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As the contribution from the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the amusing but insightful contribution from the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) demonstrated, testing people for the presence of such drugs is not a simple matter. There are sometimes reasons why drugs will be present in the blood—or the saliva, even—of people stopped at the roadside. What has proven difficult is determining whether the nanogram of the substance in question is a legal nanogram or an illegal nanogram. That brings us back to the point made by the hon. Member for Daventry. Should the limit for illegal substances present in the blood of somebody who has been tested be zero, or should we set a legal limit, because we recognise that, as the hon. Member for North East Somerset pointed out—the hon. Member for Stevenage made a similar point—some people may be prescribed drugs that contain opiates or other normally illegal substances? That is the dilemma that has confronted successive Governments, including the current Government.

We have quite rightly placed an emphasis on tackling drink-driving and punishing those who do it; around 70,000 people are caught each year. There is evidence—and certainly anecdotal evidence that I am aware of—that young people today are extremely aware of the dangers of drink-driving and take steps to avoid it, such as by designating one of their friends as somebody who will drive but not drink when they go out for an evening. I see lots of evidence of many young people taking a responsible approach in that regard. However, there is also evidence that they might not take the same approach to the effects of the drugs that they may take from time to time—perhaps when they are out in the discotheques of places other than North East Somerset—or that they might not understand the danger in which they are placing themselves and others while driving under the influence of such drugs.

In 2009, the last Government had a drive—pardon the pun—to educate people, and particularly young people, about the dangers of taking drugs and driving. They also introduced the new FIT test—the field impairment test, to which the hon. Member for Bury North referred—to determine whether people were incapable or impaired, and should therefore not be driving. The test took various forms, which he described, one of which was for the driver to close their eyes, put their head back and attempt to place their finger on their nose. We would all agree that, if there is a technological equivalent to that, we would want it introduced.

Previous Governments—and, I am sure, this Government —have recognised that driving while under the influence of drugs is a problem. As many hon. Members have said, other countries have introduced roadside testing, not least Australia, Croatia, Italy and Romania, among others. It will be interesting to see whether the Government will think that the implementation of roadside testing in those countries gives us any guidance towards taking that step ourselves.

We welcome the fact that the technology is being developed in the UK, as the hon. Member for Christchurch said. Cozart Bioscience, based in Oxford, is developing the device, and Concateno is manufacturing it. One of the board members at Cozart Bioscience, Dr Chris Hand, has made some bold claims for the device. If he

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is correct, I am sure that we can look forward to its introduction up and down the country. He stated:

“Historically, the argument against such devices has been that the technology is not available. That is no longer true. We can adapt it to meet specific requirements of legislation.”

I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister agrees with Dr Hand, and whether the Government intend to introduce the equipment soon.

When the Conservatives were in opposition, their then transport spokesperson, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), said that he was satisfied that sufficiently developed technology was available for the process to be rolled out. Speaking about the police, he said:

“They are not being given the tools to catch these dangerous drivers. The Conservatives would change the law so the police could use a drugalyzer for roadside testing as they currently can with a breathalyzer. The Government say that the technology isn’t ready but it is already being used in countries like Australia.”

Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that is also his view, and whether, as the Daily Mail suggested on 4 June, we can now expect legislation from the Home Office to enable a roll-out of this equipment?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on allowing us to have this important debate. Whether the Bill goes through or not, it is clearly playing an important part in our scrutiny of what the Government are doing in this area. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

12.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I should like to join other hon. Members in congratulating His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on his 90th birthday today. He has been a great servant of our country over an extended period, and we all wish him well today.

I commend the commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) to the cause of road safety. He said that he had had a genuine interest in these matters for a long time—in fact, since he was a Minister with responsibility for road safety. I understand his commitment to the underlying issues, and his view that we need to treat the matter extremely carefully. We have heard today about the appalling tragedies that can arise as a consequence of drug-impaired driving. I also understand his reasons for introducing the Bill. However, I do not think that it is necessary, or the best way to proceed, and I hope that I will be able to persuade him and the House of that.

This has been a good debate on the important issue of drug testing and road safety. The debate has been good natured and there is a great deal of agreement across the House. I greatly welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), speaking for the Opposition and recognising some of the challenges and complexities that have developed over time.

It has also been a humorous debate in many ways, drawing together references to druids and Coleridge. Although we have had lots of references to impairment in the debate, there has been no impairment in the contributions, although I could not see from my place on the Front Bench whether my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was delivering his speech while standing on one leg. I think I can safely

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say, however, that if my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) had attempted to do that, he would probably have required some medical attention, as it would have been quite a feat.

It has also been a full and well-informed debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch for bringing this matter to our attention through his Bill. I certainly understand the frustration that he and other Members have underlined in respect of equipment for drug testing—whether at the roadside or in police stations—being brought forward. I will explain the steps that the Government have taken and where we are now in making progress on the issue.

It would be remiss of me not to underline the huge tragedies that these incidents can bring—the very personal cases that Members have brought to our attention today. We need to view the issue in that broader context. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North—and also my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—who highlighted the impact of these incidents on young people. I can certainly think of many good local projects that involve working with young people to highlight the dangers of drug-driving and drink-driving and the importance of responsible driving, by which I mean not driving too fast, in the knowledge that young lives have literally been cut short as a consequence of some of these appalling incidents.

Drawing together the work of the medical profession, Highways Agency staff who keep our highways safe and the police, it is possible to go into schools and focus on prevention through hard-hitting messages. I have sat through some hard-hitting presentations myself and know that the victims of incidents are sometimes involved, which can make for powerful road safety messages for our young people and help to prevent these appalling tragedies. The breadth of our debate has been useful in that context.

Chris Heaton-Harris: My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the organisations that tour around the country, teaching young people road safety and, indeed, the impact and consequences in the justice system of breaking the law. Has he heard of the “Prison? Me? No Way!” scheme? It involves crashing a car in school and calling the emergency services to cut people out; the magistrates sometimes come in to go through the legal process and prison guards may be on site, turning the classroom into a prison. It takes school kids through the whole thing. It is a fantastic scheme that has gone ahead in the whole of Northamptonshire and many midlands schools. It is exactly the sort of thing that improves people’s knowledge in this regard.

James Brokenshire: I am not aware of that specific scheme that operates in Northamptonshire and the midlands, but I am familiar with a number of innovative locally developed programmes that bring various agencies and organisations together to send out preventive messages about drug-driving, drink-driving and speed. I remember spending an afternoon watching one of those presentations and seeing some of the hard-hitting images. I saw a victim in a wheelchair and the lifelong impact that being involved in a road accident had had on him. The impact that that real-life context had on the young people who received that presentation was palpable. To

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get across road safety messages to young people, we should look at the broader context and underline the real-life consequences of thoughtlessness in relation to those who might be in the car or vehicle with them on the road.

Clearly, road deaths are a tragedy, and road traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for young adults aged 15 to 24. They account for more than a quarter of deaths in the 15 to 19 age group. Injuries caused in such collisions lead to suffering and distress, and can result in a serious lessening in quality of life. It is not only the victims who suffer, but their partners, children, families, friends and all those associated with them.

There is also a serious detrimental impact on the emergency services, on health costs, on economic output, and on the roads. It is estimated that preventing all collisions could benefit the economy by £16 billion a year. Insurance payouts for motoring claims alone are now more than £12 billion a year. That is why I say clearly to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who implied that there was a financial reason why measures had not been advanced more speedily, that that is absolutely not the case. Given the costs to society arising from such incidents, we need to move forward as quickly as possible to deliver on road safety and drug-driving. As the many contributions to the debate have highlighted, there are levels of complexity, and there are issues that need care and attention. Even so, we should get on with this and ensure that the relevant “drugalysers” are available in police stations and, thereafter, on our roads. There are, however, some complex issues and dilemmas in relation to how that will fit into the context of the existing law and in relation to appropriate changes to the law to make arrangements more robust.

Road deaths are not all a result of drug-driving—we do not know the level of drug-driving. A survey of a sample of victims of fatal road crashes between 1996 and 2000 showed traces of drugs in 18% of drivers—six times more than a survey 10 years earlier. Hon. Members who read their newspapers this morning may have read a survey by the insurer Direct Line, which highlights the potential scale of the problem. We are in no doubt about the seriousness of the issue and the need for it to be addressed effectively and appropriately.

Nevertheless, we can say that more than half of road deaths are associated with one or more of the following: driving while impaired by drugs; drink-driving; speeding; careless or dangerous driving; and driving while distracted and not wearing a seat belt. Drug-driving is a serious problem that we as a Government must address. We will address all bad driving behaviour, not just speeding, as sometimes appeared to happen in the recent past. Drug-driving, like drink-driving, is something to which we want to give particular attention.

As has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North and others, we set out our plans in the Government response to Sir Peter North’s report on drink and drug-driving law and to the related recommendations of the Transport Committee. Last month they were included in the Department for Transport’s new strategic framework for road safety. We agree, in principle, with the main thrust of the 23 recommendations in the North report. The steps recommended are

“to approve preliminary testing equipment which can be procured by police forces for use initially in police stations, and later at the roadside; to implement other measures to make the law against

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drug-driving work more effectively; to continue research into equipment which could be approved for the police to test for these substances; on the basis of this work, to examine the case for a new specific offence—alongside the existing one—which would relieve the need for the police to prove impairment case-by-case where a specified drug had been detected.”

