[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair] — Gang Crime (London)

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 6th April 2010.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(Mr. Hanson.)

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 9:30 am, 6th April 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on gang crime in London. This will be my last speech of the current Parliament, and I am fortunate indeed that it is on a subject on which I have worked in different ways all my political career. One of the first things I did as a young woman interested in wider society was help out at a youth club in Paddington, so the issues have always been close to my heart. It is an important subject also because it speaks to social cohesion, to our sense of community and to what is happening to our young people.

Gang crime is of great concern to all our constituents in London, but it would be wrong to move on and discuss my concerns without talking first about what my Government have done on the subject, not least because it will save the Minister from having to go over it. Gangs are part of the wider serious youth violence agenda, and my Government have spent more than £17 million on that agenda since September 2007. Through my Government's work, we have seen tougher enforcement and sentences and new legislation to tackle violent crime and gangs.

The Government have also introduced gang injunctions, which enable local authorities and the police to tackle over-18s involved in gang-related violence by banning them from meeting other gang members, wearing gang colours, hanging around in certain locations and owning dangerous dogs. We are looking to extend that tool to 14 to 17-year-olds. Under a Labour Government we have seen a tightening of the law on gun crime and the introduction of a minimum sentence of five years for possession of an illegal firearm. I have campaigned successfully for a ban on replica weapons, because much of the gun crime in London is perpetrated not with real weapons, but with replica guns that have been rebored for shooting.

The Metropolitan police have also put in place various operations to deal with gun, gang and knife crime, including Operation Blunt, which was set up after the murder of Robert Levy in Hackney in 2005, and I pay tribute to the work his father has done since then on gangs, guns and knives. We have consistently provided funding for local institutions best placed to work on measures that help young people to leave gangs. In April 2010 the Government are pledging a further £5 million to tackle knife crime and serious youth violence.

Having set out my Government's achievements on the issue, and not wishing to detract from what they have done, I will say that we all know that it is not just a question of money, and certainly not just a question of legislation. Some of the legislation to which I have referred has not been used very much so far. It is a multi-dimensional subject, and I want to touch on some of those dimensions in my remarks.

As a consequence of the work that the Government and the Metropolitan police have done, we have seen an overall drop in crime in London. Statistics from the Metropolitan Police Authority from the 12 months to February 2010, when compared with figures for the previous year, appear to show that knife crime in London has decreased, as has youth violence.

The position in my constituency is similar. In fact, the figures seem to demonstrate that crime in Hackney is at its lowest level for 10 years, and I would like to take the opportunity to praise publicly the police in my constituency, and particularly the borough commander, Steve Bending, for their hard work in achieving that milestone. The figures show that the borough has seen a 7 per cent. reduction in knife crime and an 8.6 per cent. reduction in serious youth violence.

However, as a former Home Office official, I know that it is possible to debate the figures. Such statistics are sometimes a matter of art, rather than science. Fear of gang crime-not just the fear of being the victim, but the fear that mothers have about how safe their children are on the streets-has never been higher in my constituency, despite the welcome drop shown by the statistics. When we read about gang crime in the papers, we read about the victims and the gang members are often demonised. None the less, for every gang member and every victim of a gang member there are mothers, parents, families and communities that have been traumatised, and that is what makes it such a widespread concern.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for securing the debate and for the work she has done on the matter, as I have had the privilege of doing some of that work with her. Does she agree that it would help hugely, particularly in relation to the fear of crime, if we could get the statistics agreed politically, as it were, and thereby avoid the alarmist reporting, sometimes by political parties and candidates, that makes the situation sound and feel worse than it is? If we could get that sort of agreement even in London between all the parties as a starting point in the next Parliament, we would at least reduce some of the alarmist material that is put through people's doors and read in the papers.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

That is an interesting and constructive point. In my speech I will try to distinguish between the fear of crime and the actuality of crime, which is why I started by setting out the statistics. One of the things that whips up the public on gang crime is the reporting of it, partly by some of our colleagues-it is true of all parties-who sometimes slip into using the issue to whip up fear and detract attention from the welcome actual drop in crime. If we could move forward in the next Parliament, perhaps with the leadership of the Metropolitan Police Authority, to have agreed figures for crime in London, that would at least provide a sensible basis for debate.

We hear much about knife crime in London and read about it in both the local and national papers, but the national press rarely mentions the fact that the knife crime capital of this country is Glasgow and has been for many years, because knives have traditionally been the way in which Glasgow criminals settle their disputes. The impression we might have, however, is that the knife crime capital of the country is Southwark, Hackney or Lambeth, so to be able to go forward on the basis of mutually agreed figures would be a real step forward.

I warn against alarmism and point to the welcome drops in crime shown in the official figures, but sadly the incidence of gun crime, rape and offences of violence against the person is on the rise in my constituency, as it is in the whole of London. Those are specific crimes, so to highlight them is not to say that crime as a whole is rising in London, because clearly it is not, but those specific crimes are rising. It is not unreasonable to suggest that gun crime, rape and offences of violence against the person are sometimes related to gangs.

It is not just a question of statistics. Recently we saw an extraordinary incident of alleged gang crime in Victoria station, just a few hundred yards from here. It appears that two gangs converged on the station and, in plain sight of hundreds of commuters, decided to take their feud and warfare to another level. Commuters in Victoria station witnessed a 15-year-old boy being stabbed in the chest in the ticket hall during the rush hour. Witnesses say that the culprits were wearing school uniform. As many as 12 young people could face charges in what is believed to have been a pre-arranged fight in which children turned up armed with knives.

I ask Members to pause and think about that. We all know about schoolboy and schoolgirl angst and tensions. We all know about schoolboys fighting and, perhaps, about gangs, but what in the culture of this city makes gangs of schoolboys and schoolgirls feel able to stab each other in plain sight during the rush hour? Does that not suggest that we have moved on from the situation 10 or 20 years ago to a very different and alarming situation in which people's loyalty to their gang, their determination to gain respect and their disdain for wider society overrides the caution that kept young people from having knife fights in plain sight, even a decade ago?

Sadly, even in Hackney, in my constituency, we have seen some unfortunate incidents of gang crime. I have with me the latest edition of the Hackney Gazette. The title on the front page is, "The Scourge of Teen Violence". Further on in the paper, an article states:

"Gun and knife crime on Hackney's streets reached a terrifying peak last week in three days of violence in which a young footballer was stabbed to death and teenagers were targeted in two separate shootings."

One of those people was Godwin Lawson, a 17-year-old promising footballer, who was stabbed to death in Amhurst Park, Stamford Hill, in my constituency, in the early hours of last Saturday. Another incident saw shots fired in broad daylight while parents collected their children from a nursery in Allen road, Stoke Newington. Witnesses reported seeing two young people, one carrying a gun and one brandishing a knife, chasing another youth who was forced to take sanctuary in a shop. Just the week before, a young Turkish mother was shot dead at close range after answering a knock on the door to her mother's flat.

