With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the cross-Government report into ending gang and youth violence. Following the shocking scenes of disorder over the summer, the Prime Minister asked me to lead a review, alongside my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, of gangs and youth violence. Today’s report is not the end of that process. It is merely the start of a comprehensive, long-term programme of work to tackle the violence that blights too many of our towns and cities.
We have visited front-line projects; we have analysed youth violence and street gangs; we have met local authority chief executives, senior police officers, voluntary organisations and former gang members; and we have hosted an international conference of experts. Using this research, we have identified what can be done by Government and other agencies to stop the violence and to turn around the lives of those involved. Today’s report is an important first analysis of the problem, and of the interventions that work. It provides a platform for the intensive support we will provide to the most affected areas.
If we are honest with ourselves, we need to accept that not enough was done over the years to deal with a problem we all knew existed and we knew was not being addressed. But the riots brought home to the whole country how serious a problem gang and youth violence has become. The statistics show that one in five of those arrested in connection with the riots in London were known gang members. Similar figures were recorded by West Yorkshire police, and Nottinghamshire had only a slightly lower proportion. Most other police forces identified fewer than 10% of all those arrested as known gang members, so gangs were not the sole cause of the riots, but they were a factor. The fact that so many young people who are not involved in gangs were still willing to carry out such serious acts of criminality merely reinforces the urgent need for action.
Gang members and young people engaged in violence do not appear out of the blue. Analysis of their life stories shows certain common factors: parental neglect early in life, often linked to drug addiction or alcohol abuse and violence in the home; a history of poor discipline at school, truancy and exclusion; early brushes with the law for more minor offences; and exposure to older gang members, often based around their local estate. Those factors come up time and again, and during the review we heard powerful real-life examples. Our analysis also showed that gang membership itself can be an important driver of criminality and violence. In London, for example, almost 50% of shootings and 22% of serious violence are committed by known gang members.
Our considered and evidence-based approach is designed to deal with each and every aspect of gang culture and youth violence. It will be based on five areas: prevention, pathways out, punishment, partnership working and providing support.
Preventing young people from becoming involved in gangs and youth violence means starting at the beginning. Research shows that early intervention is the most cost-effective way of reducing violence later in life, so we are recruiting 4,200 extra health visitors and doubling the capacity of family nurse partnership schemes, to help 13,000 young mothers. We are providing £18 million to identify and support domestic violence victims and their children, who are at particular risk of turning to violence in adulthood.
In schools, the pathway for young people into crime is all too clear: from low-level absence, to persistent absence and truancy, to low literacy and poor attainment. That is why our education reforms are focused on: early intervention in the foundation years; taking a rigorous approach to eliminating illiteracy; improving behaviour and discipline; and ensuring that every young person is taught in a way that inspires them and prepares them for the world of work.
If prevention fails and young people are drawn into gangs and youth violence, we need to ensure that we provide viable pathways out. Moments of crisis in a young person’s life, such as arrest, exclusion from school or attending an accident and emergency department offer vital opportunities to intervene, so we will work with A and E departments and children’s social care providers to help young people who may be affected by gang violence.
For those who are arrested, we will expand schemes to help young offenders with mental health and substance misuse problems, and we will look to provide ways out of gangs for those who have been convicted and served their time. We will therefore improve education provision in young offenders institutions and ensure that all young people who leave prison and claim jobseeker’s allowance are referred immediately to the Work programme.
We will also establish a new ending gangs and youth violence team of community activists, NHS experts and police officers. It will offer intensive support to gang-affected areas to help them understand their problem and develop their own solutions, which could include rolling out schemes to re-house gang members who want to exit the gang lifestyle and mediation schemes to prevent retaliatory violence.
Our review found some excellent police work to identify and manage the highest-risk gang members through a combination of targeted surveillance, enforcement and arrest for any offence, however minor, and positive offers of training, employment and drugs treatment for those who want a different life. However, those not prepared to break away from violence will face harsher and tougher punishments. That is why we will consult on making a new offence of possession of an illegal firearm with intent to supply, and on whether the penalty for illegal firearm importation should be increased. We are also consulting on whether the police need additional curfew powers. It is why we are extending the new gang injunctions to 14 to 17-year-olds, for example, to stop gang members entering rival territory, prevent them from being in public with dangerous dogs and require them to undertake positive activities; and it is why we are strengthening our laws on weapons possession so that anyone, including offenders aged 16 or 17, convicted of using a knife to threaten and endanger others will now face a mandatory custodial sentence. Any adult who commits a second very serious violent or sexual crime will now face a mandatory life sentence.
