I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for selecting this important debate and for giving us the opportunity to discuss youth violence in London so soon after the House returned following the summer recess. I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities, and I am encouraged by the fact that, as he was a teacher in a former life, he is alert to our concerns.
On a wet day in July this summer, I was standing in my constituency with a large number of people, ready to pay tribute, by laying flowers and saying a few words, to young David Idowu. He had died a few days before, aged 14, in the Royal London hospital, despite the very best efforts of our health service to save his life. He was taken there three weeks earlier after being stabbed in the park near where we gathered, just next to where he lived. Having come home from school, he had gone out to join other youngsters to play football, as any 14-year-old in the summer might be expected to do. He had no history of violence and had been a model pupil; his family were a loving, Christian family, whom I knew. Suddenly, David was attacked and stabbed, and within three weeks he had lost his life.
This morning, the South London Press, not because it seeks to glamorise such things, has the headline, “He never stood a chance”, which is followed by the sub-headline, “20-year-old killed in gang hit”. The background to the debate is not, for me, party political: I do not seek to worsen the position, but to reflect on the fact that, clearly, as all colleagues know, we have had a terrible spate of horrible violent crimes in London affecting our young people. Not that other things have not happened elsewhere in the country—I woke up this morning to the sad news that a youngster had been killed in Merseyside in a similar way. I want to share reflections on the position, and to suggest, among all the extremely good work that is being done, that there are signs of hope, and how, together, we can ensure that it does not simply carry on, and that we are not fatalistic about it.
As well as being a lawyer, I was a youth leader in Southwark just off the Old Kent road before I came into politics. I learned the value of working with young people, and of doing things that turned them from becoming adult troublemakers to being good citizens. I can think of many people who were pretty rough characters in their teens, for whom there was a high risk that things might go wrong, who turned out to be absolutely model citizens in our community—I have known some such people for 25 or 30 years.
One of the helpful briefings that were sent to me ahead of this debate was from the Greater London authority. The GLA officers, on behalf of the Mayor of London and the London assembly members, make the point, which I want to make early in this debate, that although we have youth violence in Greater London, it is perpetrated by only a minuscule proportion of our young people and that, mercifully, only a small proportion of our young people are victims—the Mayor and the GLA put the figure at 1 per cent.
One key message that I hope we will get across today is that almost all our young people are good, upright, law-abiding, well behaved people who want to live full adult lives without criminality. We have to support and encourage them. The worrying thing, from the evidence, is that many more than 1 per cent. of them are worried and fearful that they are not safe. There is an increasing climate of fear about the lack of security for young people, which we need to address, because if youngsters do not feel safe, there is a risk that they will do what they think necessary to make them safe, which may involve taking weapons out with them. In the end, that may make them far less safe than before.
The figures are grim. The Howard League for Penal Reform has just produced a report that I commend to colleagues, entitled, “Why Carry a Weapon? A Study of Knife Crime Amongst 15-17 Year Old Males in London”, which begins with a stark couple of pages:
“During the course of researching and writing this book in 2007, there were 16 fatal stabbings of teenagers in London”.
The youngsters involved are then listed. The following page states:
“By August 2008, a further 20 teenagers were fatally stabbed”.
If ever one wanted a reminder of the importance of the issue when one is reading an academic or sociological report, one should begin with those names and figures.
The figures have gone up a little. I am concentrating on Greater London, but it is clear that in the past two years, there have been between 20 and 30 deaths of teenagers from stabbings in the area, and others have died through other violent crimes. Some 26 teenagers died violent deaths last year, and 27 have died violent deaths already this year.
I should like to pray in aid the work that is being done. Rather than repeat it all for the benefit of colleagues, I simply say that an enormous number of people have thought about and worked on the issue, and I want to pay tribute to them. A meeting in the Palace of the all-party parliamentary group on social science and policy was addressed by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Hitchcock of the Met. He said that politicians need to stop using the issue as a political argument and start working together—I say amen to that and commend the fact that there is very good working together at all levels of public authority and elsewhere. I shall suggest later how that can be extended.
We had a topical debate on 5 June in Parliament, thanks to the Leader of the House, and the Select Committee on Home Affairs held a one-day evidence-taking session in March. The Committee is about to begin an inquiry into knife crime, which I support. I hope and believe that it will hold one of its first sittings in a secondary school in my constituency, so that people can share their thoughts and reflections. The Home Office has consistently made commitments, including an announcement by the Home Secretary today, to which I am sure the Minister will refer, on additional funding, particularly to keep young people safe in and around school and when they come out of school. The evidence is that one of the most dangerous times of the day is the middle of the afternoon, just after school time; indeed, that was when David was killed, and when others have been attacked and killed.
The Mayor and the GLA have made it clear that they see the matter as a priority, and the Mayor is working on an announcement that is due in the next few weeks. We look forward to that, and I have no doubt about his commitment to doing all that he can. My local authority, like others, is working to prepare to collect the wisdom of all the other agencies involved and to take it on to ensure that the gaps are filled. It plans to hold a summit conference of all the agencies in Southwark within the next few weeks. Everybody is working hard, and there is no criticism that people are not seized of the issues.
I am not going to trouble colleagues with huge numbers of statistics that would distort the debate, but I would like to share a couple to put things in perspective. One of the relevant background facts is that we have only had statistics including knife crime for one year, so there is no easy point to be made by comparing this year with last year. The number of knife and sharp instrument offences, as recorded by the police, for violent crime offences in the Met and City of London police areas—Greater London—for the last year, is 7,428 in total, or 18 per cent. of all violent offences. That is the level of the issue. Nearly one in five violent offences involves weapons—either knives or sharp instruments. That is a warning sign if ever we needed one. There is a greater propensity now to carry a weapon—it could be a broken bottle, but it is often a knife.
I have listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments, all of which I support. Does he accept that evidence emerging from local hospitals suggests that the number of knife attacks may be a great deal more significant than that which is currently recorded by the Metropolitan police?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I had only two more statistics to give, and one is on that very subject. The statistics on hospital admissions are highly relevant, up to date and topical, but before I deal with them, may I just give the other crime statistics? The hon. Gentleman’s point is very important, and he was right to raise it.
In my own borough, in which we have excellent police leadership from our borough commander, Malcolm Tillyer, and from Superintendent Victor Olisa—both of whom I regularly meet—the figures show that knife crime is down 10 per cent., gun crime is down 36 per cent. and youth violence is up 7 per cent. Therefore, despite all the efforts, the one area of continuing concern is the lowering of the age of youngsters who are involved in violence and using weapons of violence.