Something about these incidents-not just the violence as such but the brazenness and the fact that young people feel no fear and, paradoxically, almost that they have nothing to live for-is chilling. It represents a step change from the kind of schoolboy fighting and incidents with which many of us will be familiar.

Gun crime is a particular issue in London, partly because we seem to have more gangs. However, we have to be careful about what we define as a gang. A group of young men is not a criminal gang just because they are hanging about on the street. Many of those young guys hang about on the street because they live in two-bedroom flats with half a dozen siblings. Hanging about on the street is what they know, and they make a practice of looking as frightening as possible when actually they are not about serious criminal business. None the less, there are real criminal gangs in the city.

In 2007, it was said that 169 separate gangs were operating in London, and that Hackney, in my borough, had the most gangs-a total of 22. Again, we need to be careful. Not all the groupings are criminal gangs. The London-wide figure of 169 in 2007 was down on the figure of 200 in 2005, but it is still alarming.

I live on Middleton road in Hackney. One end of the road is dominated by the Holly Street gang-it is the gang next door to me-and the other end is dominated by the London Fields gang. I remember on my way home one evening talking to a young boy who was complaining that there was nothing to do in Hackney. I asked him, "What do you mean there is nothing to do? The council has just built a brand new swimming pool in London Fields." He said, "But you don't understand. For me to walk from here"-we were at my end of the road-"up to the London Fields lido means going into the territory of the London Fields gang, and I just can't do that."

One can exaggerate the issue of postcode gangs, but they are real, and they affect how young people, certainly in my borough, feel able to live their lives. They are real to women I know who are frightened that, if their son is waiting at a bus stop or walking down the street and is perceived by other young men to be someone from another postcode who should not be there, he will be at risk. They create all kinds of issues in organising youth provision, because one can put such provision in an area and think that it is well placed, but people from a particular postcode who might be physically near it will not come. Postcode gangs are a genuinely new phenomenon, and young people are terrified of crossing the street or riding a bus into another postcode for fear of stepping into another gang's territory.

Some of these gangs-this is certainly the case in Hackney-operate in areas next to houses worth £1 million. One of the glories of London is that it still has a diverse and mixed community, but, unlike some other parts of the world, it means that we cannot say that gang culture is something that operates at some remove, in some remote ghetto at the edge of the city, as it does in Paris, for instance. In inner London, one is never that far from a postcode where some gang is operating, so gangs and the related youth criminality are not something from which people in more prosperous parts of the city can turn away.

Why do young people join gangs? As ever, young people join gangs, even harmless social gangs, because they want a sense of belonging. They want mates, and they want to be able to function socially. Some of us will remember "Just William" and the outlaws. That little gang was perhaps the archetypal gang: young men gathered together, glorying in their sense of togetherness and keeping just this side of what grown-ups would like. Unfortunately, the "Just William" kind of gang has morphed into the gang problem that we see on the streets of London.

What is the source of the problem? I would say that the underlying issue is education. By and large, young men who are at school or college doing AS or A-levels are not taking part in gangs. However, those who have aspirations and are trying to study may get caught up on the fringes of gang culture. That has happened to the children of friends of mine. Friends have been shocked to discover that their sons, who are intelligent, and who are studying and working hard, are involved on the fringes of gang culture because if they did not appear to be willing to relate to the gang culture in their school or community, they would be outsiders. They would feel that they did not belong. Any hon. Member who is a parent will know that there is nothing more important to young boys than belonging.

There is the social thing, but there is also education, as I said. There is no question but that the continuing achievement gap between black boys and the wider school population has some bearing on the involvement of African-Caribbean boys in gangs. That is why, since the 1990s, I have worked on the issue. I have convened think-tanks and organised conferences. I set up a project, London schools and the black child, and for the past seven years have organised an awards ceremony here in Parliament for London's top-achieving black children in order to reward and try to highlight those young people, both male and female, who are bucking the trend, going to school and university, getting top grades and studying law, medicine and so on.

However, the stereotype of black young people and gangs is pernicious. I organised my last awards ceremony for October 2009. We had Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic gold medallist, and several television celebrities handing out awards. When we tried to interest the Evening Standard in the event by saying that it was to be held at the House of Commons, that we would have celebrities and that we would give awards to children who had 11 A*s at A-level, we encountered great resistance. Finally, it rang and asked, "Are any of these young people ex-gang members?" We said, "No", and it said that it was not interested. In other words, young people are a story if they are a stereotype, but a young person working hard and trying to do well at school does not fit the story. If we are going to deal with gang culture, we have to continue to address the educational gap faced by young black men and, increasingly, young Turkish men at school. The surest way of keeping young people out of the gang culture is showing them a way forward through education and the wider society.

I would not want to leave this subject without saying what Hackney schools are doing on this issue. Last month I visited Tyssen primary school, which is targeting underachieving Afro-Caribbean students with an innovative programme that engages them by using Nintendo DS "Brain Training", which has been successfully driving up their results, particularly in maths. Other schools in the area, including Hackney's first academy, Mossbourne, under the inspired leadership of Sir Michael Wilshaw, are working with and driving our young people of all colours to get some of the best educational results in the country.

Educational underachievement is an underlying issue in respect of gang culture. Another issue is the lack of role models, which the Government have addressed with their REACH programme of role models. None the less, the best role models are those people see in their own family. Both my parents came here from Jamaica and both of them left school at 14. When my brother and I were children our father went out to work every day God sent and, on a Friday, brought home his wage packet to my mother. That was our model of a real black man-a man who went out to work and looked after his family. He may have been a bit harsh and strict, but he had an unbending notion of financial responsibility. Sadly, in the estates around me in Hackney there are communities of young people who do not have male-headed households and do not see men or women going out to work every day. A father or mother, or a relative, going out to work and taking their responsibilities seriously is the most important role model for many of our young people-not some remote celebrity.

I am not saying-I would be the last person to say-that single mothers are the basis of this problem. I am a single parent myself, as are many of my friends, and we are rightly proud of our children. None the less, there are whole estates where hardly anyone is going out to work regularly, and that is a problem. To be fair, the Government have sought to address this issue. However, the absence of male role models is a serious problem.

As well as the more general absence of male role models, it is important to get more men into primary schools. I have visited a number of primary schools in my constituency in recent months and, with some exceptions, there is an absence of men in the classroom. All the evidence suggests that young black men, particularly-and, I suspect, working-class young men more generally-need to see men in the classroom; men taking education seriously. Even if teachers cannot be recruited, men could come and read to them, making a marked difference to their aspirations and their notions of masculinity.