The report proposed that

“priority should be given to type approval for, and supply to police stations of, preliminary drug testing devices… type approval ought in the first instance to focus on devices capable of detection of those drugs or categories of drugs which are the most prevalent, including amongst drivers, recognising that more than one device may be needed to cover the whole range.”

There has been discussion of both the nature of the drugs involved and the interrelationship between different drugs. Drugs are often not taken in isolation. They may be taken along with other substances, including other drugs. The concept of polysubstance, or multiple-substance, drug abuse is well known. The science and technology that can provide meaningful, reliable readings in the context of different substances taken together are not entirely straightforward. The need to assure those in the criminal justice system and those who may be required to take tests that neither false positives nor false negatives are being created, with all the consequences that that may involve, has informed the careful approach that has been taken.

Our priority is to deter people from driving when impaired by a drug, and to ensure that those who persist in such dangerous behaviour are detected and punished effectively. Considerable progress has been made in reducing the level of drink-driving, but drug-driving can clearly be just as dangerous, which is why we are anxious to do more work in that regard.

I noted the discussion between my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Bury North about the need for clarity on the provisions of the current law. Under section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is illegal to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle when unfit to drive through drink or drugs, whether legal or illegal. The offence is to be unfit, not simply to have a drug in the body. “Unfit” in this context means having, for the time being, an impaired ability to drive properly. Section 6 empowers the police, subject to certain conditions, to conduct at the roadside or at a police station compulsory preliminary or screening tests for impairment and the presence of a drug. If a preliminary test is positive, the police can immediately require the suspect to take a blood test. In the absence of a positive preliminary test, a blood test can only be authorised by a doctor.

While I think it right to engage in broader discussion of whether the law itself should be changed, the availability of equipment enabling the initial test to be conducted can itself make a difference in speeding up the process because the authorisation of a doctor is not required at that stage, thus ensuring that the process can be conducted more efficiently.

I want to clarify the fact that only the evidence from a blood test can be used in a prosecution to support a constable’s opinion that a person was driving while impaired by a drug. People might think that simply having a drug in one’s system creates the offence, but it is attempting to drive while unfit that creates the substantive offence.

The hon. Member for Eltham and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset referred to the field impairment test, which can be persuasive in

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demonstrating impairment when presented in court, but other evidence can be provided. It is not essential that the impairment test is failed. Other factors can be presented to the court, and ultimately it is for the court to determine, on all the evidence, whether the driving was impaired and whether the person was driving while unfit through drink or drugs. The various elements fit together.

The police can already take a suspected drug-driver to a police station and require him or her to provide an evidential blood specimen. Currently, however, the requirement can be made only if a medical practitioner is called to the police station and advises that the person’s condition may be due to a drug. The availability of an approved device will mean that if a positive reading is obtained, a blood specimen can be taken immediately, potentially by a custody suite nurse, without the need to call out a medical practitioner. Clearly, this will save time and money and, we believe, will be effective in ensuring that more people are brought to justice.

In that context, according to the latest figures I have on drug-driving, 1,598 were convicted of the offence—that is, the impairment offence. If one has more than the prescribed number of milligrams of alcohol in one’s blood, that is the strict liability offence, which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset highlighted. The vast majority of cases are dealt with in that way, although probably many people who fail the drink-driving test have taken drugs as well as alcohol. It is therefore difficult to get specific figures for the conviction of those who have driven illegally, having taken drugs.

The essence of the Bill is that we need to do more. The coalition agreement sets out our commitment to authorising drug-testing technology, which will streamline procedures, for use in tackling drug-driving and we will fulfil that commitment. The analysis will show whether drivers had a drug in their system that might have caused impairment. In a prosecution it will support a police officer’s opinion that a person was driving while impaired by a drug.

In the debate we heard a number of contributions relating to the assessment of the device and the type approval process. Such a device must legally be of a type approved by the Secretary of State, and no devices are yet approved. Drug screeners are already commercially available, but they are designed for other purposes and use in other settings.

Successful use of a testing device—for example, where someone is referred for drug treatment—is not the same as testing to justify an invasive physical procedure for evidence that could support a criminal charge. Use of devices in other countries might be dependent on their different operational powers, requirements and practices, their different laws and legal conditions, and their particular social and political expectations. It is relevant to highlight experience from other countries, but it is also difficult to ascribe direct read-across in the way that perhaps has been suggested, albeit that we should learn from overseas experience.

The concept of type approval for drug screeners is parallel to the long-established type approval of devices used for other traffic law enforcement, such as speed and red light cameras, and breath-alcohol test devices. The primary purpose of type approval and its requirements is to ensure that the approved device is reliable, consistent,

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precise and accurate. This prevents repeated court challenges on the grounds that the reading allegedly justifying subsequent police action came from a device in which no confidence could be placed. If the level below which a device was not required to detect was raised, for example, some people pharmacologically affected by a drug might not be detected. If a device falsely gave a negative reading, a suspect might be allowed to continue driving, which apart from frustrating the ends of justice could clearly be dangerous. Not letting the suspect go despite a negative reading would be time-consuming and bureaucratic for the police, and might be seen by the suspect as oppressive and give rise, understandably, to complaint. Type approval of devices without requiring them to satisfy a detailed specification with clear standards and rigorous extensive testing, as required for all other type approvals, might be liable to judicial review on the grounds of unfairly favouring current manufacturers and of being irrational. But in saying all of that, I do not use that as an excuse for not getting on with things. I simply seek to set the context of the work that is required.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend talks about type approval, but surely the first thing is the specification. Am I right in believing that the Home Office has still not finalised the specification for the roadside drug-testing equipment? What is the problem in drawing up the specification?

James Brokenshire: As I have already said, we are seeking to prioritise, as was reflected in the North report, the creation of drug-testing equipment within the police station as the first step. We have worked on the specification for that and we want to see station-based devices available before the end of this year. Six devices are going through field trials and detailed laboratory tests are also necessary. Timing of approval depends on device performance, manufacturer’s reaction, and how quickly it is able to sign the agreement required with the Home Office before the Secretary of State signs the approval order. Purchase and deployment of the devices would then be matters for local police decision. We are pressing hard to see that by the end of this year. That then feeds through to the next step, which is the roadside testing, and our advisers are finalising the additional environmental requirement that devices would have to meet for use at the roadside. Obviously, the environmental issues are different out on the street compared with being in the police station. I can assure my hon. Friend that the specification document is going through final quality assurance, and we expect to receive it shortly. It will then be put to Ministers to decide how best to proceed further. I assure my hon. Friend that we are not just sitting on our hands. We are getting on with the work on the use of the device within the police station and are taking steps forward in relation to a device that can be type-approved for the roadside.

Mr Chope: Will my hon. Friend therefore confirm that the Government’s response in March 2011 to the North review that they hoped to take decisions on type approval for the machine in the police station by the end of June is still on the programme, and can he assure me that the specification for the roadside test will be published before the end of this calendar year?

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James Brokenshire: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend about the joint working between the Home Office and the Department for Transport, because I have had conversations with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who, like me, is seized of the need to progress quickly with the work that is required to deal with this issue. As I have indicated, we want to see the equipment in police stations by the end of the year and are moving forward with all expedition on the necessary specification for the roadside device. I am unable at this point to give my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch the assurance he seeks, but I can say that work is ongoing and that we recognise the need to get the specification sorted out and make progress on the roadside device. However, I would urge caution in relation to getting the approvals and the specification correct.

Clive Efford: Will the Minister tell us what decisions are required of the House to implement roadside testing and whether the comments of the Home Office, quoted in a Daily Mail article of 4 June, that any decisions required of the House will be brought forward some time later this year, are accurate?

James Brokenshire: When we move from the specification to issuing the type approval, as it is known, a formal legal document has to be drawn up with the necessary approvals and presented to give that consent. In order for police forces to have the equipment in their police stations by the end of the year, the necessary legal documentation to facilitate the type approval, building on the experience of the pilots to which I have referred, would need to be in place. It is the approval that is absolutely key.

Reference has been made to experience in Australia, but recent research has shown that in western Australia, where roadside drug screeners have been brought into use, one in four tests was found to be inaccurate and more rigorous analysis of the specimens in a laboratory led to the exoneration of a number of motorists. Clearly we want to ensure that we get this right, and also recognise the need to take into account experience developed overseas.

On the issue of possible new offences and the question of whether there should be a different offence, and not simply looking at equipment to test or being able to support impairment, we are giving separate consideration to the case for introducing a simple, objective offence of having a specified drug in the body while driving. In addition to simplifying police enforcement, this could give a stronger message against drug-driving and act as a more powerful deterrent. Such an offence would also immediately make a roadside testing device much more valuable. The new offence would be in addition to the current offence of driving while impaired by drugs. Removing the need to prove impairment could deliver a significant improvement in enforcement.

We will, however, keep the impairment offence for those cases where impairment has been caused by a non-specified drug, such as one available on prescription or over the counter. That reflects a number of points that have been made by hon. Members in the debate. Introducing a new offence would be a very complex issue and there would be a need to consider a number of

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questions of principle, policy and practicality. In many ways that alludes to the comments made by hon. Members in our discussions on the Bill.

We will continue the research and other work that is necessary before any decisions can be made, but at this stage I cannot pre-empt that work. Any proposals that we produce will be subject to further consultation, regulatory clearance and other impact assessments, and implementation would clearly and, for the reasons that have been highlighted today, require primary legislation.