I turn now to the statistics that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) has mentioned. I have the London-wide statistics for admissions to hospitals for stab and gunshot wounds for 2006-07: there were 10 admissions of youngsters under the age of 16 with gunshot wounds; there were 38 admissions of 16 to 18-year-olds; and 160 admissions of over-18-year-olds. As a percentage for England—the figures are collected on an England basis— 10 per cent. of all those under 16 who were admitted were London youngsters; 38 per cent. of all those between 16 and 18 lived in Greater London, which is very high; and 17 per cent. of the over-18-year-olds lived in Greater London. In the last year for which figures for stab wounds are available, 72 of the under-16-year-olds who were admitted—or 40 per cent. of all those throughout England—were London youngsters.
In just two seconds. Some 33 per cent., or 252 youngsters aged between 16 and 18, were admitted with stab wounds, and 22 per cent., or 1,071, of over-18-year-olds were admitted. Like the hon. Member for Edmonton, I surmise that that is not the whole picture. Given my knowledge of the street—many others are pretty wise about what goes on in our communities—I know that people often do not go to hospital, because it is the last thing that they want to do.
I want to endorse that point. I recently met some general practitioners in my constituency who said that they believe that some of the young people whom they treat are victims of knife crime who give another excuse for why they have been injured. They believe that the problem is far greater than the statistics show.
The hon. Gentleman represents an east London constituency. We have heard hon. Members from the north and east of Greater London, as well as from the south, endorse that. I am sure that that is true—by definition it will be. The worry is that if someone goes public with their involvement, it will trigger a police investigation and then a victim will be really fearful. One of the issues is witness protection. Because I have been prompted, I will use the opportunity to say that although a defendant has been arrested in the David Idowu case, the community and the police are still short of all the witnesses whom they know exist. Obviously, there is a natural fear about giving evidence.
A lot of really good work has been done by organisations in London and beyond. Let me summarise that and, in addition to thanking the GLA for its submission, thank three other organisations which have given me some very good material. They are 11 MILLION, the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, which is based in my constituency at London bridge, Action for Children, which is based in Highbury and the Howard League for Penal Reform. Those organisations give us a very clear indication of what young people themselves think. We need to ensure that we listen to those young voices.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green and his team are carrying out some research at the moment, which involves 90 children and young people. They have obtained these quotes from youngsters about youth violence. An 11-year-old girl said:
“Gun and knife crime is really getting me worried, angry, nothing is safe any more. Even on the news every day there is a new murder story and it is making this world the worst place in the universe.”
A 14-year-old said:
“The media publish that we are all knife-wielding maniacs, and this is just not true. We are just people. The media always focus on the bad. This is a significant minority.”
An anonymous teenager said:
“My cousin has been stabbed by a gang and it was heart-wrenching to know that a group of youths did that. Not all youths are like that though.”
Lastly, a 15-year-old girl said:
“My mum won’t let me go on my bike to my friends house who lives 20 mins away because she is afraid of the violence.”
Youngsters realise that it is a minority who carry out such crimes. They know that, and they do not want to be misrepresented. However, they know that it is right to feel afraid.
I have two more comments from youngsters. One said:
“I think young people carry knives because they are scared for their own safety.”
The evidence shows that carrying knives is initially thought to be cool, and then it moves on to being about feeling safe. All the evidence is that a person is much more likely to be unsafe if they go out tooled up with weapons.
The last comment is from an 11-year-old girl:
“They do it because they may have family problems or feel insecure. But I think the main reason they do it is because they are scared of getting hurt so they hurt others so others can’t hurt them.”
The young people come to some very good conclusions, to which the Minister has access. They talk about raising self-esteem and aspirations among young people, and rehabilitating, training and educating young offenders effectively. They also talk about the need for good education programmes, such as knife awareness programmes and knife referral projects, and good peer mentoring, because young people are most likely to be influenced by those of a similar age. They want young people to be given more good things to do—a common plea that we all hear in every constituency and community in the country. They mention the importance of role models, particularly when there are no adult male role models at home. All the evidence indicates that someone else needs to substitute, if there is not a father or father figure at home. Early intervention schemes are also cited. I say to the Minister—and I do not mean to be confrontational—that all the evidence is that most young people believe that stiffer sentences do not deter knife crimes. I know that that is controversial, but that is what young people say.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on a very thoughtful and balanced contribution to this very important subject. In drawing on some of his sources of information, is he aware that the Institute of Education has produced a very important piece of research, which also sets some of the issues that he is describing in a context of social inequality and polarisation. Tragically, there is a clear correlation between youth violence and highly polarised communities. The hon. Gentleman rightly lists a number of the complex causes of youth violence, but does he agree that there is this wider social context that we also need to address?
The hon. Lady is right about that. She is a really good London MP, and on London issues she is assiduously effective in raising what matters to our communities—particularly for people who are less well off and have harder lives, and for young people. I think it is important to say that.
In some of our communities the polarisation can be because of different ethnic backgrounds. In Southwark, for example, we have quite a lot of relatively recently arrived people from the horn of Africa. There is a danger that they find their security in a sort of tribal grouping, which means that they are antagonistic to other groups. The factors are not always ethnic; sometimes they are to do with postcode. I learned something the other day: the biggest rivalries in London prisons are postcode rivalries, about where people come from. That is the biggest cause of conflict in prison now—and it has traditionally applied between secondary schools, and so on.
I have two last points to make about the research, before my concluding remarks.
This is an important subject, and the fact that 14 London MPs are present for the debate is testimony to that. My question is about international parallels. The hon. Gentleman has talked about evidence from various UK organisations. What does he think that we can learn from, for example, New York city, which is possibly the most similar city to London, in many ways? The crime rate there has been quartered in the past 15 years.
I have been to New York and talked to the New York city police, and others, who have done some extremely good work. They do that most effectively through very good community-based policing and community-based projects. The sorts of things that work very well in New York are dedicated police for the estates and districts, who know the area like the back of their hand—they have push bikes and can abseil up tower blocks and so on. Involving the local community also works, so that the concierges on the estates are often people who live there, such as those who have taken early retirement.
