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10 Jun 2009 : Column 281WH—continued

As I am sure the Minister would expect, we will be focusing clearly on the element of discretion, and whether the Government have, in fact, learned lessons about being rigid and top-down in their approach.

The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on some of the work that the Mayor of London is doing were interesting. Yes, this issue touches the whole of the country, and I would not want this to become a London-centric debate, but, as the Mayor highlighted in some of his briefings, sadly, most homicides occur in London. That may be why some of the debates have been framed around the capital city.

We are looking carefully at some of the Mayor’s interventions on prevention, and also on enforcement. The Daedalus project uses a more intensive approach with someone who is going into a young offender institution for the first time. Resettlement is an important aspect of the project, which tries to reduce recidivism and stop the spiral of reoffending. We should reflect on and consider further some of the important and innovative ideas that are coming out of the Mayor’s office.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the important work of local authorities. They have a key role in the prevention agenda—the prevention strand—because so much of this is about how local authorities’ individual departments drive issues forward. That is why I am critical of some crime and disorder reduction partnerships. At present, too many of them are police-led rather than council-led. We need political buy-in: it is the driving force to get a partnership to work, and to get departments such as housing, children’s services and social services to engage properly with the police and the primary care trust. Political ownership is essential to driving things forward, to putting the prevention strand very much at the forefront, and to working with the police and complementing their enforcement activity.

Yes, the police have to have an eye to that, but, ultimately, they are there as enforcers. It is perhaps a mistake to try to lump everything on to the police, to say that they should do enforcement and prevention. The prevent strand needs to be owned much more clearly and firmly by the local authority as well.

Obviously, on positive activities, there is a need to recognise that, sadly, we can have clubs and sports facilities, but, in some cases, too many young people are too scared to go and use them. This is about transporting a young person from where they live to the community facility that they might want to enjoy. The impact of postcode gangs and the feeling that they are going outside their territory are why, in essence, policing and the safety side have to be a key part of the overall strategy to ensure that diversionary activities can actually be enjoyed and used by young people who perhaps feel scared in their own communities.

The saddest aspect of this is the recognition that young people are most likely to be the victims of this kind of crime. The children’s charity NCH noted that
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becoming a victim of crime, particularly a violent crime, is a real fear of children and young people growing up in the UK today. It is a sad reality, and we have to face up to the situation and the feeling young people have that they are not safe.

We need to look at enforcement, but we also need to focus on and place much greater emphasis on prevention. That is why my party would seek to strengthen families, and to provide young people with a much more stable environment in which to grow up. That is why we would encourage young people away from crime by helping them off welfare and into work—important points were made about that this afternoon. That is why we would introduce the national citizen service for all 16-year-olds who want a place to help them develop as individuals and to allow them to make their own contribution to society.

Breaking the spiral of offending before it becomes deep-rooted is essential to preventing young people from getting stuck in the criminal justice system, in persistent offending and on the conveyor belt to crime. We need to continue the positive discussions that we have had in recent weeks.

3.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) not only on securing the debate but on her thoughtful remarks.

Today’s debate has been thoughtful and interesting. It follows yesterday’s debate, which was consensual, so, for the sake of politics, let me break the consensus briefly and respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) about partnership working, in particular around central direction. He argued that the Government need to learn the lesson about trying to direct from the centre—we are learning that lesson—but then sought to dictate that local authorities rather than the police should chair local partnerships. That is a matter for local partnerships. There are different models, and the decision depends on the locality. He also spoke about partnership and, with what I thought was a fairly old-fashioned view of policing, the role of the police. Of course the police are there to enforce the law, but they also play an important part in prevention. Certainly the police whom I speak to in and around partnership working accept that we have moved on.

But let me move back to consensus and the shared ambition of everyone who spoke this afternoon and recognises that youth crime, particularly violent crime, harms individuals and communities. We are determined—this is a feeling across the House—that we need to make young people and the communities in which they live safer. This debate comes against a backdrop of falling crime over the past decade or more, fewer young people offending for the first time and falls in reoffending. However, we must recognise that there is real concern about serious violent crime committed by young people, often against young people, and that perception, which is why this topic simply will not go away.

Let me make two points about the context. I strongly agree with what has been said about today’s generation of young people. The vast majority just want to get on
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with their lives; indeed, they never get into trouble. I would go further and say that, far from being a problem in their communities, the ones whom I meet are often the ones who have volunteered in some way and are putting something back into their community. They are often the unsung heroes of their community.

