Business without Debate


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March.


Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (16 October 2015), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March.


Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (11 September 2015), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 26 February.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 5 February.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 5 February.


Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

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Gangs and Youth Violence: London

Motion made, and Question proposed, Thatthis House do now adjourn.—(Simon Kirby.)

2.32 pm

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I have asked just two questions at Prime Minister’s questions on a Wednesday since I was elected in May 2010, although I have had various exchanges with the Prime Minister in this Chamber outside Prime Minister’s questions. On 7 July 2010, I told the House during PMQs that my constituent, Zac Olumegbon, had been murdered a few days before in a planned attack close to his school. He was just 15. On 8 June 2011, I came straight to the House from meeting the family of my 18-year-old constituent, Nana Darko-Frempong, who had been fatally shot outside his block of flats on the Tulse Hill estate in my constituency just a few days before.

On both occasions, I told the Prime Minister that this loss of life was totally and completely senseless and unacceptable. I said that I did not feel that we were getting to grips with this problem, which has been blighting our inner-city streets. On both occasions, the Prime Minister said that he agreed with me and that the Government would do all they could to stop the tragic loss of life and violence that we see.

Last Friday, more than five years after I first raised this issue with the Prime Minister, another constituent and his family came to my surgery. Last year, my constituent’s younger son was stabbed on the same estate as Nana. He has since been taken into foster care in another part of London for his own safety. In recent weeks, his brother was stabbed on another estate in Streatham, critically injured and taken to hospital. He cannot leave hospital because it is deemed too unsafe for him to return home.

Both those sons are victims, like Zac and Nana, of the serious youth and gang violence that continues to grip parts of my community. My constituent had come to the UK with his sons from Somalia, a country ravaged by lawlessness, extreme violence and civil war, because he wanted a better future for his children and for them to be safe. He is completely bewildered by what has happened. When I asked him whether he felt his sons would be safer in Mogadishu than in London, he told me that he felt it would be less dangerous for them to live there than here. He massively regrets moving them to our capital city. That is a damning indictment of the situation on London’s streets.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech. Two days before Christmas, a young man I had last seen when he was doing work experience in my office was surrounded by a group of 20 youths and stabbed through the heart. He was incredibly lucky to survive. That is just one example of what a Home Office report recently indicated—that gang membership is rising, not falling. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the worst time for the Government to consider creating insecurity through either their policy on tackling gangs and serious youth crime or their resourcing for it?

Mr Umunna: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We have worked together on the issue since

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I have been in the House, and I pay tribute to her for continuously shining a light on what is happening in her constituency and across London.

I do not want to say any more about the case of my Somali constituents, except to highlight that I have written to Ministers about the family in detail, and I ask—I beg—that Ministers exercise their discretion to grant my constituent’s two sons in particular the appropriate papers, which they do not have at the moment, so that they may travel back to Somalia to be with their mother, as the family wishes.

The case illustrates that for all the promises that have been made and all the attempts that local government and national Governments of different political persuasions have made to deal with the problem—I am not making party political points today—we still have a major problem of youth violence and gang culture, which is having an impact on a small minority of our youngsters in inner-city areas such as mine. The Evening Standard’s “Frontline London” campaign has done a lot to shine a light on that, and it is reporting today yet another murder of one of our teenagers on London’s streets.

According to Citizens Report, a not-for-profit independent organisation that carries out data research in this area, 17 teenagers lost their lives to gang and youth violence in London last year. That is an increase on the 11 young people who lost their lives in 2014. It is true that it is not the same level that we saw in about 2008-09—in 2008, 29 teenagers lost their lives on the streets of London—but let us be clear that one life lost is one too many.