This is not, however, solely a police and criminal justice programme. All the agencies that young people deal with, from teachers to health service workers and social services, need to develop better systems for identifying high-risk individuals, sharing information and working together. Simply throwing more money at the problem is not the answer. We need a more intelligent approach.
We know, for example, that there are families on whom multiple Government agencies spend hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, yet their problems persist. That is why Louise Casey is today starting her work as the head of a new troubled families team to drive forward our commitment to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families. We will also deliver our commitment that all hospital A and E departments should share anonymised data on violent assaults with the police and other agencies. Sharing information and taking a multi-agency approach might not sound very exciting, but they work.
Finally, to support local areas, we will target Home Office funds on those places where the most serious gang and youth violence problems exist. We will therefore provide £10 million in funding next year to support up to 30 local areas and invest at least £1.2 million of new resources over the next three years to improve services for young victims of sexual violence in our major urban areas, with a new focus on the girls and young women caught up in gang-related rape and abuse.
For too long, communities have lived in fear of gangs. Many young lives have been ruined; many young lives have been lost. The summer showed that it is time for society to take a stand. It is time for a long-term programme, with intervention at each stage of vulnerable people’s lives; it is time for a locally led approach, with agencies working together and sharing information; and it is time for tough enforcement to be backed up by work to address the root causes of gang and youth violence. That is what our programme will deliver and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of her statement and the Government report.
The Opposition agree with the Government’s aim of tackling gang culture. The Home Secretary is right to point to the devastating impact on the victims of gang violence and intimidation and to be concerned about the damage that gangs do to those who get sucked into them, sometimes even in the search for protection. The violence is horrifying; the long-term scars for young people and society are severe. She is right that gangs played a part in the riots, but also that they have played a part in problems such as knife crime that affect some of our major cities.
The Home Secretary also recognises that the overwhelming majority of young people do not get involved in gangs. Indeed, youth crime fell over the course of the previous Parliament as fewer young people were drawn into criminal activity, but we want youth crime to fall further, not to go back up. That is why action on the pernicious effect of gang culture is so important.
I therefore agree strongly with the Home Secretary that effective action requires prevention, early intervention, working in partnerships, tough action and crackdowns on persistent gang activity, and punishment. Effective action needs to involve the NHS, schools and councils as well as the police. We also need action on domestic violence and to consider the impact on women and girls. She should also consider increasing the focus on housing and on the victims of gangs.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s work to build on Labour’s approach in government, including the family intervention projects and implementing the extension of gang injunctions to 14-year-olds, for which the previous Labour Government legislated before the last election.
I agree with the Home Secretary that we need to go further. I, too, am impressed by some of the work that police and local councils are doing in some areas to target gang members by offering them a way out, but rightly getting tough on them if they will not take it, but I am deeply concerned that the reality of the Government’s policy does not live up to the rhetoric. For a start, there is still complete confusion about sentencing policies. Last week, the Home Office told the papers that there would be longer sentences for gang members; yesterday, the Home Secretary told them that there would not be. Her plans on powers are also confused. She will know that many police forces and councils find that ASBOs are one of the most useful tools in disrupting gang activity, yet her policy still is to abolish them and replace them with weaker injunctions, so she is making it harder and not easier for the police to crack down.
We welcome the emphasis on early intervention in the report, but that sits badly with the 20% cuts to Sure Start and well over 20% cuts to the youth service. We welcome the learning of lessons from successful work in places such as Strathclyde, but here is the real problem: the work in Strathclyde alone required an additional £5 million, but she has announced only £10 million for the country as a whole, and the Home Office has already said that that funding is not new. At the same time, she is halving the local community safety budgets, which councils and the police use for gang prevention work right now—£44 million of cuts over the next two years alone, on top of the cuts to community safety funding in the emergency Budget.
Before the election, Haringey, where the riots started, received £2.2 million for community safety, including the action it was taking, with the police, to target gangs. By next year, that figure will be £200,000—a 90% cut in one borough alone. In Liverpool, the youth offending service, which works with gangs and young offenders, is facing more than £2 million of cuts—an overall reduction in its budget of 34%. All that comes on top of 16,000 police officer cuts, nearly 6,000 of which are in the forces that face the biggest problems with gangs.
The Government are cutting too far, too fast, hitting not only the criminal justice system, but our economy, which risks costing us more. Higher unemployment and higher crime will cost us more. Ministers are right to be concerned about gangs and youth crime and to want action, but what does this really add up to on the streets of Lambeth or Liverpool or for the young people of Birmingham or Brent? Given that the Government are pushing up youth unemployment to nearly 1 million, cutting 16,000 police officers, ending ASBOs, slashing youth services and cutting crime prevention, can the Home Secretary put her hand on her heart and tell the House that during this Parliament the youth crime rate will fall, as it did in previous Parliaments?