To conclude, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch in wanting effective action against drug-driving. I applaud his dedication to the cause, and I recognise his frustrations and, indeed, those of previous Governments and other Ministers in taking action. It has therefore been good for us to hold this debate and to underline those issues today, but I hope he agrees that we are pursuing the goal vigorously and in the most appropriate manner, and in that context I hope that he will not press his Bill to a vote.

Mr Chope: With the leave of the House, may I respond to what has been an excellent debate?

When I became a Member we used to have one day a year on a Friday for a road safety debate, and in a sense this debate has been about one aspect of road safety, highlighting the deep interest that Members from all parts of the House have in the subject. I am very grateful to my hon. Friends for their contributions and to the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) on the Opposition Front Bench for what he had to say.

I accept the bona fides of the Government and of my hon. Friend the Minister, but I remain disappointed that we are not going even faster. My hon. Friend was not even able to reconfirm, as the March response to the North review stated, that the Government hope to take decisions on type approval by the end of June. That has been replaced by a target for the devices to be in some police stations by the end of the year. So it goes

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on, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) so brilliantly said, quoting from various press releases over the years. Action always seems to be just around the corner, but we never quite get there. Let us hope that we do get there in the end.

In responding to the points that have been made, rather than going into a lot of detail, I commend to Members a brilliant analysis by Tina Cafaro, clinical professor of law at the Western New England college school of law, writing in the Western New England Law Revie w in 2010, under an article entitled, “Slipping Through the Cracks: Why Can’t We Stop Drugged Driving?”

In 70 or so pages, Professor Cafaro goes into the detail of what has happened in other countries and the differences between drug-driving and drink-driving, concluding that we will never make good progress unless we have a system of zero tolerance for illegal drugs in the body when people drive—leaving to one side the problem of prescribed and legal drugs. She comes down in favour of zero tolerance, rather as a number of my hon. Friends have during this debate, and I hope that we will now have a widespread debate about where we go from here, because the Government recognise that we should do more.

I hope that the road safety lobby, and other colleagues who are concerned about civil liberties and so on, will engage positively in a debate on whether we should introduce new legislation to deal not only with people who drive while impaired by drugs but with those who drive with illegal drugs in their system.

Having said all that, and bearing in my mind my conflict of interest, given that I wish to proceed quickly to the next item on the Order Paper, I seek the leave of the House to give the Government the benefit of the doubt, reminding them that we will be here to hold them to account if the things said today are not delivered. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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Volunteering Bill

Second Reading

1.19 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As several hon. Members will know, this is volunteering week, so I am delighted that we have the chance to discuss this important issue. Given the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) in European matters, he will like to know that 2011 is the European year of volunteering. There is therefore a lot to celebrate about volunteering.

This simple Bill is designed to meet the concerns that have been expressed right across the House, and by no less a person than the Prime Minister, about the need to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy surrounding people’s ability to get access to volunteering. In preparing the Bill, I have been much assisted by working with the organisation WorldWide Volunteering, which is based in Somerset. Its chairman is John Dunford, whom many people may know as a former general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. WorldWide Volunteering is a national charity founded in 1994 which provides tailored services to inform, inspire and make it easy for people from all walks of life to volunteer. It has control over the United Kingdom’s most comprehensive and easy-to-use online database of volunteering opportunities, which offers over 1.6 million opportunities per year from over 2,500 different charities, and it provides a flow of much-needed volunteers to those charities at no cost to either party. It works in partnership with charities to achieve the best outcomes. It also works, to a great extent, within our schools.

WorldWide Volunteering has a number of people working for it whose job is to go out into schools—often schools that are not in the most privileged neighbourhoods of the country—to try to encourage youngsters to come forward as volunteers. One of those people said to me that it is sometimes difficult enough, in the sort of schools that she is going into, to get young people enthused about volunteering, but if one succeeds in doing so, they will probably, being young and impetuous, want to indulge in that volunteering sooner rather than later. They do not want to have to hang around for a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to be jumped before they can start what they have decided to do.

This week there has been a brilliant series of articles in London’s Evening Standard about volunteering to help with reading. The initiative was inspired by royal patronage. It is supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury and, notwithstanding that, by many of the newspaper’s readers. The articles asked why people do not get out there, go into schools and provide reading help to the disappointingly large proportion of youngsters who seem unable to read aloud and have not had that experience. What disturbed me was the emphasis placed on the requirements for doing this. One of the requirements was that the body organising it should interview the potential volunteers; there is no problem about that at all. Another requirement was that each person who wanted to engage in volunteering had to have a criminal record check. Why did they need a criminal record check? That seems quite unreasonable.

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George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an eloquent point, which he started to make in connection with young people. Many of my constituents reach the volunteering stage of their life in retirement, at the end of a full working life. A number of them have contacted me to make this exact point about volunteering in retirement. They say, “Mr Freeman, I have built a business, had a family and lived in my community. Why should I be assumed to be a criminal? Could we not have a simple way for my bona fides to be established in a single certificate that applies to all my volunteering activities in the community?”

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. My Bill is designed to find such a simple solution. Clause 1 would establish a fit and proper person certificate. If an organisation or individual wanted to take on a volunteer, instead of having to get a criminal record check, they would be able to accept a declaration from the volunteer that they do not have a criminal record or any convictions. In the case of somebody under the age of 18, such a statement would have to be countersigned by a parent or guardian. Such a statement would, by definition, be up to date. A person could provide one this week to volunteer for reading in London and another next week to work with a diving company or the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Criminal record checks do not necessarily identify someone who is weird at all, but just whether someone has a criminal record. Most of the people who wish to do harm are well under the radar because no one knows about them until suddenly they do something. I absolutely agree that criminal record checks are totally inappropriate in volunteering. We must get rid of this red tape so that people who want to help young people, for example, can do so almost instantly.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I remind hon. Members that when addressing the House, they are supposed to turn to address the Chair and not face backwards. That may seem odd, but it helps with the proceedings of the House.

Bob Stewart: I am very sorry.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes a good point. People want to be able to get on with volunteering very quickly and with the minimum bureaucracy. Even if there are criminal record checks, what does that prove?

In the last week, there was the most horrific account in one of the national newspapers of a worker at a nursery who filmed the rape of a toddler and was involved in countless other ghastly offences. The nursery had been inspected by Ofsted some five weeks before the individual was arrested. The inspection concluded that the nursery offered a “safe and secure” environment for children, with

“appropriate recruiting and vetting procedures”

for staff. When challenged about what had happened, the spokesman for Ofsted said, I thought rather wisely:

“Inspection can only ever provide a snapshot of a nursery on the day of inspection.”

It can provide only a snapshot of what the inspector is shown or sees. The spokesman emphasised:

“It is the nursery’s responsibility to ensure it takes the necessary action to keep children safe and well looked after.”

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My Bill would give that responsibility fairly and squarely to the people who recruit and supervise the volunteers.

George Freeman: Does my hon. Friend agree that in framing legislation to promote volunteering—I note that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who is responsible for the big society, is on the Front Bench—it is important that we embody notions of trust and responsibility in the culture of the revolution that we seek to trigger? Otherwise we are in danger of legislating for distrust.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I will explain to hon. Members why it is necessary to face the Chair. The rule of the House is that when the Speaker or Deputy Speaker is on his or her feet, no other Member will stand. If a Member has their back to me, they will not see whether I am standing. It has been some time now—let us try to ensure we get it right.

Mr Chope: Perhaps it is my fault, Madam Deputy Speaker, for sitting right at the back so that others have to turn around. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the interest that the debate is generating among my hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of responsibility. The Minister for Equalities, who has been dealing with the Protection of Freedoms Bill in Committee, has made it clear on a number of occasions that the ticking of boxes cannot be a substitute for people taking responsibility for their charges or for volunteers who should be under their supervision and control, and whom they are responsible for recruiting.

Why have we suddenly got into the situation whereby it is thought necessary to have a Criminal Records Bureau check for tens or hundreds of thousands of volunteers? I examined the coalition agreement after the general election and saw that we were promised the Protection of Freedoms Bill. That has now come forward, but I am not sure that it goes far enough in introducing simplicity and common sense. There is a lot of talk about common sense and, indeed, “A Common Sense Approach” is the title of the report carried out for the Government by Sunita Mason, the independent adviser for criminality information management, on the impact of the vetting and barring system on volunteering and other activity. She recognised that there was far too heavy a hand in relation to all this, but I am not sure that the solutions that the Government have come up with in their Bill are not still unnecessarily complex.

We know that 95% of people who have CRB checks are cleared. An individual knows whether they have a criminal record, so they should be quite capable of signing a declaration of whether they do. If they do not, and they sign a declaration to that effect, on the face of it that should be sufficient evidence that they are a fit and proper person to engage in volunteering activity.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I totally agree with the sentiment that my hon. Friend is outlining, but I very much hope that his Bill will also explain how volunteers can navigate through all the health and safety red tape that has been put into place over the past 13 years. A lot of people in my constituency are put off voluntary work because of the inordinate

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amount of health and safety regulation and the tick-box mentality that they have to go through in order to volunteer.

Mr Chope: The subject that we are discussing at the moment is the need for people to get a criminal record check before they can even have their application considered, and that is one of the biggest deterrents to volunteering. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has had the chance to read the text of my Bill, but my approach to Friday Bills has always been, as far as possible, to keep them simple. Like most of my Bills, this one is on one side of paper. It basically proposes the fit and proper person certificate as a substitute for a CRB check, which takes time—many weeks—and costs money. The price has gone up to £44, and somebody must pay for that.

