Understandably, many hon. Members have highlighted the shocking number of teenagers who have been killed on Londons streets; 27 teenagers were murdered in London in 2007 and that number has already been reached for 2008. These tragic events feed into the appalling situation of violent crime where knives are used. Last year, 258 people across England and Wales lost their lives in incidents where a knife or other pointed weapon was used. That figure was up by nearly a fifth on the figure for the previous year and up by more than a quarter on the figure 10 years ago.
One of the most disturbing trends is that both the victims of these crimes and those suspected of carrying out the offences are getting younger and younger. What is unacceptable to me is the impact that these serious offences have on the quality of life of youngsters growing up in our city. A recent report by NCH, the childrens charity, highlights the shocking situation of young people growing up with the real fear of becoming a victim of crime, particularly violent crime. Even more recently, there were the comments by the Childrens Commissioner for England and Wales, who said that children and young people in England felt increasingly unsafe in their local area, with one in four concerned about violence, crime and weapons.
Part of the challenge is to ensure that we obtain better data about the nature and extent of violence against our young people, and young people need to know that that information matters. That is why it is essential that crimes against under-16s are recognised within the British crime survey. It has not been helpful that the Government have been so slow to act on that issue, because the failure to include that information gives the impression that, in some way, because those crimes are not measured they do not count. That is why the issue of reporting is so relevant.
As we have heard, recent analysis of accident and emergency units has shown that knife-related injuries may well be very heavily understated. Certainly that was the indication from one east London hospital where some research was carried out. That is why I endorse the Mayor of Londons support for the greater use of depersonalised A and E data across London, alongside police data, to provide a more comprehensive crime picture regarding prevalence, geography and trends.
Mr. Pelling: The hon. Gentleman is being rather partisan; I thought that this was meant to be a non-partisan discussion, but he has been critical of what I had to say earlier. I urge him to reconsider that criticism because, after all, within France and Italy the use of the military within policing is an established process. The situation here is so serious that my constituents are, as he has described it, so afeared of being killed, and indeed are being killed on the streets of Croydon, that we need to think of an urgent means of intervention to deal with this matter. The proposals that he puts forwards about long-term solutions will work, but we need immediate action now.
Immediate action can come through a very strong and firm policing presence. That is the way to do it: to get more police out on our streets, to equip them with the tools that they need to address this
issue, and to empower sergeants at the heart of community neighbourhood teams with the ability to invoke stop-and-search powers for a limited period if they know or have received intelligence that a serious crime of violence is about to be committed in their area. That approach is a far stronger, far better and far more community-oriented way to deal with these types of crimes, based on information that is provided to those police sergeants who are very much at the heart of the community. This type of policing is an issue that I have raised before and I urge the Minister, in his new role, to consider taking it up, because it could make a significant difference in breaking this appalling situation that we see in far too many of our communities at the moment.
I come now to the Governments announcement today about additional funding for safer schools partnerships and for ensuring additional funding for routes home from school and for other safeguarding measures. I welcome the focus on those areas, but we need to understand that this issue is not simply about specific people at specific times in specific areas. It is a much broader issue than that, and I urge the Minister to consider a much more wide-ranging set of initiatives to address it. That is why we need to strengthen families, to provide younger people with a much more stable environment to grow up in; that is why we need to encourage young people away from crime, by helping them off welfare and into work; that is why we would introduce the national citizens service for all 16-year-olds who want a place to help them to develop as individuals and allow them to make their own contribution to society; and that is why we would put much greater emphasis on getting people off drugs, rather than maintaining them in addiction.
I welcome much of the work that is being done in our communities. Kids Count is an innovative organisation that seeks to give voice to young people, ensure that they are very much at the heart of the debate, and explain how they can have a positive say. In addition, the Mayors office has taken firm steps through educational programmes to tackle violence.
I welcome this debate. It is good that we have had an opportunity to discuss the issues, but we need a commitment to short-term, medium-term and long-term action. We have the power and a duty to act. Young people are our future. We must ensure that they can look forward to that future with confidence and hope, and without the fear of falling victim to the scourge of violent crime.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) for securing this important debate and for the reasonable way in which he introduced it and set the tone for what has been a constructive discussion. I thank him and all Members who contributed to it. I shall make a few general comments before trying to respond to all the points that have been made by hon. Members.
I want a strong message to go out today so that anyone listening to this debate will realise that there are, understandably, many views on how best we can tackle youth violence, not just in London but across the country, and that although we do not all share a particular view,
we are united in our commitment to making that a priority. We are also united in sending our condolences to the families and friends of the young peoplethere have been too many of themwho have lost their life in recent times.