I wanted to weed out material from my remarks rather than adding to it, but another interesting comparison is in a United Nations comparative report on children’s issues around the world that was published at the beginning of the month. It made the point above all that we in Britain still demonise our children more than most countries. That is the impression that I get. In continental Europe, the attitude towards children and young people is entirely different, by and large. Children and young people are included more, and they are not separated into age groups. They have much better relationships, normally, with parents and grandparents, which is very important, and families live closer together. We have suffered a lot—this is a slight distraction—from social housing policy separating families over 30 years, so that the grandparents live nowhere near the grandchildren. That has been a huge disadvantage, because all the evidence is that elders can be hugely influential in making sure that children stay on course. Often they are better confidants than parents, and they can be more influential.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am really keen that as many hon. Members as possible, in addition to the Front-Bench spokesmen, get a chance to speak in the debate.
I want to select the most important of the “Action for Children” comments. Some 41 per cent. of the young people know someone who has been personally affected by the things we are discussing—it has really spread now. The issue affects nearly half the families with young people in our area; 30 per cent. have been personally affected in some way, such as, for example, by the threat, “We’ll get you later”; 36 per cent.—a third—are worried about gangs in their area; and only 28 per cent. now feel very safe in their community. That is very worrying.
We are talking in this context not just about inner-city streets, which are traditionally the rougher, tougher areas, but places such as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). The views in Sutton, Barnet, Haringey, Hillingdon or anywhere else are no different. Youngsters believe that their image is directly related to knife and gun crime, which they see as symbolic. They believe that if knife and gun crime can be brought down, those perceptions will change.
The Howard League for Penal Reform makes things very clear in key statements in the foreword to its report, which has just come out and which I commend to all colleagues. It states:
“We believe that headway can only be made if we focus on empowering young people, restoring their self-esteem and providing them with alternative strategies for dealing with conflict.”
“Punitive sentences are likely to be irrelevant at best and counter-productive at worst”.
The report cites education over enforcement as the better way to proceed and states that all the evidence is that collaboration among the local organisations is what succeeds. There is mention of mediation, anger management and all those things, which we know work.
Out of all the difficulty—I want to end with this positive point—something came out very strongly. When I was standing in the rain, after David’s death, the mum of another teenager who lived just down the road said “What can I do to help?” That made me think that there are many people who want to do more but do not feel empowered. I talked to her, and to local families and youth organisations, and a coalition of organisations has now come together in my borough, Lewisham and Lambeth to turn our tragedies into a positive outcome. This Thursday, at 6.30 pm in the Royal Festival hall, that coalition of people will come together to launch their campaign. The website already exists. They have chosen, by a collective decision, the title, “Enough! Make Youth Violence History”. That makes the point that we do not need to reinvent the wheel; rather, we need to support and strengthen existing organisations that are doing good work on the ground and bring all the people, such as the mum who asked how she could help, into existing organisations that are looking for more people.
I shall give two examples of such organisations. One in my borough is called XLP, and it has been doing excellent work with young people for 10 years. It has a bus that is taken out to some of the estates. With more volunteers, XLP could go out more often. The Oasis Trust, just over the bridge in Kennington, does excellent youth work and radio projects in the summer with young people. With more volunteers, there could be more evening and youth club work. On Thursday, there is to be an appeal by all those local organisations—the list is too long to set out, but it is available on the website. The message is “Come and join us: if you are a company, perhaps use your community action day to come and volunteer; or increase the amount of mentoring you give. If you are an individual without much time but who may, even in these difficult days, have a bit of cash, could you put it into our organisation so we can fund another youth worker? If you are a mum who does not think she has much time, but who wants to do something, why not come and see whether you can volunteer with a local youth organisation?” The idea is to build on what exists. I hope that it will appeal.
We have also set ourselves a target—I mention this to the Minister, so that he can whisper favourably in his colleagues’ ears—that some of the money from dormant bank and building society accounts that the Government are legislating to release for youth projects, and for which we are grateful, should be available not only for capital projects and new buildings, but for revenue projects to support additional work on the ground in Greater London. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury kindly said that we can go to see her in the near future to make sure that the case is understood and that money can be drawn down.
I shall end with my shopping list. We, as a community, need to do all that we can to support parents and families. We need to support schools, which are increasingly doing early school support in the morning, breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. We need to minimise school exclusions. All the evidence is that the excluded pupil is the most vulnerable and prospectively the most troublesome pupil. We need to deglamorise gangs. All the evidence is that in the end gang membership is not a satisfactory way to live one’s life and is much more dangerous than other ways of life. We need to develop after-school, evening and weekend youth services. Youth services are often great on a weekday but not much good on a Friday night, Saturday or Sunday, because they are not open. We need to develop mentoring, starting really early. Good mentoring can start at 10 with the transition from primary to secondary school. We need to support our youth services.
I make a plea—my hon. Friend knows that I am seeking to persuade colleagues to do something in our boroughs, and I think that the Mayor is being positive about it—for a detached youth worker in every Greater London ward, to complement the safer neighbourhood teams. They should be independent of the police and should be good youth workers out on the street. Those are sometimes more effective at getting intelligence and young people’s confidence. I commend that idea and would be grateful if the Minister would be good enough to look at it. We need to increase the protection of witnesses, so that they are confident to give evidence, and we need to support existing good organisations.
Lastly, we need to be optimistic that together we can say, in the words of the newly-formed group that is launching on Thursday, “Enough! We can make youth violence history.” This level of youth violence is inevitable, and I think that we can have a different city, as New York and other places have evidenced. I am keen that we collectively look for ways to do that.
I will keep my remarks short, Mr. Olner. I thank the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) for securing the debate and emphasising that people across the community in London are rising up to try to find a means of solving this significant problem.
In my constituency, interesting and good work has been done by young people who want to have an input in that debate. I particularly want to mention Eliza Rebeiro, who is 15 years old and runs the lives not knives campaign, and also Michael Castle. Both emphasise the importance, as did the hon. Gentleman, of not demonising young people and of recognising that they have a contribution to make to the debate.
As an MP I have visited families in Croydon who have suffered the loss of children through knife crime. Unfortunately, Croydon has the justified reputation of having the highest number of knife killings in this country, and the destruction to those families is especially heart wrenching. The parents of Oliver Kingonzila have lost another son this year through a heart attack, and in many ways they will also suffer the sadness of seeing their other son deported after finishing a prison sentence, so they are being punished once again.
