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Volume 535: debated on Monday 7 November 2011

The Government’s approach to gang culture is set out in the “Ending Gang and Youth Violence” report, which I outlined to the House last week. This marks the start of a cross-Government programme of work based on five areas: prevention, pathways out, punishment, partnership working and providing support.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to addressing gang and youth crime. Does she agree that the problem cannot be solved by Government alone, but that parents especially and local voluntary and community groups have an important part to play? Will she tell me what is being done to support communities to fight back?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that the Government recognise not only that this issue goes across various Government Departments, but that we need to work with the voluntary and community sector. In February I committed £4 million for the communities against guns, gangs, and knives fund. That is already supporting the work of more than 200 grass-roots projects across England and Wales that are working with young people, their families and local communities. In the report that I presented to Parliament last week I made a commitment that half of the £10 million of funding to tackle gang violence will go to the non-statutory sector.

When a gang member leaves home armed with a knife, they do so with the ability to commit grievous bodily harm or even murder. What can the Home Secretary do to reduce the number of knives on our streets?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, we are tackling that in a number of ways. First, we have introduced changes in a new knife crime offence, which was introduced in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill last week to tackle it from that end. At the other end we have made money available to the Ben Kinsella fund, and Brooke Kinsella produced a very good report for the Government, going round and identifying projects that work with young people to stop them carrying knives and prevent them from being a danger to others and to themselves.

Everybody wants to see tough action to tackle antisocial behaviour and I welcome what the Home Secretary said a moment ago about the involvement of council, Church and community groups in providing youth services. I have just come from a meeting with young people from Dudley, some of whom are in the Gallery now, and one of them asked me about Dudley council’s decision to cut spending for youth services. Does the Home Secretary think that antisocial behaviour is likely to increase or decrease as a result of cuts to spending on youth services?

What I think is important is that in every local community decisions are taken that are right for that local community about what is going to work. The Home Office and the Government are providing funding to a number of communities throughout the country to ensure that in many cases they can do excellent work with young people to ensure that we can reduce the number of knives that are carried on our streets. This is just the start. Further work will be done to try and counter the gang and youth violence which, sadly, blights too many of our communities.

In August the Prime Minister told me that the Home Secretary would meet social media companies to explore the role of the internet and technology in propagating gang culture. Will the right hon. Lady tell me what the outcome of those meetings was and what action will be taken?

I am happy to do so. I did indeed meet representatives of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry. I met them with representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and from the Metropolitan police, and we discussed a number of matters—how the police can actively use social media networks, and how the companies can look at their terms and conditions to see when they might take people off the network because they are breaching those terms and conditions. Subsequent meetings have been held on a one-to-one basis between the police and the individual companies.

In discussions with a very senior, experienced officer, one of the issues that he highlighted was the lack of effective communication channels between the police and young people. To what extent does the Home Secretary believe that the ending gang and youth violence teams will be able to pick up and run with that issue?

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. There is some good work being done here in London, for example, with the Safer London Foundation, which is a charity backed by the Metropolitan police. That is an important aspect of the work that I hope the ending gang and youth violence team will be able to encourage at a local community level.