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Crime: Teenage Murders

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assessment they have made of the causes of the recent violent deaths among teenagers; and what priority the Home Office intends to give to the matter.

My Lords, the violent death of any young person is a tragedy. The Home Office has given, and continues to give, the issues of guns and knife crime the highest priority. We continue to work closely with law enforcement, other government departments and the community and voluntary sector to look at the causes of violence and how we can tackle it. This informs our three-themed approach of policing, powers and prevention.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that these violent incidents are the result as much of relational poverty as of material poverty? To what extent has the Home Office analysed the effects of relational poverty and formulated policies to address it?

My Lords, we take these issues very seriously; for that reason, Communities That Care, the Safer London Youth Survey 2004, identified risk factors that can lead to violent behaviour. They include a variety of issues, such as family conflict, low achievement at school, the availability of drugs or weapons, and a lack of social commitment. Those factors are being tackled by cross-government programmes, including the respect action plan, Every Child Matters and extended schools.

My Lords, the role of mentors has already been raised. Does the Minister recognise that it is relevant in this case, too, that children with no adult role models, particularly male adults, are increasingly at risk on our streets and feel safe only when they are in a gang, which perpetuates the problem? Will he therefore look at initiatives such as the Rainer Lambeth Youth Inclusion Programme, which unites education, social services and mentoring services to provide an area in which a young person can live and feel secure without resorting to violence?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise mentoring schemes as one of the approaches that works well; it is part of the thinking behind our preventative work. We have been funding many projects through the Connected Fund. Those include mentoring and relate to family structure and organisation and the closeness of communities. We recognise fully the part that those facets can play in solving problems relating to gun crime and knife crime in our communities.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that a great gap is the lack of a strategic youth service, thought through to meet modern difficulties, with outreach workers who understand new ways of working with extraordinarily difficult young people? Does he agree that, while the voluntary sector, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is filling much of that gap, it would be better if plans were made right across the sector?

My Lords, I understand entirely the noble Baroness’s point; she has great experience, knowledge and understanding of the field. The Government benefit greatly from the advice and assistance we get, particularly from the voluntary sector. That is one reason why we have spent as much as we have. The latest estimate I have seen suggests that we put £1.6 billion a year into services for young people. Programmes such as Connexions, Positive Activities for Young People, the Neighbourhood Support Fund and so on make an important contribution in this field.

My Lords, the impact of gun crime and knife crime is considerable in inner-city areas. On volunteers, has the Minister given any consideration to the involvement of black church groups and other ethnic groups in schools, youth activities and institutions, so that the seriousness of these crimes is brought to the attention of young people as they grow up?

My Lords, we work with all faith communities and support the initiatives undertaken in many instances by different faith groups and churches. We should keep a sense of proportion about the issue. It is terrifying that we have gun crime and knife crime in our communities but, by and large, the level of knife crime is stable and declining and there has been a sharp reduction in gun crime. We are making progress, and there have been considerable successes. I encourage the noble Lord and others to focus on that, because it helps to give a lead in this field.

My Lords, last March the Metropolitan Police Commissioner warned that, while most victims of gang violence knew their perpetrators, many fear the consequences of speaking out and are therefore reluctant to go to the police. What steps are the Government taking, for example through witness protection, to encourage teenagers to come forward and assist the police in dealing with violent incidents?

My Lords, we do put resources into witness protection. Together with the police, we have committed many resources to securing that sort of activity, and it pays a benefit. We must at all times encourage witnesses to come forward, because we need properly to prosecute offenders.

My Lords, will the Minister pay tribute to initiatives such as the Damilola Taylor Trust campaign which take seriously those young people who have been involved in knife crime and gun crime and have turned away from it? It invites young people to,

“respect your life, not a knife”,

and therefore builds on the fact that there are young people who have turned away from this kind of activity and have much to contribute to their peers.

My Lords, I certainly pay tribute to the projects that have come out of the tragic case of Damilola Taylor. The Government have invested a great deal in programmes such as Positive Futures which provide lifestyle, educational and employment opportunities for young people. We have focused those activities and that spending in many inner-city and deprived areas. In particular, I pay tribute to the respect action plan, which has channelled funding very wisely into many projects to make more useful and valuable community activities available to many deprived youths.