I am also mindful of the extremely good work being done by the co-ordination between Croydon council and the Metropolitan Police Service in coming up with many solutions to tackle the issue. It is often forgotten that the Government put in place good architecture to encourage working between different parts of the public sector, and that has very much come to fruition in the work that has taken place in Croydon.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a wider range of community groups also have an important role to play in tackling the tragedy of knife crime? I would like to highlight an initiative in Barnet in which the police, the council and a number of church groups have been working together on a project called the week of peace, which has a range of ways to try to promote youth self-esteem and mentoring and to tackle some of the underlying causes of knife crime.
That kind of joint approach is a good one. I am keen to give other Members the chance to speak, so there is not enough time to detail the work on those initiatives being led by our borough commander, Mark Gore, and a leading councillor, Steve O’Connell, but some of them include working with education and welfare officers to identify those youngsters who might be at risk of being involved in a conflict and taking them from the streets before they get involved in trouble. They try to bring together all of the different members and stakeholders in the public sector in what is called a turn-around centre so as to identify how they can work to deal with the issues. Croydon also has a licensing committee in situ that is able to meet at 24 hours’ notice and remove a licence from a premise that has obviously been a source of trouble, as was done in the case of the murder of the young Oliver Kingonzila.
I would like to conclude by making a more controversial statement. I have seen incidents in my town in which there has clearly been no respect for the police service. We had an incident in front of 300 shoppers last Saturday afternoon during which there was a pitched battle of extreme violence between youngsters. It did not lead to a killing, but nevertheless we see a situation in which no respect is given. I believe that the very good work being done by the police, local authorities and others in the public sector will eventually lead to a success, but in the immediate short term, a more radical solution is needed. I know that in saying this I will raise the spectre of Croydon’s reputation being further damaged, but people are already being killed on the streets of Croydon. We have an Army with the highest reputation in the world for civil policing. For a short period, and as a pilot programme, I believe that our Army would be better used on the streets of Croydon, rather than being left at Basra airport. That would send the message that we will no longer tolerate the killings.
I have already written to the Minister of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), about that proposal, and I am extremely grateful to him for coming to Croydon to listen to the views of young people there. It was really impressive that a Minister came to listen and not to speak. He is truly a listening politician. I know that he has not been able to reply to the letter that I wrote to him on that controversial idea, but when people are being killed on the streets of Croydon, we have to do something immediately to try to stop it.
I will keep my remarks as brief as possible, as you have suggested, Mr. Olner, as a few other colleagues would like to speak.
This is an important debate. I will start by saying that Upminster is part of the London borough of Havering, which as an outer London borough does not suffer the same level of youth violence as some inner London boroughs. Nevertheless, we have had a mercifully small number of tragic incidents. Each and every incident in which a child dies is a tragedy for the families concerned. If there has been no successful prosecution, those families find it almost impossible to grieve properly and move on because they are unable to feel the sense of closure or of justice being done that would enable them to at least cope with—they can never get over it—the loss of a child.
There are two aspects to the debate. One relates to the reasons young people get involved in gangs and violent behaviour, and the other, which flows from the first, is what action can be taken. The reasons why young people get involved in gangs are wide-ranging, and those involved often come from homes in which there is no order or support from parents. Children often turn to gangs for a sense of belonging, and the gang leader is often a charismatic young person who might have suffered violence or a lack of order in their own lives. They gain self-respect and self-confidence by intimidating, bullying and manipulating other people, sometimes weaker, young people, who will feel safer within a gang, in the knowledge that they are less likely to become a victim themselves.
Friends of mine who are criminal barristers have said that some young people will attend court having got into trouble without really understanding where they are, or why they are there, and that sometimes their parents do not bother to turn up. I ask hon. Members to imagine a young person who has committed an offence and ended up in court, but who does not have the support of family members. That is the case with a small proportion of them.
I hope that the hon. Lady accepts that tragically many young people involved in criminal and antisocial behaviour often come from families where the parents might have been drug or alcohol abusers or have severe mental health problems or other similar conditions. In addition to working through the youth services and with young people, we need to look at the capacity to provide family therapy and support to help break that cycle of difficulty, which can cascade down through generations.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. A safe, secure and supportive family background is the foundation that children need to lead productive lives and to take every opportunity, educational and social, put in front of them. Without that, they face enormous difficulties.
For the small number who receive a custodial sentence, it is essential that while in custody they receive an education and training and develop an understanding of right and wrong, which they might not have had before they went in, so that they come out better people and with an understanding of what went wrong in their lives. That way they will be better placed to have a positive and constructive future.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a dire need for more research? The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentioned the role of postcode, geographical frictions in our society, and we heard last week at the all-party group on social enterprises about the role and amorphous nature of many gangs. Surely society needs to understand better the motivations of the young people who get involved in violence.
That would also help schools, which are doing a lot of good work through their pastoral care and the clubs that they run for the social side of young people’s lives. However, schools cannot be expected to fill a void in young people’s families. The demands on schools are growing every day, but there is limited time in the school day. They are doing their very best—they do everything possible—but full responsibility cannot be put on them to control, for example, knives and drugs entering their premises. There is no magic wand. A combined effort is needed: schools, families, the police and community groups need to join together. There is no magic, two-minute solution.
Children need to know that if they do something knowingly wrong, there must be a penalty and that they must take personal responsibility for their actions. The youth facilities in my borough are extremely good and wide ranging, but I am constantly being written to by young people telling me that there is nothing to do; they are quite surprised when I write back with a big list of all the things to do. However, it is not the responsibility of councils, schools or anyone else, to entertain children. Parents have the primary responsibility for knowing what their children are doing and finding things to occupy and interest them.
Detached youth workers have been mentioned in respect of the unclubbables— young people who do not want to belong to anything—but that is a very long-term procedure. I have spoken to detached youth workers who will identify groups of young people out in public places at night and getting themselves into trouble. It takes a very long time to approach them and to even get them to talk. Getting them to change their attitudes and to understand that there are other, more positive, ways in which they can spend their time is a long-term procedure. It is very valuable, but will not bring an immediate solution. Clubs and organisations for young people have something to contribute: the armed forces cadets, scouts, guides, boys’ brigades, St. John Ambulance and church clubs all have something to offer young people. If only we could get them there to see what is on offer, they would find that actually they could enjoy it and acquire new skills and a sense of self-confidence and self-respect, which are the essential precursors to having respect for other people and to moving forward in their lives.
