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1.42 pm

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I welcome today’s debate and the rational and reasonable way in which it has been conducted. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who made an excellent speech and highlighted the issues and failings in the fight against crime in the past few years. I also praise the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Select Committee Chairman, who made constructive comments. I noted with interest that investigations are taking place and his appraisal of the position.

I am pleased to make a short contribution because the subject is of genuine and growing concern in my constituency and my borough of Bexley. Traditionally, Bexley has been the safest borough in London, and it remains a tremendous place in which to live and work. However, this year three murders—one in each of the three parliamentary constituencies—involving knives regrettably occurred in my borough. In April, a man was stabbed to death in the Barnehurst area of my constituency. In January, a stabbing occurred in the constituency of my friend and neighbour the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin). More recently, a tragedy occurred in Old Bexley and Sidcup, where a promising young actor was stabbed outside a bar. In each case, Bexley police responded extremely well and I praise them for their actions in trying to allay the fears of residents in the borough. Of course, they must catch the perpetrators and we hope that people will be brought to justice in all those cases.

Constituents regularly contact my office because they are increasingly concerned about safety and especially violent crime. I intervened on the Under-Secretary to underline the concern of many young people about their personal safety and security on public transport when going home late in the evening and so on. We must tackle the fear factor among young people. They are frightened that they will be the victims and, regrettably, the statistics show that that is happening.

I welcome the appointment of the new Mayor of London, who made tackling crime a major component of his manifesto. He has already started work on that and we welcome his appointment of Deputy Mayor Ray Lewis, who will be directly responsible for young people and opportunities. That is crucial.

Several hon. Members highlighted the fact that we are considering a concerted effort. It involves the Government, and we want them to do more. I have not had time to examine the details of this morning’s proposals by the Prime Minister and the Government because of my duties in the Chamber. However, I will read them with great interest to ascertain whether they get to the nub of the problem—I hope that they do.

The concerted effort involves not only the Government and the police, but local councils and communities and, of course, parents and education. The latter are fundamental: education and parents must play a vital
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part. We want the perpetrators to be apprehended and punished and to ensure that our streets are safe and that law-abiding citizens can work, walk the streets and go about their normal business without fear, but education must underlie that.

Catching criminals and sending out a strong message is vital, and I hope that we will be united in supporting that. I would therefore welcome measures to increase awareness of the risk of carrying knives. The Under-Secretary responded to my intervention about the advertising and promotional campaign. We welcome it, but it is a small part of the overall picture. It is another weapon that we can use in the fight against knife crime, but we should not push it too much to the fore because other issues are much more important. I tried to make that point to the Under-Secretary.

Violent crime has doubled under the Government and recently horrific incidents have become far too common. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch that we need a short-term, medium-term and long-term plan. The Conservative party has it, and we will continue to present our proposals because we must deal with the problem now. If we do not, our society, especially our young people, will suffer even more.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) will not find it intimidating if I intimate to him and the House that I hope that the Under-Secretary will have at least five minutes to wind up the debate.

1.47 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and appreciate being able to catch your eye. Again, I apologise for arriving late.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to participate in this important debate. However, I am sad that it is tacked on to the end of the week, on a day when there is a one-line Whip. I fear that the number of hon. Members in the Chamber reflects not the importance of the subject, but the timing. The subject is so important and emotive that perhaps we could hold an annual debate on knife crime. Let us have an annual report from the Government and the Select Committee outlining the progress that has been made in the previous year to tackle something that is high on everybody’s agenda—the agenda of parliamentarians and legislators, of parents who are worried about their children and of young people, as hon. Members of all parties underlined so eloquently. May I request, through the Under-Secretary, regular feedback on progress on tackling the blight of knife crime, which has increased?

Ideas have been presented for making knives blunt and removing them altogether, but we need to ask what encourages an individual to go out with a knife before even having a drink. A knife is perceived as a badge of honour, something that must be had to be part of the gang. It is seen as something that must be carried to feel proud and part of the pack. There is something very wrong when our society has moved to a point at which children grow up believing that that is right.
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Somewhere along the line, someone has failed in their duty to get across the following message to those youngsters as they grow up: “This is wrong; this is not the way of the society that we want to live in; this is not the sort of community and safe environment that children should be growing up in,” and which we perhaps enjoyed.

