It is an honour to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
I welcome this debate, which is timely—in fact, it is overdue. We need to debate this subject regularly because it is something that our constituents around the country are focused on. They see people in their communities, particularly young people, being badly hurt and losing their lives because of this terrible epidemic of serious violence. That is not to say that such things have not happened before, or that serious violence is something new; of course it is not, but it is right there now, and it is affecting our constituents throughout the country. It can be seen in the broader context of serious crime, and I hope we will have a full-on debate on that. Although that often results ultimately in serious violence, it does not always do so, but it affects our constituents nevertheless,
In Staffordshire, we have seen an in increase in knife crime over the past few years. In 2017-18 there were 1,175 knife crimes, an increase of 22% on the previous year. Staffordshire police, whose area also covers the Stoke-on-Trent city authority area, have done a great deal to tackle the problem, and I congratulate them on that, but there is a huge amount more to do. In March this year, in Operation Sceptre, the police concentrated on both enforcement and education, and in my speech I want to focus on education and prevention.
Staffordshire has the same problems with county lines that are being experienced in other areas up and down the country. I do not pretend to have great knowledge about the whole issue of drugs. I believe that there are many views on what is best, and I am willing to listen to the evidence, but we need to debate that issue more in this place. The criminality surrounding drugs is a huge problem for the country, and it needs to be discussed. We need to see resolute action and a policy that is stuck to over the years, so that the scourge of illegal drugs, involving both the users and those involved in the trafficking, are eliminated or at least minimised.
If we look across the Atlantic to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, we see that they have a number of helpful proposals for prevention. I shall list them all, because they are brief, and I shall then concentrate on two of them. They are prioritising the family environment, which has been mentioned by several Members; quality early education and early intervention; strengthening young people’s skills; connecting young people to caring adults and activities; protective community environments—the physical environment as well as the more general community environment—and intervention to lessen harms and prevent future risks.
Let me start with strengthening young people’s skills and connecting young people to caring adults and activities. Ms Abbott mentioned the importance of a holistic approach to the provision of young people’s activities, and I agree. When I was a little younger than I am now, I worked in and supported two youth clubs in Hackney. One was a statutory, open youth club in Homerton, which provided a very good, if sometimes difficult, environment. The other, a voluntary youth club in a church in Clapton Park, was open to many young people experiencing severe challenges. Both those clubs—difficult types of club—really helped. They were not run on a nine-to-five basis; the youth workers were there for the young people at all hours of the day or night, and that is absolutely vital.
My hon. Friend Douglas Ross mentioned football clubs. With colleagues, I helped to run a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award youth programme at Arsenal football club for a number of years, and that was very good. Other football clubs around the country commit great resources to such programmes. However, this is not just about providing a good environment, although that is very important; it is also about strengthening young people’s skills. That can, of course, be done in schools, and I am passionately committed to seeing life skills taught much more in our schools, but it can be done in youth centres and youth clubs as well. As the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said, youth clubs also connect young people to caring adults, and to the role models, some of them male, that young people so desperately need. In that regard, they play an extremely important role.
The second area is prioritising the family environment. I welcome the work that Sure Start centres have done over the years, which is being progressed in family hubs. Those family hubs will be important. The work that my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce has done alongside Lord Farmer, David Burrowes and others is vital.
I urge that all of us, across the House, see family hubs as incredibly important parts of our local communities, where not just children from zero to five but young people all the way up to 19 are given the opportunity to come together with their families, and perhaps mentors, to discuss the problems in the families and to see the opportunities that are available to them in a positive and affirming environment. So often, young people are given a negative approach. Most—I am sure all—hon. Members present feel a real sense of hope about the future of our country when they see the qualities of the young people they come across on a day-to-day basis. They must be affirmed, however, and family hubs are a place to do that.
As I have said, we need to debate serious crime and serious violence more often. If we do not, we are failing our constituents and particularly our young people, on a matter that causes heartache and heartbreak every day, week and month in communities across the country.