George Freeman: I am very grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this third opportunity to intervene correctly. I will not take my eyes off you, which is my gain and my hon. Friend’s loss.

Does my hon. Friend think that volunteers for schemes such as the community car schemes in my constituency—a number of elderly volunteers help out in their community through such a scheme—should be subject to the CRB checks to which they are currently subjected? A number of people in my constituency have contacted me to say that they have taken part in volunteering activity all their lives, and that they resent, at this late stage, being required to prove that they are not criminals. What does he make of that situation?

Mr Chope: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. I must congratulate the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on raising from 40p to 45p the allowance for volunteer drivers, and also on including the 5p per passenger addition, which means that someone can claim 50p per mile for taking one person to or from hospital and 55p per mile for taking two people. That is an important and useful initiative, but I am not sure—I hope the Minister will have a chance to respond to this point—that under the current law, such volunteers need a CRB check. It is absolute madness if they do.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Here’s looking at you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Without wishing to give the House the impression that I am a great proponent of pettifogging CRB checks, may I ask my hon. Friend about his proposed declaration certificate? How should somebody who signs such a certificate erroneously be sanctioned, because if there is no sanction, surely there is no point in those certificates?

Mr Chope: I am not sure that that is correct, because obviously, making a false statement is potentially an offence. However, my hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to tell the House where I got the idea of the fit and proper person certificate from. I got the idea from none other than Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. You will know about this, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you perhaps invented it when you were a distinguished Treasury Minister.

HMRC decided that people who run or who are trustees of small charities might run off with the funds or take advantage of charitable exemptions under tax

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law. It therefore introduced a fit and proper persons test and declaration for people who run charities. The test applies essentially to managers, trustees of charities, directors of corporate charities and so on. In a typical smaller local charity, a manager, for the purposes of the fit and proper persons test, could include the chairperson, the treasurer, the secretary or someone on the management committee who has control over expenditure.

The HMRC leaflet on the test states:

“The ‘fit and proper persons’ test exists to ensure that charities,”

community interest associations

“and other organisations entitled to charity tax reliefs are not managed or controlled by individuals who might misuse the valuable tax reliefs the organisation receives. Unfortunately fraudsters have been known to exploit charity tax reliefs so the fit and proper persons test exists to help prevent that”.

What does ‘fit and proper’ mean?

“An individual is ‘fit and proper’ if they ensure that charity funds and tax reliefs are used only for charitable purposes.”

What must a person do to satisfy HMRC that they are a fit and proper person? The guidance states that they must sign a declaration that sets out the name of the organisation, the name of the individual and their role in the organisation. The person must declare that they are not disqualified from acting as a charity trustee; have not been convicted of an offence involving deception or dishonesty; have not been involved in tax fraud; are not an undischarged bankrupt; have not made compositions or arrangements with creditors from which they have not been discharged; have not been removed from serving as a charity trustee in the past; and that they have not been disqualified from serving as a company director. They must also assert that at all times they will seek to ensure that the charity’s funds and tax reliefs are used only for charitable purposes. So that is all right for managers of charities handling probably quite substantial sums of money. The Treasury is saying, “We will take these statements on trust”. If we are to have a responsible society, we have to trust people. People say, “Well, what happens if the person turns out to be a rogue?” Exactly the same thing would happen as happened in the ghastly Plymouth day nursery case or in the case I cited earlier: the person would be brought to justice, although probably not until after a lot of damage had been done.

However many controls and regulations we bring in, we cannot pre-empt the activities of fraudsters, villains, inherent, compulsive liars, paedophiles or whoever. We have to be proportional and say, “What is the benefit of having CRB checks, bearing in mind that they do not prevent somebody who clears one from subsequently going off the rails?” What would be the benefit of not having those checks and having a much simpler system? My Bill, which adopts a simple system rather along the lines of the fit and proper person test for charity trustees, would meet the principle of proportionality. It deals only with volunteers. We are not talking about people engaged in full-time or part-time employment; we are talking about volunteers and people who, by their very nature, want to make a difference and add something to the equation. It is important for society not to deter, but to encourage those volunteers to come forward, so by removing the need for CRB checks, and making it nice and simple and easy, we will promote volunteering, which is the whole purpose of the Bill and volunteering week.

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Bob Stewart: I am very much looking at the Chair, and I am not going to look behind me, Madam Deputy Speaker. In fact, I am going to keep my eyes permanently on you.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Get on with it.

Bob Stewart: And I will get on with it. I am a 61-year-old father of young children, and I want to take my children from school to sports matches, but I am told by the school that I have to have a CRB check to take two or three people in my car. I am hoping that this sort of red tape can be done away with. I think that I am a fit and proper person.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): You’re a Tory MP.

Bob Stewart: I resent that remark from the hon. Gentleman. I hope that this sort of red tape will stop.

Mr Chope: I am grateful once again for my hon. Friend’s support.

The Bill would reduce bureaucracy and costs, and promote volunteering. If for some reason—I am sure there may be all sorts of technical reasons—my hon. Friend the Minister cannot accept the Bill, perhaps because it is inadequately drafted, it would be possible to introduce new clauses on Report of the Protection of Freedoms Bill to deal adequately with these concerns. The Government have—this is the substance of my remarks—made some welcome statements pointing in the right direction of reducing the burden of bureaucracy, and have said on a number of occasions that they do not want people who volunteer to be viewed as suspects until proved otherwise, and that they want to encourage as much volunteering as possible.

Clause 2 makes some technical changes to ensure that those under 21 would not have to get criminal records checks in any circumstances and that the Police Act 1997 would not apply to volunteers, but only to paid employees.

Having said all that, and being grateful to all my hon. Friends who have shown support for the Bill, I move that it receive its Second Reading.

1.45 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Let me say to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) that, just because in some cases people fall through the current safety net, it is not rational to argue that we should get rid of the safeguards altogether. However, I shall also challenge some of the premises underpinning the Bill.

Members from all parts of the House will know from their constituencies just how fantastic and inspirational the work of volunteers is. Whether in a local homework club, at a homeless shelter or in a voluntary group that encourages reskilling and training, volunteers add an immeasurable amount to our neighbourhoods and communities. I am personally greatly encouraged by their enthusiasm and energy. For that reason and a host of others, it is vital to encourage people to become involved in their communities and take up voluntary work whenever and wherever they can. To that extent, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Recent research shows

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that 54% of people volunteered informally at least once in the last year, with 29% volunteering informally at least once a month.

However, there is not only a social and ethical case for volunteering and encouraging it in the community; there is a serious economic case for it. Volunteering not only helps the voluntary group concerned, but creates a greater sense of community life and a more cohesive social fabric, and it is a fundamental part of living in a better society. However, volunteers need to be supported, trained and managed. It is wholly unclear how the Bill’s proposal for a system of fit and proper person certificates would work. The Bill does not say who would run it. Perhaps most importantly, there is a serious danger that such a system would undermine the current safeguards, putting extremely vulnerable people at risk. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman’s intention may be to encourage people to volunteer, but this Bill has neither the capacity nor the ability to do that; indeed, it actually introduces a serious element of risk into the system. I am afraid that the Bill gives no serious consideration to the issue of safeguarding vulnerable people, creating a huge danger that it will put people at risk.

Mr Chope: The hon. Lady seems to be incredibly negative about the Bill, but can she answer this question? My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile)—he apologises that he cannot be here for this debate—told me yesterday that he had to have a CRB check to become a school governor. Surely that is unnecessary bureaucracy. Why does he need a CRB check to become a school governor?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I can indeed answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, because I am a school governor and have just completed a CRB check myself. It was amazingly straightforward, and I understand absolutely why one was carried out: because we want to ensure, as far as that is possible, that people working with or alongside children have nothing in their past that would put those children at risk.

I want to talk about the reasons and motivations behind people becoming involved in volunteering, and what holds them back from doing so. In so doing, I shall challenge some of the hon. Gentleman’s assertions. There is a great deal of research into the reasons why people volunteer and what holds them back. Those reasons are multifarious in nature. The document “Why participate? Understanding what motivates people to get involved”, produced by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, presents an excellent picture of the reasons that people seek out voluntary work in their communities. The research suggests that the reasons are complex and diverse, and that they vary according to the personal, cultural, environmental and structural circumstances of the individual in question.

Similarly, in the Helping Out survey, volunteers reported a wide range of reasons for starting to volunteer. The most popular reason, given by 53% of those surveyed, was to improve things and help people. That was followed by two more reasons, each given by 41% of respondents. The first was that the cause was important to them; the second was that they had spare time. This research presents an interesting and complex picture. There are many other reasons for volunteering. In the survey, 30% of people said that they wanted to meet people and

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make friends; 29% said that there was a need in the community; 27% said that they wanted to use their existing skills; 19% said that they wanted to learn new skills. On and on it goes. There are lots of reasons for people volunteering.

Research carried out by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations also shows what prevents people from volunteering. It suggests that it is usually related to a lack of resources, and that there might be problems related to education or a lack of training, time or disposable income. The regulation involved is not, however, at the top of any list of barriers, and there is little evidence that that would be the primary reason that people might be put off.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady’s argument, and I appreciate that a CRB check would not present a problem to the innocent prospective volunteer who had committed no crime. It does, however, present problems for the small charities who want lots of volunteers. They have to pay for the checks, and the cost is prohibitive if they want to engage lots of volunteers.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I shall talk about this issue from the charities’ point of view in just a moment.