We agree with much of what the Home Secretary said today, but when we look at the reality behind the rhetoric—the reality behind her words—we see the truth, which is that the Government are still making it harder, not easier, for the police and communities to tackle gang violence and cut crime.
We have heard a typical response from the right hon. Lady. I shall start with the statements where she agreed with what we were doing, with the need to do more to draw young people out of gangs and reduce youth violence and with the point that this is not just about the police, but about how the NHS, schools and a variety of other agencies need to be involved. As I said in my statement, that is the basis of this first truly cross-Government report. She mentioned good projects by the police. There are a number of very good projects out there in parts of the Metropolitan police, Greater Manchester, the west midlands, Merseyside and, of course, Strathclyde. Those projects are already starting to make a difference.
Sadly, however, having said that she agreed with a lot of what I said, the right hon. Lady then, as she did in August when we were talking about the riots, chose to be party political. I am sorry that she chose to do that, but I shall address her various points. She said that we should not scrap ASBOs, but what good have ASBOs done, given that, as she said, gang culture has been getting worse? We are getting rid of ASBOs and replacing them with measures that will actually deliver for local communities, deter antisocial behaviour and put communities back in charge. She mentioned funding for Sure Start. That funding is provided through the early intervention grant, but, crucially, we are ensuring that Sure Start is focused on the very families it was set up to help in the first place—the very families that most need our help and support.
The right hon. Lady talked about police cuts. She never misses a chance to demonstrate her fiscal irresponsibility, and I knew that today would not be any different. She attacked cuts in police spending, but she did not say that it was the stated policy of her party to cut police spending. On her comments about police numbers, let me tell the House what she said about gangs and police numbers in August:
“Boots on the streets are not enough to sustain safe communities”.—[Official Report, 11 August 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1151.]
I wonder why she has changed her mind.
The right hon. Lady also talked about other spending cuts. Let me tell her what Jacqui Smith, the former Labour Home Secretary, said just this morning:
“You need to be much better at measuring the impact of the money we spend as well as simply spending it.”
I suggest that the right hon. Lady take a lesson from her. The shadow Home Secretary seems to think that gang problems have been caused by this Government and did not exist under the previous Government, but let me remind her what she said in August:
“I agree that more needs to be done about gang culture, which has been getting worse.”—[Official Report, 11 August 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1151.]
Yes: getting worse under the Labour Government. Just this morning, Jacqui Smith said that Labour “hadn’t done well enough” in tackling gang violence”. She has been straight about her record; it is a shame that the shadow Home Secretary cannot bring herself to be straight too.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does she agree that the best way of getting young people off the conveyor belt to crime is to target early years and ensure that young people have access to education and community projects such as the Prince’s Trust and the college in my constituency, and organisations such as Catch22? Given that the previous Home Secretary has said that in the past money was not always spent as it should have been, does my right hon. Friend agree that spending money on projects such as those that I have described is the right way forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that early years intervention is key, and it is part of the work to prevent young people from getting involved in gangs in the first place. Early intervention might be needed at a very early age indeed, with toddlers, to ensure that they do not go down that road. That is why it is so important to ensure that money is spent in the right way, on projects that will make a difference and really work.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposals and the appointment of Louise Casey to head the new unit. The right hon. Lady will have noted the evidence of Bill Bratton, one of the guests at her international conference and round table, who said:
“You can’t arrest your way out”
of gang problems. Early intervention has been a theme of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) for a number of years. What worries me is who will co-ordinate the various initiatives. A number of Departments are involved and monitoring will be crucial, so will it be her, as Home Secretary, or another Department?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I pay tribute to Louise Casey for the work that I know she will do and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who has appointed her to the troubled families unit, as part of his Department’s work. Let me also record our thanks to Bill Bratton, whom the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. He came over and visited a number of projects in the UK, participating in our round table and international forum on gang and youth violence. Crucially, he also gave hope from the projects that he had seen that it is possible for the UK to turn the problem around. The right hon. Gentleman is right to focus on monitoring, and, as I said, this is the start of the process. The inter-ministerial group that I chaired alongside my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will continue and will oversee the work currently being undertaken.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the problems with gangs and knife crime that my constituency faces. My constituents will warmly welcome her announcement, but does she envisage a role for volunteer organisations, which already do a lot of work, in delivering the strategy on the front line?
Yes, I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend that I see a significant role for voluntary organisations. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I attended a round table set up by the Centre for Social Justice, at which we met people from a number of voluntary groups, including some ex-gang members who are doing excellent work. Indeed, it is often voluntary groups that can make a difference to young people involved in gang membership, or to those about to get involved, and that can turn them around.