Much of the violence is perpetrated by young people who are deemed to be gang-affiliated. Last year’s report on gangs and youth crime by the Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, noted that there is no comprehensive national figure for the number of gangs or the number of young people affiliated or associated with them. Some question whether we should even use the term “gang”. What does it mean? I am grateful to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies for what it has said about that. However, if we are using that term for the purposes of this debate—I accept that maybe we should not—the Metropolitan police’s latest intelligence is that there are 225 recognised gangs in London, comprising about 3,600 gang members. Those people mainly span the ages of 16 to 24, but I know of children much younger than that—I use the word “children” deliberately —who are involved with groups perpetrating acts such as we are discussing.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing the issue and securing the debate. Does he recognise that the gangs matrix profile shows that, although older young people are being picked up, that is driving down the profile of those who carry knives? Twelve and 13-year-olds are carrying knives for older individuals. That really needs to be examined.

Mr Umunna: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. He is absolutely right. In addition to age is the fact that, increasingly, vulnerable girls and young women become wrapped up in this and are used and abused and exploited sexually. In the short time we have this afternoon, it is impossible to set out all the reasons why young people end up getting involved in

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serious youth violence, but there are common themes. My right hon. Friend has spoken about that many times.

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I am delighted that my hon. Friend has brought this important issue before the House. Does he share my view, which is derived from consulting the communities that are deeply affected by gang violence, that, above all else, they want more of a say and more control over the interventions that are brought to their communities and more control over how resources are used to tackle the problem at source?

Mr Umunna: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he did very good work as the leader of Lambeth Council, where my constituency is situated. He is an expert in the matter. We have seen the great work the council is doing with its youth community trust, which seeks to do just what he says.

I am struck by the way in which the gang or group that the young people become involved in has become a surrogate family. There are sometimes parenting issues in their actual families, but sometimes there are not. I know of lots of young people who have been involved who come from very strong families. There is an idea that they are in workless households, but sometimes the problem is that two parents are holding down two jobs just to make ends meet and they do not have the time to be there.

The second issue, which is connected, is the lack of things for our young people to do out of school hours. I lose count of the number of community meetings I go to—all my colleagues who have spoken will have had exactly the same experience—when constituents say, “There are just not enough things for our young people to do.” We have to develop the professional occupation of youth work. Youth workers should be seen in the same way as our teachers; they should be put on a pedestal in the same way, because they spend almost as much time, if not more, with our young people.

Often, our young people will want to affiliate with a group because they fear not being affiliated to a group. There is a sense among them that they need to be part of a group for protection.

Another issue is the rampant consumerism that surrounds our young people—my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) talked about that in his book following the 2011 riots—and the popular culture that sometimes glamorises the lifestyle that goes with it. I used to be a trustee of a charity, the 409 Project, which unfortunately went under because it did not get funding. We found that money, or specifically a lack of money, was often the cause of the violence and criminality. The young people we dealt with told me how money led to the cycle of robbery and revenge: those who do not have the latest consumer good robbed those who do, but they were equally hard-up. We are not making any excuses—there is no excuse for that kind of violence—but unless we understand why it is happening, how can we hope to prevent it?

Finally, there are not enough jobs for young people, particularly young people who have left education. A disproportionate number of young people who are impacted are people who look like me—black and minority ethnic children. The unemployment rate among our BME

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youngsters is 25%. For young black males, it is a staggering 35%, in 2016, when we are the fifth largest economy. That is a disgrace.

What are we to do? First, the Government have to reverse their decision to disband the very important ending gang violence and exploitation peer review network, which I know they are planning to do this April. I praise them for setting it up. It is a good network doing important work. It is a retrograde step to disband it; doing so will seriously compromise efforts to reduce gang and youth violence. If it is being done to cost-cut, I say we cannot put a price on the lives of our young people.

Secondly, there needs to be a far more joined-up approach at both local and national levels. It is a constant challenge: there is the youth offending team, children’s services, education and health. There needs to be a much more joined-up approach at a national level. One of the good things the previous Labour Government instituted—my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) was the Minister who set it up—was a cross-departmental working group that brought together Ministers to make sure this issue was being looked at in a holistic, joined-up way at a national level. The Prime Minister should forget that the group was set up by the previous Labour Government and reinstitute it without delay. The chair of the group should submit an annual report to the Home Affairs Committee, which could then call on the chair to give oral evidence.