Many people in the sector have written about what should be done to encourage more people to volunteer.

Mr Chope: Is the shadow Minister saying that she completely disputes the evidence that I adduced from WorldWide Volunteering? It shows that there are real difficulties in encouraging young people from schools to volunteer in deprived areas because the present procedures prevent them from translating their enthusiasm into an immediate act of volunteering and make them wait many weeks to be approved.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I am querying whether that is the major disincentive. I have already been through the list of other barriers that affect the group of people that the hon. Gentleman describes. What I am suggesting is that regulation might not be the primary barrier. Indeed, across the sector, a great deal of information and research backs up my point.

What, then, do we know from the sector about how to promote volunteering and remove barriers? Paul Emery, head of community and social organisations at Zurich tells us:

“Choose a cause that people really care about. Our research shows that people do want to volunteer and take on more in the places they live, but they don’t want to be used as a resource to replace public services.”

That is something that we have not heard much about in the debate so far. He also stressed the importance of people being able to

“show communities what they can do”,

for which they need to acquire additional skills. It is necessary to keep people informed and to work with local authorities and other local bodies to do so.

Similarly, Brian Carr, chief executive of the Centre for Voluntary Action says that it is really important to offer people opportunities and that it is necessary to “build volunteers’ confidence”. For him, one of the

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biggest barriers to volunteering was not regulation, but “lack of confidence”, which is

“exacerbated for individuals who’ve experienced exclusion in other areas of life.”

It is essential that volunteering opportunities provide the necessary support and that there are procedures in place to boost mental health—if necessary—employability and self-esteem. It is therefore essential to increase the support available in organisations.

David Hopkins, the national programme manager at Catch 22, says it is absolutely essential if we are to get people volunteering to promote a strong support network. As he says, people do not want to

“undertake social action in glorious isolation”.

They want to be “supported by like-minded individuals”.

In a similar vein, Alison Blackwood, head of policy at the London Voluntary Service Council, says that it is important to design specific programmes for volunteers:

“There is evidence from Greater London Volunteering that volunteer centres are better at engaging people who don’t normally volunteer or who are at risk of social exclusion.”

She then mentions some Government suggestions that might undermine the very volunteering centres that are necessary to support our volunteers. It is of great significance that she, as someone who supports a large number of small voluntary organisations, says that

“Time not bureaucracy is the problem”,

and that the

“red tape barrier is a bit of a red herring: as the top barrier to not getting involved, 82% of those surveyed… stated it was lack of spare time—

and not regulation—that was “the main barrier” to involvement in the local community and taking up whatever volunteering opportunities might be available.

Before I move on to clarify what should be done, it is worth setting out the legislative context of the Bill. We should remember that the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 was enacted in response to the inquiry following the Soham murders. It established a vetting and barring scheme for those who wished to undertake the two types of regulated activities that are controlled. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Christchurch mention that the entire legislative context is now being reviewed by the Government under legislation currently going through the House. I am somewhat surprised that the Bill was not framed more exactly in terms of, first, the Protection of Freedoms Bill that is currently going through the House, and secondly—and perhaps more significantly in this context—the taskforce established by the Government to consider how to cut red tape for small charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. I do not necessarily agree with the proposals in the Protection of Freedoms Bill or from the taskforce, but nevertheless I would have thought that the Bill would refer specifically to them.

I start with the relevant proposals under the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which seeks to merge the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority to form a streamlined new body. The Bill, it is said, is proportionate in terms of barring and the criminal records checking service; it will bring about a large reduction in the number of positions requiring checks, so that only those working closely and regularly

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with children and vulnerable adults will need CRB checks; there will be portability of criminal records checks between jobs to cut down bureaucracy; there will be an end to a requirement for those working or volunteering with vulnerable groups to register with the vetting and barring scheme and then to be monitored; and it will stop employers knowingly requesting criminal records checks on individuals who are not liable for to them.

It seems, therefore, that the Bill currently going through the parliamentary system goes some way towards addressing the issues that the hon. Member for Christchurch has raised today. That is acknowledged, to some extent, by voluntary sector organisations. For example, Volunteering England has said that it welcomes the broad proposals to revise the safeguarding systems announced as part of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. It says that the portability of criminal record checks would be widely seen by volunteers and volunteering organisations as helpful, and that the lower level of involvement for people and roles will also reduce a significant barrier to volunteering. Today’s announcement is beneficial for the volunteering movement.

However, Volunteering England also expresses some concerns. Justin Davis Smith, its chief executive, has said directly in response to the Volunteering Bill:

“Whilst we welcome the move to reduce the red tape surrounding volunteering, we do not believe the proposals in Mr Chope’s private member’s bill are the answer. Safeguarding is an important issue, and we hope that reforms to the current CRB system within the Protection of Freedoms Bill will strike the appropriate balance—ensuring vulnerable people are protected whilst making sure volunteers aren’t put off.”

Interestingly, he also mentions the deregulation taskforce, to which I will refer in a moment:

“Volunteering England has worked with Lord Hodgson’s De-Regulation Taskforce to identify the barriers to volunteering and how we can work together to overcome them. Our campaign to Free Volunteering from Red Tape is underway”,

and he says that Volunteering England will continue to do all that it can to support the taskforce.

We have the first report from the taskforce, entitled, “Unshackling Good Neighbours”. It is interesting that, after taking extensive evidence from the sector, including large and small charitable organisations, and interviewing many people across the voluntary and community sector, the taskforce does not find that red tape is the major barrier to volunteering, even though the taskforce was established to consider how to cut red tape for small charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises.In fact, fear of litigation is at the top of the list. The first answer to the report’s question, “What stops people giving time?” is “Risk of litigation”.

The report goes on to make some suggestions, referring to “Commissioning”, “Withdrawal of Cheques”, “The Role of Local Government”, whether people are employed, whether there are training opportunities, and the role of the planning system. However, it neither mentions the bureaucracy that currently exists nor suggests any ways of getting rid of it. If the

“Report of the Task Force established to consider how to cut red tape for small charities”

does not refer to the requirement for CRB checks and for some regulation to protect vulnerable children and

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adults, why do the hon. Member for Christchurch and the supporters of his Bill think that it is the No. 1 disincentive and barrier?

The last Government had a strong record of developing and encouraging volunteering and voluntary groups. An estimated 778,000 people were employed in the voluntary and community sector in 2010, some 17% more than in 2004. As I said earlier, we know that a large number of adults volunteer formally at least once a month. If the number of volunteers is to continue to increase, which is what the Government want—it is part of their big society programme—the Government must support voluntary organisations so that they can not only give their volunteers a helping hand, but encourage those volunteers to do the same for other members of the community.

What is thought to be having a negative impact on volunteering opportunities is not lack of regulation but other factors, which are causing great concern. They may be to do with individuals, but they may also be to do with charities themselves. Many have commented. The Charity Commission, for instance, says that it faces a 33% real-terms spending cut over the next four financial years, and is worried about whether it will be able to perform its functions as it currently does. The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations have developed a website referring to the amount of money being taken from the voluntary and community sector. People in the sector are saying that the real challenge is posed not by red tape, but by funding cuts and the money being taken out of voluntary organisations.

Another challenge is being presented by the fact that the whole landscape of training for volunteers is under review. Julie Wilkes, chief executive of Skills—Third Sector, has said:

“Charities have been holding their breath on staff cuts in the last quarter, waiting to hear if their contracts with government will be renewed. The next two quarters will be the real test of the state of the sector as they include the end of the financial year.”

As the House can see, there is clearly a danger that the Government’s public spending cuts of more than £3 billion to charities could drive many to the wall. The Government talked time and again about the transition fund for community and voluntary organisations, but that does not reach all charities and, in any case, is hugely oversubscribed. A number of organisations have been dealing with the impact of announcements made in the emergency Budget in June 2010. They were doing that and experiencing difficulties in advance of the most recent round of cuts. There is also a great deal of concern that, across the country, the impact of the cuts varies according to the area where the voluntary organisation is located. Analysis from NCVO shows that northern local authorities have been hit hardest by the reductions.

The organisation Skills—Third Sector, which as I said earlier is the strategic body for developing skills in charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations, has said that good-quality training programmes, linked to standards where possible, are needed to encourage volunteering, and that as it is facing rising demands across the board, with less money available, it does not know whether it will be able to continue to deliver services.

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I suggest to the hon. Member for Christchurch that in order to encourage volunteering, rather than imposing additional or alternative processes and requirements on those wishing to become involved he should engage with the organisations doing that work, which are facing difficulties in encouraging the retention and support of volunteers across the country.

Mr Chope: I cannot let the hon. Lady traduce my Bill by suggesting that it will create additional burdens for volunteers. It will eliminate the need for a mass of volunteers to get Criminal Records Bureau checks. Instead, they will be able to produce a certificate which they will simply sign and present to the voluntary organisation for which they want to work. It will reduce the burden on volunteers, thereby encouraging them.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: What I am suggesting to the hon. Gentleman is that his Bill does not address the real barriers to people volunteering in their communities, and that if he wants to address those barriers, he should persuade those on his Front Bench to put more money into the voluntary and community sector, or at least stop taking quite so much money out of the sector so quickly, leaving it unable to respond to the demands not only of its volunteers but of the communities that it seeks to represent.

