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I turn now to sentencing. The Minister mentioned what the deputy Lord Chief Justice said about sentencing priorities. It is important that judges understand precisely what is happening as far as the cultural shift is concerned. However, we also need to give them a bit of leeway. As we know, the jails are full;
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as previous Governments have done, we are releasing people from prison to make places available for others. We need to find a way to break the cycle. Of course, prison is the only answer for serious offences. However, if we get involved in more preventive work, that will make a great deal of difference.

That brings me to the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation, an organisation with which the Minister is familiar. The funding regime for the organisation, which operates in south London—not a million miles from the constituency of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—had been threatened with closure. After the foundation’s representatives had given evidence to and been praised by the Home Affairs Committee last year, its grant was withdrawn—not, of course, because we had praised them but because financial resources are limited. We were pleased when the Minister intervened to make sure that the grant was restored.

Such mentoring organisations, which break the stereotypes of young people carrying knives, are extremely important. The issue is about awareness; it is about education and schools. It is not just about taking the knives from the young people as they go through the scanners into school, but making sure that when they come out again, they do not get a knife from somewhere else. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) was right about the idea of banning all knives. According to the statistics, kitchen knives are now the weapon of choice in most of these cases. We cannot ban kitchen knives, nor can we have SWAT teams suddenly entering people’s homes, invading the kitchen and taking all those knives away—they just happen to be part of the household. We need to stop the kitchen knife leaving the household for reasons connected to crime, and that is where sensitive policing is so important.

Simon Hughes: I should like to make what might seem a slightly strange and counterintuitive point. It has been put to me that most injuries are caused by the point of a knife or other weapon, not by the blade, and that in the medium term we could think about getting the people who produce knives to ensure that they do not have sharp points, as they do not need sharp points but only blades. That is a production issue that might significantly reduce the danger of the common-or-garden bread knife, kitchen knife or suchlike.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point that I have not thought about before—trust him to come up with an innovative solution to the problem. We would need to consult those who use such knives in kitchens—sadly, I am not one of them, because I cannot cook very well—to see whether that would spoil their culinary delights.

Kelvin Hopkins: The comments of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) are very interesting, but all sorts of implements have sharp points, and we will never find a technical fix for that. Does my right hon. Friend accept that we have to focus on the people who use them rather than the instruments themselves?

Keith Vaz: I take my hon. Friend’s point.

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My penultimate point concerns the stakeholders. On Tuesday, we took evidence in the Home Affairs Committee from the supermarkets and representatives of the alcohol industry. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington was there; he spoke extremely well and asked some searching questions. I am not convinced that the alcohol industry understands the role that it plays in crime. Forty-six per cent. of crimes are alcohol-related. I do not have the statistics for knife-related crime and alcohol, but I believe that they would be of a similar order.

We have heard about pre-loading, whereby people get tanked up—if that is not an unparliamentary term—before they leave their homes. We have heard about happy hours, when people who buy a drink can get another one free. We have heard about discounted prices for drinks. We have heard about loss leaders. The alcohol industry and those who sell alcohol in supermarkets—Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco—are unaware of their responsibilities. It is irresponsible of supermarkets to sell alcohol as a loss leader, trying to compete with each other so that, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch said, in some cases it is more expensive to buy water than beer. The Government need to address those issues. I know that there is a review of the subject. It is of great interest to the Select Committee, and other Members will no doubt want to make their comments. We need to act quickly if we are to make progress.

Mr. Ellwood: The right hon. Gentleman is making an extremely valid point. However, as with the issue of the sharpness or bluntness of the point of the knife, we can find ourselves moving away from the reason why someone decides to leave their house or flat with a knife in their pocket in the first place, before they have even bought a can of beer. The supermarkets are in a difficult position, because were they to get together and agree that prices should be set at a certain level they would hit problems with the Competition Commission, as did the milk cartel that ended up getting fined. While alcohol plays an important part in knife crime, it needs to be tackled in several ways. I, for one, would like more emphasis to be placed on role models such as the father or mother—the people who can set an example and say, “You do not need to leave the house with a knife in your pocket in the first place.”

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he brings me on to my last point. I noticed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you raised your eyebrow and looked at the clock, and to me that is almost a rebuke.

There is a huge responsibility on parents to ask what their children are doing, where they are going and what they are carrying. If their teenager comes in and asks to borrow the kitchen knife, it is reasonable for them to ask, “Why do you need a kitchen knife when you leave the house? We understand that you need it if you want to chop up the carrots, but do you really need it if you’re going down to the local playground?” However, it is not only the parents’ responsibility—it is part of the shared responsibility that we all have in making progress in this area.

