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Knife Crime

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2012

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

Hon. Members will have noticed the new clock displays in the Chamber, which I am sure we are all extremely impressed with. The top display shows the current time, as before. When a speech is not being timed, the bottom display will show the time it started, also as before. If it becomes necessary to introduce a speech limit, the bottom display will change to show the time remaining to the Member who has the floor. As in the House itself, that display can award an extra minute for each of the first two interventions in a speech, but as things stand, I do not intend to impose a time limit.

I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about knife crime. I intend to speak for only about 10 or 12 minutes to give others the opportunity to contribute.

In September, only a few weeks ago, 17-year-old Jay Whiston died after being stabbed. I cannot say more or elaborate on the detail as the matter is to go before the courts. I can, however, say that Jay, a student at Tendring technology college, is desperately missed by his family and his loved ones. Jay’s death has raised concerns locally about knife crime in Clacton and I want to address some of them today.

Jay’s mother, Caroline Shearer, is a formidable woman, with enormous reserves of energy, determination and grit. However enormous and unimaginable her grief must be, she has not withdrawn into despair. She has set up a campaign organisation aimed at changing attitudes towards knives and knife crime—Only Cowards Carry. Caroline’s efforts have struck a chord in our part of Essex. Thousands of people have rallied to support her efforts. Young people, including some who never knew Jay, have volunteered to help. I was struck by this last Saturday, when a shop that was given voluntarily to the campaign group was staffed by dozens of young people. Many hundreds of people have come forward to show their support.

Why have Caroline’s campaign and the efforts of the local Gazette resonated so widely? Why have thousands of people signed up in support? Why have hundreds of people, including teachers, offered their time voluntarily to support Caroline’s efforts? Such support is a good thing. It shows a strong sense of civic-mindedness and community spirit in Clacton, and a sense that together we really can change things. However, part of the reason is a little less positive, because it is also a reflection of how widely shared concerns about knife crime are.

Too many young people have come forward in Clacton with a story to tell involving someone carrying a knife or offensive weapon. I have been struck since Jay’s death by how many young people have said things to me about knife crime. That shows how ubiquitous carrying a knife has become for some people in our community.

There have been far too many incidents in my part of Essex. Liam Mearns died of stab wounds last December. In January, a security guard was stabbed in Walton. A 24-year-old was stabbed in St John’s road. In March, a 23-year-old was stabbed in Dudley road. The strong prevailing thought among local people is: enough is enough; something must be done. However, as is so often the case when we hear people say that, we must ask what can be done. I shall offer my thoughts and will be keen to hear what colleagues think.

First, we need an acknowledgement that knife crime is a problem. It is a problem locally. Too often in the past, incidents involving knives have been treated as one-off, ad hoc incidents. I remember being told—I am not playing the blame game—that part of the problem was caused by sensationalism. We need to recognise that the problem of knife crime is not a problem of perception; it is a real, genuine problem. We must recognise that there are legitimate concerns that must call forth a public policy response. The criminal justice system and those in charge of it need to recognise that there are legitimate concerns, but the response of the criminal justice system has simply not been up to matching those concerns.

Secondly, we need local solutions. The Minister might be pleased to hear that I will not ask him to do anything. I am not looking for central Government action or hoping for ministerial fiat to solve the problem. I mean no disrespect to the current Minister, who is honourable, decent and highly competent, but decades of central direction and hoping that the man or woman in the Home Office will do something has been part of the problem. Generic, one-size-fits-all answers are almost by definition too bland to have specific meaning. We need the very opposite of a one-size-fits-all solution from Whitehall.

We now have locally elected police and crime commissioners. This debate is, as much as anything, an appeal to the Essex police and crime commissioner to act. Essex has an excellent police and crime commissioner, Nick Alston, who is absolutely not a party politician. He was born in a local police station. He has given years of service to his country and served in the Navy. He owes his loyalty not to the party machine—not to the dreadful party hierarchy in London—but to local people. Local people gave him the job by a narrow margin and local people will hold him to account. I hope that Commissioner Alston will take a lead and devise local policing priorities for Clacton that reflect local concerns about knife crime.

Whenever we have a debate about public service provision or public policy, we often hear about so-called postcode lotteries and the concern that provision differs among areas. A postcode lottery is what happens after years of policing being run from the Home Office. Paradoxically and counter-intuitively, when the setting of standards and priorities is left to the Home Office, we end up with postcode lottery policing. The police commissioner will give us the opposite of postcode lottery policing: postcode-specific policing.

Let me set out what I should like policing in the CO15 postcode to be. I should like there to be much more aggressive stopping and searching. The police need to stop and search on a targeted basis, and they need to be prepared to do it unapologetically. At certain times and in certain places in Clacton, young men—I am sorry to say that it is mainly young men involved; I do not mean any disrespect to the male half of the human species, but that tends to be the case—should be targeted, and stopped and searched. We should not be apologetic about that. Carrying a knife in Clacton ought to carry a risk of being stopped and searched, and if people are found to have a knife, they should be prosecuted and convicted.

Stop-and-search can be controversial. I am pleased to say that English people naturally resent any form of arbitrary intrusion, but people in Clacton would not regard such a measure as arbitrary. It would command local support and be regarded as legitimate. This is a brilliant example of how directly elected local police commissioners can do things because they have a certain degree of legitimacy and local support. If the police in Clacton stopped and searched certain people at certain times, it would command widespread support within the broader community.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate. Northern Ireland’s figures for knife crime are not as high as those for the mainland; we are into tens of thousands here and the figure in Northern Ireland is around 1,000 in the year up to September.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the local community. There needs to be support from the local community, whether on stop-and-search or whatever, but there also needs to be proper protection for the local community—for those willing to give evidence, to report knife crime or to report that someone that they know is involved in it.

