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Mr. Malins: I am following the hon. Gentlemans argument about reoffending, but in one way the situation is even worse. The figures vary from age to age, but the statistics show that somewhere between 70 and 90 per cent. of young people on release reoffend, which means that they reoffend up to 4.5 times on average in one year. However, he will realise that, because only about one in seven crimes is detected, that figure probably means that a young man on release will have reoffended up to 30 times in one year, so we are talking about reoffending not just once, but many times.
Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, which emphasises the need to try alternatives to short custodial sentencesalternatives that do not involve educating young men in skills that we do not want them to acquire, and at an extremely high cost to the taxpayer. That is why I find so unsatisfactory the knee-jerk reaction of those on the Labour and Conservative Benches whenever there is a problemLock them up for longer and throw away the key, which flies in the face of the evidence of what works.
Ms Abbott: More than 25 years ago, I was a career civil servant in the prison department in the Home Office, working on criminal justice policy. Twenty-five years ago, when sentences were longer, the reconviction rates were the same. All things being equal, young people are much more likely to reoffend if they are given a custodial sentence. The experts have known that for a quarter of a century. When are we as politicians going to move away from the knee-jerk reactions of the tabloid press and deal with what works?
Chris Huhne: I very much agree with the hon. Lady and congratulate her on her excellent sound effects earlier in the debate. I certainly agree that criminalising a generation of young people who have become involved in knife crime, rather than addressing the reason why they become involvedexclusion from school, fear, peer pressure, gang membership, social deprivation and poverty or family breakdown, to name but a fewdoes the young people of this country a great disservice.
What we need, in addition to more effective stop and search and the wider implementation of the Cardiff model, is an end to the blanket criminalisation of young people. Of course those convicted of serious and violent crimes need to be dealt with proportionately, but we need to stop young people turning to crime in the first place and help those who stray into it to get back on the right track. Preventive programmes, such as a youth volunteer force, should be created to give kids something to do and to provide skills for later life. There should be more youth facilities to stop the devil making work for idle hands. There should also be more dedicated youth workers in safer neighbourhood teams and an effort by schools not only to identify kids at risk of being sucked into gangs at a young age, but to contact and enrol their parents in the fight to stop that happening.
For those who are beginning to commit low-level offences, acceptable behaviour contracts and positive behaviour orders should be used, which, unlike antisocial behaviour orders and curfews, require offenders to take responsibility for making amends for their actions without criminalising them unnecessarily. Custodial sentences are of course necessary for serious and serial criminals, but they should be the last resort, not the first.
That is a major point of difference between us and the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, who talked about the presumption of a custodial sentence for carrying a knife. It is already possible to send someone to jail for four years for carrying a knife, but we cannot punish anyone unless we catch them first. What is needed to tackle knife crime is a lot less posturing about punishments and a lot more catching criminals by using the obvious tools that we have to hand. Labour cannot change its policies and the Conservatives have barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done.
Justine Greening: I am interested in the hon. Gentlemans comment that so little is being done. Presumably he is aware of Operation Blunt Two in London. In the past year, more than 2 million people have been stopped, 10,000 arrests have been madea rate of one every 51 minutesand 25,500 knives have been seized. There has been a 30 per cent. fall in serious stabbings, and 90 per cent. of those caught in possession of a knife have been charged. Is that a good performance?
Chris Huhne: I began my speech, as I hope the hon. Lady recognises, by citing the fact that there has been a fall in knife crime and that the problem is being tackled. I find it distressing, however, that some of the easiest hits on getting knife crime down are being missed, particularly the application of the Cardiff model. We know that that model has reduced the number of people being admitted to hospital with knife wounds by 40 per cent. in the areas in which it has been applied. That is potentially a very dramatic gain, and we ought to be making it a serious, top-rate public priority to ensure that it happens. I do not get a sense of urgency, either today from the new Home Secretary or from his Department and its officials; nor is there an acknowledgement that this is an easy hit that could provide real action very quickly.
We will support the Opposition motion today because its emphasis is right, but we believe that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that is able to take a targeted and effective approach to knife crime that will really work.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I say to the House that as about seven hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, that suggests a tariff of about 15 minutes? Perhaps each person who is called will bear that in mind.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I will certainly bear that in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I know that your request was not directed only at me. My speeches can be quite brief on occasions of this kind.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). He and the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) gave evidence to the Select Committee and they can take credit for the recommendations that we made in respect of knife crime. I also want to reiterate my welcome to the Home Secretary. If every debate on Home Affairs issues is as consensual as this one, they will be extremely boring for the public, who expect them to be extremely robust. We
will take this one as an exception, however. I perceive in this debate a willingness on the part of all the political parties to work together to ensure that we rise above party politics to find a long-term solution to the problem of knife crime that is affecting this country.