Secondly, we should pay tribute to the voluntary organisations, churches, schools, police, other agencies and parents who work day in and day out to provide opportunities for and support to young people, and to nail the lie that Britain is broken. I do not want to get into the argument whether we should say “state” or “society”. I prefer to use the word “community”, which is at the heart of tackling many of the problems that we are discussing.

Let us be absolutely honest: a small minority of young people get into trouble and cause concern, and an even smaller minority get involved in serious violent crime. I thought that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) was in danger of going a little overboard in his description of young people, although I agree with the general thrust of what he said. Like him, I taught in secondary schools—in my case, for 17 years—before coming to this House. The question of who might go on to offend is complex. I taught for half the time in an affluent area and half the time in what might be described as a deprived area. I taught two people, one from each of those schools, who I know went on to commit murder. They represent a very small minority and are extreme cases, but we need to be careful about drawing generalisations from that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North has said, around 5 per cent. of young people commit 50 per cent. of youth crime, and we are determined to deal with that minority. We seek to do that with the tackling knives action programme and the youth crime action plan, which will send out a message that such behaviour will not be tolerated. That means tough enforcement and non-negotiable support, but crucially it also means a range of preventive measures, including developing parenting and family services. It also means putting services in place to tackle the misuse of drugs and alcohol, for example, which sometimes fuel the problem.

I welcome the recent report by the Home Affairs Committee, which has been the backdrop to our debate today. I acknowledge the important work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in producing a fair and, at times, hard-hitting report that recognises the effort and resources put into tackling knife crime, particularly through prevention.

We have committed £12 million to the tackling knives action programme between last June and March 2010. Responding to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North, we should recognise that problems evolve and change. Therefore, the focus has shifted in the second part of that programme, not away from knife crime, but to serious violent crime in a wider context. Signs of progress show that that programme is working, but I refuse adamantly to use the word “success” as long as young people are taking knives out on to the streets and injuring each other and, in some cases, killing each other.

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I want to mention a number of measures that the Government are taking and a number of resources that we are expending, which I hope will address the themes that have been picked up in this debate. Operation Staysafe, for example, organised jointly by the police and children’s services, took 124 young people off the streets into a place of safety over one weekend in February. Their parents and carers were grateful for their return and for the protection that was offered. However, that operation also challenges parents to accept responsibility for their children, some of whom are young, are out at night and are being put into vulnerable positions. It is important that parents should be held accountable, and, if necessary, they should be supported as well as challenged.

We are working with Be Safe to provide training to young people in workshops on the dangers of carrying weapons, which involves giving information to more than 1 million young people over the next five years. More than 95,000 young people attended the weapons awareness programme up to April last year. That point was recognised by the Home Affairs Committee in its important work.

Tackling youth violence also means recognising why some young people seek respect by carrying weapons. That point was picked up by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). Through the youth sector development fund, managed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Home Office launched a £500,000 scheme in TKAP areas, which involves supporting young people’s efforts to remove themselves from gang culture as well as preventing others from being tempted to join. Our recent “It Doesn't Have to Happen” advertising campaign was developed by young people in terms of content and the medium used. As a middle-aged Minister in the Home Office in Whitehall, it is not necessarily for me to pick the message or the medium; it is up to people who understand better than me what message will work and what medium will get to the people whom we want to get to. That campaign also encourages parents, particularly mothers, to talk to their children about the dangers of carrying a knife.

The knife possession prevention programme targets under-18s who have been convicted of possession but not given a custodial sentence. Piloted in the original 10 TKAP areas, the programme dealt with more than its estimate of 230 young people last year, challenging their behaviour but supporting them to change it. Allied to the TKAP programme is the youth crime action plan, rolled out in 69 areas in England and two in Wales. It covers, for example, school police patrols, the family intervention programme and street teams to support young people on the front line.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North mentioned schools. We encourage safer school partnerships, which are effective in making young people feel safer, reducing antisocial behaviour and improving attendance at school. We want those partnerships to be the norm rather than the exception. I agree with the comments from all hon. Members about the importance of neighbourhood policing, which can play a role in this regard and which is central to this issue.

The Open initiative is providing positive activities for young people when they need them most on Friday and Saturday evenings. It is part of the £900 million Aiming
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High programme. I understand the point about the squeeze on resources locally, because we face similar issues in government. Therefore, it is important that we take into account the points made in such debates before councils rush off to set their council tax at an arbitrary figure to capture a headline, although that will actually do nothing to support services in local communities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North mentioned the Uncut project and its powerful documentary, which was recommended in the Committee’s report. I want to put on the record our recognition of the importance of that work and that of other organisations that devote huge amounts of time and energy to tackling the causes of serious youth violence.