Finally, I shall mention something that might surprise hon. Members, because it is not something that we instantly associate with youth violence. I would like to see promoted the benefits of dance, socially and in schools. The health, social and artistic benefits of dance could bring in disaffected young people who perhaps do not want to do sport—the physical benefits of dance are just as great. Particularly with the music that goes with it, it might be attractive to those young people. We should find ways of promoting dance among them and diverting all that negative energy into something positive that could change their direction and bring out their talents. It would be an investment in the future, because our young people are the next generation of professionals in this country, and we need to bring out the best in them. We must work together to put back on to the right track those going astray and in the wrong direction.
Thank you, Mr. Olner, for allowing me to make a brief contribution to this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on obtaining this debate; his contribution on his own inner-London borough was very thoughtful. It is a tribute to the importance of this debate that so many hon. Members have turned out today. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and from the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling). This is a major issue about which we all feel very strongly.
To be brutally honest, I fear that we will not necessarily be able to find an enormous number of solutions out of hon. Member’s speeches, and I confess that much of what I shall say will be to put on the record some of the concerns in the city of Westminster. In the past six months there have been some 303 recorded youth violence incidents in Westminster—a 6 per cent. drop from the previous year. We can all be pleased with that reduction, although I take on board a number of the concerns about the reliability of certain statistics, particularly in relation to the more serious aspects, such as knife crime.
The very great majority of youngsters in London constitute a positive and valued part of London’s population, but find themselves tarred with a particular brush and considered a problem in their youth—that probably happened in all our youths, but it seems to be an even more prevalent media story today. I am not complaining about the media, and one fully understands that some of these terrible crimes need to be covered, but the fact remains that the great majority of London’s youngsters are extremely hardworking and thoughtful. We have all visited schools. It never ceases to surprise us how well genned up are many of our youngsters on matters political and how in many other ways they are able to make a great contribution.
It must be extremely difficult to be brought up in the very busy parts of London, particularly of inner London, where there are relatively few things for teenagers to do.
To reinforce that point, one of the most exciting things that I have done in the past few weeks was to visit the City of London academy in Bermondsey where, last Friday, it held a school election for its head girl and boy. The turnout at all the assemblies was huge. There were six candidates—three girls and three boys—which was a sign of real, mature interest, excitement, enjoyment and fun. This morning, I had the privilege of being able to ring up the winners and say, “Good luck, guys; I hope you live up to your promises.” The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is much good energy and talent, and that we need to pick up on those examples, rather than look elsewhere.
I guess I stepped into that one.
As is the case with a lot of crime, the perception and fear of crime are often at the heart of the problem. The significant coverage given to all the recent knife and gun crime fatalities has meant that young people naturally feel scared. I have heard of pupils from Westminster City school articulating their concerns about feeling intimidated by gangs of youths in the street and on buses. It is important that young people believe that youth crime is taken seriously, that reported incidents are dealt with swiftly and effectively and that there is a police presence on our streets and transport systems to make people feel safer.
There is a problem with perception in some schools, which, I suspect, goes across the board. Schools that are seen to be addressing and debating issues of youth violence, including those in which police officers have been stationed, often report parental concern, particularly at the time of application, about the very fact that there is a police officer linked to the school or that there is a high-profile debate about youth violence. Other parental concerns include schools’ work with community organisations such as the excellent Uncut, which works in my area. Those concerns put parents off and are perceived to demonstrate that those schools are in trouble. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to urge all schools, in London and elsewhere, to recognise that this issue is a fact of life that we have to debate and address? Does he agree that if a school does so, it is not a sign that it is a sink school?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. She has made her point extremely well, and I do not need to add to it.
Concern about youth crime extends to older constituents, because youth violence spills out into busy public areas. Many hon. Members will know that one of the most high-profile knife killings occurred in my constituency on 13 May last year, when a 22-year-old man had his throat slit in a McDonald’s on Oxford street. That happened in front of horrified shoppers, while rival groups hurled drinks and fought on the pavement outside. That sort of youth crime is not somehow ring-fenced; it affects the population at large.
I recently met one of Britain’s top trauma surgeons, who operates at the Royal London hospital. He confirmed that there are significant problems with the collection of evidence and reporting of knife violence to the police, and recommends a more joined-up approach between all the authorities concerned, including the police, the Home Office, hospitals, the Mayor of London and local authorities. I am pleased that the Mayor intends to emphasise the need for joined-up thinking in the strategic framework for London that he will launch next month. Similarly, Westminster city council is keen to develop information-sharing protocols and codes of practice with neighbouring authorities in order to work together on addressing the serious youth crime and violence that transcends boundaries. As the hon. Lady has rightly pointed out, in many of our schools in Westminster, the majority of children and parents are from outside the borough, which makes such joined-up thinking all the more important.
We have discussed the complex factors that interact to increase the probability of a young person turning to violence. They include a lack of discipline and of role models, fractured families, personality type, lack of support and the influence of peers and siblings. I am afraid that the glamorisation of gang violence is another factor, which will be very difficult for us to counter fully.
My final point is about the initiatives that are taking place in Westminster city council. Today is probably an appropriate day on which to mention this, because the leader of the council has just come out with a detailed plan to address what he regards to be the 3 per cent. of problem families who produce 97 per cent. of the work load in a whole range of Government Departments. One initiative in particular is worth serious consideration. Offenders who are sentenced to do community service are often required to do hundreds of hours of unpaid work, and the council would like to incorporate that work locally as part of suitable youth diversionary projects. That would also help to introduce a sense of responsibility and purpose, and would, I hope, do its bit to reduce reoffending.
I, too, start by congratulating the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) not only on having the good sense to secure this important debate, but on regularly speaking up in Parliament about London-wide issues.
I think that I am, unfortunately, the Member with the largest number of knife murders this year in my constituency. As those events unfolded, my constituents and I were not prepared for what was about to happen, and we did not fully understand the gravity of the issues that we would have to face.
[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]
Today, I shall draw out three issues that are critical if we are to deal effectively with the wave of knife and gun crime in the capital. I hope that the Minister will address them all in his response. The first issue, which I have touched on in questions that I have asked previously, is the lack of adequate research into some of these issues. I have two examples to demonstrate that, one of which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He discussed the territorial aspect of much of the friction that occurs in relation to prisons, but there is much evidence emerging in my constituency that people who live in the N18 area will not cross into the N9 area. I am sure that there are similar problems in other constituencies. We do not fully understand that problem, and more research is required to do so.