It is absolutely clear that youth violence is a challenging area for communitiesnot only where it happens but where there is fear of it happeningand for the Government. It is not helped by some media coverage of horrific cases, which sometimes gives the wrong impression that all young children are out of control and that no one is safe on the streets of our capital. Behind each of the stories is a personal tragedy, but, mercifully, such instances are rare. However, because there is tragedy and an issue to resolve, we are determined to take robust action against the minority of young people who commit violent crime.
I shall not give too many statistics, apart from saying that three quarters of young people do not get involved in crime or offend, and 5 per cent. of the worst offenders are responsible for about half the youth crime that takes place in their area. As many hon. Members have said, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of young people do well and are a credit to themselves and to their families.
I want to say something about the background to the issue, which has shaped our approach and will go on shaping it. We set out earlier this year a broad and comprehensive approach to tackling youth crime in the youth crime action plan, which seeks to reduce all types of criminal activity by young people. It is fair to say that many of the commitments made in the plan and the interventions that are proposed will go some way to tackling violent crime among young people. We are backing the plan with £100 million of funding over the comprehensive spending review period to help prevent young people from getting involved in crime.
There are three pillars to the youth crime action plan. The first is tough enforcement in response to unacceptable or illegal behaviour. The second is non-negotiable support to address the underlying causes of poor behaviour, including the use of parenting orders, and the third is early intervention to tackle problems before they become serious or entrenched. The reality is that we cannot have one unless all the others are in place. That has been picked up by hon. Members throughout the debate. It must be clearly pointed out to young people who are in danger of committing a crime or carrying out antisocial behaviour that they face swift enforcement and a response to stop bad behaviour in its tracks.
Hon. Members have also pointed out that we must look at longer lasting solutions to the problem. We must change behaviourit is hoped that that will not require too long a periodbut also have an effect in the longer term.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentlemans point about understanding why young people may feel that it is somehow in their interest to carry a knife. He made a plea for involving young people in the process of finding out why they feel that way, and I want to reassure him that that is precisely what we are doing. If he sees a campaign in the media about knife crime and looks at how the message is being put out, he will realise that the campaign not only targets young people but that often it has actually been drawn up by young people themselves.
We need to concentrate on practical steps that will make a real difference. Several hon. Members referred to the Home Secretarys announcement about security on the way to and from school. That was a response today to the tragic events in Liverpool, but I assure hon. Members that the plan has existed for some time and that we intend to roll it out.
We also want to look at diversionary activities for young people. My constituents are like those of the hon. Gentleman: their first response to a question about young people is often not about the danger that young people pose but about the lack of activities for them in the area. The Government are looking at the issue, particularly what is available on Friday and Saturday nights. It is not rocket science that we need to ensure that resources in an area are targeted not only at where they will be most useful but at when they will be most useful.
Several hon. Members referred to statistics, and I want to reassure them that that work is being done across the Government. In particular, my Department is working with colleagues in the Department of Health to collect data, but we have to make sure that when they are brought forward, they are in a proper, manageable form that allows us to make proper comparisons. A danger if we do not do that is that people may get the wrong impression when the media report the figures.
The hon. Gentleman said that young people are reluctant to come forward. I understand that and do not underestimate the difficulties in encouraging them to do so. This is about building trust and a sense of safety and well-being in the area, and that is not easy, but we want to ensure that victims are at the centre of what we do and that they feel that the system works for them.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about tougher sentences not deterring criminality. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) in this regard. I want to send out a clear message that this is not an either/or situation. We must ensure that there are measures in place to divert young people and that they have positive role models. We must use education and so on, but we must also do things in the short term. That means sending out a message to young people who carry weapons that they will be detected, that action will be taken against them, that they can expect to find themselves in court for serious incidents, and that, in some cases, they can expect a custodial sentence. Deterrence is important.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey was tempted to make international comparisons. I was pleased that he mentioned local neighbourhood policing, which is at the centre of what we are doing. We want to embed it through the policing Green Paper, but we are also doing some work on gangs. The overarching theme in many of the issues that we discuss, whether knife violence or gun crime, is the growing preponderance of gangs in our areas.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the event on Thursday, Enough! We can make youth violence history. I wish the group well. Unfortunately, I cannot be there because I am due in Liverpool on Friday. Tragic events there have given us a new focus.
The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) made an important point about not demonising young people. He also discussed best practice. What we are
trying to do in 69 areas12 of them in Londonis to concentrate resources but also to learn best practice. I agree with what he said about the need for a solution, if not with his solution.