That is absolutely spot on. I want us to do much more to encourage people, especially young people, to report knife crime. If one knows that someone is drink-driving, telling someone about that is no longer seen as snitching, but as the sensible, legitimate thing to do, because the price we all pay for allowing drunks to drive a car is the risk that innocent people will be killed. We must have the same mentality about carrying a knife. If people are to be prepared to tell someone in authority—that could be children telling a grown-up or a teacher, or young adults telling the police—they have to be able to do so not only confident in the fact that they will be treated confidentially and that there will be action, but with the recognition that doing so is legitimate, that they are not a snitch and that they are doing the right thing. That is vital.

One of the reasons why the campaign against drink-driving—I will talk more about this in a moment—has been so successful is precisely because people who know that someone is drink-driving are not prepared to stand or sit idly by and let that person carry on getting into a car under the influence of alcohol. We should have exactly the same social constraints on people who are prepared to walk around with an offensive weapon. That action must be seen as illegitimate, and reporting it to someone in a position of authority must be seen as legitimate. Incidentally, one of the great achievements of the Only Cowards Carry campaign is the attempt to get that message across to young people aged six or seven so that they realise from an early age that if they know of someone carrying a knife, they have a responsibility to tell a teacher, an adult or someone in a position of authority.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that ideally we need to personalise and localise the campaigns. The issues surrounding stop-and-search might be a little more toxic in the parts of London represented by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and me. Hitherto, knife crime might have been regarded as a problem specifically in inner cities, or even only in London, but we now recognise that it goes far further afield.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in particular among young men, there is an almost toxic mix of the possession of a knife with alcohol use and misuse? A frenzy of disorder sometimes leads to such incidents. Personalising the campaign in the way in which he is setting out is entirely the right way to try and re-educate a lot of young men to ensure that they do not go on to the streets with a knife.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point about the vital need for a tailor-made solution that commands support and legitimacy among the local population. I am deliberately not asking for a one-size-fits-all, blanket solution. I fully understand that the approach for which I am calling could well cause resentment in some parts of the country, but we are discussing democratically legitimising the actions of authority. Robert Peel said, when he founded the police:

“The police are the public and the public are the police.”

We can use the new instrument of democratic legitimacy that is given to us through police and crime commissioners. A creative commissioner will be able to do things that would previously have caused resentment.

The hon. Gentleman talked about drink-driving. At this time of year, we see graphic advertisements, warnings and detail in the media about that. Would he be in favour of something similar for knife crime?

Absolutely. There are strong parallels with the campaign against drink-driving, but it is important to remember that the success of the campaign against drink-driving was not simply due to high-profile publicity. Such publicity had a role to play, however, as raising awareness is vital, and raising awareness of knife crime in that graphic way could be important, especially in schools.

I do not want to sound cynical about human nature, but we must remember that the fear of getting caught also changed attitudes. Some of us will remember that 30 or 40 years ago people complained about the police campaigns to stop and breathalyse drivers. Many of the arguments that we would hear if we encouraged the police to carry out more stop-and-search would be about whether that would be legitimate. People used to say, “It is not an offence to have a few beers; the offence is to have an accident.” We now recognise that being drunk is the crime, just as it is the carrying the knife that is the crime. We change such attitudes through a combination of high-profile publicity campaigns and a criminal justice system that is prepared to be aggressive. I mean to use the word “aggressive”, because the system needs to be more aggressive.

A generation ago, incidences of drink-driving seemed to be rising inevitably. If we were having the debate in the 1970s, we might have seen ever-higher drink-driving as inevitable, saying, “Alcohol is getting cheaper,” “More people are driving,” “It is family breakdown,” or, “It is social disorder.” We now know such arguments to be nonsense, however. The police started carrying out the equivalent of stop-and-search—breathalysing. They did not, however, use blanket breathalysing. On the contrary, they targeted certain times, places and, probably, types of people—again young men, most likely. It therefore became clear that drink-driving carried the risk for someone not only having an accident, but of being caught, and there were serious consequences if they were caught, so attitudes started to change. We need a similar approach to carrying a knife—not blanket solutions, but targeted stop-and-search.

The criminal justice system also needs to change its response when someone is found to be carrying a knife. Imagine if, in this day and age, someone was found to be over the drink-drive limit and the police only cautioned them. Of course that would not happen, because someone who is over the limit can expect the police to bring forward charges and the criminal justice system to prosecute. We need to make it absolutely clear that knife crime is unacceptable. Blanket rules are never a good idea, because they always have unintended consequences, but the default rule in normal circumstances should be that if people are found to be carrying a knife or a concealed offensive weapon, they can expect to be prosecuted. If that started to happen, attitudes would change.

A higher incidence of drink-driving once seemed inevitable—it was thought that nothing could be done—and we could expect to hear many of the arguments against breathalysing to be used against stop-and-search. However, with a much more robust attitude from the criminal justice system, and with a willingness to target certain people at certain times in certain places, attitudes can shift. Absolutely nothing is inevitable about more knife crime. Just as we reduced the incidence of drink-driving, we can change attitudes towards knives and those who carry knives.

Clacton needs a criminal justice system that is prepared to reconfigure its priorities and to shape a specific public policy solution to meet concerns about a Clacton-specific problem. It can be done, as the criminal justice system now has a measure of local accountability that allows it to be more experimental and to do things that it might not have considered over the past generation. The criminal justice system and those who run it would find that, if they were to do that, they would command widespread popular support. Most people in Clacton, including the overwhelming number of young people, are good, decent, law-abiding people who would not dream of carrying a knife. All too often, however, there is a minority—not as small as we once thought—who are prepared to carry knives. Unless we are prepared to tackle that minority, the many tragic, awful, hideous incidents to which I referred will become part of a long roll-call of tragedy and mishap.

I hope that the criminal justice system acts. As I said, I do not expect the Minister to have the answers; in fact, I think that the solution lies with the police and crime commissioner. I very much hope that we will now begin to see a change in attitude in the criminal justice system in Essex and among those who run it. If that happens, I am confident that we can reduce the number of incidents involving knives in Clacton.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) on securing the debate and on the manner in which he made his remarks. I fully agree with aspects of what he said, in particular on the importance of the criminal justice system, but in some areas I would choose to differ.