The Home Secretary might be interested to know that at 5 o’clock this morning 24 people across Salford and Manchester were arrested in connection with incidents during the disturbances in the summer. Much of the evidence was gathered using CCTV and DNA, a message that I am sure the right hon. Lady will take away. The family intervention projects will be essential to ensuring that our young people do not follow that path. Will she assure me that some funds from the Home Office and the family intervention projects will be targeted on Salford, to ensure that we keep our young people away from these problems in future?
I was aware of the work being done by Greater Manchester police, who have been doing excellent work following the riots, as have a number of other forces across the country. It is absolutely the case that, among the variety of amounts of money that are going to be made available for various aspects of this scheme, some will be focused on the Greater Manchester area. We will identify 30 areas for which £10 million from the Home Office will be available next year, and we are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers, which is mapping the gangs at the moment, to identify those areas. We have already identified Greater Manchester as one of the three areas—alongside the west midlands and London—into which specific Home Office funding is going in for the guns, gangs and knives project.
I welcome the analysis that underlines the fact that parental neglect, violence at home, truancy and exclusion are factors that can lead to gang membership. I also welcome the five areas on which the Government are focusing, especially pathways out. On that point, what support can the Government provide for suitable role models and mentors who can steer young people away from gangs and towards a more positive future?
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. One aspect of the way in which we intend to operate involves ensuring that people are able to identify at local level what will work in their area. In looking at various projects, I have seen that the people who are the most effective in persuading others to leave gangs are often former gang members. They have been through it, they know that a different life is possible, and they can give others the benefit of their personal experience. I have seen that happening in a number of areas, and I believe that a number of local areas will want to follow up on that aspect.
My constituency is served by two boroughs: Brent and Camden. In both, the funding for the safer communities and youth offending teams has been slashed. In Brent, it has been slashed by almost 18%, and in Camden by more than 27%. I agree with the Home Secretary that we can tackle gangs only through a multi-agency approach, but every other agency to which she referred in her statement is suffering from similar cuts, so how can that intensive support to which she referred be delivered?
One of the points that the hon. Lady is missing is that, sadly, over the years, significant sums have been spent on projects that are not as effective as they should be. There are families out there on whom hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent by various Government agencies, often not working together, and this is not effective. The problems still persist. The work that has been done in Waltham Forest, however, shows that if we bring together agencies such as the police, the local authority and others to tackle gang violence, yes, we spend money on those individuals, but we end up saving money by turning their lives around. Often, the effective intervention is not the expensive intervention.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but a short prison sentence of two months for youths convicted of knife crime does not offer the opportunity for complete rehabilitation. Does she agree, however, that it might offer a vital opportunity to diagnose previously hidden conditions such as communication delay, which could be a key factor in people entering pathways to crime?
I commend my hon. Friend’s work on this issue. I know that he takes it very seriously, and that he has looked into the impact of communication delay on young people. In relation to sentencing, it is important to send a clear message about the importance that we attach to doing something to reduce and stop knife crime. We also need to look at the interventions that take place when young people are undertaking custodial sentences, to ensure that we can rehabilitate them and take the opportunity to turn their lives around.
Youth unemployment in my constituency is higher than it has ever been, and this is directly caused by Government cuts—[Interruption.] It is directly caused by Government cuts. Educational opportunities have been blighted by the abolition of education maintenance allowance, and a youth club in my constituency is in jeopardy because of Government cuts. What option is the Home Secretary going to provide for young people in my constituency apart from the streets? Will she provide direct funding for organisations such as Reclaim and Trinity House in my constituency, which combat the effects that this Government have created?
As I have said, specific funding will be available, which will be targeted at projects in those areas of the highest violence and those areas with the most significant problems. We are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to identify those areas. I also say to the right hon. Gentleman that he really should not try to rewrite history: youth unemployment was going up for six years under the last Labour Government.
To view this issue from a purely financial perspective is prosaic. From my experience, one reason why many young people join gangs is that they are seeking a surrogate or substitute family. This is particularly the case among young men who are often looking for a positive male role model. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s initial response on role models. Will she elaborate on how positive male role models could play a role in this issue?
My hon. Friend has identified a very important issue. As I said earlier, it is absolutely the case that, sadly, all the Opposition only ever want to talk about is the amount of money being spent rather than about how it is being spent and how we can act intelligently to make a real difference. Ensuring that there are positive role models—particularly male role models—available to young people in these gangs is an important part of that. My hon. Friend is also right that, sadly, for too many young people involved in these gangs, the gang effectively substitutes for a family. When I met a former gang member, I was struck when he told me that when he was out in the streets with the gang, his mother was lying at home dead-drunk.
