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Violent Crime

Volume 490: debated on Monday 23 March 2009

The British crime survey is the best guide to trends in violent crime. The latest figures, for the BCS year ending September 2008, showed that 2.2 million incidents were experienced by adults in England and Wales. Since 1997, violent crime is down by 40 per cent., which is equivalent to 1.5 million fewer incidents.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will know that many of our constituents are concerned about knife crime, given that the number of people being stabbed to death is at a record high. My constituent Mr. Roger Lambert, of Lydney, watched the BBC 1 programme “Stabbed: The Truth about Knife Crime”, and contacted me about the matter. He is so concerned about what happens to those who go out with a knife and take someone’s life that he wants—I said to him that I did not agree—the Government to consider bringing back the death penalty to deal with the problem. What can the Minister say to make Mr. Lambert comfortable about safety on our streets and the risk of being stabbed to death by a knife?

What I cannot say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is that I am in favour of the death penalty or that it will be brought back, but I can tell him and other people throughout the country what we are doing to tackle knife crime issues, which are very particular in some parts of our communities. The hon. Gentleman could mention to his constituent that people found in possession of a knife are now far more likely to be charged, and on being charged they are far more likely to be imprisoned. That applies to possession offences, of course, but if somebody is caught using a knife, they can expect much stricter penalties. The hon. Gentleman could also use some of the latest statistics, which were published on 4 March. The Department of Health figures show that among those aged 13 to 19, there were 31 per cent. fewer admissions to NHS hospitals for stab wounds in the nine English TKAP—tackling knives action programme—regions from June to November 2008, compared with the same period in the previous year. That compares with an 18 per cent. reduction in non-TKAP areas over the same period, and it is extremely encouraging, although there is clearly much more to be done.

The Minister will be aware that almost half the victims of violent crime have stated that their perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol. Why have the Government not accepted in full the very sensible proposals of Sir Liam Donaldson to try to put a floor price on alcohol? Does he not accept that it is the cheapness of alcohol that has caused the binge drinking culture in our Committee—[Laughter]—in our city centres. Will he look carefully at these proposals and reconsider the Government’s approach?

I must admit, Mr. Speaker, that I have never noticed binge drinking in the Home Affairs Select Committee, particularly as I often attend it at half-past 10 in the morning. Seriously, however, my right hon. Friend raises a serious point. The Government’s view is that the matter is of serious concern, but we do not believe that the introduction of a minimum floor price is the right way forward at this time. We do believe that the establishment of a mandatory code for alcohol, which will tackle some of the irresponsible promotions in our streets and city centres—the likes of happy hours and “Drink as much you can” offers—is one of the steps that we need to take if we are to tackle the binge drinking culture. We should also remind everybody that binge drinking is not acceptable and that using the influence of drink as an excuse for doing something is unacceptable to all hon. Members and indeed to the vast majority of people who drink responsibly.

Sadly, my student intern was mugged in Hemel Hempstead on Sunday. She is a very outgoing and gregarious young lady who is now very frightened about going back into the town centre. The town centre is covered by CCTV cameras, but she is worried, quite rightly, that the person who mugged her was not concerned about those cameras or about the punishment—he just wanted to get her money. What are we going to do about that?

I am sorry about the horrific incident that happened to the hon. Gentleman’s intern. Such an incident would trouble us all and I am sure it is of great worry to her. The fact that the CCTV is there, however, will hopefully provide evidence, which can be used. One of the best deterrents for people who conduct such awful crime is the knowledge that they will be caught, put before the courts and—obviously, the evidence is needed—given the sentence that they deserve. For the sort of attack that the hon. Gentleman has described, the sentence should be a severe one.

Will my hon. Friend consider the issues surrounding incitement to violence? As he will be aware, many of my constituents and people across the UK were extremely angry at the attack made on our troops in Luton last week by a small al-Muhajiroun-related group with a history of attempting to incite violence and racial division in our town. Will he review the specific circumstances of what happened so that such an incident never happens to our troops again?

It is fair to say that we were all appalled by the incident in Luton to which my hon. Friend refers. In many instances, incitement to hatred is against the law, and one would expect the incident to be investigated and prosecuted. Whatever else we can say, we all utterly condemn the sort of demonstration that took place on the streets of Luton a few days ago. It should not, and must not, happen, and those who break the law should be prosecuted.

The Minister will be aware that the use of dogs in violent crime and antisocial behaviour is becoming an increasing problem in many areas of the country, particularly the inner cities. Will the Government carry out a detailed assessment of the effectiveness of current legislation and consider how boroughs such as Wandsworth have utilised mandatory micro-chipping as a means of controlling this increasing problem?

Of course we will consider any measure that needs to be taken to tackle the sort of phenomena to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The use of dogs not only as a status symbol for some people in gangs but as an offensive weapon is of increasing concern, as he rightly points out. We are trying to find out the extent of the problem. As for what we are doing, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who is also sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, will tell the hon. Gentleman that the Policing and Crime Bill contains gang injunctions, which can be used, subject to their being passed by Parliament. It can be part of such an injunction to ban a gang member from having or using a dog in the ways to which the hon. Gentleman refers.