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Knife Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:21 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 12:21 pm, 27th June 2019

My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on introducing this debate and the manner in which he introduced it, but I intend to pick up many of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in a thoughtful and interesting speech.

Over the past week, I have been reflecting on the years that I have been in Parliament. Last week marked the 49th anniversary of my election in June 1970. In thinking about this debate, I have been reflecting on some of the great changes that have taken place in our society during that time. Three in particular stand out. I am not making value judgments; I am merely stating facts. The family has changed very much in that period. What was then the norm is no longer the norm. The drug culture which has grown up over the past years, to which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred in his opening remarks, was unknown in 1970. Another enormous change is the advent and prevalence of social media. Without social media, the county lines to which he referred could hardly exist. We are having to cope with a very different sort of society than existed when I was first elected to Parliament.

Of course, it is right that we should talk of proactive policing and community policing, as we have today, but although he did not use these exact words, the right reverend Prelate was in effect saying to us—and I believe very strongly in this—that prevention is better than cure. We must try to develop a culture in which the use of a knife in violence is just not contemplated. It will take time, but I believe that it must begin in the home and in the school. Many times in your Lordships’ House, I have been critical of the deficiencies in careers advice in schools and citizenship education. I believe—I have mentioned this before—that every young person leaving school in our country should have had to do some community service during his or her last year in school. It does not particularly matter whether that is taking meals to the elderly, looking after the young or whatever, but community service—putting something into the community—should be obligatory, frankly.

I would like to see every young person leaving school go through a citizenship ceremony, rather like those who take British nationality. I have attended some of those ceremonies, and they are very moving. The people taking part are very serious about what they are doing, and I think every young person should go through something like that. Citizenship education should not only prepare them for a world in which they will take part—by voting, participating and in many cases, one would hope, answering the call to public service—but make them realise that they have rights, yes, but also responsibilities and duties. I honestly think that if we placed more emphasis on citizenship education, we would be going a long way down the route to creating a better society.

I thought the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about short sentences were so very pertinent. Wherever possible, young people should be kept out of institutions. I had a young offender institution in my last constituency. It merited a damning report from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he was Chief Inspector of Prisons, and pulled itself up considerably; he was then able to give it a much better report. But many of the young people in that institution became nurtured in crime by being there.

When I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I saw some of the positive effects of community restorative justice. I genuinely believe that we ought to place more emphasis on that. I ask my noble friend the Minister to refer to this when she winds up.

Any of us who are parents or grandparents—in your Lordships’ House it is more the latter than the former—are deeply concerned about our grandchildren growing up in a world in which violence is endemic. It should be our collective determination, not just wish or endeavour, to ensure that future generations of children leave school with a sense of belonging to a community, feeling that they have an obligation not only to receive from but to contribute to that community, and realising that violence of the sort we have been reading about in the press this very week is completely unacceptable.