I remember working with some American academics in the 1990s who said that to make a difference in respect of black men underachieving one had to get them when they were under 11, get men in the classroom and tie that in with activities in the wider community. Lord Adonis was interested in that when he was Schools Minister. I attended meetings with him to discuss what we could do about getting more black male classroom teachers. Whoever wins the forthcoming election needs to address that issue, because it is a key component in giving our young men-both black young men and white working-class young men-the role models that they can aspire to.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

I agree. There are some encouraging signs. I chair the governing body of a primary school in Bermondsey and the head told me that more men are willing to apply to be primary school teachers and to do other jobs, partly because lots of people who had high-flying jobs in the City are not able to do them any more and partly because people are discovering that a career chasing money is not fulfilling. Lots of people are looking for a career change. There is the beginning of a realisation that one of the most valuable jobs that can be done as a man in London is to teach or to work in schools. We should build on this new sense of responsibility. The hon. Lady is right. The next Government need to prioritise that. The local councils, all of which will be re-elected in May, need to make that a priority, too.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of this. Just recently there has been an uptick in the numbers of men going into schools. That is important.

One underlying issue in relation to gang crime, which is obvious but not often stated, is the high levels of unemployment in the inner city. Unemployment rates in my constituency are higher than the average: there is 8.8 per cent. unemployment there, which is the equivalent of more than 5,000 people. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the figures are almost certainly an underestimate: many people are not counted at all because they do not even bother to sign on. The unemployment rates in Hackney, and in London as a whole, are higher than in the rest of the country.

It needs to be stressed that it is not just about overall levels of unemployment. When I was a child growing up in Paddington, before the days of Hugh Grant and the "Notting Hill" film, all the men in my life worked, often in light engineering and factories. In the 1960s and '70s, there was still a considerable amount of light engineering and factory work-my father was a welder, for example-and blue collar employment. In other words employment suitable for males without formal qualifications was available. In the past 20 years manufacturing and blue collar employment for males in London has collapsed. Whereas my father became a welder and had apprentices, even though he left school at 14, and was proud of being able to support his family, increasingly young men, both black and white, look around and do not see employment opportunities for them unless they get formal qualifications. It is much easier now for women than for men in the workplace, which is why I focus on education. But let us not forget that the collapse of male employment in London has helped create the problem that we see. That is not to say that because people are unemployed they are a criminal or should be a gang member, but it is part of the context.

Another issue behind the rising gang crime is the rise in materialism in the past 20 years. People want the bling, the clothes, the jewellery and the designer labels, and they want it now. There is no notion of deferred gratification among many of our young people. They watch MTV and music videos. They want glamour, glitz and materialism now and society appears to teach them that they can have it.

Things can be done about employment, but I would not want to leave the issue of employment without making a point about the Olympics, which were sold to those of us in inner London and east London-the Olympic boroughs in particular-as a way of providing employment and economic regeneration for people in the east end of London. I was shocked to find out a few weeks ago that of all the hundreds of apprentices on the Olympic park only one-just one-is from Hackney. I would not like to think how few of the apprentices are from ethnic minorities. If the Government are serious about these issues they must take steps, even at this stage, to ensure that proportionate numbers of the apprentices on the Olympic park, not even the skilled men, come from deprived boroughs like my own and that appropriate numbers come from the ethnic minority communities.

Before drawing my remarks to a close, I want to touch on the changing face of gangs in London. I am an east end MP, so I cannot talk about gangs without mentioning the Krays or the Richardsons. Historically, criminal gangs in London were white criminal gangs-that is why we remember the Krays, the Richardsons and so on. In more recent times, particularly if one reads the papers, many gangs have been African and Afro-Caribbean, although there is also a strong multicultural element.

Sadly, in Hackney we have had an issue with Turkish-Kurdish gangs. Overall, the Turkish-Kurdish community plays an important role in London. It is a huge contributor, and has helped to rebuild and regenerate the community with its business and retail activities. Since last August, however, there have been 11 shootings in north London. That has exposed the entire community to bad publicity, and I am concerned about what appears to be a fresh turf war between Turkish-Kurdish gangs based on drugs. Such gangs represent only a tiny minority of the community, but they have been responsible for 11 shootings since August last year. Recently, Hackney police announced an appeal to encourage witnesses to the murder of a Turkish man in Upper Clapton road, Hackney to come forward. A gunman is believed to have entered a venue and fired indiscriminately, suggesting that it was not a targeted hit but a way of sending out a message to a rival gang.

The Turkish-Kurdish community is keen to work with the police on this issue. I recently convened a meeting between the head of the Turkish-Kurdish community, my borough commander and representatives from the local authority. We want to move against this type of criminality, and against some of the retail premises and social clubs that might be implicated in it. I believe that a high-profile, systematic programme of joint action between the police, the council and local stakeholders to close down those few cafes that have been infiltrated by criminals will reassure the wider Turkish-Kurdish community and the community as a whole.

I want to touch briefly on the new issue of young women in gangs. Increasing numbers of young women are joining gangs, not only as the girlfriends of gang members but as gang members at some level. I had a long meeting with a girl who had left the gang culture, and she suggested that there were three types of girls in gangs. First, there were the girlfriends of gang leaders, who had some sort of status; secondly there were girls who were attached to gangs and handed round from gang member to gang member, and thirdly there were what could be called equal opportunity girl gangsters, who had their own girl gangs and were out on the street. Young women are still more likely to be the victims of gang violence than the perpetrators of it, but just as it is wrong to stereotype all gang members as coming from a particular demographic, it is also wrong to stereotype gang problems as being only about boys. We are increasingly seeing girls involved as well.

Not enough support is targeted at women and girls who are involved in gangs, and there is a shocking incidence of rape, sexual violence and exploitation against women and girls who are associated with gangs. Sadly, for too many gangs, rape has become the weapon of choice against girl gang members and relatives of rival gangs. The crime of gang rape is on the rise in London. That is tragic, and a particular issue in Hackney, Southwark and other inner-London boroughs. It is increasingly carried out by criminal gangs and is linked to various other forms of crime. In his 2008 manifesto, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, promised to build more rape crisis centres. I want to use this speech to urge him to consider building one in Hackney, because of its high incidence of rape and gang rape.

There is an issue about the use of dogs as weapons. Another matter that does not get enough attention is the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service. A recent set of reports by the Crown Prosecution Inspectorate looked into the performance of the CPS in boroughs across London. It showed that in too many boroughs, the CPS was deemed to be poor at securing conviction rates, especially in cases where witnesses were likely to be intimidated, such as in gang-related crimes. The reports ruthlessly exposed the failure to deal with gang crime and gang violence in boroughs such as Hackney. I met the head of the CPS in London and the legal director for the north region, Alison Saunders and Grace Ononiwu, to discuss why that was the case. They told me that there was a lack of staff, but they assured me that they were acting to improve their performance. I will be watching that closely. The police and the community can do their best, but if the CPS is failing-as recent inspectorate reports seem to suggest-it is letting down the community as a whole.

