Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 240-259)


27 JANUARY 2009

  Q240 Chairman: Dr Creasy, Mr Reid, Ms Ibrahim, welcome to this session of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Can I refer all those present to the Register of Members' Interests where the interests of all Members here are noted. Thank you for coming in. As you know, we have an ongoing inquiry into knife crime. Yesterday members of the Select Committee were in Leeds and we looked at the Leeds experience of dealing with knife crime. Is there evidence of young people carrying knives in the Scouts? Is this a big issue amongst the peer group of Scouts?

  Ms Ibrahim: I have not experienced any kind of knife crime within the Scouts or within my local area. I know it is a big problem and I know that it is going on because it is highlighted in the media, but I have not had firsthand experiences of knives. I do not know of anybody that carries a knife. It is just not something that I am aware of either at Scouts or at school.

  Mr Reid: I am not aware of any Scouts that carry knives or anyone in my local area who is carrying a knife in my local peer group that I hang around with.

  Q241  Chairman: So the Scouts are a knife-free zone?

  Mr Reid: Yes.

  Q242  Chairman: You have never had to deal with the issue of anyone carrying knives?

  Mr Reid: No.

  Chairman: Excellent.

  Q243  Bob Russell: I am Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Scout Group. I wonder if you could find out from historians at Gilwell Park when the Scout movement decided the carrying of knives was to stop. I do recall that this decision was taken a long time ago. Dr Creasy, what can you tell us from your research about how becoming a Scout (male or female) makes young people more responsible and less likely to get involved in crime?

  Dr Creasy: I think young people who have been involved in youth organisations have better relationships with their peers, with adults, they are more involved in their communities and they do better in their lives as a whole. We do not think that is accidental. We think there is something very powerful about the support networks and structures that are involved in youth work that gives people the confidence and the motivation to be able to make positive choices with their lives. James and Nancy absolutely embody that.[1] 1

  Q244  David Davies: I am an ex-Scout myself so I declare an interest. Let me just play devil's advocate with you for a minute. One of the minor criticisms that I would make of scouting is that sometimes the Scout groups draw from a fairly narrow area. I was in the Sea Scouts and that group drew people in from right across Newport, so a wide social spectrum, which I think was good. Do you see that as a slight problem? There were some Scout groups referred to in different ways, either as "snobs" or the opposite. If you have only got a small catchment area, do you find that problem still or do you get over it?

  Dr Creasy: I can give you some evidence about scouting across the whole country. Nancy and James, what is your experience? Is scouting just one particular group of people?

  Mr Reid: No. Scouting is for a wide range of people. You did mention it was from a specific catchment area. We do have districts. It is obviously for administrative reasons that they are split up. Sometimes when there are not enough leaders you have to merge groups and districts together which increases the catchment area and you do get a much wider spread than you would get normally. It is a positive thing because you do get that mix and you do get that wider social network.

  Q245  David Davies: I did not want to overplay that. I think it is an excellent organisation.

  Dr Creasy: We are just about to open a group in Brick Lane. We are in every community across the country. We represent 11,000 young people and we are supported by 2,500 adult volunteers and they come from all walks of life, both the volunteers themselves and the young people. You would be surprised where scouting is happening across the country and the range of young people involved in it. It broadly reflects the ethnic diversity of Britain as well.

  Q246  Ms Buck: Do you have an analysis that maps where Scout groups are so that we are able to confirm what you say, that Scout groups do exist and serve all communities and that there is not a positive or a negative correlation with areas of deprivation?

  Dr Creasy: Yes. We are about to undertake a further analysis of that with our census. We do a census every single year of Scout groups across the country. Yes, it is absolutely true that scouting, as with other voluntary organisations, is stronger in some parts of the country than others, but we are everywhere. We are in Regents Park, Worthing and in Colchester and that is because of the nature of the movement which is very volunteer led and it is very youth led. So where there are young people wanting to join—and we have got 30,000 people on our waiting lists to join scouting—there is a need. Our problem is finding the adults to run those groups. That is why sometimes scouting is stronger in some parts of the country than others. What we do find is that adult volunteers will travel to go and run Scout groups in particular areas. As I say, whether it is in Brick Lane or parts of Nottingham that perhaps you would not expect scouting to be, we are there.

  Q247  Margaret Moran: According to the statistics that we were just hearing earlier about the prevalence of knife crime, there is some controversy as to whether they are going up or down, it seems slightly unlikely demographically that you would have none of your Scouts involved in knife crime or at least carrying a knife at some point. I accept it may not be whilst undertaking the activities that you are engaged in. I find it impossible to believe that some of the young people who come to your groups do not carry knives. How are you able to identify that? If you are saying that is simply not true, how can you prove the fact it is not true? Given that that is likely to be the case, what measures are you taking to try and educate the young people that come to you?