I am sure that Uncut is aware that young people are much more likely to be victims of crime than adults, yet they are less likely to report the crime or to seek support. They are in danger of retaliating and getting into trouble themselves or sometimes befriending the people who have offended against them, because they think that, somehow, that gives them security. We need to work with those victims, as we are doing now, to ensure that we do not escalate the problem. Over the past year, we have piloted support for victims in five pioneer areas, supporting those who need it and building confidence through shared experience and engaging in positive activities. Nearly 400 victims have been supported in this way and, over the next year, we want to roll that out to more areas.

We have worked hard to restrict access to weapons by young people. We have worked hard with retailers to limit shop and online sales. We are also doing some things that have not been mentioned today. First, we are working hard with the Design Alliance on important work, and 12 of the country’s top designers are demonstrating how they can take a problem and design it out before it becomes a problem. Those designers are working on a set of knives for the kitchen—that is where many people access the weapon that they then take out—that can do the job in a kitchen but are
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virtually useless when it comes to stabbing somebody. Those knives will be piloted in the autumn.

Secondly, we are working on a new generation of e-commerce mobile phones that are being piloted but that will not be rolled out for a further two years. Let us see whether we can get ahead of the game and explain to the people bringing those phones into the marketplace that it is about more than just market forces. It is not just about the £30 on the phone that is in danger or about the phone’s value; it is about the well-being of the young person who will be injured when that phone is taken from them, unless we can get some way of saying to perpetrators, “It’s just not worth while going down that route,” as they did previously with mobile phones.

Thirdly, when we brought young people together and asked them about where they feel safe in their schools and communities, it was remarkable, because they told us that the two things they want are CCTV and better lighting. When we said, “But CCTV means you’ll be watched,” they said, “We want to be watched, because we want to feel safe.” Let us see if we can do that. It is not just about having more social housing, for example, but about better designing the estates on which those social houses are being built. That is crucial.

Stop-and-search has been mentioned. That is an important part of what the police do, but I accept that it has to be sensitively done. We are also making important improvements in collecting data from the NHS, particularly in TKAP areas, that are informing intelligence about knife crime and serious violent crime and allowing a more joined-up approach across partnerships to tackle a terrible problem.

My time is running out, but I want to say that we know that there is a great deal more that we have to do. However, I assure my hon. Friend and others that we are absolutely committed not just to reducing knife crime, but to reducing serious violent crime among young people. That requires enforcement and prevention. At the end of the day, it is about making young people safer in their communities.

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RAF Allied Memorial (Plymouth Hoe)

4 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to have secured this debate so soon after the 65th anniversary commemorations of the D-day landings and so close to the start of armed forces and veterans week. I want to use this opportunity not only to raise awareness of Plymouth’s RAF and Allied Air Force monument on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, but to tell the story of how it came about, why it is in Plymouth and, most significantly, why it is so important that it exists.

The memorial is the only one, or perhaps the first one, in the country to acknowledge those who served in all commands of the Royal Air Force and Allied Air Forces during the second world war, including men and women from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, former Rhodesia, South Africa, Belgium, former Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland. It also marks our particular gratitude to the United States of America for the major part that it played in the air war, particularly over Europe, and the substantial losses that it sustained with our other main ally, the USSR.

It is sobering to reflect that some 107,000 members of the Royal Air Force paid the ultimate sacrifice between 1939 and 1945, with 84,000 members of the United States air force and 42,000 of the Soviet air force. The tablet at the foot of the memorial makes specific reference to the command losses during the 1939-45 war, including Ferry Command, West Africa Command, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Balloon Command, Army Co-operation Command, Maintenance Command, Transport Command, 2nd Tactical Air Force, Flying Training Command, South East Asia Command and Technical Training Command, as well as Fighter Command, Coastal Command, Middle East Command and, of course, Bomber Command.

The memorial stands atop Plymouth Hoe, our wonderful historic waterfront, which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck)—who I am glad to see here today—has likened to Sydney harbour. People who are not from Plymouth may find that comparison difficult to imagine, but for Plymouthians the Hoe is a special place. It is the focus for many of our most important events, as it will be for our marking of national armed forces and veterans week.

With its naval heritage, Plymouth may seem an unlikely choice for a memorial to commemorate air forces, but our city's connection with the armed forces is as varied as it is deep. Plymouth Hoe overlooks the site of what was RAF Mountbatten, home of the Sunderland flying boats and Catalinas, and the air station to which a certain Aircraftman Shaw, who is better known as Lawrence of Arabia, fled to escape publicity in the 1930s.

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