Thirdly, there has to be an increased focus on the very-hard-to-reach youngsters who are out of work. Clearly, there is still more work to be done—just look at the figures.

Fourthly, we have to do much more intensive work in our schools to educate young people and get into their minds. We need to win the argument about what the lifestyle can lead to. We have to offset the glamorised image of what it is to be in a gang with a proper programme of intensive education. There also has to be much more effective enforcement. Every single lever must be used to send a message to key individuals in gangs that their criminal activities will be dealt and their violence sanctioned—that is the point: sanctioned. If they are never caught and people do not see them being caught, even for minor infringements, they will carry on doing what they are doing.

Finally, I am sure the Minister would be surprised if I did not mention that this work is costly. It costs money and it requires resource. I agree with my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed). We have to do this at a local level, but I do not understand how our local authorities can be expected to do it when their central Government grant has been cut by 56%. Youth services are particularly hit—more than any other.

Mr Steve Reed: My hon. Friend is making excellent proposals, which I hope the Minister will welcome. He has not yet mentioned the effect of domestic violence. As I understand it, one of the single biggest predictors of a young person becoming involved in violence is that they themselves have experienced, or been subject to, domestic violence in the home, leaving them to grow up without a properly formed sense of right and wrong. Does he agree that more work should be done in the home, early doors, particularly where there are instances of domestic violence?

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Mr Umunna: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. In addition to domestic violence, we should mention the fact that some issues, particularly in the home and in the family, can arise as a result of substance misuse and mental health issues. Mental health issues are always prevalent in cases like this.

I will finish by saying to the Minister that I do not believe we can put a cost on the life of any young person in London, but ultimately, if the Government invest in this area, they will not have to spend the moneys they would otherwise spend on putting the perpetrators of these acts through the criminal justice system. Once and for all, let us not have to have another debate in the House of Commons—let us deal with the issue.

2.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Refugees (Richard Harrington): I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) on securing this important debate. He has had a very long-standing interest in tackling gangs in London and in his constituency. He explained the background in an extremely eloquent manner and in a way we could all understand.

Tackling gangs and serious youth violence, in both London and in other areas around the country, is of course a priority for the Government. I am aware, and everyone in the House is aware, that gang and youth violence has a devastating impact not just on their victims and their families, but on the communities in which they live. We see young lives wasted, or worse.

On Wednesday 13 January the Government published their refreshed approach to tackling gangs, in a paper entitled, “Ending gang violence and exploitation”. The paper sets out how our approach is focused on both reducing violence, including knife crime, and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable individuals by gangs. The refreshed approach builds on the ending gang and youth violence programme, established by the Home Office in 2012. This was based on a small Home Office front-line team working with an extended network of external experts who would visit a local area and produce a report with recommendations for local action to build local resilience. Since 2012, 52 areas have been part of this programme, including 26 London boroughs.

The programme will end in March, after four years of operation, as the hon. Gentleman said, but it is being replaced by the “Ending gang violence and exploitation” approach, based on what the Government and experts believe is the changing nature of the gang problem. The EGYV programme supports a front-line team of three people and an extended peer review network of more than 80. The peers come from local authorities, the voluntary sector, the police and others with a background in gangs, and are paid to visit local areas and make recommendations. It is then for that area—this brings me to the local point the hon. Gentleman made—to decide how and when to take those forward. As I have said, since 2012, 52 local areas have been visited, reviewed and reported on. Lambeth was subject to one in 2014.

