have got used to the incompetence of the council, who glory in the multiculturalism, are genuinely frightened of gun crime. Gun crime in London, certainly until recently, has been largely confined to three hotspots: Lambeth and Southwark, Brent, especially the Harlesden area, and the Hackney and Tottenham area. One stretch of road in Clapton in my constituency is known as murder mile.
My constituents are frightened of waking up to find a corpse outside their house, as people have written to me to describe, or of being caught in gunfire. We have had cases of gunmen shooting at each other from speeding cars. One car came off the road, ploughed into a group of innocent people queueing for a bus, and people suffered serious injury thereby. We have had cases of disputes among young people at a party when a gunshot has gone through a wall, and a completely innocent person in another room who had nothing to do with the dispute has been shot.
We have had cases where bullets have gone through windows, missing a child sitting in a chair by inches. We have had cases of somebody getting into a dispute with a doorman at a club, going to get a machine gun and spraying a queue of innocent people who are waiting to go into the club. People pull guns in Hackney because of a dispute over a girl or merely to demonstrate how hard they are. Above all, my constituents are frightened of a phone call to say that their son, boyfriend, relative, neighbour, or even some young man whom they saw every day on the way to work has caught a bullet and is bleeding to death.
That has obviously been of some concern to me in recent years. I am working closely with Operation Trident in Hackney to increase community co-operation. One thing that people are genuinely terrified of is being a witness to a crime. I am working with Operation Trident to maximise co-operation in the widest community.
Operation Trident has a gallery of photographs of some of the criminals who have died in shootings. When one sees the pictures of those young menyounger than anyone in the Houselying on a pavement in a pool of blood, sometimes with their brains seeping out, one thinks not only that that has caused violence and mayhem for my constituents, but what a tragedy and a waste of life. These young men are dead even before the age that many young people leave universityand for what? That has made me focus on the issue as never before. What kind of community are we, what kind of people are we becoming, when young men hold their lives so cheaply that they will risk death? One can purchase a murder in Hackney for a very few thousand pounds.
In London, and possibly in other metropolitan areas such as Moss Side in Manchester, we face a different type of gun crime from that known in the past. Then, guns were the province of a specialised type of professional criminal, who took his gun to pursue a particular type of specialised crime and then, largely, took it home. It was interesting that those who tried to rob the millennium domeit would have been one of the largest robberies in recent timeswere not carrying guns. Professional criminals rarely carry guns because they know that being found with a gun at the scene of a crime automatically increases their sentence. Although the millennium dome robbers planned to take millions of pounds worth of diamonds, they went with nail guns and ammonia.
Walking the streets of Hackney and elsewhere in London, we have the young man who is steeped in a gun culture. He is routinely armed and will use his gun not just to pursue a specific criminal activity but in domestic disputes, to show how tough he is and because he has lost his temper with someone in a nightclub. The difference between professional criminals who are armed for a specific purpose and the kind of young man who is absorbed in a lawless, valueless gun culture, who walks the streets of Hackney, Battersea, Lambeth and Southwark, multiplies many times over the risk to innocent people, young people who are simply out enjoying themselves and people just walking the streets.
Let me say a word about "yardies"a term much used in the media, but not one that I like. It is used to refer to a certain type of black gun criminal associated with the cocaine trade. I dislike the term because it is unhelpful and misleading about the nature of the problem. It suggests that all the people in question originate in Jamaica, but the police say that more than half the deaths are not of Jamaican criminals but of British-born blacks, many not even of Jamaican origin. My parents are from Jamaica and I am a proud Jamaican; I do not like a term that smears Jamaica.
The behaviour of these young men, the lawlessness, the gun culture, the criminality and the violence ultimately stem from wider problems of social exclusion that can be dealt with only in the very long term. Resources are needed for youth diversion and youth clubs. We must also examine educational failure and its links to social exclusion, especially of young black men. That is something that concerns me greatly.
Having got financial support from the Mayor of London, I am holding a conference on 16 March entitled "London Schools and the Black Child" which is to examine precisely the roots of educational failure of black children. When black childrenchildren of African and Afro-Caribbean descententer the school system aged
The House might be interested to know that we started by organising a conference for 500 people, but by this morning my staff had registered 1,400 people and had to close the conference to any more. People want to talk about the issue. At another time, I shall talk to Education Ministers about how the Government need to focus specifically on the way in which the school system is failing children of African and Afro-Caribbean descent. It is a complex issueoften, children newly arrived from Africa do better than second or third generation British black childrenand I do not seek to oversimplify, but I believe that an underlying problem is educational failure in inner London and the collapse of the school career of many black children.