  Dr Creasy: Nancy and James speak from their own personal experiences. We know that concern about knife crime is an issue within our Scout groups in some areas and I would say that probably overlaps with the areas where the tackling knife crime action plan is happening, but we also know there is something about scouting and the confidence and the skills it gives young people to make those positive choices that means our young people are more resilient. It is not just about scouting per se, it is about youth organisations that exist externally to the schools system and the way in which they support young people. As Mr Russell has pointed out, there has been an historic presumption about knife carrying and scouting, but that is simply not true and it speaks to some of the problems that we have as a movement of people understanding what it is we do with young people and who gets involved, and Nancy and James embody that, but it has very much moved on from the rather narrow demographic you might have seen it being involved in, which echoes your point that there are young people in scouting who you might perceive would be at risk of being involved in anti-social behaviour. Where that has been the case, we have worked very closely in partnership with both the police and social services. In the evidence we gave to the Committee, eg the Essex experience and the Northumberland experience and, also, some of the work we have done in London, we have worked in partnership to give our volunteers the skills to be able to guide young people through not making those kind of choices, but being able to reach out to those young people who perhaps might be involved in anti-social behaviour and so help prevent that before it even starts.

  Q248  Margaret Moran: What skills or education do you give to your Scouts to help them to act as mentors or leaders with their peer group to try and spread the `magic dust' or whatever that leads to young people not being involved in carrying knives more broadly?

  Dr Creasy: I will ask Nancy to answer that because Nancy is one of our thousands of young leaders within scouting and she has been through the training programmes that we do with young people to give them skills as part of the Scouts and to be able to lead other people in scouting.

  Ms Ibrahim: For me it is not about being handed a set of skills, I think it is about the environment we are in at the Scouts. It is completely different to being in a school environment or a different youth club. It is giving you positivity. It is just a different way of leading your life. I am a young leader and I have done the young leader training. It helps you to be more positive when you are working with younger people. I have not experienced knife crime. Scouts do not carry knives. Scouting has a very different image now to what it was like before.

  Q249  Tom Brake: Dr Creasy, you have given us an example of the spread in terms of the geographic community and you have talked about the work that you were doing in Brick Lane. You also mentioned that there were amongst the Scout groups people who you thought could be at risk of offending. Can you give us any examples of very specific projects involving people at risk of offending?

  Dr Creasy: Absolutely. Let me talk you through the Essex experience, for example, which is one of the ones that we have mentioned in our written submission. The Essex experience has been running for about 13 years, it has worked with around 4,000 young people and trained up around 350 young leaders to work with those young people. What it does is it takes referrals from schools, from social services, from projects working particularly with young people whose parents are in prison and takes them away for weekend training and weekends of essentially a jamboree style, so they take them camping, rock climbing, but working with the mentoring process. Those young people clearly are vulnerable people. They are people who, when you look at other studies about what the motivating factors for young people getting involved in antisocial behaviour might be, have those factors. We have anecdotal and tracking evidence that proves the difference that it makes to those young people to have that moment where somebody actually says, "You know what, you're worth something. We're going to invest in you. We are going to put you on this project. We're going to take you and we are going to mentor you and we are going to give you the confidence to succeed in life," and it does work. I could give you plenty of examples and testimonials from the various organisations that refer young people to that project about the difference that it makes. From our perspective, what we would like to point out is the referral process and the partnership process because scouting is volunteer led. The 100,000 volunteers we have in this country who have worked with us have a wide range of experience in dealing with children who maybe have additional needs. We work in partnership with organisations that do have that specialist experience. It is about working together to be able to access the infrastructure that scouting offers. Whether it is in Northumberland where that is done on a more weekly basis with the police and education services or with these one-off camps, that is where the benefit comes from, and it is our experience about running positive activities for young people matched with the specialist training of how you support children with vulnerable needs.

  Q250  Tom Brake: Could you be a bit more specific about how you measure the success? You have talked about testimonials and anecdotal evidence. Is there anything more concrete that shows how positive the outcomes are?

  Dr Creasy: The first and foremost test for us is the young people who want to come back. It is young people who perhaps you would not think of wanting to be involved in these kinds of organisations who clamour to come back, whose organisations write to us asking for more spaces and for us to increase the number of kids that we work with. When you talk to James and Nancy, both of them live in areas of London where knife crime is an issue. The measure for us is that our young people are getting on in life and doing well. James was just talking to me the other day about how scouting has given him the confidence to go on and apply to university and get a place at university. That is something we see in our groups every single day.