I have now been in the House for 12 and a half years. Tottenham is my home and the community I grew up in, and when I first became its Member of Parliament, it had been in the news for many but not great reasons—I am not now talking about the football club—so I expected the tough, gritty inner-city issues to be my fare. One would expect London’s housing crisis and its immigration challenges, and issues such as welfare benefits and crime and disorder to be mainstream stuff for the Member of Parliament for Tottenham to bring to the House for debate, discussion and even disagreement, both with one’s own Government and that of other parties. What I did not expect 12 and a half years ago was that serious crime, such as murder, would escalate from being an issue affecting individuals and small communities to a serious national problem.

My period in the House has coincided with Operation Trident, which was set up to look at gun crime in parts of—I emphasise “parts of”—the black community. People use the phrase “black-on-black violence”, but it is not one that I have ever been comfortable with, and I have voiced that on several occasions. A small group of criminals, who were trading in drugs that originated in the Caribbean and America, made their way here through drug-trafficking routes and created a gun crime problem in certain neighbourhoods and communities in London. Legislation covering guns, together with serious enforcement by the police, bore down on that problem, and to some extent it has been contained, but in our capital city and our major cities we still see guns go off and we see crime related to guns. At the same time, the problem of knife crime has increased.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm for the record that three times as many people are killed by knives as by guns?

I am happy to confirm that that is exactly the case, and that goes to the point that gun crime morphs into knife crime. We saw knife crime morph from something we associated with particular tough, inner-city environments into a real problem across London, Manchester and Birmingham. It is significant that the hon. Member for Clacton is raising this as an issue in his community. This is a moment to pause and ask ourselves what has really happened, and why teenagers and young people so callously take life in this way. It is a criminal justice and enforcement issue, but only in part. There are underlying causes in our society which we must uncover.

There was a time in the 1980s when many of us would have looked across the Atlantic to north America and wondered whether drive-by shootings in cities such as Los Angeles and New York were just part and parcel of life in that country and had to be accepted, or whether the authorities would bear down on the problem and deal with it. Knife crime in this country is at that junction.

When we debate this issue, I think of so many families whom I have comforted in my surgery because they have lost children to knife crime in north London. The names do not now take up whole pages and sections of newspapers, but are small columns because knife crime has become such a regular occurrence in our country. Teon Palmer was 23 when he was stabbed to death in Edmonton last month. Pavel Zekaj was stabbed to death outside Burger King in Wood Green last month. Kevin Duhaney from Bruce Grove in my constituency was stabbed to death in Hackney over a girl, and his mum had to fundraise £7,000 for a funeral. Steven Grisales was 21 when he was stabbed to death on his way to Silver Street station in Edmonton where he was pelted by conkers by a gang of youths.

The case of Godwin Lawson touched me greatly, as did his parents. He was a wonderful and incredibly talented young man who went to a great secondary school. He was just 17 and doing so fantastically well at football that he had been picked by Oxford United. He was training in Oxford to become a great footballer of the next generation, and perhaps to play for Spurs one day. He came back to north London for a weekend to see his family and friends, and when walking innocently down the road in the Stamford Hill area of my constituency he was stabbed to death for no reason other than being on the wrong side of the road and looking in the wrong way at someone in a gang of youths. He lost his life. I pay great tribute to his parents, who set up the Godwin Lawson foundation.

What lies behind such actions? Why are young men—on the whole it is young men, but sometimes it is young women—choosing to pick up knives? Why do they need that weapon? Is something going on in our society in how young men are forming a mature understanding of masculinity? Should we look at that in a more meaningful way? Does it matter that the young men who commit those crimes have so often not had responsible male role models in their lives? Is fatherhood a feature, and are we willing to discuss that, or is it irrelevant that there is an absence of responsible role models, be it a father figure or a school teacher? Does it matter that some of our primary schools have an absence of male teachers? Does it matter that we are living in a society that has made decisions similar to those in the United States of America, which have led us down the road of rampant materialism and consumerism, creating deep feelings of violence and misogyny, and leading to a culture in which whole groups of young men think it is okay to stab someone for no reason? Is that relevant to the debate and, if so, what are we going to do about it? I think it is relevant.

I was deeply disturbed to be contacted by a games console company a few months ago, which was putting together a game for which it was using the Tottenham riots as the backdrop. Is that acceptable? The company rang my office to ask me whether I wanted to feature in the game. What kind of society are we living in if it is okay to profit from something that caused so many Londoners and others across the country so much despair, and indeed, in which five people in Britain lost their lives? Does this matter?

I have come to the view that only five things are the ingredients of a successful society and country: education, employment, community, aspiration and parenting. We have a lot of discussion about education in the House and, although there is still much to do in our schools, my sense is that teachers are doing a hell of a lot, and there has been a great deal of attention on that area of policy.

We see problems when we look at the environments that so many of the young men who are committing this crime come from. They are from some of the toughest housing estates in the country, and particularly, from some of those tower blocks—such as the one that I grew up in; Broadwater Farm in Tottenham—that have gone from being working-class environments to workless-class environments. That workless class is not just about our GDP; it is about the character and dignity that comes from work, and particularly, about what surrounds the masculine culture in the environments that these young men come from and thrive in. If there is a culture of sitting around and doing nothing, then we get decay, and then we get petty criminality. There is a lack of value, particularly as regards women, I might say, so we get domestic violence and so on. We see repercussions from income not coming in. There are neighbourhoods and estates where those things happen. I know—because I have visited them—that those environments are to be found in places such as Essex and Kent, and particularly in some of the seaside towns.

There is the business of aspiration and what one aspires to. Is someone aspiring to have the latest pair of trainers? If they do not have them, are they prepared to stab someone who does, or to break into Foot Locker or JD Sports, as we saw during the riots? What we are aspiring to is hugely important. How do we create a culture in which the idea of aspiration is deeper and more meaningful than some of the frankly lightweight and superficial ideas of it that we see? I do not want to knock shows like “The X Factor”, which I enjoy, but I worry that there is a dominant idea that aspiration relates to being in the public eye, like a pop star, when it can just mean doing meaningful work, and contributing to and raising a family. Those are much simpler notions of what genuine achievement is.