The Home Secretary states that agencies must work together to focus on the early intervention in the foundation years. What responsibility does she feel the family has in that area of intervention and how do we harness family and parental responsibility?
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. In helping a young person either to come out of gang membership or to prevent him from getting involved in the first place, it is often important to look not just at that individual but at the whole family. As I indicated in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), the problems sometimes lie in the family, and it is that family background that is a significant cause of what is happening to the young person. Work that is being done—for example, early intervention work by health visitors, family nurse partnerships and so forth—is important in providing essential support within a family.
I wonder whether the Home Secretary would recognise that there is a significant role for local authorities and housing associations in taking firm action against families that commit criminal activity or antisocial behaviour. Moving those families on by evicting them not only gives the community around them a respite but gives the family a chance for a fresh start somewhere else.
That is absolutely right. In fact, moving families on can help in two ways. One is where the family are creating particular problems on an estate or in an area, and the housing association or local council can take action that can relieve the rest of the community. Another is in circumstances where in order to get a potential gang member away from the area in which the gang is involved it is necessary to move that gang member and the family. There can be a positive move as well as a negative one, so to speak.
Everybody abhors gang violence and the cultures that go with it, but does the Home Secretary recognise that some young people are attracted by a perverse sense of glamour towards gangs as an escape from overcrowded housing or as an escape from the lack of job opportunities or youth facilities? Because they cannot develop themselves in those ways, they see a gang as something worth looking at. Should we not instead invest in jobs, housing and communities as much as in all the other palliative measures that the Home Secretary has suggested?
A great many young people live in difficult circumstances but do not turn to gangs. Of course it is important for us to look at gang membership and youth violence in the round rather than arresting our way out of the problem, because it is not possible for us to arrest our way out of it. As I said earlier, young people coming out of prison who claim jobseeker’s allowance will go straight on to the Work programme. We must make a real effort to deal with problems such as unemployment, and to help those young people to find a different route through life.
I am sure that the Home Secretary was as impressed as I was by the work of Nottinghamshire constabulary, many of whose central Nottingham stations came under sustained and potentially lethal attack by petrol bombers during August. I accept that prevention is better than cure, and I note the Home Secretary’s strictures about knives and firearms, but what is being done, and what will she do, about the carrying and preparation of petrol bombs?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. We have not addressed it in the review, but I shall be happy to consider it. I pay tribute to the work done by Nottinghamshire police in defending both people and premises. As he says, they came under significant and sustained attack during what was a very difficult time.
It is the judgment of Slough’s local police commander, Richard Humphrey, that the reason there was not more serious violence in the town that I represent, despite the risks posed by such factors as gang membership, was the contribution of Aik Saath and other youth organisations. What help is the Home Secretary offering youth organisations that can prevent problems of this kind?
As I have said, specific help will be provided in some parts of the country. Funds will be made available for projects that help young people to turn their lives around, and we will concentrate on the areas where the most significant problems exist.
I welcomed the statement, although I am not sure whether it was necessary for all five of the areas that my right hon. Friend mentioned to begin with a P. As she knows, many gangs carry knives. What preventive measures are being taken to prevent young people from carrying knives in the first place?
The Home Office was very pleased when Brooke Kinsella did an important piece of work for us last year, which resulted in a report that was published earlier this year. It concerned projects around the country that involve working with young people to deter them from carrying knives. The Ben Kinsella fund, which is being administered through the Prince’s Trust, has received funds from the Home Office to support such projects. Meanwhile, the Department for Education will be considering what materials can be made available to schools to help them get the message across to young people about the problems and dangers of knives.
Has the Home Secretary taken a good, close look at the efforts of Strathclyde police to tackle gang violence? Does she believe that they have been successful? Unlike her Government, the Government of the Scottish National party have increased the number of police on the streets of Scotland by 1,000. Will she also take a look at today’s proposal by the Scottish Government to introduce minimum alcohol prices, which will deal with the alcohol problems that fuel so much youth violence?
I am aware of the alcohol-related problems in Scotland that have led the Scottish Government to introduce their minimum pricing policy. I have spoken to Strathclyde police, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has also done so on a number of occasions. When representatives including Karyn McCluskey made a presentation to our inter-ministerial group, they made it very clear that although effective policing was necessary, it was not just a question of policing, but also a question of working with others. When I was in the area I was able to talk to some former gang members, and also to a gang member who is trying to leave the gang. They too made it clear that while policing is part of the process, it is not the only element. Working with other agencies is what really makes the difference.
Does the Home Secretary agree that tackling gang behaviour in prisons is vital if we are to tackle such behaviour, including violence, when those people are eventually released on to the streets?