The motion tabled by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is one that I can gladly vote for. I know that the Government have tabled an amendment to it, but I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate, he will tell us that the Government will not vote against the Conservative motion. It would be good to send a message to the public that on some issuesnot all, by any meanswe can be united in our hope to deal with a major problem.
I also want to place on record my appreciation of the work of the previous Home Secretary. It is in the nature of democratic politics that we do not get to say goodbye before people go, even though the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell tried to say goodbye to my right hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) the last time she was here
In my view, my right hon. Friend was a first-class Home Secretary, certainly as far as the Select Committee was concerned. Whenever we asked her to give evidence to us, she readily did so. She was always available to provide us with information, and I hope that the new Home Secretary will take the same position. I know that the Select Committee is seeking an early meeting with him; we have given him some dates to consider.
I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), formerly a Minister of State at the Home Office. He has now left the Department and gone to one with which, as a former schoolteacher, he has a kinship. He is the son of policeman, so obviously having the job of policing Minister was good for him, but he has now gone off to be the Minister with responsibility for children and schools. I wish him well. He, too, was very willing to work with the Select Committee.
I welcome the Minister of State, Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), to his new position. I have known him for many years in the House and I wish him well. He has a tough job. He will find the Select Committee very robust with him. He has just left the Ministry of Justice with the Sonnex case ringing in his ears. As I say, he can expect us to be very strong with him over ensuring that there is a proper joined-up criminal justice system. As someone who has come from the Ministry of Justice, he will understand the need to ensure that it is seamless. I do not blame him for what happened in the Sonnex case, although until last week he was the Minister responsible for probation. We hope that he will keep a close eye on what is happening in the Home Office.
All Members were right to mention the massive concern among the public and in the media about knife crime. We tend to react to high-profile cases, which is why the Select Committee felt it important to ensure that we did not produce our report too quickly; we wanted to bring
together all the stakeholders, including the Opposition parties, the voluntary sector, the Government, the NHS and so forthso that together we could try to fashion a number of recommendations that would be readily accepted by all political parties.
I did not intervene when the Home Secretary was presenting statistics, but I do not absolutely share his rosy view that knife crime has disappeared. There are, of course, trends showing that knife crime has reduced, but the headline figures are still very worrying indeed. Knife homicides increased by 26.9 per cent. between 2005 and 2007, and there were a total of 270 knife murders in 2007-08the highest since the homicide index was invented in 1977. Knives were used in 6 per cent. of the British crime surveys violent incidents in 2007 and in approximately 138,000 robberies, woundings or assaults.
Although there was a bit of banter about the hospital statistics, the fact is that the number of patients admitted to hospitals after stab wounds rose by 48 per cent. The total number of admissions to A and E5,239may seem relatively small, but the percentage increase causes us a great deal of worry. That is why the Select Committee fully accepted the Liberal Democrat viewpoint when the hon. Member for Eastleigh gave evidence: it is no good Manchester producing those figures and Leicester not producing them; they should be readily available to all the agencies that seek to deal with this important matter. Whether or not that amounts to central control, or central diktat, we need those figures if we are to get a clear picture of what is happening.
It is, of course, the victims about whom we should be primarily concerned. If any criticism of the Select Committee report could be madeand I make it as its Chairmanit is probably that we did not spend enough time talking to the victims. It is in practical terms difficult to do, because there are so many of them, so we concentrated on those who had entered the public domain and the people who were prepared to come and talk to the Committee about their own personal experiences. It is important to highlight the necessity to provide as much information as possible to the victims during the processes of the criminal justice system. If we do that, we will be much stronger in dealing with the overall causes of knife crime.
What are the causes? I know that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was not overly taken by our description of an arms race. He pointed out that the vast majority of young people do not go around carrying knives; only a small proportion carry them, but the damage they do is profound. The Select Committee used the term arms race because we thought it an appropriate description of why young people decided to carry knives. A survey conducted by the OCJSOffending, Crime and Justice Surveyshowed that 85 per cent. of knife carriers in 2006 said that they carried their knives for protection. In other words, the only reason why they were carrying knives was that they felt that someone else was doing so, so they must protect themselves.