To sum up, I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman, like all Members of the House, wants to encourage higher levels of volunteering, but the Bill does not do that. It presents something of a circular argument. It is not clear who, if anybody, would check the background of the people who signed the statement or what system would be in place to verify what they had stated, who would administer the certificate system, how long the so-called fit and proper person certificate would last, and whether it would need to be updated after a number of years. Given the questions still outstanding, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that a rethink on the Bill is needed.

2.14 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): May I add my voice to those wishing the Duke of Edinburgh a very happy birthday today? May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on his prodigious fertility in terms of private Members’ Bills in this Session, but also, in the case of this particular baby, on its characteristic simplicity in terms of its structure? The Government cannot support it, for reasons that I will go into in whatever detail I can in the time that we have, but it is, as the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) also took the opportunity to say, a welcome opportunity to recognise the astonishing contribution of millions of people in constituencies throughout the country who give time to help others, and those groups, such as WorldWide Volunteering, but there are many others, which help people to use that time and inspire and connect them with opportunities to help others. It is that generosity in that landscape of that ecosystem of civil society organisations that is one of the things that makes this country great, and we should absolutely recognise it.

It is also right regularly to be asking ourselves the question: what can we do to make it easier in 2011 in modern Britain, with all the pressures on people’s time

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and, at the moment, money, to get involved, to support each other, to help to create the changes that people want to see? It goes to the heart of how we build a stronger sense of community where people have more power and responsibility for their lives, their communities and the services they use—the absolute aspiration of the big society vision. When it comes to encouraging and supporting social action, which is the context of the Bill, it is clear that we need to do something. We are a generous country—the statistics show that clearly—but it is also clear that giving has flatlined and there are worrying signs of decline, not least in terms of the giving of time. We have a sense of this from our own constituencies and community associations, and the difficulties that they have in finding new people to come forward. The charity world is increasingly concerned. Some people say that we cannot change this, that it is as good as it can get, but we do not accept that decline is inevitable, and our research and consultation suggest that there are people and organisations who would like to do more and could do more, but too many things get in the way.

As the hon. Lady said, there is an issue around lack of time in 2011, or perception of lack of time for many people. Often people find it difficult and complicated. For too many, the experience of volunteering, given time, is not as rewarding as it could or should be. There is a lack of awareness of opportunities, or where to start looking. There is an issue around bureaucracy—I do disagree a little with the hon. Lady here—and there is an issue around the CRB. She tried to make a case about why Lord Hodgson ignored this issue. There is a simple explanation: he recognised that other reviews of vetting and barring and of the CRB regime were going on and he took a view, I think quite sensibly, that he needed to focus the efforts of a limited resource exercise on areas where he felt that he could add more value. But his report “Unshackling Good Neighbours”—I recommend it to all colleagues—is a dose of common sense, when common sense is needed.

There is an issue around the CRB checks. I remember going to talk at a forum in Westminster and a gentleman coming up to say that he had 80 people waiting to volunteer, but they were being frustrated and held back because of the time it was taking for their CRB checks to come through. As the hon. Lady knows, there is frustration out there with the lack of opportunities to carry CRB checks around the system—the portability issue.

That brings me to the Bill. There are reasons why we cannot support it, however well intentioned it is. I hope to have the chance to summarise those reasons and our preferred approach. I hope that I can satisfy my hon. Friend about two things. In the specific context of the Bill we want to reduce bureaucracy and the cost attached to it, but without diminishing public protection, because we have duties in this regard that we cannot trivialise or walk away from. Secondly, we are fully committed to promoting volunteering, which is the Bill’s stated aim.

We have considered the Bill carefully in the time that we have been allowed and, although we welcome its aims, we oppose it principally for three reasons, the first of which is the most important; the other two flow from it. The first reason is that for the proposed fit and

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proper person certificate to be successful, a means of independent verification and checking for accuracy would be required. We simply could not, with any sense of responsibility, leave that as a free-for-all. There is of course a balance to be struck between protection and trust, but we think that a basic level of protection and independent verification of claims is necessary and believe that the CRB check fulfils that role, although we are very clear that it needs to be reformed and retuned in terms of proportionality and a return to common sense.

Mr Chope: I am not surprised that that is the Minister’s approach, although I am disappointed. How, then, does he think it is reasonable that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can allow trustees of charities to deal with large sums of money on the basis of a mere declaration that is subject to no independent verification?

Mr Hurd: I think that the contexts are completely different. As I go on to explain what we are doing to reform the CRB process, I hope I will go some way towards satisfying my hon. Friend that we intend to reduce bureaucracy without undermining basic protection.

Our other concerns flow from the premise that some form of independent verification is required, and the Bill is silent on how that will work. Our concern is that we will be replacing one form of bureaucracy with another, and with costs attached. I will set out briefly a summary of what we are doing in relation to the existing CRB system in the light of the concerns that have been expressed.

We announced in the coalition programme for government a commitment to

“review the criminal records and vetting and barring regime and scale it back to common sense levels.”

The outcomes of the reviews were published on 11 February and three of the recommendations are particularly pertinent to the Bill. First, CRB checks will in future be provided only to the applicant, which will enable them to challenge any disputed or inappropriate information before it is seen by an employer or volunteering organisation. That is an important issue. I had a constituency case only two weeks ago in which a gentleman was appalled to see the information on his statement, so this change is important.

Secondly, and critically, CRB checks will be made more portable between different employers by introducing an updating service. This will enable employers to check whether a previous disclosure certificate is still valid, reducing the need for repeat checks. Thirdly, CRB checks will not be provided for anyone under the age of 16, an important point relating to clause 2, which proposes that CRB checks be restricted to those over 21. As my hon. Friend knows well, these recommendations require legislation and are being taken forward in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently going through the House. The Government believe that the current CRB check process and the implementation of the February 2011 recommendations provide the fit and proper person certificate process described in the Bill.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend refers to the CRB checks, but my understanding is that there will be no introduction of a basic CRB check that could be presented and that would exclude spent convictions.

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Mr Hurd: My understanding is that there are three levels of criminal records check: a basic disclosure, a standard disclosure and an enhanced disclosure. I may be corrected, but I do not believe that there is any proposal to change those. The changes we are making are those I have just summarised, and the most important one in this context is the one relating to portability, because that is something I hear a great deal of frustration about in the system. In summary, the most important point is the need for independent verification. Those are the reasons why we cannot support the Bill and believe that reform of CRB is preferable to abolition.

Let me close by updating my hon. Friend and the House on what the Government are doing to promote the giving of time and of money. We published a Green Paper in December 2010, to which we have received 400 written responses, and following that we published a White Paper in May, the premise of which is that everyone can make a difference.

Our approach to supporting more giving is based on three strands of activity. The first is about making it easier to give by helping it to fit into everyday life, so the White Paper sets out new ways we will support the giving of money, such as through donations at ATMs. In terms of time, we explicitly support the pilots of flexible, self-managed volunteering platforms, which allow people to give small amounts of time. Time can be a major constraint, but entrepreneurs are developing models that allow people to control and to deliver time in more flexible packages, and we want to support more of that.

We want also to give people better information about opportunities, which is why we are spending £1 million on the Do-it volunteering database and working with it to open up those data so that they can be accessed more widely. We are using challenge prizes to stimulate innovation and giving people new ways to access opportunities through mobile phones in order to give time—a critical development, particularly in relation to inspiring and connecting young people.

We are also investing in community organisers— people who are literally going to walk the streets, knock on doors, find out what people care about and get them together to take action, connecting them with local support and, not least, local businesses, which in my experience want to do more but want to be connected with the right opportunities that really meet local need.

We are, as I have laboured to make clear in this debate, looking at bureaucracy and red tape—the things that frustrate—through CRB reform and the red tape review that I have mentioned. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend refer to the Budget and the changes to the volunteer expenses allowance, because that was definitely a real frustration in constituencies. Making it easier to give is the first strand; the second is about making it more compelling to give. The Budget introduced new incentives to give money, but we also want to support new models that incentivise people to give time, such as what are known as complementary currencies, which give people credits for volunteering. That is why we are investing £400,000 with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts in developing a pilot of Spice “time credits”, whereby in return for giving time people get discounts on local services.

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Through the social action fund that we announced in the White Paper, we are looking to support the best ideas because, as I said, it is quite clear that many social entrepreneurs are building fantastically exciting platforms to make it easier and more compelling for people to give time and money. This Government want to support that entrepreneurial energy through the social action fund.

We have an £80 million community grant programme called Community First, which is focused on deprived neighbourhoods—and that is a match fund. The proposition is to put money into the hands of neighbourhood groups to help them to implement their own plans, but it will be matched—partly in time, not just in money. The fund is about incentivising people to step up, get involved and create the change that they want to see locally.

We are strong believers in leading by example, which is why we are introducing new proposals to encourage civil servants to spend more time in their communities, not just because it ticks a box on corporate responsibility, but because we expect better civil servants to result from the initiative and because we want to send a strong signal to other employers that encouraging employees to give time in their communities is a very good thing to do and in the employers’ commercial interests. Leading by example extends to an expectation that Ministers will give one day a year—the one-day challenge—to volunteering. It is sometimes dismissed as a gimmick, but it is not, because leadership by example is hugely important in that context.