  Q251  Tom Brake: James, do you think that if you had not been involved in the Scouts you would not have applied for university or would you have done that anyway?

  Mr Reid: I would not have been as confident as I was to have moved away from home. I am away from home at weekends for two-week periods through scouting. It has given me the confidence to be able to move to somewhere different, somewhere new, to try out the university experience and to be in that social setting where I can meet people and make friends as easily as I can through scouting. So it has helped me to adjust and adapt to a university lifestyle. I would have applied to university anyway, but it is the social setting that scouting has given me that has helped me to adjust and to cope a bit more easily with it.

  Q252  Mrs Dean: Dr Creasy, do you experience much resistance from those who are referred to the scouting movement to joining the Scouts?

  Dr Creasy: Not at all. When we talk about a referral process, it is one of the issues that we have as an Association of people's awareness of what we do and how to access it. So the referral is not compulsory, in fact it is precisely the opposite. What we get is organisations saying, "Please can you squeeze some more people onto these projects for us?" They are desperate to come themselves. Scouting would not work if young people were compelled to be part of the organisation. There is something about the mix of adults who want to volunteer and give back to helping young people and young people who are curious about trying new experiences, whether it is kayaking or rock climbing or taking part in creative arts, that makes it work and that would be damaged if we had to force young people to be there. I am sure you would all agree that the last place you would want to be is with a bunch of 15-year olds who have somewhere else they would rather be.

  Q253  Mrs Cryer: Can you explain to us in what way you feel that the Scout movement could assist in preaching the gospel about not carrying knives and not being involved in knife crime? Do all of your adult volunteers have to go through a CRB check?

  Dr Creasy: Yes.

  Mr Reid: The whole ethos of the Scouts is pretty much geared away from violence and negative images. When you are doing all these different activities you change your mindset. You need to look to other people for support and guidance. If you are putting them at risk or at fear by carrying a knife then are you are not going to build up a relationship of trust and support. When you are doing something like rock climbing, you need someone there to assist you and help you and you are really going to have to trust that person. You do not want to put them at risk or in fear because it could be putting yourself at risk through that. I think it is building up those relationships that means you look to ways of bettering yourself and bettering the relationships that you have rather than putting people in fear of risk.

  Dr Creasy: One of the things that scouting does is it starts very early on. We take young people from six years old to 25. That means that we can intervene very early on in that process of helping people develop the confidence that you need to be able to say no to a number of negative behaviours. Secondly, obviously we are looking specifically at whether we can work with the Tackling Knives Action Programme, but as James and Nancy have said, it is also about the positivity that scouting gives because it is not just about saying no to young people, it is also about giving them ideas and encouragement to do other things which can give them new skills in life. Yes, all our adults are checked because obviously it is of paramount importance to us that parents can trust that scouting is a safe environment. We have a well thought out system. We are one of the biggest users of the CRB process in the United Kingdom. Yes, there are sometimes problems with it. Yes, we have concerns about the new vetting and barring scheme which we are putting forward to the DCSF as a result. What we are concerned about is that a lot of adults come to us and they dip their toe into being volunteers. They come along and they may help out because their children are involved or you get young people who have been involved previously in scouting. We want to make sure that the new system does not discourage young people from that journey of volunteering. We see that journey taking place over several months. It takes us six to 12 months to train up an adult volunteer in terms of helping people become more active. Before then you have got to factor in three or four months. We are hoping that we can have supervised access. Obviously we supervise all our volunteers as the CRB check process goes on and we would like to be able to continue that whilst we encourage people to come forward to be adult volunteers so that we can start running more groups to address the 30,000 young people who want to join scouting but who cannot at the moment because there just is not the space.

  Q254  Ms Buck: How many young people, particularly through the referral process, join scouting at a more mature age, perhaps in their teens? I should imagine the usual path is for people to start young and stick with it.

  Dr Creasy: It varies in different parts of the country. Our biggest group of want-to-joins at the moment is in the teen years. Scouting goes from six to eight, which is the Beavers, eight to ten, which is the Cubs, ten to 14, which is the Scouts, and then 14-18, which is the Explorer Scouts. It is in that Scout and Explorer Scout group that we have the biggest problem in terms of want-to-joins, so it does appeal. Also what we find is more young women join in their early teens.

  Q255  Ms Buck: You said that varies across the country. What is the pattern?

  Dr Creasy: Our fastest growing groups are within ethnic minority communities and it is around the teenage groups there. Again, it varies across the country, but it varies where there are those different communities.