That means that there is a real problem with those who are supposed to protect young people: parents, the statethrough the policecommunity services and, indeed, schools. We concluded that those four agencies were primarily responsible for ensuring that young people were protected, and that their failure, either individually or collectively, had led to an increase in the level of
knife carrying. Someone who carries a knife and is in a situation of violence is likely to use that knife; that, in my view, is the reason for the problem of knife crime.
Justine Greening: Is not another, perhaps longer-term, problem the fact that such people are growing up with the sense that they are on their own and must fend for themselves in society? The first time they need practical help from others in the communitypeople in authority, people who may be older than they arethey often find that it is not there, which conveys a very bad message to them. They tell themselves, Im going to have to take care of myself.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the problems that young people encounter when they are on their own and feel isolated. They feel that they have to carry knives because that is the only way in which they can protect themselves.
Let us think about those four agencies. Parents must ask their children where they are going and what they are doing. I think it was the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), a member of the Select Committee, who raised the issue of parental responsibility. Parents do have that responsibility. My children are aged 14 and 12. I ask themnot as often as I shouldwhere they are and what they are doing, and I ask them to keep in touch with me if they are going out with friends. That is something that all parents need to do.
As our report states, the Committee found that the majority of knives carried by young people34 per cent.were kitchen knives from the family home. We do not expect parents to go around counting the kitchen knives every time their kids go out, but an awareness that the knives may well come from the home should be enough to get them thinking. The report also contains a paragraph on the importance of parents awareness of what video games their children are watching. I know that I have raised this issue in the House on a number of occasions. We feared that violent DVDs and video games contributed to the problem to some extent, because those who were predisposed to violence would be affected by very violent video games.
As for the police and other agencies, we believed that the initiatives on which the Government had embarked were important. As we have heard from both the present and the previous Home Secretary, a huge amount of money is involved. We did not feel that the tackling knife crime initiative had been around for long enough for us to say definitively whether it had been a success, and I welcome what the Home Secretary has said about the need for a review after a year. I am glad that he is getting all the stakeholders together. We would like to be very much a part of thator we would like the Home Secretary to be very much a part of what the Select Committee is proposing to do. However, we consider it important for the various initiatives not to be duplicated. We feel that they should follow each other carefully and not be taken in isolation, because otherwise the problem will arise of spending money without knowing precisely what it is being spent on.
Let me now say something about schools. I am glad that we have been joined by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). I believe it was his idea that one of his constituents, Mrs. Ann Oakes-Odger, should give evidence to the Select Committee. She produced
some very interesting evidence about work that she had done with Essex police. A short film was made by another organisation, the UNCUT project in Leeds. These are examples of local good practice that should be followed in other parts of the country. We felt that there needed to be early intervention. This has to be done at primary school level; it is too late by the time children go to secondary school. That is why we felt that all year 7 schoolchildren should be asked to participate in an assembly or lesson dealing with the issue of knife crime.
We received some very impressive evidence of what the police are doing, especially in Scotland. We have to give young people alternatives to violence, and some of the schemes we heard about led to a reduction in knife crime. We were particularly taken by a scheme in Glasgow. As well as being the agency that tries to discover whether young people are carrying knives, the police are the best agency to prevent knife crime. We shall want to return to this issue, because the prevention of knife crime is the most important aspect of any discussion of the wider subject.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): May I put on record the fact that Mrs. Ann Oakes-Odger, whom the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, is dedicated to tackling the curse of knife crime because her son was killed by people wielding knives? She is now devoting her life to ensuring that others do not experience what she had to experience.
Keith Vaz: I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I wish to express my gratitude to him for ensuring that Mrs. Ann Oakes-Odger gave evidence to the Committee. It is terrible experiences such as hers and that of the widow of Philip Lawrence that drive people to come forward, because there is nothing they can do to bring their loved ones back but they can put up ideas and fashion thoughts as to how we can proceed. We are very grateful for all the work done by the hon. Members for Monmouth and for Colchester, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and the other Committee members.
Mr. Crabb: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. His Committees report is a very good and important document, and the subject of gangs is one of the most important areas it covers. Does he think that the Committee should return to this area in greater depth, because some of the statistics we have heard in the debate suggest that the growth in knife-related incidents in the last three or four years is a direct result of the increase in gang activity?
Keith Vaz: We certainly will return to this subject. We received evidence from young peoplesome as young as sevenwho were a part of gangs and who said they were being used as caddies to carry knives for older children. The nature of gang culture makes it possible that knife crime will increase even further.
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