To return to the specific issue of gun crime, there are of course problems of social exclusion. I and people like me have to work with the community to make sure that the community is co-operating and that the public are aware of victim protection schemes, which Trident operates. Victim protection is needed: in a recent case, a young woman sought to give evidence against black gun criminals; she was shot at point-blank range and put in hospital; she left hospital against the advice of police and went to Jamaica for a funeral, where she was again shot at point-blank range by the same criminal network. She returned to this country and her brother was kidnapped, but with bravery that I do not believe I could show, this girl gave evidence in court and a number of people were put behind bars. None the less, people hear such stories.
The point about gun crime in Hackney that my constituents find so distressing is that in those communities it is no secret who is committing those crimes. All the gun criminals have girlfriends, or mothers, or friends they boast to, or families at home who wash their shirts. Who is committing the crimes is no secret even to the police. The problem is getting people to come to court and bear witness. That is why I am pleased to work with my local police, to liaise with the community and to improve the witness protection scheme so that we can get convictions.
None the less, there are things that the Government should be doing. I call on Ministers to support the Mayor of London's measures to achieve a year-on-year increase in the number of police, comparable to the number in New York city. Council tax payers in London are ready to pay more council tax for that purposemoney for the police is the one aspect of the current budget that has not been disputed by any member of the Greater London Assemblybut ultimately moneys from general taxation will be required.
I was interested to read that the Home Secretary apparently threatened the Metropolitan police with intervention, reminding them that he had powers to intervene in under-performing forces. While the whole of London supports the Home Secretary in his concern about under-performing police forces, I hope that in stepping in
It is important that the Government encourage London boroughs to prioritise firearms offences in their crime and disorder reduction strategy. I am sorry that in many boroughs where gun crime is an issue, firearms offences are still not included in such strategies. My local police officers have raised with me the difficulty of confiscating money when they find it on known drug dealers. They showed me a photograph of a young man who was not working or claiming income support who was living in a flat in Docklands and paying £1,000 a week in rent. They took a photograph of him with plastic bags full of moneyhe had £55,000but having found him in the flat with the money, they had to give it back to him. That does nothing to dent the morale of drug dealers. I understand that the Proceeds of Crime Bill will make confiscation easier, but I draw the problem to the Minister's attention.
Local officers have told me that it must be easier to extradite people charged with serious crimes abroad. People are walking the streets of London who have been charged with murder in Jamaica; for all kinds of technical reasons, it has proved impossible to extradite them. Ministers should look at that problem. Another issue raised with me both locally and by Scotland Yard officers in charge of Operation Trident is the penalty for the possession of firearms. Recently, policemen charged and prosecuted someone with two loaded firearms in his waistband in the middle of London. He did not have them to shoot rabbits or for self-protection; he did 18 months, and he will get out after doing half that.
The police believe strongly that we need to raise the minimum sentence for possession of a firearm. We are not talking about the professional criminal who takes a weapon out when committing a crime, then takes it home. We are talking about young men who swagger about all day long with firearms. If we increased the minimum sentence, that would help us to intervene in the culture where a gun is almost a style accessory and would deter people from holding guns for others. People with criminal records know that it is not a good idea to be found with a gun and get people without records to hold them. If people knew that they would do a minimum of five years if they were found with a gun, they would be deterred from holding guns for others.
The police are keen that the Government should look at legislation to ban imitation firearms. That may sound like trying to get the Government to ban water pistols, but the police argue that there are different categories of imitation firearms. No one could mistake children's plastic toys for firearms. Imitation firearms look genuine, but why should anyone want such a thing? The Brocock is an imitation firearm whose shaft can be bored through
There is also the question of drug mules. I do not accept for a minute the media's idea that every speck of drugs found in the British isles is imported in the stomachs and orifices of girls flying in on Air Jamaica planes. None the less, drug mules coming into the country from Jamaica is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for communities such as mine, where some of the drugs end up, it is a tragedy for Jamaica, because it taints its name and that of its airline and it is a tragedy for those girls.
Holloway prison is next door to my constituency and I have often visited it. The largest single group of foreign nationals is Jamaicangirls who have been caught as drug mules. As somebody of Jamaican origin and as chair of the British Caribbean group, I want to see something done about that trade, both in the interests of my constituents and in the interests of those women, who are often told that they will get off with a caution. Many of themmore than the number recordedswallow the drugs and die. That trade could be choked off. After the debate, I shall seek a meeting with the Minister to discuss in more detail what middle-ranking police officers have told me can be done about the drug mule problem.
Gun crime always runs the risk of being sensationalised by a press looking for a story for the front pagesomething to make people shiver in their shoes. As somebody who lives in Hackney, represents the people of Hackney, has a young son, and knows very many women in Hackney and communities like it with adolescent and male relatives, I know what fear the topic of gun crime brings to the hearts of Londoners. The police, through Operation Trident, are moving towards a solution. Through education, I and others are trying to work on the wider social issues. However, there is more that the Government could do. In particular, I stress the issues of penalties for carrying a firearm and imitation firearms.