Yes, and one of the things we will be doing is looking at the support that is available for young people in young offenders institutions. The Metropolitan police are already doing work at Feltham to ensure both that there is no gang violence in the institution and that gang members are helped and given the support they need to leave the gangs.
I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary mention the London borough of Waltham Forest. It has a pioneering anti-gang strategy that has used resources properly, as I am sure will be confirmed by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). However—the right hon. Lady can probably guess what’s coming next—many of the budgets that feed into that strategy are facing the squeeze. The Home Secretary talks about resources that she hopes will be available in the future, but we must have access to them fairly quickly. How might that be done in the near future?
Sources of funding are available, such as the innovation fund, for which authorities can bid, and which will have a specific role in making funding available for gang-related projects. The chief executive of Waltham Forest and local Metropolitan police representatives came to speak to the inter-ministerial group, and they made the point that the amount of money they were spending effectively on families was often lower than the amount that Government collectively might have been spending on them in the past. There is therefore a significant reduction in the amount of money that needs to be spent to deal with this issue.
The Home Secretary is right to highlight the benefits of partnership-working. Last week, I visited the newly formed Quedgeley youth centre, which replaces the local authority’s former Echoes youth club. It has been created by an innovative partnership led by local Conservative councillors and financed by Prospect Training Services, other businesses and the Quedgeley Community Trust. Early indications are that the new youth centre is proving even more popular with the young, and that it will be very successful. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all those involved in this local initiative, which shows the benefit of partnership-working, at zero cost to the taxpayer?
I am very happy to welcome the opening of the Quedgeley centre, and I am sure from what my hon. Friend has said that it will do excellent work locally in helping young people and providing the support they need. He also makes the valid and interesting point that dealing with these issues is not all about Government spending money—sadly, a message that Opposition Members seem to have failed to understand.
The Government have cut 60% from community safety budgets, including £10 million from London alone. Will the right hon. Lady clarify the position in respect of the £10 million she has announced today? Is it the same £10 million she announced back in February for early intervention? If it is, will she undertake to write to Members to explain what has been cut today as a result of her announcement?
I can confirm that we were making a further £10 million available next year for the early intervention fund. We will be ensuring that that money is specifically spent on projects related to gang and youth violence projects. [Hon. Members: “Ah.”] Well, Opposition Members say “Ah,” but—[Interruption.] I have never been able to imitate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), so I shall not attempt to do so. I simply make the point I made earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller): we are talking about a new approach, and about working across the whole of government—[Interruption.] Opposition Members are making the mistake of thinking that the only thing that matters is the amount of money that is available to spend, when what matters is how we spend it—a lesson that, sadly, the Opposition failed to learn during 13 years in Government. That is why they wasted so much taxpayers’ money and we are now paying the price.
When I watched the police videos of what happened in Beckenham and Bromley, I was aghast to see families arriving in cars and then getting out and going on organised looting trips, and those family members were not the usual suspects. Is there anything we can do to stop this opportunist thievery?
My hon. Friend makes the point that we did see some opportunist criminal activity during the riots, but I remind him that just under three quarters of the people involved in the riots who have been identified so far had a previous criminal record of some sort and that 25% had 10 or more criminal offences on their record. So what we saw was sheer criminality on our streets.
Crime in my borough of Hackney is at its lowest for 12 years and Hackney’s integrated gangs intervention unit has seen a drop in gang violence of 59% in the 18 months that it has existed. I hope that the Home Secretary will place in the Library the details of where the £10 million will be allocated and that she will seriously examine the issue of gang injunctions. My local police and the integrated gangs intervention unit say that there are real challenges in getting gang injunctions to stick. They and I plead with the Home Secretary to re-examine antisocial behaviour orders and keep them until she is sure that gang injunctions work. Will she tell the House how many gang injunctions have been issued to date?
The hon. Lady raised a number of issues. The amount of money made available to Hackney from the early intervention grant allocation in the current financial year was, of course, about £20 million. We will be identifying the areas that the Home Office funding will be going to. As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), we have also already put money into Greater Manchester, the west midlands and London—the three areas where most knife crimes are committed—in looking to work with projects to tackle those knife crimes. So that funding has been available.
Only a small number of adult gang injunctions have been introduced so far. As the hon. Lady will know, the injunctions were introduced only earlier this year, but their use is increasing. I am aware that there were some issues in the early days in relation to their implementation, but we are getting through those teething problems and the gang injunctions have been used in areas where they have been effective.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Yesterday, two gang members from my constituency were found guilty and sentenced, one to an indefinite term for firing a double-barrelled shotgun in a drive-by shooting. Does she agree that violent criminals must be given the most serious sentences to stop them bringing fear and destruction to our towns, and that this Government will relentlessly pursue these individuals?