In closing, I acknowledge what the Government have done, particularly through legislation and by pouring money into initiatives. I acknowledge what has been done by the ex-Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, the present Mayor, Boris Johnson, and the Metropolitan Police Authority in focusing on those issues through initiatives such as Operation Blunt. I acknowledge that figures for crime in London are going down overall. However, the fear not only of being a victim of a gang, but that one's child-male or female-will get caught up in gang-related activity, is a real issue for many of my constituents, whatever their colour, race, class or nationality. It would be remiss of me as a Member of Parliament if I did not bring that matter before the House.

Tackling gang crime in London is complicated and requires a long-term as well as a short-term strategy. There needs to be more focus on young women, both as members of gangs and as victims of gang crime. We need better provision for victims of rape to secure convictions, and the CPS needs to raise its game. Local authorities and the police must work closely together to target venues that are believed to be fronts for illegal operations, and there needs to be a continuing emphasis on closing the achievement gaps between some minorities and the school population as a whole.

Systems should be put in place and funded for young people who wish to leave gangs. Even in the current economic crisis, we must focus on getting young people into work and encouraging them to take up apprenticeships. Something must be done about the Olympic site because its record in providing apprenticeships for the Olympic boroughs is poor. We need stricter rules for those found to be using dogs as a weapon of intimidation. We need a mix of targeting educational issues and strict enforcement. I speak not only as the Member of Parliament for Hackney, but as a mother and a resident in Hackney, and I want strict enforcement of the law on gangs, and I know that other people do too. Above all, we need a broad strategy that engages with the community as a whole. Only then will we deal with the gang crisis and with the fear of gangs in our midst.

London is a great city; I have lived in it all my life. I was born in London, and it never fails to be a source of pride to me that I lived to become a Member of Parliament in London. It is a great city with many amazing things to its credit, not least the extent to which communities in London manage to live so happily side by side, and the culture and variety that the city offers. It should not be disfigured by the scar of gang crime. Ministers have done much, but there is still much to do.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 10:09 am, 6th April 2010

It is a pleasure to follow Ms Abbott, and I repeat my compliments to her about today's debate, the wisdom that she brings to the subject, her personal commitment and the work that she has done in all sorts of ways. At the end of this Parliament, perhaps I can mention specifically the work that she has done with young black men on educational aspiration, and note the annual conference in the Queen Elizabeth conference centre that she organised, as well as other events, some of which I have been privileged to attend. Such things are important in ensuring that every single Londoner-everybody who was born in London or who has come to London-feels that they have an opportunity to succeed, to do well and to be respected by their peers. If youngsters know that they can achieve that outcome, they are likely to target that and not other things.

The normal numbers of people are not here today because people are slightly distracted at the moment. The news tells us that the Prime Minister is probably going to Buckingham palace at this very minute to ask the Queen for a Dissolution, after which we will have a general election. If that is the case, as we expect, crime and the fear of crime will, not surprisingly, be an election issue again in London and elsewhere. That is why, as I said in my first intervention on the hon. Lady, I hope that, whatever differences there are in the next Parliament, and whatever the outcome of the election, we can at least agree on some things and share the facts accurately and well.

The Minister knows the importance of such issues, having been involved in them in different capacities over many years. In the past decade or so, we have had real difficulties with different sets of statistics. The British crime survey statistics and the Home Office statistics do not always say the same thing, with one lot collecting figures on the over-16s, but not the under-16s. It is easy to misrepresent the position and sometimes to exaggerate the problem and increase the fear. I make a pledge that I will work to ensure that those of my colleagues who are elected in London to sit in this place, as well as those who are elected to sit on local councils in London or on the Greater London assembly, work together to try to ensure that we have a common basis of information so that local papers and political parties do not misrepresent things. We should not play on people's fears to win votes or sell newspapers.

I pay tribute to the police in London, who have learned a lot and come a long way in recent years. We had a real struggle in the '80s to get the police to associate with, and relate to, the whole community. The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, whom I met again the other day, is very focused on these issues, as well as being very practical and very realistic, and that can be seen in his senior management team and the operation of the Trident people and others.

The hon. Lady paid tribute to her borough commander, and I pay tribute to my new borough commander, Wayne Chance, who seems very level-headed and sensible. Commanders understand the importance in all our boroughs of the issues that we are discussing. Although such issues are more important in inner-city boroughs than in outer-London boroughs, they are not just inner-city issues. Boroughs such as Croydon and Enfield have been plagued just as much by gang violence as inner-city boroughs such as Hackney and Southwark.

I also pay tribute to those who have done good work in the Crown Prosecution Service, but I flag up at the beginning my concern that the CPS has not always got its act together and done its job as well as it should. I do not want to elaborate, but I simply endorse the hon. Lady's comment that we need a CPS that gets right the difficult balance between the benefit of sometimes prosecuting in the public interest and the benefit of sometimes not prosecuting.

We must ensure that people can have confidence in the criminal justice system. The police are often on the front line of the system, but the system actually includes the police, the CPS and the courts. I have always said that when police commanders are hauled in front of the public to provide answers in London boroughs, the leader of the council, the head of the local CPS and the senior district judge or magistrate should also be in the front line so that the public can see all those who are responsible for criminal justice in our communities.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to put on record the progress that the Metropolitan police have made? I picketed my fair share of police stations in the '80s, and I was never an unthinking admirer of the police, but there is no question but that they have embraced some of these issues, and the quality of the people at the very top of the Metropolitan police has increased exponentially.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

That is certainly true. However, if they read the record of this debate, as I expect they will, I do not want them to go away thinking that there is not more to do. Until the police service is representative of London and looks like London in terms of ethnicity and so on, we will not have the confidence of all Londoners. I still go to too many events where there are very few non-white faces doing the policing. I know that it is not the fault of the police for not trying, but they need to keep pushing. One of the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence murder and inquiry is that we need a different sort of police service. We have moved a long way, but we have a long way yet to go.

The debate is about gang violence, and we have to pause for a minute to reflect on how frightening gang violence is. It is bad enough to be attacked by another person or by two people, which quite often happens in street robberies, but when a group of people sets on one person-that appeared to be the case at Victoria station last week, where we saw the most dreadful sort of crime-or on each other, that creates fear, pandemonium and bedlam. A few years ago, gangs from the surrounding area used to go to the Surrey Quays shopping centre in my constituency. When they got on the bus together, they frightened the people on the bus, and when they got off the bus, they frightened the people at the bus station. They then went to the shopping centre, and anyone they met was in terror of what they would do as they rampaged around.

Gang crime is a really serious problem, over and above the issues of gun and knife crime. Although it is connected with them, it is a bigger issue. Gang crime requires specific analysis and specific responses, although that does not mean that we should not look at gun crime and knife crime. When I saw the commissioner the other day, it was reassuring to hear that the number of deaths as a result of such crimes had gone down in London. Less reassuringly, however, he told me that the statistics for knife and gun crime in the current year appear to have gone up again, which is troubling-it troubles him and it should trouble us. One troubling trend in recent years is that the age of the young people involved in such crimes has gone down.