There is also community. One thing that we saw during the riots in Tottenham was that the idea of community is problematic, because there can be communities within communities. There, we saw a community on Blackberry Messenger, which was exclusively made up of young people and was closed—the police could not see it—who communicated with each other and caused mayhem and violence across our country. Communities within communities exist on Facebook, on Twitter and in some unhealthy counter-cultures and sub-cultures that we are tolerating in a world that says, “Choice is everything. You can choose to be in that community or not.” The problem is that if someone’s child is knifed as a consequence of the violence and the obscene ideas of human life that exist in those communities, my God, they wish that someone had intervened in a meaningful way, to give a different vision of what was possible.

Of course, we come back to parenting, recognising that, in the end, two thirds of a young person’s life is spent out of school, so it is not sufficient for us to berate schools and tell them to do all the work. Parents matter, but it is also about recognising that where there is only one parent struggling in one of these housing developments where people are not able to make a living wage, so they cannot be with their kids because they are doing two jobs and do not have the time, that can militate against parenting and against being family. It is also about recognising that far too many of the young people caught up in this problem have been through our care system in this country, where the state was meant to be in loco parentis, but basically failed. That has been captured very well by Plan B in his film “Ill Manors”, which hon. Members should get on DVD, if they have not seen it. It is a good illustration of what goes wrong. I want to emphasise to the hon. Member for Clacton that yes, there is a criminal justice context to this issue, but we have to get to the bottom of some of the reasons for it.

The police, through the gangs initiative that was launched by the Government last year, are doing a lot around enforcement, certainly in communities such as mine. We are seeing many young people who are caught up in gang activity and knife crime being arrested and put through the criminal justice system. The problem is that I am not at all convinced that prison, with its recidivism rates, or Feltham and institutions like it are yet at the point at which I can say with full confidence that young people will come out reformed, and they will not get caught up in crime again. We seldom want to discuss that in the House.

The Mayor of London launched the important Heron initiative in Feltham prison, which was designed to work with young people before they left. There were bespoke services to help young people into employment, to work on drug addiction, and to work on the things that they needed outside, but unfortunately, the results of that were poor. It looks as though the scheme has been scrapped by the Mayor because it was costly, and the payment-by-results method that he hoped would underline it did not work.

There is a lack of ideas in this area. The Mayor said that he wanted to create a generation of mentors, which is hugely important in this area, and I am sure that young people in Clacton will need that. However, if people do not have the time to be a mentor, that is a problem. It is hugely disappointing that although he announced that he wanted 1,000 mentors when he was first elected in 2008, the Mayor has managed to get only 28. That, too, is an area that will need a lot of attention if we are to halt the decline.

I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about stop-and-search. Blanket section 60 notices, as we saw in the run-up to the riots last year, are not the way forward for Britain’s young people. Those notices designate a whole constituency as somewhere that the police can stop and search. In Tottenham, we saw the figure rise from 50 such searches in January 2011 to 237 searches in July of the same year, and we can recognise what is significant about that July, coming, as it did, the month before we saw serious unrest in London.

Doing intelligence-led, informed stop-and-searches is not the problem; the problem is when the police get lazy, frankly, about who they stop and search. We have found in London that the issue is about the police officer distinguishing between a young man on the way to the gym or university wearing a hoodie, and a young man carrying a knife. In the end, in our model of policing—policing by consent—we must carry communities with us. Our policing relies on good young people working with the police and, ultimately, not being in fear of them.

I caution the hon. Gentleman to ask himself whether stop-and-search will help, and to reflect on the underlying causes of the problem. In this era, when there is enforcement activity, the diversion and engagement of young people will be really important. That will require resources, and it will require us to understand fully what works, but it will also require us to be honest about the phenomena in our wider culture that are bringing us closer to the United States than to some of our continental European cousins, and that are driving warped senses of masculinity so that teenagers think that masculinity can be found in a knife or a gang, rather than in watching football or doing something constructive in their local community.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) on securing the debate and on his speech. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), on his even longer speech. I join the hon. Gentleman in praising Jay’s mother and friends for what they are doing to highlight the general issue of knife crime on the basis of a specific case. He rightly drew attention to the support given by Colchester’s Daily Gazette, and I should also mention the players of Colchester United football club, who have backed the campaign so well.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we must not dwell on the crime that prompted this debate, because it is still being investigated. I am sad to say that that crime happened in my constituency, and the resulting campaign has resonated in the town of Colchester. I have had the good fortune, as a result of those sad circumstances, to meet Jay’s parents and all those involved in the campaign, because, as in Clacton, they had a campaign shop for a time.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that knife crime is not simply an inner-city or, indeed, a racial issue. I first became involved in the issue following a murder in my constituency. That led me, at Prime Minister’s Question Time in 2007, to draw Prime Minister Blair’s attention to the fact that

“three times as many people are killed by knives as by guns.”

I challenged the Government of the day to do more to deal with the consequences of knife crime and with the punishment and sentencing of those involved. In fairness, Tony Blair responded:

“we are introducing tougher sentences for the possession of knives as illegal weapons.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 924-5.]

The current Government have continued down that path, as the record will show.

The tragedy in my constituency involved a man in his 20s called Westley Odger. As a result, his mother, Mrs Ann Oakes-Odger, set up a campaign called KnifeCrimes.Org in memory of her son. She has also been in contact with Jay’s mother, and the two ladies are in conversation, because they come to this issue from a shared tragic background.

As a result of the incident in my constituency, I persuaded my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee that we should hold an inquiry into knife crime, and we duly did so in spring 2009. Our seventh report—reference number HC 112-1—was published on 2 June 2009, and I hope the Minister will refer to it when he responds, because Parliament, through the Home Affairs Committee, clearly took the issue very seriously.

In preparing for today’s debate, I have looked back at my contributions on this issue and have found that, in addition to my work on the Home Affairs Committee, I have mentioned knife crime on 11 occasions, both in questions and in debate on the Floor of the House. When the Minister responds, however, will he give us an update on my parliamentary question from 2 June 2010, when I asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department

“for what reason the It Doesn’t Have to Happen.Co.UK programme on knife crime was removed from her Department’s website”—[Official Report, 2 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 11W.]