The third and final strand, which the hon. Member for City of Durham touched on, is better support for those who provide and manage opportunities to give—the civil society ecosystem that I mentioned. Such individuals often perform heroic tasks locally, trying to connect people and to support front-line organisations. It is a terribly difficult operating environment, as we well know. Resources are often spread too thinly across too many organisations, and we want to use public investment as a catalyst for more efficiency in the sector, so that such individuals can be more effective with the front-line organisations in their communities. That is why we have announced £30 million as a local infrastructure fund, the details of which will be announced shortly. That follows a recommendation by the NCVO funding commission. It is about trying to support the development of more efficient local hubs, a better online resource bank for front-line organisations, and much more effective local partnerships between business, statutory agencies and local charities. I know from my own constituency that we have barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved, and we can do more.

Alongside these programmes, we are supporting the European year of volunteering, Her Majesty the Queen’s award for voluntary service, and the National Citizen Service.

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 17 June.

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Business without Debate

sustainable livestock bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question ( 12 November 2010), That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 16 March 2012.

onshore wind turbines (proximity of habitation) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June.

Dairy farming Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 9 September.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 October.


Resumption of adjourned debate on Question ( 3 December 2010), That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 25 November .

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illegally logged timber (prohibition of import, sale or distribution) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.


Resumption of adjourned debate on Question ( 18 March), That the Bill be now read a Second Time.]

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63.)


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 October.

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Gangs and Youth Violence

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Goodwill.)

2.32 pm

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): I am grateful to have the opportunity to introduce this short debate on gangs and youth violence. I am pleased to see some colleagues here on a Friday afternoon to offer support and show the importance of this topic. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who has also been raising this issue in Parliament over recent months.

I decided to request a debate on this topic a couple of weeks ago when I was standing vigil with the mother of a young man, Daniel Smith, who was gunned down this time last year, at the age of just 22, as he stopped for a takeaway in Harrow road in Paddington, in what appears to have been a case of mistaken identity involving gangs. Winklet Smith, his mother, is one of several local women I know who are grieving. They include the mothers of Kodjo Yenga, who was killed in 2008 at the age of 16, Jevon Henry, who was killed at the age of 22, and Amro El-Bedawi, who was killed when he was just 14 years old.

On 20 April this year, a young man died in St John’s Wood after what was believed to be a gang fight that started just over the borough boundary. In the previous weeks, a teenager on the Mozart estate was stabbed 13 times and was lucky to survive, and another boy was kicked into a coma. Both incidents are believed to be gang related. In the months after the new year, two teenagers were attacked with bottles in completely unprovoked attacks, which were also believed to be gang related. Shortly before that, a 13-year-old was kidnapped off the street, held overnight and beaten up, in one of a loop of attacks and retaliations swirling around between youths in north Paddington, south Kilburn and north Kensington.

Ten days ago, on attending a meeting, I watched a fight involving, by the time it finished, 30 to 40 young men, who materialised out of nowhere. Using mobile phones and BlackBerrys, the young men called in support from other young people. A small conflict quickly escalated to a substantial and frightening one that ended with bottles being broken over heads and one young man being stabbed in the face with a screwdriver.

That list of events on the streets of north Westminster—not an area normally associated with high levels of gang or youth violence—is the tip of the iceberg, as discussions with young people, youth workers, schools and residents of the estates where these problems are inevitably concentrated will confirm.

A couple of weeks ago, a young mother and her baby in a minicab were surrounded by a group of youths who indicated, possibly untruthfully, that they had concealed weapons, because the gang across the border had been sending spies into their area in minicabs. Maybe they were armed or maybe not, but there is enough evidence of weapons, including guns, in the area to make the threat plausible.

The sister of the teenager who survived 13 stab wounds wrote to me recently:

“I saw about 20 young boys on bikes last Saturday and this Saturday just gone, Bandannas and riding around…What is the

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best thing to do in this situation? I suppose call the police, but they will have gone by the time they arrive?! Every time I see them and then see another young boy on their own my heart skips a beat”.

That is the experience of life even in communities in north Westminster. As my hon. Friends will testify, the toll of injury and death is far worse in parts of east and south London, and in some towns and cities in the north. I want, however, to focus on the impact on my constituency. It seems to me that if I think there is something approaching a crisis in my area, it is implicit that there is a problem on a far greater scale than has previously been appreciated.

There are excellent people working on this issue in my community. I cannot list them all, but I pay tribute to the safer neighbourhoods police officers, council staff, youth workers, teachers and volunteers. Their efforts deserve praise beyond words. I say to the Minister, however, that those efforts are insufficiently supported and increasingly look like straws in a wind that is blowing in the opposite direction.

Neither gang conflict nor youth violence are new phenomena. The statistics do not indicate a worsening picture of crime overall, but the figures for London obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham illustrate the fact that serious youth violence is a growing problem. Over the past five years, 107 London teenagers have been killed in knife and gun crimes. The welcome drop in the murder rate for all age groups in London since 2006, from 172 to 125, has not been mirrored by an equivalent fall in teenage homicides. That figure was unchanged between 2006 and 2010, although as we are all aware there was a peak in 2008, which was followed by a concentrated effort that brought down the number significantly in 2009, and I pay tribute to everyone involved in that. Serious youth violence is up. In 2008, there were 6,675 instances of youth violence in London. That rose to 6,859 last year. There is something of a consensus that the involvement of gangs in these problems is getting worse. Indeed, the Prime Minister confirmed that at Prime Minister’s questions this week.

I would like to spend some time talking about the definition of gangs, although I do not want to digress too much. Although serious organised crime gangs are operating across the country, the definition of a gang is much looser and more fluid in the case of young people. Gang identity is a factor in the behaviour of some of our young people and the conflicts they get into, but we should not be too easily diverted into trying to define exactly what a gang is and which individuals belong to which gangs. There is a danger, in so doing, that we will lose the opportunity to divert a wider group of young people from involvement.

I find myself increasingly aware of the striking fact that people such as me walk different streets from those that are walked by young people in our cities. At least in our major cities, there is an increasingly dark and disturbing story that only partly shows up in the crime figures, and it often passes by the adults who live in the same community as the young people affected. It is almost like a science fiction story in which we inhabit parallel worlds. Our young people are going out on to the streets and experiencing something completely different from what we experience, and it is often chillingly frightening.

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Not only are thousands of young lives being blighted by the violence and criminality that I have described, but fear and anxiety about youth violence is spread much more widely. When I visited a primary school recently, I was stunned to hear the majority of children of seven and eight years old talk about their awareness and fear of the violence that stalks our streets, which involves groups of young people and can readily spill over into fighting. According to the Citizenship Foundation, in a report that was commented on in the media last week, knife crime is in the top three concerns named by nine and 10-year-olds. I find that completely astonishing and deeply disturbing.

Less surprisingly, I have discovered from discussions with secondary school heads the extent to which gang tensions have percolated through into their schools. Possibly saddest of all, when we talk to street-smart young men of 16 and 17, we should not be surprised if they tell us that it is impossible for them to consider, in the case of those from north Westminster, visiting a sports centre in Ladbroke Grove or walking a major road into Kilburn safely. No doubt young people in Kilburn would say that it was impossible for them to go swimming in the Jubilee swimming baths in north Westminster. The invisible boundaries of postcode areas are chalked deeply into their consciousness.

We know that the factors underpinning gang membership and youth violence are complex and multi-layered. They are social, cultural and economic. “Fear and fashion” is a slogan used to campaign for anti-gang work, and both elements of it have truth in them. Many young people associate themselves with gangs and carry weapons out of fear that if they do not do so other people will be armed and they will be put at a disadvantage. We know that coming from a damaged and dysfunctional family in which drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and mental illness are factors can increase the risk of gang involvement, but I have known violent young people to emerge from the strongest and most loving families because the pull of the street can be so strong.

We know that children who are out of school because of exclusion, or young people who are not in employment, education or training, are disproportionately at risk, and that their number has grown. The absence of diversionary activities and work opportunities cannot be an excuse for violence, but such factors are contributory. It is no coincidence that our gravest problems are often rooted in our poorest neighbourhoods.

We need a sustained focus on the underlying causes of gang membership and youth crime and violence. We know that there will not be any quick fixes, but we need swift action to limit the worst of the challenges that we face today and prevent a deepening crisis. That lead must come from the top—from the Government, the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education, the Mayor, the Metropolitan police and local councils.

Of course, some investment is being made, and I am not for one moment arguing that nothing is being done. However, I do not believe that the level of attention or resources is equal to the task, which is likely to get harder. Policing is vital, but insufficient. Stop-and-search powers must be applied, but they must remain proportionate

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and intelligence-led. We must not lose sight of the importance of maintaining relationships between young people and the police.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on holding this important debate in this important week, in which I lost one of my young constituents. Does she agree that the House must send a message to communities up and down the country that it is essential that people give what intelligence and information they have to the police when these acts are perpetrated? It is not a question of snitching, as has been put about in some boroughs in London, including mine, but a question of people protecting their family, friends and communities. The problem could affect any family. It affects not only families whose children are involved in gang violence, but those who get caught in the crossfire. That will not stop unless people come forth with intelligence.

Ms Buck: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If intelligence of such activities is not passed on, young people will die. It is as simple as that. I could not agree more with him.

My hon. Friend underpins the point I was making. The relationships between young people and the police, who in this context are represented in the best way, in most cases, by safer neighbourhood officers, are critical, but above all are the relationships between young people and youth services. We are most likely to build the relationships of trust that ensure that intelligence flows between young people and voluntary or statutory youth services.