I was privileged to take part in the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into knife crime; the hon. Lady will certainly be aware of it and may well have participated. The Committee had its first seminar in London on 17 November 2008 at the YMCA in Stockwell, and I and others gave evidence at the Chairman's invitation. I commend to those who read the record of this debate the Committee's seventh report, which came out on 2 June last year and includes a report of that seminar. I want to put on record a couple of the Committee's conclusions and recommendations, many of which deserve attention and a response.

The first point obviously relates to knife possession, but is part of the wider picture. The report states:

"The 2008 MORI Youth Survey indicated that 31 per cent."- nearly a third-

"of 11-16 year olds in mainstream education and 61 per cent. of excluded young people had carried a knife at some point over the course of the previous year".

A third of young people in mainstream education and two thirds of those who were excluded-in special schools or other places-had carried a knife. The Home Office survey two years before said that only 3 per cent. of 10 to 25-year-olds carried a knife. The truth may lie somewhere between the two, but the legitimate and illegitimate carrying of weapons, particularly knives, which are much easier to find than guns, is significant.

The second thing that the report made clear is that the

"vast majority of young people who carry knives say that they or their peers carry knives to protect themselves".

That did not used to be the case; people used to carry knives because it was cool and then because they thought that they needed them to keep up with their mates, but now it is for protection. The cause of that is the same as the cause of gang issues: young people need to feel secure. The one thing that would change a youngster's decision to go with a gang would be feeling secure in the knowledge that they could say, "No thank you, I don't want to" and that other things in life were more valuable, whether their education, their family life or the respect that they enjoyed in the eyes of their family. We have to get to the root cause of the issue: youngsters' security.

We must also be careful that we do not confuse and conflate all these issues. When 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was killed in Southwark more than 10 years ago, he was attacked by a group of boys. Some of the attacks, deaths and terrible tragedies that we have seen, are caused by gangs or large groups of people, but some are caused by an individual and some are accidental deaths caused by a fight or act of violence that just got out of hand. Again, we must ensure that we do not misrepresent things.

There have been some very honourable events at the two recent games between Charlton and Millwall, two football teams in south-east London. By the way, I am happy to say that the first game was a draw and the second one was won by Millwall. At those games, parents of youngsters who are supporters of the two clubs came together, with the support of the two clubs, to win the argument among the fans and to ensure that people understood that the sort of violence that we are discussing today is unacceptable and is, in fact, no good. The methods that those parents used were really effective, but they did not all relate to gang crime. They related to the violence that is sometimes reflected in gang crime, and sometimes reflected in other activities.

I pay tribute to those who do that type of campaigning, because the families and peer groups of gang members and former gang members are the most effective people in winning the argument against gangs on the streets.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the role of parents. I was very shocked by one parent whom I saw at an advice surgery. A young boy came in and said to me that he was in trouble for carrying a knife at school. He told me that he had carried it to defend himself and his mother said, "Yes, he did carry it to defend himself and I allowed him to carry it to school to defend himself". The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point about the role of parents and emphasised the importance of educating parents and working with them. Parents should know that there can be no circumstances in which they should collude with their child's taking a knife to school and I said that to that mother.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The hon. Lady is right.

Let me just select five more sentences from different parts of the conclusions to the Home Affairs Committee's report on knife crime and then I will go on to say some more about gang crime. The Home Affairs Committee is obviously a cross-party Committee and its report found:

"Sensationalist media coverage of stabbings has contributed to this 'arms race'."

That effectively repeats what I said at the outset about the importance of providing full and accurate crime data.

The report also found:

"A smaller number of knife-carriers say they carry knives to gain 'respect' or street credibility, or because of peer pressure."

So there is a group in that category, but they are not the largest group of young people who carry knives.

The report goes on:

"Individuals born into social deprivation are more likely to commit violence."

However, it also says that they are not the only individuals who commit violence and that others from the most respectable and crime-free backgrounds can get dragged into violence.

The report then makes a controversial point, but I believe that it is true:

"Evidence...supported our view that violent DVDs and video games exert a negative influence on those who watch and play them."

The report also says that when individuals are sent away to serve youth custody sentences, they sometimes still have access to that sort of violent entertainment. That cannot help.

The report reaches two other conclusions to which I would like to refer. First, it says:

"The prospect of a custodial sentence may not deter young people from carrying knives."

Instead, it is the prospect of "getting caught" that deters them. Young people are not normally thinking about a custodial sentence when they carry knives. Therefore, heavy, knee-jerk political responses such as, "Increase the sentence", are not normally the answer. A much more complicated response is required.

Secondly, the report did not recommend

"compulsory introduction of knife detectors" in all schools. Instead, it argued that such detectors should be introduced selectively and where it is appropriate to do so. Similarly, the report said that stop and search is vital but that it needs to be carried out appropriately.

There are good signs. I have mentioned Millwall and Charlton who, like other football clubs, have sought to work from their local communities outwards. There are also lots of community campaigns that try to tackle gang violence. In my borough, there is a campaign called "Enough". In Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, there are other locally led campaigns. Sports action zones seek to engage young people in street and community sport, and they are really positive in providing diversionary activity. There is also good parental involvement in youth clubs and after-school activities, and more schools are providing pre-school, after-school and weekend activities.

In addition, there are really good youth clubs. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families came with his whole ministerial team the other day to the opening of the Salmon youth centre in Bermondsey. That is a fantastic new facility, which has climbing frames, training, apprenticeships and all sorts of other things. There are excellent initiatives.

Mediation is also important. The Southwark mediation service has young mediators who seek to teach youngsters how to mediate at school and also how to back off without losing dignity. Gang crime is often about respect. How does a youngster deal with someone causing offence to themselves or their girlfriend, sister or whoever it might be, without thinking that they have to pile in and steam in to the "other lot" who caused offence? It is often about learning that there are ways of dealing with such a problem that mean taking a step back rather than going forward.

Mediation is also about helping young people to vocalise what they think, rather than physicalising it. There is an organisation called Speak Out, which teaches young people to speak about these issues as a way of communicating verbally.

We have touched on the causes of gang crime. Families and role models are really important, particularly the father, the older brother or the boyfriend. Violence at home is a factor. Families should not think that if they are violent at home, that does not make it more likely that their children will be violent out on the street.

I have already mentioned DVDs, videos and films. The hon. Lady rightly talked about the materialistic or "bling" age we live in and the culture of instant gratification. However, modern communication methods are also important. Flash mobbing happens. Someone can text and they can get loads of people together really quickly. They never used to be able to do that. Ease of travel is also important. It is a good thing, but it also means that a gang can all pile on a bus and be somewhere together, at no cost, in no time.

