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6 Apr 2010 : Column 233WH—continued

Things can be done about employment, but I would not want to leave the issue of employment without making a point about the Olympics, which were sold to those of us in inner London and east London-the Olympic boroughs in particular-as a way of providing employment and economic regeneration for people in the east end of London. I was shocked to find out a few weeks ago that of all the hundreds of apprentices on the Olympic park only one-just one-is from Hackney. I would not like to think how few of the apprentices are from ethnic minorities. If the Government are serious about these issues they must take steps, even at this stage, to ensure that proportionate numbers of the
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apprentices on the Olympic park, not even the skilled men, come from deprived boroughs like my own and that appropriate numbers come from the ethnic minority communities.

Before drawing my remarks to a close, I want to touch on the changing face of gangs in London. I am an east end MP, so I cannot talk about gangs without mentioning the Krays or the Richardsons. Historically, criminal gangs in London were white criminal gangs-that is why we remember the Krays, the Richardsons and so on. In more recent times, particularly if one reads the papers, many gangs have been African and Afro-Caribbean, although there is also a strong multicultural element.

Sadly, in Hackney we have had an issue with Turkish-Kurdish gangs. Overall, the Turkish-Kurdish community plays an important role in London. It is a huge contributor, and has helped to rebuild and regenerate the community with its business and retail activities. Since last August, however, there have been 11 shootings in north London. That has exposed the entire community to bad publicity, and I am concerned about what appears to be a fresh turf war between Turkish-Kurdish gangs based on drugs. Such gangs represent only a tiny minority of the community, but they have been responsible for 11 shootings since August last year. Recently, Hackney police announced an appeal to encourage witnesses to the murder of a Turkish man in Upper Clapton road, Hackney to come forward. A gunman is believed to have entered a venue and fired indiscriminately, suggesting that it was not a targeted hit but a way of sending out a message to a rival gang.

The Turkish-Kurdish community is keen to work with the police on this issue. I recently convened a meeting between the head of the Turkish-Kurdish community, my borough commander and representatives from the local authority. We want to move against this type of criminality, and against some of the retail premises and social clubs that might be implicated in it. I believe that a high-profile, systematic programme of joint action between the police, the council and local stakeholders to close down those few cafes that have been infiltrated by criminals will reassure the wider Turkish-Kurdish community and the community as a whole.

I want to touch briefly on the new issue of young women in gangs. Increasing numbers of young women are joining gangs, not only as the girlfriends of gang members but as gang members at some level. I had a long meeting with a girl who had left the gang culture, and she suggested that there were three types of girls in gangs. First, there were the girlfriends of gang leaders, who had some sort of status; secondly there were girls who were attached to gangs and handed round from gang member to gang member, and thirdly there were what could be called equal opportunity girl gangsters, who had their own girl gangs and were out on the street. Young women are still more likely to be the victims of gang violence than the perpetrators of it, but just as it is wrong to stereotype all gang members as coming from a particular demographic, it is also wrong to stereotype gang problems as being only about boys. We are increasingly seeing girls involved as well.

Not enough support is targeted at women and girls who are involved in gangs, and there is a shocking incidence of rape, sexual violence and exploitation against women and girls who are associated with gangs. Sadly,
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for too many gangs, rape has become the weapon of choice against girl gang members and relatives of rival gangs. The crime of gang rape is on the rise in London. That is tragic, and a particular issue in Hackney, Southwark and other inner-London boroughs. It is increasingly carried out by criminal gangs and is linked to various other forms of crime. In his 2008 manifesto, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, promised to build more rape crisis centres. I want to use this speech to urge him to consider building one in Hackney, because of its high incidence of rape and gang rape.

There is an issue about the use of dogs as weapons. Another matter that does not get enough attention is the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service. A recent set of reports by the Crown Prosecution Inspectorate looked into the performance of the CPS in boroughs across London. It showed that in too many boroughs, the CPS was deemed to be poor at securing conviction rates, especially in cases where witnesses were likely to be intimidated, such as in gang-related crimes. The reports ruthlessly exposed the failure to deal with gang crime and gang violence in boroughs such as Hackney. I met the head of the CPS in London and the legal director for the north region, Alison Saunders and Grace Ononiwu, to discuss why that was the case. They told me that there was a lack of staff, but they assured me that they were acting to improve their performance. I will be watching that closely. The police and the community can do their best, but if the CPS is failing-as recent inspectorate reports seem to suggest-it is letting down the community as a whole.

In closing, I acknowledge what the Government have done, particularly through legislation and by pouring money into initiatives. I acknowledge what has been done by the ex-Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, the present Mayor, Boris Johnson, and the Metropolitan Police Authority in focusing on those issues through initiatives such as Operation Blunt. I acknowledge that figures for crime in London are going down overall. However, the fear not only of being a victim of a gang, but that one's child-male or female-will get caught up in gang-related activity, is a real issue for many of my constituents, whatever their colour, race, class or nationality. It would be remiss of me as a Member of Parliament if I did not bring that matter before the House.