The programme had been included during the previous Administration to try to draw attention to what was going on with knife crime. As both the previous speakers have highlighted, knife crime is a growing problem, and I repeat that it is not just an inner-city or racial one.

On 21 March 2007, shortly after I put my question to Prime Minister Blair, I also presented a public petition to the House in the name of my constituent Mrs Ann Oakes-Odger. It was signed by 5,000 people and drew attention to the fact that, on 12 September 2005, her son, Westley Odger, was brutally murdered in Colchester.

All of us are aware of the problem, and I certainly share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns about random stop and search, because the unintended consequences could take us into other areas of social unrest, which could create issues that go way beyond the tragedies that involve constituents of mine and of the hon. Gentleman.

This comes back to education and awareness. I have been with Mrs Ann Oakes-Odger on at least three occasions when she has addressed gatherings. She once spoke at city hall, when 40 mothers and fathers were present, each of whom was holding a framed photograph of their child—it was mainly a son, but occasionally a daughter—who had been killed by knives.

The Home Affairs Committee inquiry showed that those who carry knives quite often bring crime on themselves; it showed that knives are not a protection for people, but actually cause others with knives to attack them. I hope that I am not paraphrasing the inquiry too much. Many deaths involve innocent people, such as those whom the hon. Gentleman and I have mentioned, but some people lose their lives through being mixed up in gang culture. That brings us to education, leadership and role models—all the things that have been mentioned.

Knife crime is a curse of the 21st century and a growing problem. We should have mandatory sentencing of those who carry knives, unless there are exceptional circumstances, as there sometimes can be. I was told of a horticultural student who had a pruning knife in his pocket. Of course, he should not have taken it out of college, but I mention that because there may be occasions when people innocently have a knife, although they are the exceptions. As a general rule, the courts must have more powers, but in finding a solution, we must be careful—I am repeating what the right hon. Gentleman said, because it is important—that it does not have an unintended consequence. Stop-and-search has been shown, particularly in inner cities, to have unintended consequences sometimes.

While we are talking about the influences on young people who carry knives—sad to say, many lives have been lost as a result—we should remember that most of the killers have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs. What should society demand that the House of Commons do about that? Relaxing the hours in which people can consume alcohol surely has unintended consequences, because people fuelled by alcohol can take a knife and quickly turn themselves into a killer.

I do not think that I am competent to comment on the specific details. Our inquiry showed there was drug activity around some knife crimes. I endorse the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention about licensing hours being too long, but I do not think there is a proven link between alcohol and knife crime. I stand to be corrected, but my recollection is that there may be drug-related activity around knife crime, whereas I am not aware of its alcohol side. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.

All of us—politicians, the education system and communities, both individually and collectively—have a role in instilling the understanding in young people that if they carry a knife they could get a lengthy jail sentence or, worse, become a victim themselves. I conclude by congratulating the hon. Member for Clacton again on focusing attention on this issue.

I thank the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) for bringing the debate to Westminster Hall. He spoke with passion and concern and reflected heartfelt constituency pressure to raise the issue and consider solutions to the problem of knife crime. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Members for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and for South Antrim (Dr McCrea). They have shown by their remarks that not only in Essex, where the tragic incident that we have heard about happened, but in inner London, Northern Ireland—which I know well from previous ministerial involvement—and throughout the United Kingdom, the concerns that the hon. Member for Clacton has raised need to be addressed by the Government. There is a need to look for possible solutions, to reduce knife crime and the resulting deaths.

I was struck by the comments of the hon. Member for Clacton about the death of Jay Whiston and by the fact that because of that tragedy, irrespective of any pending court case, Jay’s family and friends, and people in Clacton, have said that it is not just for the Government and the police to deal with the issue; it is for us to make a stand and make comments and contributions, and act to save lives in future. Families have responded in that way before. I hope that there will not be further families in that position; but Jay’s family are taking the issue seriously, and it is a tribute to them as much as to the hon. Gentleman that they have brought it to his attention and that he has responded.

I cannot claim to be an expert in the subject, but I spent my last three years in government, before the 2010 general election, in the Home Office and, before that, the Ministry of Justice. Knife crime was on our agenda; it was something that we had to consider and deal with. I hope that we responded in a way that helps to militate against the likelihood of future deaths, despite Jay’s tragic death a few weeks ago. I say that because the solutions that we considered then are still worthy of consideration. I want to hear how the Government can develop those ideas, to help to put a stop to incidents and reduce the likelihood of injury and death.

One of the most tragic things that I had to face in government was the fact that with every knife death I received a report on my desk, containing the details and circumstances. Even when we had invested time and energy in taking steps to reduce, as I hoped, the number of further knife deaths, some of the most painful things that I, departmental officials and the police who were seconded to the Department had to do were meeting victims’ families, listening to their concerns and trying to set out some policy development to help them. I am not talking about what we did out of any sense of pride, but I hope that it will be understood that, as part of the development of a response to a growing trend, the previous Government considered several initiatives to bring the issue to the public’s attention and take effective action.

As a Minister, together with Jacqui Smith, I considered the supply of mobile search wands to police forces. In inner city areas, for example, or elsewhere on Saturday nights—in towns such as Clacton—police could bring forward mobile search arches, so that people who turned up for social events had to walk through an arch for the detection of knives or, indeed, guns. On average, I authorised 150,000 stop-and-searches in a year, which resulted in 3,500 knives being confiscated. That did not stop the problem, so I brought legislation through the House to double the maximum sentence for possession of a knife from two to four years. We increased the age at which knives may be purchased in shops for legitimate uses from 16 to 18 and ran a strong campaign with retailers, so that their staff knew that people who went into B and Q, Tesco, Sainsbury’s or other stores could not sell any knife over the counter to someone under the age of 18. Trading standards strongly enforced that as part of our work.