The answers to those problems are to provide the types of things that we have talked about: training, apprenticeships, and the incentives to believe that there is a valuable alternative to gang crime. That is why I have a problem with just thinking about what young people should do from the age of 14 onwards. I have always argued that we should introduce youngsters to work at the top end of primary school. There are some children in Southwark, as in Hackney and other places, who have nobody at home who goes to work. Those children need to see the benefit of work and the best schemes in that respect start with year 6 pupils in primary schools. The pupils go to do a week's work experience and they put on the kit or uniform to act as porters in the Marriott hotel, to count the money in Lloyds bank and so on.

What ought to happen about gang crime? I have made the pledge about crime statistics. I believe that there should be better data-sharing between hospitals and the police authorities, so that we identify where the problems of gang crime are worst. I also believe that we need stop and search, but it must be carried out sensitively. We need visible policing, but good neighbourhood policing is about good intelligence. Good intelligence is often the way to get into the gangs or groups before they really get going.

We also need larger numbers of detached youth workers in London. Like the hon. Lady, I was a youth worker for a long time before I was elected to Parliament. However, we do not need youth workers who sit in clubs waiting for kids to come to them; we need youth workers on the streets and street corners, who really know what is going on, who can act as role models and do other things. We also definitely need diversionary activities for young people.

The Government have worked hard on witness protection, but we still need better witness protection. I was involved in helping with the case of Jamie Robe, a young lad who was kicked to death, and I saw that people were terrified. Another youngster in my constituency, Daniel Herbert, was killed recently, apparently by a gang or a small group of people. Nobody has come forward to help. Everybody sort of knows who did it, but nobody has come forward to help. We need to ensure that we help witnesses to be protected. The Minister knows about this issue well. We should think about whether we need to go further than we have done already.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. On witnesses, does he agree that, although there is, of course, adequate witness protection at the very highest level of gang crime, at the intermediate and lower levels there is not adequate witness protection? At those levels, people still do not feel confident about witness protection. In particular, they do not feel confident that they can be moved swiftly and effectively out of the area where they live, so that they are not subject to harassment.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

I am working on a case where we have still not got somebody settled after moving her from her safe house to another area; I think that she has been in the new area for four years already, but she has still not been able to settle with her children. That was not a case involving gangs; it was a domestic violence issue. Nevertheless, we do not have a system that works, particularly between the police and local authorities, and we need to make it work much better.

I want to make a final point. The hon. Lady was right to say that what happens with gangs in London is that they decide that an individual will be part of a territorial group or some other group. It is often based on postcode. It can be based on a place, such as Walworth or Peckham. It can also be based on an ethnic group: Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Turkish, Kurdish or whatever. The feeling of being "one of us" is a bit like being a football supporter, but it occurs at a much younger age and in a much more violent way. All young people want to belong. People do not want to be isolated; we want to be part of a group. It is a natural human instinct.

My view, having thought about and worked on the issue, is that it is best not to try to prevent people from supporting a particular team or being loyal to their school but to ensure that from the earliest age, they spend time with pupils from other primary schools or do things in teams with other secondary schools. As well as competition between places-that is natural; it is what the Olympic games are all about-we need collaboration between young people. The Globe and Walworth academies, on opposite sides of the Old Kent and New Kent roads, include children from both sides of the road. If they spent time together from a young age doing sport, science, art, theatre and drama, it would start to break down the barriers between them. Faith groups have a large role to play, as they do not have nearly the same territorial catchment.

I end with a plea for work to be done to ensure that we in London all understand that although we may be from Hackney or Southwark, we are also part of a wider community and ought to have links from an early age. If all families, schools, youth clubs and faith groups sought to instil that idea, people might think less about being in gangs. If, at the same time, we made youngsters feel safer from an early age, they would feel less driven to join dangerous gangs in which they, rather than the people whom they set out to attack, are likely to be the victims.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:31 am, 6th April 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir, for perhaps the last time during this Parliament; we understand that the Prime Minister has now left Buckingham palace after having sought a dissolution of Parliament. Many events are taking place outside this Chamber, but that should not detract from the importance of the matters that we are debating here. I congratulate Ms Abbott on securing this debate and highlighting many significant points that must be considered carefully in the context of the issue of serious gang violence.

The hon. Lady painted a picture of postcode gangs. It is absurd that where investment has been provided in community facilities for the benefit of young people, those facilities may essentially be off limits to particular young people simply because of their location. Young people, even if they are not part of a gang, may feel too frightened to use them, simply because they live in a different area. The development of postcode gangs also involves the absurd perversion of colours and other symbols to indicate gang membership, including safe colours for transit through certain areas. Buses and public transport can be places of significant fear for young people who are innocently trying to enjoy their own lives and are not at all involved in gangs or gang violence. The indiscriminate way in which some postcode gangs operate can draw young people into violence.

Gangs are also linked with sexual violence, as the hon. Lady mentioned, including rape and sexual exploitation. I am sure that the Mayor of London will hear her clear call for the establishment of a rape crisis centre in her area to deal with some facets of gang culture and the perversion and exploitation that sit alongside it.

The hon. Lady mentioned gang injunctions and new powers. The Conservatives supported the introduction of gang injunctions, but I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on whether any have yet been used. It is all very well to introduce new powers and legislation, but enforcement is crucial. That has been one of this Government's shortcomings-legislating in haste without necessarily setting out clear pathways for using the powers created.

The hon. Lady rightly highlighted the issue of risk, particularly during the transfer from primary to secondary education. Many young people are at risk when they go from being big kids in a small school to small kids in a large school and a different environment. It can be difficult for them, and may cause them to gravitate towards gangs. Recruitment may occur at that stage. Children with behavioural issues or special educational needs such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may become more and more isolated and thus more vulnerable to recruitment into gangs or similar exploitation. That is why we must consider carefully the link between primary and secondary education.

However, we must also celebrate success. We should in no way suggest that all young people are involved in gangs. Only a small minority of young people engage in serious criminal activity. Fantastic community projects are taking place across our city. Recently, I attended the launch of the Ten Ten theatre company, which goes into schools and uses drama to challenge thinking about knife possession and gang membership. Such concepts can be effective in engaging young people, challenging their perceptions of fitting in and addressing pressure to carry a weapon. We know that carrying a knife on the street makes a young person much more vulnerable to being the victim of a violent crime and having that weapon used against them, even though they may think that it protects them.

The London fire brigade is also doing good things with its LIFE project to engage young people and challenge them in a different way. It is a particularly good project. Another project by Metrac, the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, uses sport to harness young people's energy positively and show them that they do not need to feel that they must fit in by joining a gang.