My second point relates to gang culture. There was an interesting seminar last week, which many hon. Members present attended, at which detailed research was discussed. Most of that research is going on in other parts of the country, but the area most affected by this problem is Greater London. We need much more research into gang culture. I suggest to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) that understanding why and how horrific incidents take place, including the reasons for them, would take us a long way forward in producing policies in response to such incidents.
Several hon. Members have mentioned schools. They play a critical role, but not in the conventional sense. It is the wrong approach to talk about introducing wands and other mechanisms to find out which pupils are carrying weapons. We need to monitor what is happening in schools, because much of the evidence that has emerged in recent years suggests that exclusion is the first alarm bell regarding possible antisocial problems. It is obvious that schools have a role to play in that regard. They know when there are difficulties at home and where there are fractured families. They know, from the exclusions themselves, that antisocial behaviour is beginning to occur. When kids are permanently excluded, they are well on their way to some of the difficulties that we are experiencing across London. Schools play a critical role, but that role should be about information, education and trying to bring kids back in, rather than excluding them. Schools should involve other agencies when they are experiencing difficulties, and they should be able to include all pupils in their activities.
The third area that I want to discuss is our short-term approach, because there is a need to reassure the community that we are dealing with gun and knife crime effectively. We have Operation Blunt to disrupt the activities of gangs and youths who are involved in antisocial behaviour and violent crime, and we need to look at the criminal justice system. I ask hon. Members to look carefully at how the youth justice system is responding to this wave of violence. There has been a greater recognition that cautioning is not good enough, but I think we should go further.
The latest case in my constituency was a murder at the beginning of the year. The young person who was found guilty of that crime was given only a five-year sentence. I will not comment directly on that case as I am sure that specific factors led the court and jury to that decision. However, I point to the signal that it sends out about how seriously we are dealing with the problems. There is a role for the whole criminal justice system in taking care to ensure that we send out the right signals about how seriously we treat these issues.
I hope that the Minister will respond to those points. Once again, I congratulate everybody on contributing to this debate on what is a very important issue.
Like others, I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on securing this debate. He has led from the front on issues of violence in his constituency. Indeed, his life was put at risk by the actions that he took in trying to bring a case to justice, and I commend him for that. I also congratulate the Minister on his first attendance at such a debate. He has missed the four or five that have been held in the last six months on this issue. No doubt he will be in post for the four or five that I anticipate will regrettably be held in the next six months.
Like my hon. Friend, I will start by setting out some ground rules that should apply to this debate and to debates of this nature. First, we must not typecast youngsters. I am pleased that nobody here has done so. Some hon. Members have deployed statistics to confirm that only a very small minority of young people are violent. The figures I have heard are that 3 per cent. of young people are members of gangs and a third of gang members do not offend. We are therefore talking about only a small number of young people. Only 3 per cent. have carried a knife, which means that 97 per cent. have not.
We must accept that there are no simple solutions. There have been calls for mandatory prison sentences, huge increases in school exclusions and short prison sentences for youngsters when the evidence shows that that is unhelpful and does not lead to a reduction in reoffending. Hon. Members have outlined a number of possible solutions today. We must accept that the solutions will be complex and will involve many different aspects of work for many different Departments and organisations, such as the police.
We must accept that there is a sound basis for the crime statistics that we use so that we do not argue about those instead of about what the solutions should be.
The hon. Gentleman has made the point that the solutions may be complex, but they must also be relevant. Particular attention must be given to the times when the mass of problems occur. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentioned after-school responses by youth workers. Also relevant is what is offered by the youth services. In my constituency, Working Together for Wimbledon has youth workers working after school and offers young people the chance to do sessions in rap and music rather than the more traditional activities. That is an important part of the response.
I agree entirely. The solutions must be appropriate and timely. An example that I have often heard and that I am sure the hon. Gentleman has heard is the timing at which safer neighbourhood teams are out and about patrolling. We need them not at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning when nothing is happening, but at 9 o’clock on Friday and Saturday nights when things are beginning to hot up, so to speak.
We are all in broad agreement that the problem we are trying to tackle is the growth in youth violence and in the number of young people who are dying as a result of knife crime. We all recognise that area of growth. Unfortunately, we are on track for a record number of young people dying by stabbing in London this year.
People are trying to tackle this problem in different ways. My hon. Friend has described what is being done by “Enough!” and I wish it good luck and success. There have been a series of marches because communities have felt that they need to do something. A march is a visible way of raising concerns. We have heard protest songs. Perhaps other hon. Members have been e-mailed by Kinzli Coffman, who sent me her protest song. That was the only way that she could think of to respond to this issue as an artist. Choice FM has been running a successful campaign to reduce violence and has been trying to find diversionary activities for young people to take part in.
I will try to give the elements that must be in a comprehensive solution. Clearly I cannot give an exhaustive list and I may repeat what other hon. Members have said. The starting point must be to boost the public’s confidence and reduce their fear of crime. We must also increase their confidence in the system’s ability to respond to the issues that they raise. On reducing the fear of crime, we had an interesting sitting of the Home Affairs Committee last week where the regional editor of the Newsquest Media group confirmed that his group has agreed no longer to carry adverts for massage parlours because doing so feeds the trafficking of women. In effect, it is pimping for pimps. Perhaps regional editors should look also at their role in the reporting of crime. That is not just about the impact that that has on the fear of crime, but whether it potentially leads to more young people carrying weapons because of what they read in the press. We need a greater level of responsible reporting.
To boost people’s confidence in the system, the police must look at how they are equipped to respond. Over the summer, Ian Johnston made some interesting comments about the public’s perception of the police, particularly in relation to very simple things such as whether the police answer the phone when somebody calls. The police must look at how they should respond.
On the possible solutions, I am grateful to Juanjo Medina from the school of law at the university of Manchester. I was at last week’s session where he set out his suggestions. I also thank 11 MILLION, as did my hon. Friend, and Jennifer Blake of the Eternal Life Support Centre, whom I met on Sunday when I heard some of her ideas. The first point must be about research. All hon. Members have said that we do not have a detailed body of research that assesses what works and what does not. Apparently, we do not have longitudinal studies looking at young people from an early age up to their teenage years to see what is effective. My first question to the Minister is whether he will make a commitment on behalf of the Home Department to commission that research or pull it together so that there is a body of detailed research that we can look at.
There must also be research into what is happening in accident and emergency units. The police, the health service and the Home Department must work together to ensure that there are detailed statistics. I understand that there has been a significant increase in the number of people going into A and E as a result of violent incidents, but that our health service is fortunately getting much better at saving them. Those incidents do not therefore feed through into death statistics. However, there is an increase in such instances.