Among other solutions for the longer term, we considered how to give new powers of stop-and-search to head teachers in schools, because people often took knives into schools. That was a powerful deterrent. Equally important was helping to support and advise parents, so that they could understand what activities their young people were taking part in. That is why an important initiative for the future was the 5,300 safer school partnerships, with dedicated police officers allocated to schools to advise parents and carry out enforcements.

The hon. Member for Colchester mentioned advertising campaigns, and the previous Government allocated £3 million to an advertising campaign on television and in bus shelters and on boards, in areas with the highest rate of knife crime, to show people that knives are not about an individual carrying a sexy object around, but are about death, destruction and a potential 30-year prison sentence for someone who commits murder.

We need to revisit those ideas. I hope that the Minister will consider what the previous Government did. The present Government have taken forward some relevant issues. Education, enforcement and changes to sentences are important. They can send deterrent messages and give people the power to tackle knife crime effectively. I give credit to the Government for recent moves to ensure that such activity continues. Their gun and knife crime initiative last year was extremely valid, and they have undertaken a range of activities, similar in some ways to what we did in the last years of the previous Government, which raised the issue effectively.

Despite my best efforts and those of the Government, the evaluation of our work on all the relevant issues, such as enforcement and sentencing, showed that knife crime had not really changed. That is why I welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham. Not only are there things that we and the Government can do about enforcement, education, sentencing, catching and deterring people and providing wider understanding, but there is the issue that he mentioned of the underlying causes and culture. I think that there is a culture—partly to do with the modern technology of games and other activity—in which human life is cheap and can be thrown away, and we need to look at that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham makes good points about adult role models, employment and social conditions. He also makes a good point about technology moving on, so that the Xbox can be used to communicate in a way that police and others cannot track. That takes us to other debates that we will have elsewhere about the potential to monitor that type of social media, and the balance between a legitimate interest of the state and the rights and freedoms of individuals to live without state interference.

There is one area where I disagree slightly with the hon. Member for Clacton. He said that this is a localism issue. I think that it is—I would be interested to hear from the Minister how the new police and crime commissioners will deal with it locally and what the relationship between the Home Office and PCCs will be—but central Government can set down some key messages and policy directions, as has been done in the past, through the tackling knives action programme that the previous Government introduced and the current Government’s youth and gangs programme, which provide additional resources targeted at specific areas.

I am genuinely interested in the various initiatives that the right hon. Gentleman implemented as a Home Office Minister. I have learned something new. Is not the real significance, by his own admission—I do not wish to be confrontational or partisan—that, despite all that, the problem was not solved? Perhaps that centralist mentality and the idea that it can be solved centrally is the problem. Perhaps it is precisely because we are searching for public policy innovation in the Home Office that we are not getting anywhere. The place to find the innovation is out there locally.

There is a balance between the two. Some of the ideas introduced under my jurisdiction as a Minister and some of those that the current Government are taking forward were locally approved solutions. A money pot was available centrally for people to bid against under the auspices of our knife action programme. That is why we had imaginative solutions: in some areas the focus was on head teachers; in others, it was on knife wands; in others, on stop and search; and in others, education.

In a key area, the focus was on those people who had been sentenced for knife offences. One of the most innovative projects that I visited was at Liverpool prison and in Leeds, where people who had been involved in knife crime and been sentenced were going through an intensive programme of knife-related activities to show some of the consequences and how they could be deterred from committing such offences again. Most prisoners who have not committed murder will go out again in a relatively short time. I am interested in looking not just at prevention but, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, at the work with those who have been sentenced for offences that are knife-related but not murder.

In acknowledging some of the answers, we must not forget parental responsibility. Parents are responsible for their children in their homes. From speaking to the families of victims of knife crime, does the right hon. Gentleman know that there is a belief that quite often Parliament or Governments and their initiatives have been a reaction to events rather than being proactive? Is that a misconception, or do we need to change how we tackle the issue?

I think we do have to react to events. Governments often respond because things happen and that is perfectly legitimate. I want to press the Minister on one issue in particular. Given the evaluation of the work of the previous Government, taken with police and local authority advice and with budgets provided centrally, such as the TKAP activity, and given that it has been said that there was not necessarily a discernible change in behaviour, I would like the Minister to talk not just about the good initiatives that he is taking now to tackle knife, gun and gang crime, but about the equally important, longer-term behavioural issues and societal changes mentioned by hon. Members.

The Government are funding additional support to police forces in three areas—London, Manchester and the west midlands—where more than half the country’s knife crime occurs. There are prevention grants, further funds and a whole range of ongoing activities. That funding runs out in March 2013. Given the range of activities pursued by the previous Government and this Government’s initiative on guns, knife and gang crime, will there still be in 2013, as there will have been for nearly six years, a pot of money centrally allocated by the Home Office for distribution to local authorities and police forces such as in Essex or Clacton? Will that still be there post-2013? At the moment, the five years’ work that I have outlined and that the Minister will outline ends in March 2013. What is the post-2013 financial responsibility?

What relationship does the Minister see between PCCs and central Government? Where does the responsibility now lie? Will the solution be entirely local, or will guidance and suggestions still come from a central Government Minister? Will he particularly look at the worrying statistics that came out earlier this year? I took through the Commons legislation that increased from two years to four years the penalty for carrying a knife. This year, 51 of 1,100 juveniles caught with an offensive weapon were locked up in jail. We spent a lot of time taking that legislation through the Commons to increase the penalty. We spent a lot of time publicising it and enforcing it. Yet we have a situation where 51 out of 1,100 juveniles caught are given a custodial sentence. Is that where we should be? I am not saying that it is or it is not; I am simply asking the Minister to focus on those issues.

Although incidents that involve the possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon have dropped in this period, from 5,194 to 4,270, a smaller proportion of offenders is now going to jail. I simply ask whether or not we should take this route. I ask the Home Office what research is being done on the qualitative impact on prison population issues.