We will absolutely do that. I assure my hon. Friend that we are ensuring that tough sentences for the worst of our criminals are indeed available, and I commend his local police on having made those arrests.
Order. In seeking to accommodate more colleagues, notwithstanding the pressures of time, I do appeal now for extreme brevity in questions and answers alike.
The Home Secretary has said that she has reallocated £10 million-worth of early intervention money to focus on gangs and serious youth violence. However, her Government will spend five times that sum on the elections for police and crime commissioners. I say to the Home Secretary: why not take that £50 million and put it instead into the local projects that are already saving lives and of which she has already spoken so highly?
The hon. Lady seems to have failed to notice that this Act has actually passed and the police and crime commissioners will be introduced. They will be carrying out a very important task—that of being a directly elected local voice for local communities to determine policing in their area.
I welcome today’s statement and commend the work of the Met police in combating gang cultures across London. That work is very expensive. It is also time-consuming and takes many years to come to fruition, and once the police do it and break the gang, a vacuum is created into which another gang can move. What actions can be taken to prevent new gangs from being formed where an old gang has been eliminated?
This is why we are absolutely clear that this is merely the start of a process and that what we are doing is putting in place sustainable, long-term work. It is necessary not just to bring certain individuals out of gang membership, but, sadly, to ensure that we prevent other young people from becoming part of new gangs that would replace those existing gangs. That is why preventing people from getting into gang membership in the first place is a key element of what we want to do.
The Home Secretary will know that the success in Greater Manchester in reducing gun crime has been through this type of multi-agency working, so what she describes is the application of common sense. However, resources do matter because many of the agencies involved are under financial pressure. Will she introduce an independent element of monitoring to ensure that we can see that the issue of money will not stop the effectiveness of these programmes?
I commend the work of Greater Manchester police, which has done excellent work in its Excalibur project. As the hon. Gentleman says, cross-agency working has made a very real difference to what it has been doing. I come back to the point that has been raised by many Opposition Members about funding and money. The issue is about how we spend the money that is available and about making sure that it is targeted on the right people and on interventions that are going to be effective. Over the years, Governments have spent so much money on dysfunctional families and on individuals who are gang members, but often to no effect. We must change that.
Does the Home Secretary agree with the comments of Jacqui Smith this morning that Labour had not done well enough on tackling gang crime?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us what the former Home Secretary said this morning. Her comments are in stark contrast to those from Opposition Front Benchers today, showing real recognition that there was more to be done and that Labour did not have all the answers, as well as, I am sure, supporting the work we are doing.
The response of local safeguarding children boards to the recent investigation by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre into the extent of child sexual exploitation has been very disappointing. Will the Home Secretary ensure that directors of social services who have a statutory responsibility for child protection respond to any request for evidence regarding children who are vulnerable to gang-related violence in the preparation of her cross-departmental report?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. The issue of child sexual exploitation is also being looked at by the Children’s Commissioner, who has undertaken research in this area. It is right that we should get the right response when an individual has been identified as being vulnerable and I shall certainly draw the hon. Lady’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s comprehensive statement. Communities such as mine will welcome her honesty in accepting that Governments of both persuasions have not done enough to tackle this problem in the past. May I press her on one point? Is it not the case that the police and Government agencies on their own are not going to solve this problem and that working with the communities who are affected and getting them to turn against gang members within their community is a key element?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This is an area in which the Government do not have all the answers and cannot achieve the necessary results by working on their own. As I indicated in response to an earlier question, what is often going to be most effective at helping young people to come out of gang membership or at preventing them from getting into a gang in the first place is groups in the voluntary sector and operations such as Kickz through which the Premier League and the Football Foundation are working to provide alternative activities for young men on a Friday or Saturday night.
The Home Secretary has praised the Strathclyde project greatly. That project cost about £5 million over two years, so how can £10 million being spread over 30 areas get anywhere near the success of the Strathclyde project?
I have commented favourably on the Strathclyde project but it is not the only project that is working across the UK. The Matrix project in Merseyside, the Excalibur project in Greater Manchester, and the work of the Met in certain parts of London have also been effective, and in Birmingham, the West Midlands police are also doing very good work in this area. I come back to a point that I have made on a number of occasions in response to questions from Opposition Members—this is about ensuring that money is spent in a way that will be effective. Sadly, in nearly an hour of questions, no Opposition Member has sought fit to recognise that the cuts in spending taking place across the public sector are because of the financial deficit left by the previous Government.
May I welcome the cross-government approach to solving this problem? Does the Home Secretary agree that the most important thing in relation to resources is that they are genuinely devolved to the local areas and communities that are best placed to tackle difficult underlying problems?
