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Gang Culture

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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4.

What assessment has been made of the link between drug abuse and gang culture. [114221]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

Research in Manchester last year, funded by the Home Office and undertaken as part of the targeted police initiative, suggested that drug-related offending was only one element of a patchwork of violent and non-violent crimes committed by gangs.

May I raise with Ministers the appalling experiences, ranging from intimidation to serious assault, that my constituents have had with gangs of young men? Gangs regularly break into blocks of flats and inhabit the stairwells specifically to take drugs, and when under the influence of drugs they continue to vandalise the entire estate. Will Ministers make me aware of any work that their Departments are doing to tackle gang behaviour and gang culture? Secondly, will they say whether they are considering any creative solutions, such as attaching youth workers, not just police, to specific schools? Will they fund the measures that work, and give more money for estate and neighbourhood wardens, and for youth services?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out some of the problems. There is, of course, the youth inclusion programme, which is specifically aimed at people who have been involved, or are at risk of getting involved, in crime. Also, there is the positive futures programme, which is being extended to 67 projects across the country. It is designed for, and aimed at, people who are at risk of getting involved with drugs. We must see to it that all those programmes are targeted at the right people, are joined up, deter people from crime and keep them out of gang culture. Where best practice has been learned—as it has in south Manchester because of the size of the problem there—it must be spread to areas just as badly affected.

The Minister may be aware that those who deal with gun crime in London, Operation Trident officers in the Met, say that 99 per cent. of the crimes that they investigate are fuelled by crack cocaine. The Minister may also be aware that, in the past 10 years, the street price of cocaine has dropped by a third, and that of crack by a fifth. There are huge profits to be made. I gather that one 19-year-old owns four properties, bought with the profits of trading crack cocaine.

I have a straightforward question: what policy do the Government have to cut the number of people who are addicted? That is the cause of the market. How will they catch and deal with the people in the gangs that kill at random because the profits make life something that does not count for much?

On the latter point, the police standards unit held a conference in Bradford not long ago, to enable Operation Trident and others dealing with gang culture—and in particular gun culture, which is often associated with crack cocaine—to learn best practice from each other, and so that we could get a more effective police response to the kind of criminality that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

The national crack plan is there to ensure that we tackle areas in which there is a specific crack problem. As the hon. Gentleman says, crack is a very real problem. It is not as uniform a problem as heroin, but areas that are affected are developing the appropriate treatments. We do not have the breadth of knowledge going back years that we have in dealing with heroin addicts, but crack addiction can be treated. We must ensure that it is treated and that the treatment is available wherever it is needed.