The hon. Member for Upminster made important points about the lack of family support and role models. I thought that she was answered very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who made a point about alcohol and drug use
This must be, without a doubt, the Metropolitan Police Services longest-running unresolved dispute. The beginning of this tragedy dates back to a period in policing when Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt, the tough nut in Life on Mars, would have felt in his element. It started in April 1982, with a booze and blue movies all-night party, about which I will give a little bit more detail later. This story has blighted Mr. Warrens life and has hung like the proverbial albatross around the necks of a succession of Metropolitan Police CommissionersSir Kenneth Newman, Sir Peter Imbert, Sir Paul Condon, Sir John Stevens and Sir Ian Blair. With a story that has spanned 26 years, there will be long, static periods where nothing happens. But much has changed since the last debate eight years ago, which is why a debate now is appropriate.
The medical officer, who was central to this story, is now deceased. Sir Ian Blair, who was also central to it, is goneI must say that neither Mr. Warren nor I particularly lament his departure. I speak only from my personal experience of Sir Ian Blairs involvement in this case. I can tell the Minister that what I thought was a confidential conversation that I had with Sir Ian was then relayed in writing to Mr. Warren in a way that was completely inappropriate and unacceptable. Another change is that the new Mayor clearly intends to take a hands-on attitude towards the Metropolitan police. The final thing that has changed is that Mr. Warren has prostate cancer. I mention this with Mr. Warrens agreement, not to engender sympathy, although it may do that, but to highlight the urgent need for closure on this matter.
The House is no stranger to the case of Police Constable Gordon Warren. I debated the case in this Chamber on 12 January 2000. It was also raised by my predecessor, Nigel Forman, who said in his speech that it was his longest-running constituency case. Unfortunately, it was my longest-running case in 2000, and it has dragged on for a further eight years.
Ministers are no strangers to the case, either. I met two Home Office Ministers when they were in officethe right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). The Metropolitan police is, of course, familiar with the case. I have met Sir Paul Condon, Sir John Stevens and Michael Bennett and Glen Smyth of the Police Federation. We now have a new Minister who is familiar with this case.
In the previous debate this morning, I mentioned how the Minister would have to face four, five or however many debates on knife crime in future years. He may, indeed, be faced with a number of debates about the case of Mr. Warren, unless it is satisfactorily resolved shortly.
I want to set out, again, the key events of this sad saga, so that the Minister is fully briefed. He has clearly been briefed by his officials, but there are always two sides to a briefing, and the Minister needs to hear the other side as well. The case started in April 1982, when
Mr. Warren, then a serving police officer, was asked by his senior officer, an inspector, to attend a party at Sutton police station while on duty. Quite rightly, Mr. Warren refused, but that event triggered the whole sorry saga. That inspector actively tried to secure Mr. Warrens dismissal.
Another key event took place in January 1985, when a medical certificate was issued by the doctor, who I mentioned earlierthe medical officer who is now deceasedsaying that Mr. Warren was medically unfit. That assessment was overturned by a number of consultants who confirmed that that was not so. But a year later, another medical certificate was issued by the same doctor.
In 1988, Mr. Warren won damages for wrongful dismissal and further damages in the Court of Appeal in 1989. In February, 1994, an ex gratia interim paymentI stress that it was supposed to be an interim paymentof £85,000 was offered by the Met. In April 1994, as I have mentioned, my predecessor as Member of Parliament, Nigel Forman, secured an Adjournment debate in the House on this subject.
In 1995, Sir Paul Condon finally13 years after the blue movies party that Mr. Warren rightly refused to attendwrote to Mr. Warren issuing an apology, in which he stated that there were absolutely no grounds for Mr. Warrens dismissal and no question of mental instability or paranoia.
The story moves on. In April 2000, and then in May 2000, letters were received from Sir Ian Blair, then deputy commissioner, offering a conditional settlement and then withdrawing it after Mr. Warren did not accept the settlement within an arbitrary period of time set by the Met.
In April 2002, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), wrote to me challenging a number of assertions made by Mr. Warren and, interestingly in my view, stated:
It is difficult to think of another respondent
seeking over a long period of time to offer a sum of money to a plaintiff well in excess of the sum awarded by the court.
I wonder whether the then Home Secretary, when he wrote to me, pondered why that might have been so. Perhaps the Minister intends to refer to that letter as well, in which case he may also want to reflect on why the Met was so adamant that it wanted to provide compensation that the letter says was
well in excess of the sum awarded by the court.
The Met is not a charity, so it must have had a reason for making its offer. I can suggest a few reasons. Could it be that the Met thought it had a serious case to answer, had done Mr. Warren a terrible injustice and might still be subject to a legal challenge? Or is John Kenny, an ex-inspector who has followed Mr. Warrens case closely, right to state in a letter to the Daily Mail just a couple of days ago:
If ex-Police Constable Gordon Warren...wins his case then it will conclusively prove that not all police ill-health retirements have been honestly earned and will thus fuel further the long-held suspicions that this expensive ploy of awarding such golden goodbyes has been used by the service for years to rid itself of those considered to be causing it an embarrassment?