I am glad that the Government were able to highlight the problem with their advertisements last week, although I do not know whether that is the best way of
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getting through to parents. Far more shocking are some of the real life examples of teenagers being killed. That kind of crime will shock any parent, because it could be our child. I hope that in placing an emphasis on enforcement, the Government will place equal emphasis on prevention and on education and awareness of parents, which is one of the keys to tackling the problem of youth crime and ensuring that we solve this problem.

1.26 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who leads the Home Affairs Committee so admirably.

I regret the necessity for this debate, as, I am sure, do all other Members, but it is necessary because of the prevalence of knife crime in some of our communities, particularly in London. I should like to start by expressing my condolences to the families and friends of the latest victims of stabbings—Arsema Dawit and Pat Regan—as well as to the Navaneethan family, residents of Carshalton in my constituency, two of whose children died at the weekend. Clearly, those families will never recover fully from those tragedies.

I enthusiastically endorse the Minister’s comments about how the overwhelming majority of young people play a very positive role in society. Like many other Members, I have a steady stream of young people coming from local schools, colleges and universities doing internships or work experience, sometimes in their summer holidays, and they all make a fantastic contribution.

Statistically speaking, it is probably true to say that there is not yet an epidemic of knife crime, but among young people something is clearly amiss. The number of teenagers gunned down, stabbed or beaten to death in the capital has risen from 15 in 2005 and, if current trends continue, could top 35 in 2008. The Government’s response has included some very positive measures, including increasing the maximum term from two to four years—although, as a senior police officer said to me a few days ago, what is most important is for young people to know that they risk being caught carrying the knife, not necessarily to know about the term.

As regards the Prime Minister’s announcement of the presumption of prosecution for people of 16 years or older, could the Minister tell us what assessment has been made of the impact of that in terms of police and court time, and what safeguards will be put in place for innocent young people? Let me illustrate that with an example. A couple of years ago, an American friend of mine in his early 20s came to visit me in Westminster. He was carrying a lock knife. That is not illegal in the US, but when he came here he could have been caught under that legislation. He had no intention of using it, and if he had done he would not have chosen to carry it into Parliament. We need to hear more from the Minister about that.

Obviously, intelligence-led stop and search is essential, and I support Operation Blunt 2, which has worked well in my constituency—four arrests followed an operation a couple of days ago in Sutton—and the use of metal-scanning arches. Catching those carrying
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knives is just part of the solution. A bigger part of the solution, which I hope the Minister will have more time to talk about when he responds because his opening speech was very much about enforcement, is finding out why young people are carrying knives in the first place, what is effective in preventing them from doing so, and whether more can be done to educate them better about the lethal nature of knives.

This last point was put to me by a senior police officer. He did not want to overemphasise it, but he felt that some young people were using knives not knowing that the consequences could be fatal if, for instance, they stabbed someone in the leg. The publicity campaign is clearly part of educating young people better. We also need to consider what is being done to reassure young people that police are out and about in areas of highest risk. I hope that the Minister will also be able to give us an update on the progress of the roll-out of the youth centres that will be delivered as part of the dormant funds proposal. We have heard a lot about that, but so far I have not seen much youth work that has been paid for by that route.

My final point concerns the most recent victim of youth crime, Arsema Dawit. I shall not comment on her case, but reports suggest that she was the victim of a crime involving a stalker. Partly prompted by an officer who has made this suggestion, I would like to ask the Minister about the work being done by the Met and other forces to review stalker cases, particularly those involving young people. How many cases are being reviewed and when does the Minister expect those reviews to be completed? We need to know that that matter is being examined fully.

We all agree that we cannot stand idly by while knife crime takes the lives of our young people. We need more research into the causes of knife crime, better deterrents, better detection, more enforcement and tougher sentences. The Government will have our support as they struggle to control the rise in these fatal attacks.

1.32 pm

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): This debate is very important. In my constituency knife crime has almost remained stable. In 1997, there were 202 knife crime incidents in London, and in 2007, there were 212. What has become more prevalent is that the victims and perpetrators are younger and younger. We have a problem, and we must realise that it is not just knives and guns that kill people—it is people who kill people, and we have to go to the roots of the problem.