The shocking events of the past few weeks, involving the tragic cutting short of young lives, underline the continuing problems of gang crime, knife crime and youth violence. The fatal stabbings of 15-year-old Sofyen Belamouadden from Acton and 17-year-old Godwin Nii Lawson from north London remind us all of the effect of such appalling crimes on families, friends and whole communities. The increasingly brazen nature of some of the crimes that have taken place in our capital in the past few months is also shocking and disturbing. Although the number of teenage murders in London fell from 29 in 2008 to 14 last year, recent cases underline the continuing challenge and the need for vigilance.

Last week, I spoke at a conference in the docklands organised by Through Unity, a charity that brings together and gives a voice to families touched by appalling crimes of violence. Its members are ordinary people pushed to the forefront by unimaginable circumstances who, despite personal loss, demonstrate a driving sense of purpose, a desire for good to emerge from tragedy and evil and a commitment to bringing about change and improvement in our communities and our country. Through humility and grace, they turn adversity into hope.

The event was as inspiring as it was humbling. It was a reminder why we all need to focus on preventing more such crimes from occurring. I agree that families have an important role to play in advocating and driving through change. I have met families over the past few years who have, sadly, been touched in that way. Their passion for seeing good come from the loss that they have suffered is powerful and impressive. We need to work with such families as much as we can.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, the Minister and me in appealing for those who know something about the unsolved London deaths of recent years to come forward, as this debate might be our last opportunity to do so. I have four names: Adam Regis, whose mum has tried to get to the truth, the rapper Isschan Nicholls, the teenager Billy Cox and the student Nicholas Clarke. There are others. As a city, we owe it to the families of those people to bring those who are responsible forward. Those who know something must speak out.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The sense that justice has been denied or has not been followed through is a recurring theme among many families I have spoken to. There is a need for justice to be seen to be done. The perpetrators of crimes that have not been solved must be brought to justice. We need to consider carefully the protection and support that are offered to communities to ensure that people feel able to come forward, as he said in his speech. That is a significant factor that we must retain our focus on to ensure that these appalling crimes are solved and that those who commit them are brought to justice.

Part of the solution lies in more effective community policing. It is not good enough that less than 15 per cent. of a beat officer's time is spent on patrol. We need officers to be on the streets, not behind their desks. That is why we believe there should be a cut in the form-filling and bureaucracy that prevent police officers from doing their job and from providing the reassurance that so many communities desperately need. One practical example is that we would give the police greater discretion to make charging decisions on a number of offences to speed up the processing of arrests and get officers back on the beat. We would also give police officers the discretion to deal quickly and effectively with young trouble makers who are committing antisocial behaviour before they go on to commit more serious offences.

We need to improve the intelligence on the prevalence of violent crimes because many incidents go unreported. I endorse the Mayor of London's support for greater use of depersonalised A and E data across London alongside police data to provide a more comprehensive crime picture on prevalence, geography and trends. I welcome the fact that the Government are now acting on that and hope that the Minister will provide an update when he winds up the debate on the number of hospitals that are providing such data.

The risk of getting caught with a knife must be a real factor in the mind of someone getting ready to go out. That means that the police must make proper use of the power to stop and search. The Operation Blunt 2 task force has provided a focused response in hot spots across London and more people are being charged for possession of knives and sharp instruments. I pay tribute to the work of the Metropolitan police in carrying out such operations. When offenders are caught, they should usually be prosecuted and given the most severe sentences appropriate. Fines are an inadequate deterrent. There should be a presumption that offenders will receive a custodial sentence or a tough, enforced community penalty, not a so-called unpaid work requirement. The offender should wear a high-visibility uniform.

I pay tribute to the Mayor of London's work on the Heron wing of Feltham young offenders institution, which focuses on rehabilitating new young offenders and showing them that there is a different path. The fear is that once somebody is in the criminal justice system, it can be difficult to break them out and to provide an exit route from gang membership. I am following closely the Mayor's work on challenging such behaviour and preventing reoffending and further crime.

We would legislate to give police sergeants at the heart of community police teams a new authorisation to conduct searches for knives and other weapons. That limited power would enable them to act more quickly when they pick up intelligence suggesting that weapons are being carried in their community or that an act of serious violence is about to occur.

A recent Home Affairs Committee report noted that knife carrying is

"at a level to be of significant concern."

Simon Hughes referred to some of the points made. I have touched on the issue of the perversion of protection. There is an issue with the insidious links to gang membership. Gangs use recruitment techniques that focus on people from less able backgrounds and that seek to exploit factors such as mental illness and unemployment. The Centre for Social Justice has highlighted clearly and commendably the fractures and fault lines that run through our society. We need to focus on the intergenerational dysfunction that lies behind youth victimisation, gang membership and youth crime. If a young person's experience of life is of violence and aggression, should we be surprised if violence and aggression are the methods by which that child seeks to resolve disputes?

There is a need for a change of approach. To make a sustained change that enables our communities to break out of gang violence and the scourge of crime, we must look to the long term as well as the short term. It is not simply about enforcement, but about the many other factors that have been highlighted this morning. We need a change that recognises the need for clear and robust sanctions for those who break the law, that devolves greater powers and responsibilities to those who respond to the problems on our streets and that recognises that strong families and communities are more effective at instilling a culture of respect and responsibility than any rule, law or regulation. Ultimately, societal change is required to promote safer and more cohesive communities not just in our capital city, but across our country.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime and Policing) 10:46 am, 6th April 2010

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir, for what will undoubtedly be my last Adjournment debate of this Parliament, although hopefully not the last of my time in Parliament.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Ms Abbott for securing this useful debate. She has a sound record of tackling this issue not just through policy, but by providing support on the ground for young people in her constituency and across London. The points she has raised have been supported by the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire).

My hon. Friend has raised important policy issues with which the Government are wrestling. She mentioned education, which is crucial in raising the abilities and achievements of young people across London. She mentioned positive role models, underachievement and the importance of positive employment. I am sure that we all remember the importance of peer group support and of being part of a group when we were young. Sometimes that can be a positive experience, but it can turn into negativity, as she described. She mentioned the increasing role of women in gangs, which is an important issue. Last week, the Minister for Schools and Learners and I met with Carlene Firmin and Theo Gavrielides from Race on the Agenda to consider what we could do following an important conference we attended recently in London that focused on how women are drawn into gangs, often unwittingly, to support their male colleagues, friends or partners, and on how they become victims of gang violence. I hope that we can discuss those key issues that she has raised.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey made a plea for integrity in statistics. I, too, want to see that because we need to be able to trust the statistics that we work with and to know that they are independent. He praised the work of the police in London and elsewhere. He helpfully drew attention to the Home Affairs Committee report that raised a number of important issues. He raised the way in which we develop interpersonal skills, how violence at home can impact on people's attitudes to violence in the community and the importance of witnesses and witness protection. I draw his attention to the fact that investigation anonymity orders, which provide for the anonymity of witnesses during an investigation to encourage them to come forward, are available from today for witnesses involved in trials for murders committed using a knife or gun. That is important legislation.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

On the question of witness protection, is my right hon. Friend aware that a key issue for some of my constituents is that they need to be moved away from people who might take revenge on them? What are the Government doing to ensure that all London boroughs contribute to the pool of accommodation available in such cases? The problem is that some boroughs are not contributing to that, which makes it hard to move people.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime and Policing)

I will certainly consider that issue in detail. The purpose of the anonymity orders that I mentioned is to give witnesses anonymous protection in relation to giving evidence, which is important, rather than moving people around because they happen to be witnesses and are willing to come forward. That is an important part of the prevention mechanism for individuals. However, ultimately, we need to give people anonymity, so that they do not have to fear being moved. Even if individuals who give evidence are moved, they will ultimately face potential intimidation downstream.