We are now building on that programme. We will not be conducting any Home Office-funded peer reviews, because that has been dealt with, but we have provided the tools for local areas to conduct local assessments based on the same principles. We are committed to keeping peer reviewers, local area leads and other experts together by setting up the ending gang violence and

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exploitation forum. The forum will meet regularly—two or three times a year—and allow front-line practitioners directly to advise the Home Office officials of the latest issues and challenges; to share best practice with other practitioners; and to help inform the development of the new approach. It will be set out in more detail at the conference the Home Office is convening on 1 March—very soon—and which will be attended by more than 120 people with expertise in gangs.

Mr Umunna: I am grateful to the Minister for touching directly on this point I raised, but the disbanding of the network is a retrograde step. It is not the same as what the Government will reinstitute in its place. The nature of how gangs operate and proliferate changes, which is why we need the constant peer review the network provides. From what I understand and the information local partners have been given, it is basically being replaced by a couple of conferences, two civil servants who have added this to their responsibilities, and a mailbox.

Richard Harrington: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, but I think I have covered it already. The network is ending, but it is being replaced, so I cannot accept his point.

The hon. Gentleman said there should be a joined-up approach. I would point out that there is an interministerial committee on gangs, chaired by the Home Secretary, which brings together all the Departments. He made a good point, but one that is being dealt with. These interministerial committees, which I have dealt with in other fields, are taken very seriously and attended at a senior level.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab) rose

Richard Harrington: I am sorry; I cannot take an intervention, because of the time.

The Government are moving towards a cross-governmental approach on many things. The Government have identified six priorities to support the refreshed “Ending gang violence and exploitation” approach, based on what has been found and what we have been told—it is not a question of the Government saying, “This is what it will be.” Let me briefly go through the six priorities. The first is tackling “county lines”, which is the exploitation of vulnerable people by gang members to sell drugs. This is linked to urban gangs operating in drug markets in more suburban areas or surrounding towns. Our second priority is to protect vulnerable locations, which is linked to gang-related exploitation and refers to places where vulnerable young people can be targeted—for example, pupil referral units and children’s care homes.

Our third priority is reducing violence, including knife crime, which I will return to in a few moments. Better information sharing is a key part of reducing violence. The fourth priority is safeguarding gang-associated women and girls, who are regarded as being particularly vulnerable. Our fifth priority is to promote early intervention, because we know that intervention can stop young people from becoming involved in gang and youth violence in the first place. Our sixth priority is to provide meaningful alternatives to gangs, such as education, training and employment.

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Let me turn briefly to knife crime. The Government are aware of concerns about knife crime and we continue to work with the police and other partners to tackle it. Police-recorded knife crime is 14% below what it was in 2010, but it has increased by 9% in the 12 months to September 2015. According to the Office for National Statistics, the picture behind the rise is complex and may be the result of improved recording by the police, a genuine rise in knife crime and a more proactive police response. The Government are reviewing what can be done with the Metropolitan police and other agencies. We have co-ordinated a week of action against knives in February, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), is having a round table with retailers, the police and the National Police Chiefs Council on this issue. I should also stress that there are already strict controls on sales of knives to under-18s and how knives can be marketed.

It is also important that we work with the NHS and the voluntary sector, as many victims of knife crime end up in the NHS in our emergency departments. In London alone, the Home Office has awarded more than £1 million to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime from the police innovation fund to support information sharing between health services and community safety partnerships.

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The Home Office has a clear policy, and the funding is being used to extend the youth intervention programmes run by Redthread, a voluntary sector organisation, in the four major trauma centres in London, which include St George’s in Tooting. This work is aimed at young people at hospital with knife injuries. Youth workers based in A&E talk to the young people at the “teachable moment” about what brought them there and whether they can be given support to prevent similar incidents from happening again. We are following the project very closely.

To conclude, I should like to repeat my thanks to the hon. Member for Streatham for securing this debate and providing Members with an opportunity to discuss this important issue, which can have such an impact on communities. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government regard gangs and serious youth violence as a continuing priority and, through the new “Ending gang violence and exploitation” approach, we will continue to work with national and local partners to address this issue.

Question put and agreed to.

2.58 pm

House adjourned.