Will the Minister look again at the initiatives taken over the past five or so years to see which have worked in the longer term? The previous Government picked 16 or 17 geographical areas to look at serious knife crime. As I have mentioned, three areas—London, the west midlands and Greater Manchester—are where most knife crime occurs. If we want to reduce knife crime, we need to focus on areas such as Clacton where this terrible incident has occurred. However, to make a qualitative impact we need to look at the driving forces in Manchester, the west midlands and London that are leading to half the incidents of knife crime being in those three areas.

I suggest to the Minister that the Mayor of London; Bob Jones, the new police and crime commissioner for the west midlands; and Tony Lloyd, our former colleague, the new police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, are three people he should have in his office speedily to look at what can be done in those areas, over and above what has been done to date.

I throw those ideas in, not because I am an expert or have sage advice on such matters. However, experience has shown me that this is a difficult issue with many aspects that need to be addressed to resolve it. The hon. Member for Clacton has done a service to the House and his constituents by bringing this debate about those, such as Jay Whiston, who have lost their lives through knife crime. I hope that those who watch, listen and read about the debate recognise that there is a drive from all parties in the House to ensure that no other family and community need to face that ever again.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make the final contribution to this extremely important debate, which will be of genuine interest to people around the country who have day-to-day experience of the terrible circumstances that we are discussing. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) for bringing the issue before us, as well as to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and the Opposition spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who have all spoken. Because I have a little more time to respond than is sometimes the case in such debates, I want to engage more directly in some of the points that hon. Members have raised.

It was interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton said that although the Government and the state—in the form of the police—have a role to play, this is not just about central Government finding solutions and telling local communities what those solutions are, but about local communities seeking their own solutions. Police and crime commissioners can play a leadership role on that. They are not the only people with responsibility, but they do have a responsibility in this area. The right hon. Member for Tottenham compellingly developed that theme when he talked about the cultural context. However many laws we pass in this House and however much advertising we use taxpayers’ money to fund, cultural issues are probably the biggest determining factor for success in this area.

Why do most people choose not to carry a knife? Some people might carry knives for a rational reason—because they may feel that it makes them more secure. They may, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester reminded us, be miscalculating, but they nevertheless made that miscalculation for rational reasons. Most people do not carry knives. Most people think that it is wrong to carry a knife, and that it is certainly wrong to brandish and use one. Why do they come to that conclusion and, interestingly, why does the opinion of the minority who do not come to that conclusion differ from the consensus? To a large degree, it is about factors beyond the direct control of central Government.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham talked about aspiration: what is smart and respected by peers, and what wins their admiration? Is the answer, in some communities—particularly, but not exclusively, among groups of young men—carrying a knife? Does that make someone seem smarter, tougher and more sophisticated than some of the boys and young men who do not carry a knife? Is that considered more worthy of admiration than being good at sport, for example? In a way, sport is a slightly lazy default object of admiration, so why is it not about being good at playing a musical instrument or speaking a foreign language, or helping disabled children’s groups in the community? Why are those characteristics, which are much harder to attain and require sustained application, not regarded as being as worthy of peer admiration as something as simple yet mindless as carrying a knife? That interesting fundamental question goes beyond what we can legislate on.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham also talked about parenting, and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; we are in the same Government, but not the same party. Members might have different views about the ideas he puts forward on behalf of the Government, but he is grasping the nettle tightly and showing an obvious personal interest in trying to get to the root causes of social failure in our country, rather than paying people to be out of sight and out of mind. Intergenerational social failure can have the devastating consequences of not only violent crime, but the waste of time, effort, talent and ambition by those squandering their lives doing nothing much in particular.

What is the role for parents and role models? The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting observation about the shortage of male primary school teachers. Socially, my constituency is in many ways different from his, but it is striking that we can go to a small to medium-sized primary school there and see no male teachers at all. Boys with a lot of energy—good boys with nothing wrong with them, but with a lot of energy to work out of their system—are placed in settings that may sometimes be excessively feminine for their requirements. They cannot grow up in the way that they might have done if they had male role models to look up to. I am not talking about superstars on TV, although they can be role models, but about ordinary older boys and men in communities whose influence such boys could be exposed to in a positive way.

Having talked about things for which the Government are not directly responsible, it is important for me, as the Minister, also to discuss things for which the Government are directly responsible. It is important that we have this opportunity to discuss knife crime. It is worth saying that knife crime is wholly unacceptable and has devastating consequences for our communities, as we have heard this afternoon. Tackling it is a key priority for the Government, but we know that there are no quick fixes or magic bullets to tackle knife crime and violence. If we could pass a law to solve the problem, we would do so, but it is not as straightforward as that. We need long-term, evidence-based solutions to get a proper grip on the problems, and that needs concerted effort across a wide range of areas.

We believe that cautions are being used excessively for possession of a knife, which was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton. The Prime Minister announced a review of knife sentencing on 22 October. We want to ensure that such offences are dealt with appropriately, which is why we are working with colleagues from across the criminal justice system to review the punishments available for carrying a knife. The Association of Chief Police Officers has also revised its guidance on the investigation, cautioning and charging of knife crime offences. The guidance states clearly that there is an expectation to charge all those who illegally carry and use knives. The right hon. Member for Delyn touched on whether there is a gap between what the House expects to happen and what happens in practice. I acknowledge that there is a gap, and we are looking at ways in which it can be filled.

Knife crime, like any form of violence, cannot be tackled in isolation. We need every partnership agency to engage to solve the problem. It is about not only the police and the courts ensuring that they take knife crime seriously, but many other organisations, such as the health service and schools. The right hon. Member for Tottenham mentioned care homes and institutions, which look after children in the most severe disadvantage when the state has taken responsibility for their upbringing. There are also voluntary services, and I have already touched upon communities.

Tackling knife crime is also about parents taking responsibility. It is worth making the point that most parents do take responsibility, but if a parent has a teenage child—probably a son—out at night after dark, which may be a particular problem at this time of year, do they know where that child is? It is always difficult with teenagers, but there is a rightful expectation that parents treat 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds as 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds. They are not fully-fledged adults. They need guidance and supervision, and parents have a responsibility to help to provide that supervision.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of citizens are law-abiding and live responsible lives. Although this may go against the overall tone of the debate, I want to say that there is some cause for encouragement. Individual victims and their families are of course devastated by such crimes, and serious problems exist, but there are also reasons to believe that the overall picture is not as overwhelmingly bleak as people listening to the debate might imagine.