The latest recorded crime statistics show that knife crime is falling. There has been a 7 per cent. fall in recorded knife crime and a 34 per cent. fall in homicide with a knife or sharp instrument. The risk of being a victim of gun crime remains low and recorded crime involving a firearm has fallen for the fifth year in succession-the number of recorded offences involving firearms has fallen by 18 per cent. between 2007-08 and 2008-09. Firearm homicides are at their lowest point for 20 years, violence incidence has fallen by 49 per cent. since 1999, and there are 2 million fewer victims. In London, which is of particular importance to the debate today, the number of homicides has decreased. As the hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned, there were 15 such incidents last year and 30 the year before. Homicide overall is down 24.2 per cent. in the year to February 2010.

Gang-related offences in the Metropolitan police area account for very low levels of crime-less than 0.3 per cent. of all recorded crime. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington mentioned, although much work has been going on to help to drive down those figures, that does not mean that we are complacent or that we are satisfied with the situation to date. As hon. Members have mentioned, the murder of Sofyen Belamouadden at Victoria station on 26 March and that of Godwin Lawson on 27 March are stark reminders that such incidents occur. In many ways, those incidents were more visible and horrific than some of the other major incidents that we know about. Twelve young people aged between 16 and 17 have been charged with the murder of Sofyen Belamouadden, but unfortunately no charges have been brought in relation to the murder of Godwin Lawson. I send my sympathies to both families. Whatever the overall decrease in statistics relating to such crimes and the level of work that has been done, those incidents, which have occurred in the past month in London, show that issues still need to be addressed.

We have tried to tackle the problem through engaging in four main areas of activity: first, prevention; secondly, strong enforcement; thirdly, information and intelligence sharing; fourthly, rehabilitation. Our ultimate aim must be to prevent young people from being involved in a toxic and negative gang lifestyle in the first place. We and other Departments have tried to take prevention extremely seriously. In the youth crime action plan, which has been put in place across England and Wales in a large number of areas, we have considered a number of activities-for example, activities on Friday and Saturday nights, focusing on vulnerable individuals, after-school clubs, policing in our communities as a whole and other positive activities.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has provided £2 million additional funding to the 81 local authorities that have been particularly blighted by youth crime and knife crime, so that provision relating to Friday and Saturday night activities can be boosted. We have put more than £270 million into the myplace programme to ensure that young people have high-quality, safe places to go where they can access activities to help them towards positive activity as a whole. That, coupled with the £4.5 million community fund and more than £600,000 of support given to community projects in London, is witness to the Government's work, to which my hon. Friend has paid tribute.

In light of that, on prevention activity, my hon. Friend will know-the hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned this-that in September 2010, over-18 gang injunctions will be put in place. Legislation for that has been passed, but it will not be implemented until September 2010 for over-18s. If the Crime and Security Bill finishes its passage through both Houses in the week before Parliament is dissolved, I hope that we will be able to consider gang injunctions for under-18s.

We are strongly considering the question of enforcement. I accept what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said: sentencing is not necessarily an immediate deterrent. However, it is important that we consider sentencing as part of our work to help to reduce knife crime. The principle is that we need to catch people, and the threat of being caught is extremely important. The role we have given to neighbourhood policing and police community support officers, and the fact that we have the largest number of police officers ever in the capital city of London, shows that that is important. However, we also need to increase the strong stance on enforcement, which we have done. The starting tariff for the sentence given to adults who commit murder has been increased to 25 years. Those carrying a knife are more likely to go to prison than they were 10 years ago.

Dealing with enforcement also involves addressing important issues, such as knife arches, and a range of factors to do with test purchases in shops and other matters. It is important to ensure that we take the problem extremely seriously. In London, through Operation Trident, the Metropolitan police have disrupted 75 criminal networks. That has involved arrests and the confiscation of a range of live firing weapons, assets, drugs and other things that drive crimes related to young people generally. Action plans have been developed to address gun crime in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark-the borough of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. Plans have been drawn up with the help of community leaders and independent members to ensure that we take the issue seriously.

Hon. Members will know that Operation Protect and Operation Blunt 2 have also dealt with these matters in an effective and important way. We have undertaken intelligence and information sharing, particularly in relation to hospitals, which the hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned. We have worked closely with hospitals and I am happy to tell the House that 31 hospitals in London are sharing data. They are part of 110 hospitals across England that are currently sharing data. Some 84 of those areas are within the knife crime action plan areas, where we have recently announced additional resources of around £5 million to help to tackle knife crime in the longer term. Intelligence sharing is important, so that we can tie up neighbourhood policing with prevention and with an assessment of the threat in particular areas. It might be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington to note that intelligence sharing has also involved information being given to Hackney community safety partnerships, so that they can target their activities in Hackney. Through the National Ballistics Intelligence Service, or NABIS, we are looking at the use of guns and the tracking of the use of firearms across the country as a whole. That has shown a very interesting picture of illegal firearms and their use.

We are also considering the issue of rehabilitation. Some people are being caught and some people are being sent to prison, but we need to change their mindsets and take them out of prison and youth offending in a positive way. Since last October, all youth offending teams in England and Wales-97 in total-and the teams across the 15 knife crime areas have been involved in working with offenders to change their attitudes on knife crime and to bring home to them the consequences of carrying a knife. That includes meeting victims and other agencies and working through how we deal with the matter. In January 2010, there will be a knife crime prevention programme pilot in Feltham young offenders institute to ensure that intervention is delivered to people, particularly in custody.

From my perspective, knife crime, gun crime and gangs are serious issues. My hon. Friend has raised some key points. We want to ensure that we work on prevention, enforcement, rehabilitation, tackling the long-term issues and working with the community to ensure that we reduce knife crime, gun crime and gang activity. We have a positive record, but there is more we can do. In the next Parliament, I look forward to working with colleagues across the House to make that difference, to reduce deaths and injuries and to break up the gangs that are having a negative influence across London. Many young people have a very positive influence on society and we should never forget that. The consideration we give to the positive work of young people is as important as that we give to gang-related violence.