We must then look at policy. The Government are doing good work in tackling issues such as child poverty and social exclusion, which clearly feed this problem. We must look at the level of support that is available. The support must target the most prolific gang members, but it must also help their families, perhaps in a discreet way rather than in a head-on way.
We must look at the support that is provided to schools. I will be interested to hear what the Minister, who was a teacher in his previous guise, has to say about this issue. As has been said, exclusion is the single greatest trigger of future problems. The Minister could usefully comment on what can be done to assist schools in that respect and in tackling the issue of knife crime without scaring off parents. Other support includes trauma counselling for those who have witnessed violence, who are often very young people.
Then, clearly, we need to move on to the policing aspect. Stop and search has a role, as long as it is targeted and as long as police recognise that, for example, some gang members are on the periphery of the gang and are not involved in criminal activity; in their case, therefore, the approach needs to be as subtle as possible.
I will bring my remarks to a conclusion by referring to the issue of diversionary activities. We hope that those activities will be funded by dormant bank accounts, once that money is tapped. In the all-party group on child and youth crime, we heard that in Moss Side, rather than in London, young people have to be taxied from that area out to youth activities, because, astonishingly, there was nothing for them to do there. I hope that that is not also the case in London, but it may be, and if it is the case, clearly we need to see investment in youth provision—not necessarily youth centres, but youth activities—in the areas that need it most.
I hope that the Minister, for his maiden experience of these sessions, has heard a reasonably cross-sectional and apolitical contribution from all Members, apart from the little diversion there about school exclusions, and also some very sound suggestions that I hope he will take on board.
I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on securing this debate and on the very mature and well-grounded comments that he made. I know the passion that he has about this issue, which I share. We both took part in the people’s march against knife crime on 20 September and I know that he was as affected as I was by the contributions made by family members, friends and other people in the community who had been touched by knife crime against people whom they knew. It would have been very difficult not to have been moved by the outpouring of emotion that came from that event and, in part, that emotion has been reflected in other contributions that we have heard from Members today.
It certainly puts this debate in context that there has been another murder overnight, admittedly not in London but in Liverpool, and I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of everyone in the House will go to the friends and family of everyone who has been touched by these appalling incidents.
I would also like to congratulate the Minister on his appointment and welcome him to today’s debate. I hope that he will bring some new focus and attention to this most serious of issues.
This has been a well-informed and interesting debate and I have agreed with a large number of the points that have been made by Members during it. I would just like to pick up on the last point that was made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about the situation in Moss Side. Sadly, the taxiing of some young people to youth facilities from that area was not necessarily simply because those youth facilities were not on the doorstep; it was the fact that those facilities were in a different gang member’s area and therefore it was not safe for members from a rival gang area to go there. That highlights the terrible tragedies and issues that, sadly, so many young people have to face in their everyday life, not just across London but across the whole country.
I would also caution the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) about the idea of very firm approaches to this problem, including his suggestion that the Army be used. That would be absolutely the wrong way to address this issue, which can be dealt with by firm policing, prosecutions and prevention strategies, building through communities. To use the Army would send out entirely the wrong message.
One of the phrases that has emerged in all the discussions in south London has been that we want a “volunteers army”, rather than the military. We need more people to become involved, to provide that extra capacity and to be the type of role models that the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and other hon. Members referred to earlier.
That emphasis on community is extremely important in this debate and we should recognise the very positive contribution that young people play in their communities and the essential role that they perform. Last night I was at a school prize-giving at the Chafford school in Rainham, which has a very good peer mentoring process. It is championing and leading the way on this issue, showing that we need to focus on community activities to make a difference.
Understandably, many hon. Members have highlighted the shocking number of teenagers who have been killed on London’s streets; 27 teenagers were murdered in London in 2007 and that number has already been reached for 2008. These tragic events feed into the appalling situation of violent crime where knives are used. Last year, 258 people across England and Wales lost their lives in incidents where a knife or other pointed weapon was used. That figure was up by nearly a fifth on the figure for the previous year and up by more than a quarter on the figure 10 years ago.
One of the most disturbing trends is that both the victims of these crimes and those suspected of carrying out the offences are getting younger and younger. What is unacceptable to me is the impact that these serious offences have on the quality of life of youngsters growing up in our city. A recent report by NCH, the children’s charity, highlights the shocking situation of young people growing up with the real fear of becoming a victim of crime, particularly violent crime. Even more recently, there were the comments by the Children’s Commissioner for England and Wales, who said that children and young people in England felt increasingly unsafe in their local area, with one in four concerned about violence, crime and weapons.
Part of the challenge is to ensure that we obtain better data about the nature and extent of violence against our young people, and young people need to know that that information matters. That is why it is essential that crimes against under-16s are recognised within the British crime survey. It has not been helpful that the Government have been so slow to act on that issue, because the failure to include that information gives the impression that, in some way, because those crimes are not measured they do not count. That is why the issue of reporting is so relevant.
As we have heard, recent analysis of accident and emergency units has shown that knife-related injuries may well be very heavily understated. Certainly that was the indication from one east London hospital where some research was carried out. That is why I endorse the Mayor of London’s support for the greater use of depersonalised A and E data across London, alongside police data, to provide a more comprehensive crime picture regarding prevalence, geography and trends.
The hon. Gentleman is being rather partisan; I thought that this was meant to be a non-partisan discussion, but he has been critical of what I had to say earlier. I urge him to reconsider that criticism because, after all, within France and Italy the use of the military within policing is an established process. The situation here is so serious that my constituents are, as he has described it, so afeared of being killed, and indeed are being killed on the streets of Croydon, that we need to think of an urgent means of intervention to deal with this matter. The proposals that he puts forwards about long-term solutions will work, but we need immediate action now.
Immediate action can come through a very strong and firm policing presence. That is the way to do it: to get more police out on our streets, to equip them with the tools that they need to address this issue, and to empower sergeants at the heart of community neighbourhood teams with the ability to invoke stop-and-search powers for a limited period if they know or have received intelligence that a serious crime of violence is about to be committed in their area. That approach is a far stronger, far better and far more community-oriented way to deal with these types of crimes, based on information that is provided to those police sergeants who are very much at the heart of the community. This type of policing is an issue that I have raised before and I urge the Minister, in his new role, to consider taking it up, because it could make a significant difference in breaking this appalling situation that we see in far too many of our communities at the moment.
