[Jim Dobbin in the Chair] — Sport and Youth Crime

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:43 am on 6th December 2011.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 10:43 am, 6th December 2011

We will come to a discussion about who is responsible for providing such activity. My hon. Friend Charlotte Leslie described somebody who had gone into what he felt was a cul-de-sac as a result of gang activity, but boxing had been the avenue out. Routes out are important. My hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson spoke about the route that he found out of what might have been an alternative career option such as his friends pursued, which was time spent detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. He has found a different course, although many would suggest that there is not much difference between that role and that of his friends.

Nevertheless, there has been general agreement in the debate. There has been no dispute about the value of sport in having a positive impact on behaviour. It teaches control, self-discipline and the importance of teamwork. It unites people and provides opportunities for people, wherever they come from. Sporting activity is of huge value in preventing offending. Where offending has taken place, sport can play an enormous part as an intervention to break the cycle that I described. We must be careful to ensure that it is not the only intervention. There may be other causes of offending behaviour that need to be addressed in parallel. Whether there are learning difficulties or various addictions, sport can be one of the means to help an offender, but other interventions may be equally important.

There was also agreement about the importance of role models, particularly the powerful role models provided in sport. Such role models can of course provide a catalyst for change. My right hon. Friend Tom Brake talked about the particular value of sports leaders, but I am sure he did not mean to imply that those were simply national sports leaders. Of course, national figures in sport, as mentioned by other Members, have a significant impact on young people. The mentors described by my right hon. Friend work at local level and come from all sorts of places. They can show a leadership role, and assist and encourage young people to engage in sporting activity. That is equally important.

I spoke recently to a police community support officer who, in addition to his community work, devotes much of his private time to working with young people and providing coaching in local sporting activities. He felt that it was important to assist those young people to take part in a constructive activity that would prevent them from getting into trouble. Such volunteers and local heroes matter just as much as national role models; I agreed with my hon. Friend Dr Coffey when she said that it was important to fly the flag for volunteers, and to celebrate them and recognise what they do.