Let me talk about the deterrent. Police powers are important. In Bournemouth and Dorset, one crime a week is committed involving a knife or a blade. That is unacceptable. The police require more powers to stop and search, and to ensure that the message gets through that those who carry such implements are likely to get caught. We must also talk about prevention, and this is where role models are important. I intervened on the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and talked about role models. He said—I think in jest—that he could not participate in the online youth discussions.

I would argue that older people have more of a responsibility to participate in the wider debate. Who are the role models we enjoyed when we were young, compared with today’s role models? In a broken family, where the father figure has disappeared, where does little Johnny, aged five, six or seven, look for aspiration? Today’s role models are different from those that I grew up with and absolutely different from those that my parents and grandparents grew up with. We lack those people in society who can guide those fragile and impressionable children in the way that they should be guided. That is why children end up joining gangs—so that they can feel part of a cohesive unit, because their family no longer provides one.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): I apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House for arriving even later for this debate than he did. On his point about role models, does he agree that one place that the young boys without father figures whom he describes look to for a male role model is either the sports industry or the music industry? Is it not a good idea for those seen as role models in those fields to send out precisely the right messages not just about gun crime, which they have done, to their credit, but about knife crime?

Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. It is difficult for parliamentarians or the Government to interfere with sports or entertainment, but anyone in the public eye must understand that they have a social responsibility to the country that they live in and the community that they participate in. People watch them and they see how they behave, whether we are talking about Amy Winehouse or the way Wayne Rooney goes up to referees on television and swears at them; we cannot hear the words, but we can see exactly what he is saying.

A four-year-old sees such behaviour and thinks that it is the way to deal with authority. I would like to see a sin bin in football, so that people understand straight away that they cannot get away with challenging authority in that way. Those are, I am afraid, the building blocks that lead to a legacy of crime, which starts either because people do not respect the authority figures around them or because there is simply an absence of authority figures.

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This is an important debate. A lot of ideas have been put forward, and I understand that further ideas came forward in the summit at No. 10 Downing street. This debate should not end here. Let us continue our work, rather than pack up our bags at the end of the day. Let us return to the issue in six months or a year’s time and see how we have progressed.

1.53 pm

Mr. Coaker: This has been a good and important debate. One thing that I have taken from it is that none of the hon. Members who contributed got up and said, “If only we did this and that, all this would be solved.” In other words, there is no one thing that needs to happen if the problem is to be dealt with. However, nobody can underestimate—indeed, nobody has underestimated—the seriousness of the issue. We cannot wake up every morning wondering whether somebody will have been stabbed overnight and added to the numbers of those already murdered on our streets. It is incumbent on us all to take action.

I will consider the suggestion that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) made about ensuring that this is not just a one-off debate. I also take the point that members of the Home Affairs Committee made about its work. We need to keep looking into the issue. I am conscious of the fact that people sometimes think that we see a headline in a paper and we pay attention to it, but then a couple of months later we move on to something else.

Bob Russell: Perhaps I can remind the Minister that his concluding comment to the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday 27 March 2007 was:

Mr. Coaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that—it now seems clear that I will indeed be coming back. The serious point, however, is that Select Committees perform an important role not only in holding Ministers to account, but in considering how we move public policy forward and looking at what is happening. We owe it to the people of this country, and particularly the young people, not to be complacent, but to see what more we can do. I am pleased that hon. Members in all parts of the House welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement this morning about the expectation of prosecution of all those over the age of 16 charged with a possession offence.

In the brief time left, let me try to pick out some common themes. In answer to the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who, to be fair, made some reasonable points, I point out that the number of homicides involving sharp instruments has varied from year to year, but there has not been an explosion in the
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number of such homicides. These are the figures for homicides by sharp instrument as the apparent method of killing in England and Wales, which can include screwdrivers and things other than knives: there were 201 in 1998-99, 213 in 2000-01, 265 in 2002-03, 242 in 2003-04, 250 in 2004-05, 219 in 2005-06 and 258 in 2006-07. It is important to put those statistics on the record, because there are variations from year to year. Of course, we would not want any of those murders to be committed and would rather the figure for each year was zero.