I thank the Minister for attending a packed Committee Room 14 this week. About 80 per cent. of the people in that room were young people, and I remember the Minister raising his eyebrows at talk of postcode wars. That phrase is probably unrecognisable to many of us, but it is a serious issue. Young people feel that they are not able to go into other postcode areas because they fear for their lives. The Government will not be able to resolve that issue; we have to connect with young people in order to eliminate that interpreted fear. There are also road codes, to which we
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will never be party; they are the code of the road, and unless people live on that road, they will never know what the code is.

What the Government can do—and they have been successful in it—is give money to young people so that they can have events to resolve those issues. The youth opportunity fund and the youth capital fund, which has now been extended, have enabled young people in my constituency to hold street parties. Young people from all over were able to gather and party together, which eliminated some aspects of the postcode wars. We cannot just throw out legislation, however, and the Government should not be criticised for the work that they are doing, because we have to recognise the effect that it is having on the ground.

There is a lot more work to be done, but in the work that I have been doing with young people, they have come up with recommendations, some of which will be presented to the Minister next week. One of the issues is policing. As well as giving respect to the police, young people would like to be respected by them, and part of that respect is manifested in police accountability. I implore the Minister not to get carried away by the idea of taking away the accountability involved in stop-and-search. That was a fundamental part of the Stephen Lawrence report. It also came about after the sus laws were used, under which police would randomly stop black people in the streets, which resulted in the Brixton riots. We do not want to get to that stage again. Stop-and-search accountability is important, and the Flanagan report suggests the use of electronic devices to make data inputting easier; there is a trial at the moment. I spoke to some police officers in Brent who told me that they prefer to fill in paperwork themselves, rather than give it to a clerk, because of mistakes that might be made that will affect their case later on. It is important that the police are still given the opportunity to record and register that information themselves.

Keith Vaz: Does my hon. Friend disagree with the giving out of hand-held machines to the police as a way of speeding up the recording of information?

Ms Butler: No, it is absolutely a good idea to use technology to speed up the process. I am concerned, however, that we should not eradicate that process. Stop-and-search accountability should be there to stay because it exists for a specific reason. It was introduced to counteract a problem that came about because that accountability was not there from the beginning. If we took it away, we would cause further problems, and we should not be short-sighted in our approach. I wonder whether the Minister could expand on the £1 million campaign that the Government are going to roll out shortly to stop the glamorisation of crime.

Finally, there are lots of relevant voluntary groups and religious institutions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) mentioned the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation. There are also Boyz 2 Men, Not Another Drop, Reallity and Respectism; there are hundreds and hundreds of voluntary organisations. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), who is the Minister for the third sector, has been working hard with those organisations,
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but I wondered whether we might be able to get some of them together so that we can further explore the invaluable work that they are doing in our community. I agree with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), when he says that we have to reach out to all these voluntary organisations to help us resolve the situation of the crime on our streets today.

1.38 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Today’s debate is called a topical debate, but knife crime has been growing year on year for at least the last two decades. Indeed, on 27 March last year, the Select Committee on Home Affairs had an inquiry on the matter, and the Minister gave evidence. That followed several months of asking the Committee to do it, and in February last year, I said to the then Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions that the simple fact was that knife crime is three times more prevalent than gun crime. I challenged the Government to do something about it, and I truly welcome what the current Prime Minister is doing, but more should have been done a long time ago.

In March last year, I presented to the House a petition of 5,000 signatures in the name of my constituent, Mrs. Ann Oakes-Odger, whose son Westley had been killed in Colchester in September 2005. I want to read out the petition because it summarises what the debate is about. It states:

I do not believe that that happens now or that the Government’s proposals will complete the journey, although they move in the right direction. My constituent said that, since she has begun talking to young people about the consequences of carrying knives, she has noticed this:

I would like to say much more, but I appreciate that others wish to speak, so I will draw my comments to a close as quickly as possible. Since my constituent’s son was murdered while he was drawing cash from a machine outside a supermarket in the afternoon in broad daylight, she has taken her anti-knife campaign into the classroom. Her goal is for information on knives, guns, drugs and violent crime to become statutory in all the UK’s secondary schools and later in primary schools. She has packaged the information into “Westley’s Weapons Awareness”, which has Home Office approval.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a fellow Essex Member of Parliament, you will know that we are not considering just an inner-city problem. It is also to be found in the towns around the UK. In my town, Colchester, which
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is dubbed the safest town of its size, knife crime is increasing. In the year finishing at the end of January, 94 knife crimes occurred in the Colchester area. The figure for the previous year was 53. My plea to the Government in today’s brief debate is to raise knife crime and its treatment to the same level as gun crime.

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