We are taking a different approach. It is important to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all model that can be imposed on every local area. Local areas will need to come to an understanding of what is going to work in their particular communities. That is why it is important that responsibility is devolved and that funding is available at the local level. It is also why the ending gang and youth violence team that we will be setting up will be available at a local level to work with the agencies to ensure that they are getting the answers that are going to work.
I can assure the Home Secretary that money spent by Lewisham council and the police has been very effective, but since the right hon. Lady has been in power cuts to the community safety and youth offending team budgets have been of the order of 20% and the number of victims of knife crime has risen by almost 40%. Does she honestly believe that those two things are not connected?
Many issues affect the level of knife crime in a particular area. I am announcing today a cross-government strategy that is going to make a real difference to gang membership and youth violence, which, sadly, blights too many communities.
I have seen personally the wraparound support provided by voluntary mentoring in my constituency, especially by the Lighthouse Foundation supported by the Methodist Church. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what role voluntary mentoring can and will play in tackling gang violence and family breakdown?
Voluntary mentoring of individuals can have an incredibly important role to play in tackling both gang membership and youth violence. There are many projects out there in which voluntary and charitable groups provide necessary support to families that helps them to bring up their children in a way that prevents them from going down the route of gang violence. I commend the project that my hon. Friend mentions. I am sure that it is doing excellent work in his constituency, as it does elsewhere in the country.
The Home Secretary has on several occasions emphasised the importance of partnership working between the statutory agencies and the voluntary sector, not only to divert young people from joining gangs—I hope that we do not see all young people as a potential problem—but to bring out the talents that they have inside them. Even if the right hon. Lady does not like what Opposition Members are saying about resources, does she accept that youth workers and voluntary groups are also saying that the resources are not enough? What assurances can she give them, if not us, that she is listening to them?
Of course the vast majority of young people are not involved in gang membership and violence. We should recognise that all too often the only stories that people read about young people are bad stories, not good ones. The House should perhaps do more to recognise that the vast majority of young people do not get involved in this sort of activity.
I have seen across the country that what makes a difference is how you spend the money that is available, targeting those who are most in need, and targeting money effectively. Sadly, over the years money has been spent that has not led to a change. We want to change young people’s lives.
We did not witness riots in Newcastle over the summer thanks in large part to significant investment and partnership work supporting engagement with young people in the city. Does the Home Secretary share any concern that cutting 544 police officers, 185 community support officers and 60% of community safety funding has the potential to undermine that good work?
I think I have answered the point about resources several times now.
The Met has said that gang association is one of the most difficult things to prove evidentially. How will the Home Secretary be confident that those who benefit from all the incentives that she is offering people to give up gang membership are genuinely gang members and not just the dispossessed who have had all other avenues closed down and have to claim to be gang members to get some help?
As I said, we are working with ACPO in particular to map incidence of gangs and gang memberships. Obviously at local level that will rely on information that is available to the police and other agencies. We are focusing not just on gang membership but on gang and youth violence. So in some areas work will be undertaken on a broader remit than simply looking at gang members.
The Home Secretary has rightly emphasised the importance of community leadership in tackling and addressing gang violence. She will of course be aware that there is a risk that the community can become alienated if public agencies get the relationship wrong. How will she ensure that the good will of communities, which is so essential to the success of her proposals, is secured and monitored?
That is where setting up the ending gang and youth violence team—people who can give help, support and advice at local level about putting projects in place and what will work in the area, and making sure that the relationships are right—will be so important.
The point has been rightly made already that, on their own, police boots on the ground are not the solution to gang and youth violence; there has to be a much more joined-up approach. Does the Home Secretary share any of the concern about the loss of something like 1,900 police from the Metropolitan area? Will it have no impact whatever on the strategy that she has outlined today?
As I have said in the House on many occasions about the cuts in police spending that are taking place, we know from evidence from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and from other factors that it is possible to make cuts in police spending while maintaining front-line services.
The single most important thing that we can do is to create sustained trusting relationships between young people at risk of gang violence and responsible adults, whether volunteers in voluntary youth organisations or workers in statutory youth organisations. May I make a plea to the Home Secretary that we break with recent tradition and do not just make interventions that last 12, 20 or 30 weeks, which disrupt those relationships and often cause more damage than they prevent, but make sure that the interventions are there for years—for the duration? That is the way in which we shall disrupt the dysfunctional relationships of the street, and sometimes in families, that have led to the crisis.
I have made it clear that what I am talking about today is the start of a process; it is important that it is sustained over the long term, because as the hon. Lady says, that is the way we shall make a real difference to people’s lives.