Tackling gang crime in London is complicated and requires a long-term as well as a short-term strategy. There needs to be more focus on young women, both as members of gangs and as victims of gang crime. We need better provision for victims of rape to secure convictions, and the CPS needs to raise its game. Local authorities and the police must work closely together to target venues that are believed to be fronts for illegal operations, and there needs to be a continuing emphasis on closing the achievement gaps between some minorities and the school population as a whole.

Systems should be put in place and funded for young people who wish to leave gangs. Even in the current economic crisis, we must focus on getting young people into work and encouraging them to take up apprenticeships. Something must be done about the Olympic site because its record in providing apprenticeships for the Olympic boroughs is poor. We need stricter rules for those found to be using dogs as a weapon of intimidation. We need a mix of targeting educational issues and strict enforcement.
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I speak not only as the Member of Parliament for Hackney, but as a mother and a resident in Hackney, and I want strict enforcement of the law on gangs, and I know that other people do too. Above all, we need a broad strategy that engages with the community as a whole. Only then will we deal with the gang crisis and with the fear of gangs in our midst.

London is a great city; I have lived in it all my life. I was born in London, and it never fails to be a source of pride to me that I lived to become a Member of Parliament in London. It is a great city with many amazing things to its credit, not least the extent to which communities in London manage to live so happily side by side, and the culture and variety that the city offers. It should not be disfigured by the scar of gang crime. Ministers have done much, but there is still much to do.

10.9 am

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and I repeat my compliments to her about today's debate, the wisdom that she brings to the subject, her personal commitment and the work that she has done in all sorts of ways. At the end of this Parliament, perhaps I can mention specifically the work that she has done with young black men on educational aspiration, and note the annual conference in the Queen Elizabeth conference centre that she organised, as well as other events, some of which I have been privileged to attend. Such things are important in ensuring that every single Londoner-everybody who was born in London or who has come to London-feels that they have an opportunity to succeed, to do well and to be respected by their peers. If youngsters know that they can achieve that outcome, they are likely to target that and not other things.

The normal numbers of people are not here today because people are slightly distracted at the moment. The news tells us that the Prime Minister is probably going to Buckingham palace at this very minute to ask the Queen for a Dissolution, after which we will have a general election. If that is the case, as we expect, crime and the fear of crime will, not surprisingly, be an election issue again in London and elsewhere. That is why, as I said in my first intervention on the hon. Lady, I hope that, whatever differences there are in the next Parliament, and whatever the outcome of the election, we can at least agree on some things and share the facts accurately and well.

The Minister knows the importance of such issues, having been involved in them in different capacities over many years. In the past decade or so, we have had real difficulties with different sets of statistics. The British crime survey statistics and the Home Office statistics do not always say the same thing, with one lot collecting figures on the over-16s, but not the under-16s. It is easy to misrepresent the position and sometimes to exaggerate the problem and increase the fear. I make a pledge that I will work to ensure that those of my colleagues who are elected in London to sit in this place, as well as those who are elected to sit on local councils in London or on the Greater London assembly, work together to try to ensure that we have a common basis of information so that local papers and political parties do not misrepresent things. We should not play on people's fears to win votes or sell newspapers.

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I pay tribute to the police in London, who have learned a lot and come a long way in recent years. We had a real struggle in the '80s to get the police to associate with, and relate to, the whole community. The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, whom I met again the other day, is very focused on these issues, as well as being very practical and very realistic, and that can be seen in his senior management team and the operation of the Trident people and others.

The hon. Lady paid tribute to her borough commander, and I pay tribute to my new borough commander, Wayne Chance, who seems very level-headed and sensible. Commanders understand the importance in all our boroughs of the issues that we are discussing. Although such issues are more important in inner-city boroughs than in outer-London boroughs, they are not just inner-city issues. Boroughs such as Croydon and Enfield have been plagued just as much by gang violence as inner-city boroughs such as Hackney and Southwark.

I also pay tribute to those who have done good work in the Crown Prosecution Service, but I flag up at the beginning my concern that the CPS has not always got its act together and done its job as well as it should. I do not want to elaborate, but I simply endorse the hon. Lady's comment that we need a CPS that gets right the difficult balance between the benefit of sometimes prosecuting in the public interest and the benefit of sometimes not prosecuting.

We must ensure that people can have confidence in the criminal justice system. The police are often on the front line of the system, but the system actually includes the police, the CPS and the courts. I have always said that when police commanders are hauled in front of the public to provide answers in London boroughs, the leader of the council, the head of the local CPS and the senior district judge or magistrate should also be in the front line so that the public can see all those who are responsible for criminal justice in our communities.

Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to put on record the progress that the Metropolitan police have made? I picketed my fair share of police stations in the '80s, and I was never an unthinking admirer of the police, but there is no question but that they have embraced some of these issues, and the quality of the people at the very top of the Metropolitan police has increased exponentially.