  Q256  Gwyn Prosser: I am pleased to declare an interest having been a Scout and a Queen's Scout and enjoyed it all and that was during the time when the sheath knife was part and parcel of the uniform. I would like to ask you a little bit about what you do to promote the movement. The report you have given us is much brighter than I thought and brighter than my own experience in my own constituency of Dover and East Kent where numbers seem to be declining and volunteers are not coming forward in sufficient numbers to fill the gaps. If the Committee accepts that it is a force for good in terms of combating crime, knife crime in particular, and in giving people a bit of direction and focus, in which ways could this Committee recommend to Government ways of supporting the movement, helping it flourish and taking away some of the barriers to volunteers coming in so it could be an even greater force for good?

  Ms Ibrahim: Currently I am working on a project with The Scout Association targeting Facebook users and trying to spread the word about how we need more volunteers and we need more people to take part in scouting, not just because they want to, but because they have the skills that they think would be appropriate and different things they can bring to scouting. It is quite successful at the moment. It has only been going for about a week. So far we have had a lot of people look at the website and quite a few people have signed up. The statistics are a bit vague at the moment. We are trying to spread the word a lot more and get more people involved so that they can bring their skills to scouting and we can give them things back in return.

  Mr Reid: From a young person's point of view, the awareness of the Scouts within schools where children are most days is not very out there really. Youth organisations as a whole are not really advertised in schools. A partnership between the Scouts and the education sector would increase awareness of the type of activities and things that we do within the Scouts and make them more aware and possibly want to find out a bit more about it.

  Dr Creasy: A lot of our members are recruited peer-to-peer. James will tell you himself, his friend went along and then he thought he would go along and see what was happening. Our main issue is around adult volunteers and we think there are quite a few things that the Government can do to help support that. I have already talked about some of the technicalities around the CRB system. We recently took part in the consultation by the DCLG about the right to time off to volunteer which only covered statutory positions. Our argument was two-fold: one, you are missing a trick if you do not look at roles within the voluntary sector, and secondly, why do you not join this up with the right to request time off for training because all of our adult volunteers are offered accredited training, and we work very hard to make sure that our leaders get something back from their involvement, skills that are transferable to the workplace. We would like to see a better joining up within government which will come from a better understanding of what organisations like the Scouts offer. Obviously there is the point about giving people flexible rights and the time off to be able to train. It is not about having days, it is being able to leave work early to be able to go and run a Scout troop. It is also about the partnerships. Where we have been able to work with youth offenders or work with children at risk of offending we have done it in partnership. So it is helping those partnership agencies, whether it is local government or the police or the health care service, to understand what working with the voluntary youth sector can offer. We are not a replacement for the Youth Offending Team, but we are organisations that can offer something different and something more rooted in the community to work with that. However, what tends to happen both at a local and a national level is that unless you have got a funding relationship with an organisation you do not really tend to think about how you might be able to work with them. What we find in local government is that a lot of youth groups may have a relationship with a local authority where they get some funding, so they are part of planning at a local level, whether it is the Children's Trust or a Local Area Agreement, but organisations like the Scouts, the Army Cadets and the Woodcraft Folk are not part of those discussions and those discussions are the poorer for it because you miss out on a valuable resource at a local level.

  Q257  Tom Brake: Is there any evidence that there is perhaps resistance from schools to publicise the Scouts?

  Mr Reid: I was at school about five years ago. I do not think that there is. I think anything that helps young people to increase their confidence and to increase their social skills would not be frowned upon by schools because at the end of the day it is helping them to help the students become better and to increase the key skills that they have to enable them to go on to college and to university. There has not been a lot of resistance in my experience. It is quite important to build a more holistic person.

  Q258  Tom Brake: If there is no resistance from schools or more generally, how come your organisation is not represented on the Local Area Agreements?

  Dr Creasy: It speaks to the way in which scouting operates. Scouting is a very, very devolved organisation. Quite a good analogy is a political party in terms of at a local level—

  Q259  David Davies: No, they are much more friendly!

  Dr Creasy: I do not know! At a local level some Scout associations are involved in those discussions, but it does not happen by design, it is more by accident. It is the same within schools. We have got some Scout troops that work out of schools. We have got one in Enfield that has been very successful working with an academy there, but that tends to happen at a local level, it is not systemic. It would be fair to say that we should make sure that nationally there is encouragement about those processes that have happened at a local level and offer good practice and examples of where it does make a difference but where perhaps they are not shared more widely amongst the education sector. Those projects tend to live or die on the active volunteer at a local level who says, "Hang on a minute. How about if we worked here? How about if we did that there?"

1   1 The Scout uniform was reviewed in 1967 and at that time the knife was removed. Back

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