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Mr Marshall-Andrews : Before my right hon. Friend moves on to knives, I should like to bring him back to his observations on imitation guns. Does not he accept that one of the principal causes of crime is a culture of crime, which may of course come from deprivation but may also come from many other sources—the media and the like? One of the essential cultures of gun crime is the existence of freely available replica weapons which are identical to lethal firearms and which are available in newsagents and shops that are close to schools for virtually nothing. Is not the creation of that culture something that we in the House should take seriously and outlaw?

Mr. Denham: That may be true, though I have yet to see the evidence that makes it believable. It is certainly an argument in favour of my right hon. Friend's proposals.

I want to address another issue of crime and culture in relation to knife crime. We know that the way to deal with many kinds of crime is to get to the root causes of the problem, to identify the perpetrators or gangs of perpetrators, to target them, to deal with them effectively and to have a multi-agency approach to tackling the problems. However, we have not yet applied that approach to the problem of knife crime. The Bill addresses the particular issue of taking knives into schools, yet, as we all know, the reality is that schools and local education authorities are often not engaged in wider crime reduction activities or wider measures against antisocial behaviour. The measures that schools take internally to deal with gangs and bullying often do not link up with those being taken in the wider community to deal with the same young people who are causing a problem—the same bullying, the same violence and the same gangs.
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Unless we can introduce into the area of knife carrying and knife use the targeted approach that we have used in relation to antisocial behaviour and are using in gun crime, we will not be effective in dealing with knife crime. I do not yet see an approach to dealing with the carrying of knives by young people that begins to be as coherent as our approach is becoming towards, at one end of the scale, antisocial behaviour, and, at the other end, guns. I can see little evidence that the Government's idea that we should consult and discuss with young people before we introduce policies that affect them has been brought into play in developing effective strategies for dealing with the carrying of knives by young people. Ironically, the Government have accepted for some time that we will not deal with gun crime unless we engage with young people in these communities, not only on guns but on a whole range of wider issues. The same needs to be true in relation to young people carrying knives. I fear that the measures in the Bill will be a little limited unless we take a broader approach.

Mr. Flello: Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a culture whereby young people start to carry knives because they are concerned that other young people are carrying knives and that that perpetuates the problem? For example, one group of people is believed to carry knives. Consequently, a second group begins to carry them and then a third group starts carrying knives. As a result, the first group, whose members were perhaps not carrying them, also begins to do so. The culture is a self-sustaining spiral into despair.

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is little published evidence to tell us why knife carrying and knife use has grown.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be familiar with the Home Office report that was published in January. It made several important points about knife carrying and knife use. It said that the group most likely to carry knives comprised those young people who have been excluded from schools. Those, including the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who belong to a party that calls for children to be excluded from schools at every opportunity, need to recognise, if they wish to tackle the causes of crime, the links between excluded young people and knife carrying. We must deal with that.

Fear and peer group influence are reasons that young people give for carrying knives. However, I want to stress one of the points in the conclusions of the Home Office research, which states:

I stress to my right hon. Friend the Minister that the challenge for the Government is not to change the Bill—I do not believe that the measure should contain a different bit of law—but to develop a strategy for tackling the causes of knife crime and ensuring that schools link with outside agencies to identify the gangs
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where it predominates. If we are to be effective, the Government should also ensure that there are proper strategies and punitive measures for dealing with the ring leaders and that proper educational approaches exist for tackling young people who carry knives. The Government are trying to do that with gun crime at one end of the spectrum and antisocial behaviour at the other. A systematic, root-and-branch approach to young people and knife carrying needs to be developed.

I met a group of students from my constituency this afternoon who happened to be in Westminster on an educational programme. I—and, I suspect, their teachers—was surprised not by their saying that there was not a problem in their school but by the fact that they regarded carrying knives as a significant issue for young people in our society. We need to build an awful lot around the Bill if we are to change a serious and developing culture in our country.

6.2 pm

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I welcome many of the Bill's provisions. There is no doubt that violent crime is a serious problem in this country and it is not helpful to get into a statistical debate about whether it is marginally up or down. There is a responsibility on all hon. Members to ascertain whether we can do more to reduce the incidence of violent crime.