I come now to the Government’s announcement today about additional funding for safer schools partnerships and for ensuring additional funding for routes home from school and for other safeguarding measures. I welcome the focus on those areas, but we need to understand that this issue is not simply about specific people at specific times in specific areas. It is a much broader issue than that, and I urge the Minister to consider a much more wide-ranging set of initiatives to address it. That is why we need to strengthen families, to provide younger people with a much more stable environment to grow up in; that is why we need to encourage young people away from crime, by helping them off welfare and into work; that is why we would introduce the national citizens service for all 16-year-olds who want a place to help them to develop as individuals and allow them to make their own contribution to society; and that is why we would put much greater emphasis on getting people off drugs, rather than maintaining them in addiction.
I welcome much of the work that is being done in our communities. Kids Count is an innovative organisation that seeks to give voice to young people, ensure that they are very much at the heart of the debate, and explain how they can have a positive say. In addition, the Mayor’s office has taken firm steps through educational programmes to tackle violence.
I welcome this debate. It is good that we have had an opportunity to discuss the issues, but we need a commitment to short-term, medium-term and long-term action. We have the power and a duty to act. Young people are our future. We must ensure that they can look forward to that future with confidence and hope, and without the fear of falling victim to the scourge of violent crime.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) for securing this important debate and for the reasonable way in which he introduced it and set the tone for what has been a constructive discussion. I thank him and all Members who contributed to it. I shall make a few general comments before trying to respond to all the points that have been made by hon. Members.
I want a strong message to go out today so that anyone listening to this debate will realise that there are, understandably, many views on how best we can tackle youth violence, not just in London but across the country, and that although we do not all share a particular view, we are united in our commitment to making that a priority. We are also united in sending our condolences to the families and friends of the young people—there have been too many of them—who have lost their life in recent times.
It is absolutely clear that youth violence is a challenging area for communities—not only where it happens but where there is fear of it happening—and for the Government. It is not helped by some media coverage of horrific cases, which sometimes gives the wrong impression that all young children are out of control and that no one is safe on the streets of our capital. Behind each of the stories is a personal tragedy, but, mercifully, such instances are rare. However, because there is tragedy and an issue to resolve, we are determined to take robust action against the minority of young people who commit violent crime.
I shall not give too many statistics, apart from saying that three quarters of young people do not get involved in crime or offend, and 5 per cent. of the worst offenders are responsible for about half the youth crime that takes place in their area. As many hon. Members have said, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of young people do well and are a credit to themselves and to their families.
I want to say something about the background to the issue, which has shaped our approach and will go on shaping it. We set out earlier this year a broad and comprehensive approach to tackling youth crime in the youth crime action plan, which seeks to reduce all types of criminal activity by young people. It is fair to say that many of the commitments made in the plan and the interventions that are proposed will go some way to tackling violent crime among young people. We are backing the plan with £100 million of funding over the comprehensive spending review period to help prevent young people from getting involved in crime.
There are three pillars to the youth crime action plan. The first is tough enforcement in response to unacceptable or illegal behaviour. The second is non-negotiable support to address the underlying causes of poor behaviour, including the use of parenting orders, and the third is early intervention to tackle problems before they become serious or entrenched. The reality is that we cannot have one unless all the others are in place. That has been picked up by hon. Members throughout the debate. It must be clearly pointed out to young people who are in danger of committing a crime or carrying out antisocial behaviour that they face swift enforcement and a response to stop bad behaviour in its tracks.
Hon. Members have also pointed out that we must look at longer lasting solutions to the problem. We must change behaviour—it is hoped that that will not require too long a period—but also have an effect in the longer term.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about understanding why young people may feel that it is somehow in their interest to carry a knife. He made a plea for involving young people in the process of finding out why they feel that way, and I want to reassure him that that is precisely what we are doing. If he sees a campaign in the media about knife crime and looks at how the message is being put out, he will realise that the campaign not only targets young people but that often it has actually been drawn up by young people themselves.
We need to concentrate on practical steps that will make a real difference. Several hon. Members referred to the Home Secretary’s announcement about security on the way to and from school. That was a response today to the tragic events in Liverpool, but I assure hon. Members that the plan has existed for some time and that we intend to roll it out.
We also want to look at diversionary activities for young people. My constituents are like those of the hon. Gentleman: their first response to a question about young people is often not about the danger that young people pose but about the lack of activities for them in the area. The Government are looking at the issue, particularly what is available on Friday and Saturday nights. It is not rocket science that we need to ensure that resources in an area are targeted not only at where they will be most useful but at when they will be most useful.
Several hon. Members referred to statistics, and I want to reassure them that that work is being done across the Government. In particular, my Department is working with colleagues in the Department of Health to collect data, but we have to make sure that when they are brought forward, they are in a proper, manageable form that allows us to make proper comparisons. A danger if we do not do that is that people may get the wrong impression when the media report the figures.
The hon. Gentleman said that young people are reluctant to come forward. I understand that and do not underestimate the difficulties in encouraging them to do so. This is about building trust and a sense of safety and well-being in the area, and that is not easy, but we want to ensure that victims are at the centre of what we do and that they feel that the system works for them.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about tougher sentences not deterring criminality. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) in this regard. I want to send out a clear message that this is not an either/or situation. We must ensure that there are measures in place to divert young people and that they have positive role models. We must use education and so on, but we must also do things in the short term. That means sending out a message to young people who carry weapons that they will be detected, that action will be taken against them, that they can expect to find themselves in court for serious incidents, and that, in some cases, they can expect a custodial sentence. Deterrence is important.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey was tempted to make international comparisons. I was pleased that he mentioned local neighbourhood policing, which is at the centre of what we are doing. We want to embed it through the policing Green Paper, but we are also doing some work on gangs. The overarching theme in many of the issues that we discuss, whether knife violence or gun crime, is the growing preponderance of gangs in our areas.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the event on Thursday, “Enough! We can make youth violence history.” I wish the group well. Unfortunately, I cannot be there because I am due in Liverpool on Friday. Tragic events there have given us a new focus.
The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) made an important point about not demonising young people. He also discussed best practice. What we are trying to do in 69 areas—12 of them in London—is to concentrate resources but also to learn best practice. I agree with what he said about the need for a solution, if not with his solution.
The hon. Member for Upminster made important points about the lack of family support and role models. I thought that she was answered very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who made a point about alcohol and drug use—