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Youth Offending

Volume 728: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2023

The “Beating crime plan” of 2021 highlighted, once again, the importance of early intervention for young people. One such programme is our support for 200 voluntary and community projects to engage children at risk of involvement in crime through mentoring and sports activities.

I am keen to see a more preventive approach to crime committed by young adults, particularly knife crime. In 2017, Ryan Passey, aged only 24, lost his life to a perpetrator with a knife, and we are still seeking justice. Will the Minister join me and the Passey family in exploring more ways of reaching out to young adults to ensure that carrying a knife does not become the norm? We all know that people who carry a knife risk becoming either a perpetrator or a victim.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously I cannot comment on this individual case, but I join her in extending my sympathies to Ryan’s family. We have to do everything we can to bear down on serious violence, and serious violence reduction orders are part of that. The work of youth offending teams is also important in trying to catch people before they turn into more hardened criminals. Even before that, what happens in schools and in our communities is fundamental to helping children and young people stay on the right course.

We see a concerning number of young people being criminally exploited by drugs gangs, particularly in Stoke-on-Trent. Will my right hon. Friend look at what more can be done to prevent young people, particularly the most vulnerable, from being drawn into a cycle of criminality?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am always keen to hear from him on this important subject. The Government have invested a lot of money in the 10-year drugs plan, and there is a strong commitment across Government to making sure we see through those commitments. He is also right that the best intervention point draws young people away from the lure and the great personal danger of drugs in the first place. The youth offending teams are part of that, and the new Turnaround early intervention programme goes further, alongside programmes such as the youth justice sport fund.

I do not think the public are convinced that the Minister is serious about preventing children and young people from entering the criminal justice system. I say that because £1 billion has been slashed from youth services, 750 youth centres have closed and 14,000 youth and community jobs have been axed. This Government have consistently cut services for children and young people. Will he agree to look again at the Government’s policies and, indeed, to follow Labour’s plan to invest in youth services?

It is not the case that we do not have a comprehensive approach to supporting young people. The Turnaround programme is an important new investment in this area. By the way, fewer under-18s are being incarcerated than when Labour was in government. It is right to try to keep people out of young offender institutions—out of being deprived of their liberty—where, quite often, they turn into more hardened criminals. We must also ensure that there is community support, and programmes such as the youth justice sport fund, which my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary launched the other day, are an important part of that.

People in Hull North are a bit fed up with a very small minority of young people who are blighting their community through antisocial behaviour, including, most recently, throwing objects at buses, which has meant the suspension of bus services to an area of the country that has a very low rate of car ownership. What more can the Government do to help police forces such as Humberside, which is a top performing police force, and Hull City Council, which has seen its budget slashed over the past 13 years by this Government, to divert young people from crime and to deal with young offenders early?

I understand what the right hon. Lady says about the frustration and anger felt by her constituents when they have to deal with antisocial behaviour. In different ways, it is something that all hon. Members have to deal with, and it is important that we bear down on it. A range of out-of-court disposals is available to be used for young people, and there are diversions to help them get back on the right path. It is difficult for me to comment about the specific case of the kids throwing things at buses without knowing more about it, but I have no doubt that she will be in close contact with her local authority and her police as needed.