This is a very important subject, and it is at the forefront of many of our constituents’ minds. The House respects the fact that the Home Secretary chose to open this debate himself, even though we may not agree with some of his conclusions. Up and down the country, communities are haunted by the fear of the rising tide of violent crime. This is happening in metropolitan areas such as London and Birmingham, as well as in cities such as Grimsby. The fear and the concern are universal. Generations ago, young men solved their disputes with their fists. Nowadays, the same disputes—even the same criminal interactions—are settled with guns and knives.
The fear in the communities is threefold. First, there is the threat to yourself. We heard earlier about the tragic death of a man in Anglesey who was killed by a crossbow, and we hope that the Home Secretary will look into the regulations on crossbows. Secondly, there is the fear that your child could be the victim of violent crime. As a long-standing east end MP, I have sat with too many mothers who had said goodbye to their son in the morning as they saw him off to school or college, only to get a call from the emergency services later telling them that their son was dead. When you have sat with so many of those mothers, you understand how harrowing violent crime is for our communities. Thirdly, there is the fear that your child could be a perpetrator. It can be almost as traumatising to discover that your child is involved in violent crime as it is to find that they have been a victim. It is almost inevitable that there will be more deaths from violent crime this weekend in one or another of our great cities.
I have to begin by talking about the effect of the Government’s policies in the round. Violent crime does not happen in a policy vacuum, and the Opposition contend that the Government’s austerity policy has contributed to the causes of increased crime in almost every conceivable way. That is one reason why the Government have presided over a rise in violent crime. Ministers cannot be right in saying that the rise in violent crime is all down to better recording. If someone is a victim of violent crime, that is one crime that they will report and that will be recorded.
We have heard about some of the extra money being spent on different initiatives, particularly the £22 million for the early intervention youth fund. However, as Opposition Members have said, that does not begin to offset the cuts in youth services up and down the country. I stress to Ministers that it is not a choice between targeted intervention and a properly funded general youth service: we need both. If the money goes into just targeted interventions, the danger is that those young people feel stigmatised and do not want to engage. Ministers talk as if, on any given estate, a couple of guys are on the verge of committing some terrible violent atrocity, and for all the other young men on that estate, everything is just fine.
In our communities, on our estates and in other communities, young people need a properly resourced general youth service, not just because someone is on the verge of committing a criminal atrocity, but because, sadly, in the 21st century, with the break-up of the nuclear family and many mothers out of work who might not choose to be out of work, many young men—and women—need to interact with role models, particularly male role models. That is what the youth service offers. It is not just a question of dragging somebody from the brink of violent crime.