Simon Hughes: That is certainly true. However, if they read the record of this debate, as I expect they will, I do not want them to go away thinking that there is not more to do. Until the police service is representative of London and looks like London in terms of ethnicity and so on, we will not have the confidence of all Londoners. I still go to too many events where there are very few non-white faces doing the policing. I know that it is not the fault of the police for not trying, but they need to keep pushing. One of the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence murder and inquiry is that we need a different sort of police service. We have moved a long way, but we have a long way yet to go.

The debate is about gang violence, and we have to pause for a minute to reflect on how frightening gang violence is. It is bad enough to be attacked by another
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person or by two people, which quite often happens in street robberies, but when a group of people sets on one person-that appeared to be the case at Victoria station last week, where we saw the most dreadful sort of crime-or on each other, that creates fear, pandemonium and bedlam. A few years ago, gangs from the surrounding area used to go to the Surrey Quays shopping centre in my constituency. When they got on the bus together, they frightened the people on the bus, and when they got off the bus, they frightened the people at the bus station. They then went to the shopping centre, and anyone they met was in terror of what they would do as they rampaged around.

Gang crime is a really serious problem, over and above the issues of gun and knife crime. Although it is connected with them, it is a bigger issue. Gang crime requires specific analysis and specific responses, although that does not mean that we should not look at gun crime and knife crime. When I saw the commissioner the other day, it was reassuring to hear that the number of deaths as a result of such crimes had gone down in London. Less reassuringly, however, he told me that the statistics for knife and gun crime in the current year appear to have gone up again, which is troubling-it troubles him and it should trouble us. One troubling trend in recent years is that the age of the young people involved in such crimes has gone down.

I was privileged to take part in the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into knife crime; the hon. Lady will certainly be aware of it and may well have participated. The Committee had its first seminar in London on 17 November 2008 at the YMCA in Stockwell, and I and others gave evidence at the Chairman's invitation. I commend to those who read the record of this debate the Committee's seventh report, which came out on 2 June last year and includes a report of that seminar. I want to put on record a couple of the Committee's conclusions and recommendations, many of which deserve attention and a response.

The first point obviously relates to knife possession, but is part of the wider picture. The report states:

nearly a third-

A third of young people in mainstream education and two thirds of those who were excluded-in special schools or other places-had carried a knife. The Home Office survey two years before said that only 3 per cent. of 10 to 25-year-olds carried a knife. The truth may lie somewhere between the two, but the legitimate and illegitimate carrying of weapons, particularly knives, which are much easier to find than guns, is significant.

The second thing that the report made clear is that the

That did not used to be the case; people used to carry knives because it was cool and then because they thought that they needed them to keep up with their mates, but now it is for protection. The cause of that is the same as the cause of gang issues: young people need to feel secure. The one thing that would change a youngster's decision to go with a gang would be feeling secure in the
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knowledge that they could say, "No thank you, I don't want to" and that other things in life were more valuable, whether their education, their family life or the respect that they enjoyed in the eyes of their family. We have to get to the root cause of the issue: youngsters' security.

We must also be careful that we do not confuse and conflate all these issues. When 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was killed in Southwark more than 10 years ago, he was attacked by a group of boys. Some of the attacks, deaths and terrible tragedies that we have seen, are caused by gangs or large groups of people, but some are caused by an individual and some are accidental deaths caused by a fight or act of violence that just got out of hand. Again, we must ensure that we do not misrepresent things.

There have been some very honourable events at the two recent games between Charlton and Millwall, two football teams in south-east London. By the way, I am happy to say that the first game was a draw and the second one was won by Millwall. At those games, parents of youngsters who are supporters of the two clubs came together, with the support of the two clubs, to win the argument among the fans and to ensure that people understood that the sort of violence that we are discussing today is unacceptable and is, in fact, no good. The methods that those parents used were really effective, but they did not all relate to gang crime. They related to the violence that is sometimes reflected in gang crime, and sometimes reflected in other activities.

I pay tribute to those who do that type of campaigning, because the families and peer groups of gang members and former gang members are the most effective people in winning the argument against gangs on the streets.

Ms Abbott: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the role of parents. I was very shocked by one parent whom I saw at an advice surgery. A young boy came in and said to me that he was in trouble for carrying a knife at school. He told me that he had carried it to defend himself and his mother said, "Yes, he did carry it to defend himself and I allowed him to carry it to school to defend himself". The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point about the role of parents and emphasised the importance of educating parents and working with them. Parents should know that there can be no circumstances in which they should collude with their child's taking a knife to school and I said that to that mother.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Lady is right.

Let me just select five more sentences from different parts of the conclusions to the Home Affairs Committee's report on knife crime and then I will go on to say some more about gang crime. The Home Affairs Committee is obviously a cross-party Committee and its report found:

That effectively repeats what I said at the outset about the importance of providing full and accurate crime data.

The report also found:

So there is a group in that category, but they are not the largest group of young people who carry knives.

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The report goes on:

However, it also says that they are not the only individuals who commit violence and that others from the most respectable and crime-free backgrounds can get dragged into violence.

The report then makes a controversial point, but I believe that it is true:

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