Violent crime has many causes and the Bill tackles two of the key pillars behind the causes of violent crime: alcohol and access to weapons. Drugs are clearly another factor. However, the combination of access to weapons and alcohol is a main reason for the increase in violent crime. We shall decide whether to support the Bill—we are minded to support it—by the following yardsticks: whether it grossly infringes civil liberties, whether it creates too many offences and whether the provisions will be effective. We have concerns, which we shall raise in Committee, but our judgment on those three key tests is that the measure contains provisions that constitute a step in the right direction and deserve our support.

I want to comment on the important matter of tackling the causes of crime. As the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) said, the Bill tries to deal with some of our current problems and we need to do more to tackle the causes. Frankly, I am not prepared to take a lecture on that from the shadow Home Secretary, who has now left his place. Over the years, he has criticised my party when we have presented such arguments and been more than happy to portray us as soft on crime when we have argued for more creative solutions to try to tackle the causes of crime. I understand the need for the Conservative party to reinvent itself, but Conservative Members could at least acknowledge that some parties have argued strongly for such provisions for many years and been strongly criticised for doing that.

Alcohol is an important factor. I am critical of the Government because they—and probably all political parties—have been chasing the problem, which has run ahead of us. I met members of a residents association in Winchester in my constituency this morning. They raised anxieties that will be familiar to all Members of Parliament. Those concerns apply not only to inner-city areas but to market towns in rural areas. We know the
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statistics: 25,000 admissions a year to accident and emergency departments and 50,000 violent offences are the result of people drinking too much, let alone—we have not discussed it in a Home Office debate—the implications for the health of our nation.

It took a long time for the Government to respond. We had to wait many years for an alcohol strategy, which is regrettable because joining health and the consequences of crime in a fully thought-out strategy should have been done many years ago. Powers are in place but some have been difficult to enforce. We heard earlier that only 11 landlords a year have been prosecuted for allowing drunken or riotous behaviour on their premises. That raises two questions. First, is it simply a matter of ineffective policing? Secondly, and more worryingly given the Government's intentions in the Bill, are the prosecutions hard to achieve and is it hard for the police to identify the publican or premises responsible for allowing the serving of alcohol that led to such behaviour? If that is the case, it raises serious questions about the Government's proposals.

We have long argued for the imposition of some sort of levy. We believe that it is wrong that many communities, especially in rural areas, experience the removal of police, so that, on Friday and Saturday nights, they are tied up in city centres. Local taxpayers ask why they should fund clearing up the mess for an industry that makes a great deal of money from alcohol. We therefore support the concept of imposing some levy or charge.

We also want to support voluntary action by the industry, which is a sensible way forward. A couple of weeks ago, the industry made positive announcements, such as a willingness to end the practice of happy hours. However, that brings consequences. If part of the industry behaves well, wants to be responsible, signs up to join an association and is prepared to act by reducing happy hours, other parts of the industry that do not belong to the association will simply fill the void. Indeed, they could benefit financially because part of the sector was not holding happy hours. We cannot simply rely on the industry, because there will always be those who do not join industry forums and try to make a profit out of any action.

In Committee, we need to establish clarity about who will be affected by the alcohol disorder zones and the related provisions. I take the Home Secretary's point about not believing what it is written in the Daily Express and other newspapers. However, if nightclubs can avoid the provisions by arguing that entertainment and dancing, not selling alcohol, are their main focus, it would cause disquiet because late-night entertainment in our city centres is often concentrated in them. We therefore need to be clear about who will be affected.

I should also like more clarity about what the levy will be spent on. Simply giving it to the police might prove effective in reducing the cost to taxpayers of police on Friday and Saturday nights. However, let us also consider other forms of support for our night-time economy. Could we invest the levy in more CCTV? Could we consider having better trained doorkeepers for pubs and nightclubs? Could we use the money to contribute towards ensuring better late-night transport so that the problem of the cab queue outside the kebab shop where everybody waits can be resolved through creative schemes, such as that which operates near me in
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Salisbury, and provides publicly funded ways in which to get people back out of the city centre to their homes? We should consider using the levy not only for policing but for a wider range of matters so that we can help the night-time economy.

What will happen if one lives in an alcohol disorder zone? What will be the impact on the price of people's property? What will be the impact on someone trying to sell their house when everyone in the community is saying, "Hang on a minute. No. 14 Burble walk is in an alcohol disorder zone"? The measures could have a considerable impact on people living in the zones. They might welcome attempts to clear up the problems there, but we must also understand the implications for property prices.

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