One of my big concerns is that the scaling back of youth services is leading to reduced capacity to provide diversionary activity and to work and build connections with those young people, but in addition there is an increasing tendency—this did not start in May 2010, although I sense that it is becoming more entrenched—for so many projects on gangs and young people who are at risk of being drawn into violence to be short-term, piecemeal and fragmented, although I pay tribute to the quality of those projects. In Westminster, the Brathay project works with young men in Queen’s Park. The UNCUT project went and came back—but for how long? A local scheme called ENDZ United does mediation work, which is one of the most constructive ways in which we can deal with gang violence, but its funding is for only 30 weeks. It is almost counter-productive for young people to build up a connection with a scheme that will be gone after six months or a year, and those relationships of trust between youth workers and young people are dissipated.

When I talk to young people after such projects end, they respond by saying, “I’m afraid that just goes to show how little anybody cares about us, because no sooner do we get connected with important schemes than they are over.” The consistency of project work is critical, as is the scale of the work that we do with young people. Despite the good work that I have mentioned, sadly, Westminster is cutting £225,000 from its youth service this year. Although around £100,000 is being put into various anti-gang initiatives, Westminster managed a few weeks ago to find £100,000 just to replace railings in Sussex gardens, and it has spent £144,000 to send managers on away days. That is a problem with spending priorities.

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We need to do better than we have been doing on cross-border liaison. Brent council, which is central, has such major problems on the Stonebridge estate that it has been unable to focus as much as I would like on south Kilburn and Paddington. Kensington council, I am afraid, has something of a head-in-the-sand attitude—it seems to think that it does not have a problem at all.

In conclusion, I want to ask the Minister a few questions. Is he satisfied that there is a coherent, strategic approach to gangs and youth violence across Departments, and if so how is it demonstrated? Will he take steps to satisfy himself that boroughs such as mine that were not previously regarded as high risk do not sink into complacency, but develop their own strategic plans and monitor progress towards them? Will he liaise with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education to review the impact of spending cuts on youth services, especially in higher-risk areas? How can the Government help to ensure that interventions aimed at those at risk are not always short-term, fragmented programmes whose premature end undermines so much of the value that may have been achieved? Far too many lives are being lost on our city streets, and an even greater proportion of young lives are being blighted under the shadow of violence, at least some of which is accounted for by the growing problem of gang association.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): This is an extremely important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing it. The House spends an enormous amount of time talking about the bad things that young people are responsible for, of which this is one, but does she agree with me, and no doubt the rest of the House, that there are many things for which young people are responsible that we should, and do, celebrate? Neither this debate nor the bad things we read in the media are indicative of what young people are for.

Ms Buck: I absolutely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. In an way, it is because I see so many young people whom I admire and love, and because I see the damage that violence and the fear of it are doing to them that I am motivated to come here and raise this issue. Many—almost all—of the young people whom I see who commit crimes do bad things but are not bad people, and they deserve the chance of an alternative life and rehabilitation.

That is the context. We have heard much about the many tragedies affecting south London, Nottingham, Manchester and so on. That was confirmed again by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham. I know that many of my parliamentary colleagues will want to return to this issue, but I have to tell the House that when a problem this grave affects even the streets of a place such as Westminster, we have a graver problem than anyone has recognised, and I look to the Government to help us respond to and deal with it.

2.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this debate. I know, from the debates and discussions she and I have had in the Chamber and

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outside over a number of years, how seriously she takes this issue. I know how keenly she feels about the matters she has brought to the House’s attention, and about the need to ensure that the Government, at all levels, are doing all they can to safeguard our communities and the opportunities of young people growing up in them. That is why I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this short debate.

I am pleased to see a number of hon. Members here this afternoon, despite it being a Friday and a time when the House might not normally sit. That underlines the commitment of many people across the House to identifying the solutions—not the short-term fixes, but the long-term sustained effort required to deal with a problem that is complex and has different facets. Those include society, family and the breakdown in certain communities across our country, and it will take a lot of focus, effort and time to get things right. I value the chance that the hon. Lady has given the House to consider these matters.

I pass on the House’s thoughts and condolences to all those who have suffered as a consequence of youth violence and violent crime, whether in London or across the rest of the country. I obviously note that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) is in his place this afternoon, and our thoughts are with the family of Nana Darko-Frempong. That is a recent tragic case of a young life being cut short. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s efforts to bring this matter to the House’s attention not just today or this week, but over an extended period. He has done that in a measured and non-partisan way. He should be congratulated on the work he has done.

Although the overwhelming majority of young people are law-abiding and responsible citizens, sadly a small minority engage in intimidating and violent behaviour. Their actions can have a terrible and lasting impact on the lives of victims, their families and local communities, as the hon. Lady acutely highlighted. There are a range of issues being addressed—I will talk later about those issues—through the work that the Government are doing, as well as through the local action that Westminster city council and other councils are undertaking, along with the Mayor of London, to deal with what is a serious problem.

The Centre for Social Justice review of street gangs in Britain, “Dying to Belong”, which was published in 2009, found an increase in gang culture and associated violence in Britain over the previous decade. The report found that the composition of gangs and the nature of gang culture had shifted. Gang members are getting younger, and geographical territory is an increasingly important factor, which is related to the concept of the “postcode beef”—that is, the lines in the road that we do not see, but which young people do, and the impact that has on their ability to use community facilities and live their lives normally in the way that we did when growing up in our communities. The report also found that violence is increasingly chaotic and without sense.

We face specific challenges in relation to gangs and youth violence, but it is important to put the issue in context, as the hon. Lady did. Overall levels of violence have fallen by around 56% since 1995. The most recent recorded crime statistics show a 6% reduction in police recorded violence against the person in the 12 months to December 2010, and an 11% reduction in offences of

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actual or grievous bodily harm involving knives or sharp instruments. Data published by Professor Jonathan Shepherd also show a 16% reduction in accident and emergency department admissions as a result of violent assault among teenagers over the same period. In addition, the British crime survey report on “Children’s experience and attitudes towards the police, personal safety and public spaces”, which was published last month, found that only 1% of 13 to 15-year-olds said that they had carried a knife for protection in the last 12 months. However, that is 1% too many. Any child carrying a knife is a matter of extreme concern, and when young people are drawn into gangs and violence, we need to take all possible action to stop this happening. The Government are committed to making our communities safer places for everyone.

Last June, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary asked Brooke Kinsella, whose brother Ben was tragically murdered in 2008, to undertake a fact-finding mission about schemes in local communities that are working to stop young people committing violence, including violence using weapons. Brooke’s report, “Tackling knife crime together—a review of local anti-knife crime projects”, was published in February. Her recommendations include anti-knife crime awareness in schools; better information-sharing between police, schools and other agencies on local issues; a best practice website for local organisations; and more work with young children to stop them getting involved in youth violence.

Responding to Brooke’s report, the Home Secretary announced a substantial funding package for anti-knife crime initiatives over the next two years. The package is fully in line with Brooke’s recommendations and includes £10 million for prevention and diversionary activities, and engagement with young people at risk of becoming involved in crime; £3.75 million for London, Manchester and the west midlands, the three police force areas where more than half the country’s knife crime occurs; £4 million for a “Communities against gangs, guns and knives” fund to help local voluntary organisations across England and Wales work with young people to stop involvement in knife and gang violence; funding to provide free materials to schools to help young people keep themselves safe from knife and gun crime; and £250,000 for the Ben Kinsella fund, to be administered by the Prince’s Trust, for young people to run anti-knife crime projects in their local areas.

The funding will support vital police work where it is most needed too, and, most importantly, will give support to young people and local voluntary organisations working at the heart of our communities, because we need to look at this issue in that context too—a point that the hon. Lady also made. Indeed, I noted her comments

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about Westminster city council and getting local join-up. I was interested to note that Westminster is developing relationships with the youth offending teams in Kensington and Chelsea and in Brent, as well as with the safer neighbourhood teams. It has established a monthly gang meeting to identify problematic young people who offend or cause trouble in neighbouring boroughs and to share information and intelligence on those young people.

The hon. Lady made it clear that there is a need for a cross-over between council areas and communities and for a joined-up approach to ensure that information can be better shared between agencies within a local council area and, when a pervasive problem spreads beyond that area, in a way that will bind the process together more effectively. It certainly sounds as though there is more work to be done, although I was pleased to note that that thinking was taking place, and that the problem is being looked at in a broader context to ensure that the solutions are more effective.

As well as preventing young people from getting involved in violence and gang activity, action must be taken against those who break the law. To help local agencies to prevent gang-related violence, the Government introduced a new type of injunction across England and Wales in January. I went to Waltham Forest to launch the gang injunctions at the time. Initially for use against adults, gang injunctions give the police and local partners an additional tool to prevent serious violence and, above all, to protect the community. These injunctions allow the courts to require gang members to keep away from other gangs’ territories or to participate in activities to get them out of gangs. The first gang injunction was obtained by Southwark council in February, and it stopped one particular gang member entering a specific area and mixing with other gang members. We are aware of other action being taken as well.

The Home Secretary’s “guns, gangs and knives” round-table seeks to bring together all those who have a valuable role in developing the work on youth violence, including the work on the involvement of women and girls in gangs. It therefore provides a top-level way of bringing this together and engaging the Home Office in these matters. I pay tribute to all those working in this arena to prevent gang crime and youth violence. I want to assure the hon. Lady of this Government’s commitment to freeing up local areas so that they can tackle this problem in the way that works best for them. I also want to thank all those who work so hard to keep our communities safe.

3.2 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).