Opposition Day — [12th Allotted Day]
James Brokenshire (Shadow Minister, Home Affairs; Hornchurch, Conservative)
I welcome the Home Secretary to his new position—I am sorry that he is not here to hear that—and the consensual approach that he took to the Opposition motion by tabling an addendum to it rather than trying to amend it or strike it out. That emphasises the need to come together to look for common solutions to a problem that affects so many of our communities throughout the country.
I also welcome the new Minister of State, Mr. Hanson, to his post. He and I have debated similar issues previously, albeit in the TV or radio studios. I therefore look forward to robust and detailed debate across the Dispatch Box so that we can ascertain where there is common ground and where there is difference between us.
I also send my best wishes to Mr. Coaker. I will miss our exchanges. Despite our differences, he always showed passion and genuine personal commitment to the important matters that we are considering. I wish him well in his new post in the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
The scourge of knife crime has touched too many families and communities across the country. In 2007-08, some 270 people were stabbed to death with a sharp or pointed instrument. As we have heard, that is the highest total since records on homicide started to be collected in 1977. It is important to note that the proportion of homicides in which a knife is used has risen to more than a third of all homicides. The Home Affairs Committee's report made that point.
Sir Igor Judge, the president of the High Court Queen's bench, made a clear and powerful statement on the current disturbing situation last year when he noted:
"Offences of this kind have recently escalated. They are reaching epidemic proportions. Every knife or weapon carried on the street represents a danger and, therefore, in the public interest, this crime must be confronted and stopped."
The costs are not simply social and personal. The youth organisation, Kids Count, estimates that knife crime costs the state approximately £1.25 billion a year. I commend Kids Count for its work in giving young people a voice and for its awards, which recognise inspiration, good practice and good organisations that do tremendous work at the coal face.
When one talks to people who have been directly affected by the appalling incidents, one is humbled by the strength of character and resolve of so many of those who have lost loved ones. Their determination to ensure that some good should come out of the appalling tragedies that they have suffered and that long-term change should be achieved to prevent more lives from being cut short is powerful. We all have a duty in this House to make good on those families' expectations, for the benefit of society as a whole and the next generation in particular.
This has been a well-informed, wide-ranging and interesting debate. The tone of this debate and the manner in which it has been conducted reflects well on this House, which has come in for a lot of criticism for the way in which we debate such issues. However, today's debate highlights the House at its best. Now that he is in his place again, I commend the Home Secretary for his initial comments and for the constructive way in which he has sought to engage with the debate and set out some of his initial thoughts on how he will approach the issues.
It will be interesting for Conservative Members to see how the Home Secretary's thoughts develop and, in particular, how he intends to take forward programmes such as the youth crime action plan. How will it be delivered and what responsibilities will it be given? At the moment, various different agencies, organisations and Departments are involved in the project, but if it is to have an effect, its implementation will need to be pushed hard. We will look closely at how that works, how developments such as the safer schools partnerships, which we think are valuable and important ideas, are pursued and how the Home Secretary deals with some of the points that have rightly been raised about the sharing of data and information to ensure that more informed, effective and targeted approaches are taken to deal with the offences being committed.
I pay tribute to Keith Vaz and his Committee for producing an extremely good report, which provides a framework for this afternoon's deliberations. He raised a number of extremely important points about the need for long-term solutions. Some short-term wins may have been highlighted—the use of stop and search, Operation Blunt Two here in London and the work of the Mayor of London—but I am under no illusions. The problem appears to be persistent, and, although some short-term benefits may come from the enforcement strategy, we should not kid ourselves that the job is done. So many entrenched social issues lie behind the problem that we need strategies that deliver in the short, medium and long term. The Home Affairs Committee report does justice to that need—that aspiration, that requirement—if we are to achieve what our communities and our society need us to achieve in dealing with this intractable and difficult problem.