Neighbourhood policing is crucial, and we have committed resources to local police forces. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to tell the police how to organise things in their areas, but he will find that his party supports local decision making, and he will have to find a way around that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) pointed out, we have put resources into policing and seen huge increases in the numbers of police on our streets.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, made a very good and wide-ranging contribution. I want to pick out two things that he said. First, he mentioned the importance of voluntary organisations such as the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation. As I was trying to say to the hon. Member for Hornchurch, voluntary and community organisations are crucial if we are to solve the problem. They often have a better handle on the problem and a better way of getting to the people affected, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) knows from the work that she has done. We need to work better with such organisations and fully consult young people.

The proposals on 16 to 17-year-olds that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) mentioned have the full support of the Association of Chief Police Officers and prosecutors. We are trying to roll out weapons awareness programmes and so on. I agree with the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) on the importance of knife crime and the need to recognise that it is far more prevalent. As important as gun crime is, we need to ensure that knife crime has the importance attached to it that it needs.

In the few seconds that are left, let me again thank all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. As a Government, we are absolutely determined to do all that we can to work with everyone to deal with the problem. It cannot be solved, as hon. Members in all parts of the House have said, just by enforcement. All of us need to work together—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of the proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).

5 Jun 2008 : Column 963

Care and Support

1.59 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I beg to move,

I welcome the opportunity to have this debate on the Floor of the House on a subject that is undoubtedly one of the great challenges that now faces our society, as well as increasing numbers of families and politicians of all persuasions, as we face up to some of the biggest issues in society. I want to use my opening speech to refer to the context of this debate, the progress that we have made over the past 11 years and the changes that we are now making. I shall then move on to the difficult issues that have to be resolved in creating a system that can respond to this new world.

I shall start by describing the context. There is a constant debate about the big challenges that we face, including climate change, globalisation and fundamentalist terrorism. Arguably, demographic change is equally important in terms of the big public policy challenges that this country faces. Undoubtedly, for many people, elder care is the new child care. Care and support might have been an issue for a relatively small number of families in the past, but it is now a mainstream issue for the majority of families in this country.

This is also a question of social justice, whether in regard to the way in which we treat older people in terms of dignity, respect and quality of life, or to our ability to support disabled people and people with mental health needs to have equality of citizenship and a right to live independently as equal citizens in our society.

This issue is at the heart of what we mean by 21st century families. I shall give the House some examples of the changes that we are now seeing. Many parents—mainly women—are struggling to hold down a job and bring up a child while also caring for an elderly parent or grandparent. Many husbands and wives are caring for a partner who is perhaps in the early stages of dementia, yet, at 3.30 every afternoon, they are expected to be at the school gates to collect a grandchild. As a consequence of the fact that, thankfully, disabled people now live full and long lives, some people are now lifetime carers. All those factors are having a massive impact on the nature of family life in the 21st century.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I, too, recognise the debt of gratitude that we owe to the carers of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Those carers depend on respite care and, ultimately, on their loved ones going into care. Is it not important that we get the home support right, and that the NHS has the facilities to take care of those individuals?

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is an issue about the volume and availability of respite care, and there is equally an issue about the quality and nature of that care. If someone is caring for a parent—or, indeed, a husband or wife—who has dementia, and they feel that the available respite care does not offer quality, dignity or safety, they will be
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reluctant to use it. It is therefore incredibly important that we expand the availability of respite care in this changing world, and that we ensure that people are confident and comfortable that that care will properly look after their dependent relative.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I accept what my hon. Friend says about the fear of inadequate care in care homes, but a much greater fear is that there will not be any respite care, and that the excessive pressure on carers in the home will, in time, break them. Is it not of primary importance to ensure that respite care and—eventually, when necessary—residential care are provided, and that we do not pressurise people to keep elderly relatives in the home when they cannot cope?

Mr. Lewis: I partly agree with my hon. Friend. The vast majority of older people want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, and that is quite a shift compared with the expectations of my generation and my parents’ generation vis- -vis my grandparents’ generation, who might have accepted the inevitability of institutionalisation. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that, too often, families are being left to struggle because appropriate residential or respite care is not available in their local community. When we announce in the near future our new deal for carers, one of the most important issues that it will address will be the availability and quality of respite care.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On the wider issue, is it not the case that people were promised in 1979, when Tony Blair said that he did not want—

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): 1979?

Mr. Hollobone: I am sorry; I meant 1997. Tony Blair said that he did not want to live in a country in which the only way that pensioners could get residential care was by selling their home, but that is still happening today, 11 years on. And is not the fact that the situation south of the border is rather different from that north of the border causing growing resentment?

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