According to official statistics, the number of offences involving knives and sharp instruments has fallen by 9% in the past year. In 2011-12, the police recorded 30,999 serious violent crimes involving a knife, which represented a reduction. Before hon. Members try to intervene, I acknowledge that that is 31,000 very serious incidents with potentially devastating consequences, but it is worth pointing out that that is slightly fewer such incidents than in the preceding year. I hope that groups—whether officials in the Home Office who are trying to devise more effective policy, or people working for youth or community organisations in hon. Members’ constituencies—feel that what they do makes a difference and that they do not have to bow to a counsel of despair.

I hope that the Minister is right that knife crime has reached a high water point and is in decline. I do not expect him to have this information with him, but it would be interesting to draw some comparisons with the figure from 10 years ago.

My hon. Friend is right that, regrettably, I do not have the figure for 10 years ago. The inference behind his question is that if we have seen a substantial rise and perhaps some encouraging signs that this is beginning to subside, we must also recognise that, until it has subsided to its earlier level—and ideally lower still—there will be a lot more work to do. I would not for one moment wish to suggest otherwise.

I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Government are in favour not of cautioning, but of a default rule towards prosecution. What fiat does the Home Office have to change that approach, or is it for police and crime commissioners to decide?

I will come on to that. As I have said, I have spoken about several areas that are not the direct responsibility of the Government, and I want to reach those that are more in my area of ministerial responsibility.

The figure that the Minister cites is welcome but, perhaps after the debate, I would welcome a breakdown of juvenile, domestic violence and adult crimes. The debate has focused on juvenile crime, but not on domestic violence and adult crime, which are equally important. Will the Minister reflect on that outside the Chamber?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the disaggregation of statistics. We are talking about a crime that causes people huge concern. Even those who have never been or known victims fear the seemingly random and devastating nature of the crime. I take that very seriously, and we will certainly look at the disaggregated statistics to see where we can make further improvements.

In the time remaining, I want to talk about police and crime commissioners, legal changes and wider Government policy, but I will start by addressing gangs and youth violence, because much knife crime happens in that context. Young people who are involved in gangs are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour generally and to carry a weapon. We cannot look at knife crime, gangs and gun crime in isolation, which was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester.

As part of our programme on ending gang and youth violence, we have provided funding and support to the 29 areas that have been identified as having the most significant gang and youth violence problems. I acknowledge that other areas have problems, but we are targeting Government attention on those where the problem is greatest. The Home Office has reprioritised £10 million of funding for this financial year to support those areas.

The new programme builds on work that is already under way, including the communities against guns, gangs and knives programme. As the right hon. Member for Delyn mentioned, that programme has directed an additional £3.75 million over two years to three police forces—in London, Greater Manchester and the west midlands—in which there is disproportionately more gang crime and associated violent crime, including with knives.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to meeting the police and crime commissioners. I am pleased to inform him that all of them from England and Wales will meet throughout Monday at the Home Office with the Home Secretary and other Ministers, including me. We will certainly take the opportunity to talk to them about some of the good ideas and best practice that we have tried to develop as a Government or that has been developed in other parts of the country. That will equip them to implement good ideas from elsewhere, while also formulating their own.

As well as preventing young people from getting involved in violence and gang activity, action must be taken against those who break the law. As the law stands, carrying a knife in a public place is already an offence with a maximum penalty of four years. As the right hon. Gentleman said, that change was introduced a few years ago. As part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Government have strengthened the law on the possession of knives by creating the new offence of carrying a knife or offensive weapon in a public place or school when the weapon is used to threaten or endanger others. There is clearly a distinction between someone carrying a weapon who claims that it is for legitimate purposes, and someone brandishing one in a way that is intended to threaten or intimidate.

I shall, once I have finished this short section of my speech.

That offence attracts a minimum mandatory sentence of six months for over-18s and a minimum four-month detention and training order for 16 and 17-year-olds. Those sentences are attracted not by stabbing someone with a knife, but by displaying one in a prominent way. By building on the existing tough knife crime laws in the United Kingdom, that provides a clear message to those who possess a knife to threaten and endanger others that they can expect to face imprisonment. The offences will come into force on 3 December—next week.

I do not have that information available. I think that the policy has been developed to deal with the specific problem of knife crime.

Hon. Members talked about stop-and-search. There have been calls for the police to carry out more stop-and-search. The police do an important job—obviously, they are an important part of the equation—including by having a focus on preventing, deterring and combating violent crime or the use of knives. Stop-and-search is a vital part of a police officer’s role in deterring and combating crime, but the Government’s opinion is that it is important that stop-and-search is used in a targeted and intelligence-led way, with the support of communities, because that is how it is most likely to have the desired effect of protecting the public. The children of people from all backgrounds can be the victims of violent crime, and it is in the interests of people across society that we help the police to combat that.

I have talked about the importance of tackling gangs in relation to knife crime, and I now turn to the wider society. Police and crime commissioners have an important role to play. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton talked about not having a postcode lottery. I think that he mentioned a precise, postcode-targeted—

A postcode-specific approach. We do not want police and crime commissioners to be only civil servants who implement Government policy in their force area; we want them to think of themselves as leaders in their force area. I want police and crime commissioners to learn from others who seem to be doing well and are tackling crime effectively in their force areas. I want them to work with groups that might not be seen as particularly fashionable, including the Churches and youth organisations such as cadets and scouts.

Many young people feel as though they are big and tough when they are brandishing a knife, but only five years before, in some cases, they were little boys. For some of them, being given an opportunity to have a structure or support network in their early and more formative years can be very beneficial. I hope that, by giving children from different backgrounds the opportunity to come together and learn from one another, the Government’s national citizenship programme will also make a contribution.

In conclusion, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton on securing the debate and express the sympathy of the whole Government for the terrible circumstances that have led to our having this discussion.