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Gangs

October 11, 2011

Gangs

Mark made the following interventions in a Westminster Hall debate about problems relating to gangs and gang culture:

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)
It is important to put it on the record that there have been improvements in some statistics for some areas of serious crime, whether knife crime or gun crime, in recent years, although I accept that there is a tendency now to move in the wrong direction. We all know that just to bandy around statistics is not a sensible route forward. I very much take on board the idea that there needs to be far more co-ordination within London. The right hon. Gentleman referred to his own local authority perhaps being behind the curve compared with the neighbouring authority of Waltham Forest, which has put in place the Connect programme. It is important that, rather than getting into a sterile debate on statistics, which I accept happens on all sides in political discourse in London, we acknowledge that the Mayor and his predecessor have recognised the importance of dealing with gang crime and, in particular, the terrible statistics for knife and gun crime. Whether there is a slight reduction or not, any deaths that take place because of knife or gun crime are terrible tragedies, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) I congratulate Mr Lammy on his speech. I will try to be brief. He is right to identify that the riots were, in essence, an example of opportunistic, rather than systematic, gang-related criminality. None the less, it is important that we discuss gangs, not least because we will have an opportunity in 48 hours to discuss, in this same Chamber, the riots in greater detail.

I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution. None of the issues is open to a simplistic analysis or easy solution. It is perhaps the nature of the 24/7 media world in which we live that that expectation always exists. In the immediate aftermath of the riots, there was a sense that we should have some quick and easy solutions, but I think that the lesson is that, much as I accept his call to arms and passionate push for urgency, we also have to be patient. This needs systematic work within our communities to try to make sure that we break down the culture of violence and criminality, as well as the entirety of gang culture.

I am very much a sound money man. I have been a great believer in getting our deficit down and have tried in my own constituency, almost uniformly, not to make the case for more money to be pushed in a particular direction. I am, however, aware of gang culture in my own constituency and in the past few days I have written to the Home Secretary to make the case for moneys that would otherwise be taken away from Westminster city council to be put in its direction. There is a bigger issue of gang culture in the constituency of Ms Buck. The terrible shooting that took place on the Mozart estate only a week ago was a classic example of that.

In my constituency, the Churchill Gardens estate is not too far from where we sit this morning and there is increasingly great concern that it has almost a critical mass of would-be gang culture that has the potential to cause great blight to the locality. A lot of it is driven by the postcode war, with gangs from north and south of the river—the Churchill Gardens estate looks out towards Battersea and the south of London. There is real concern that we need to put some resource into prevention rather than cure.

I accept what Ms Abbott said earlier. One of the greatest difficulties is that the lifestyle has almost become chaotic and that it is difficult to wean people off. I also noticed that she raised her eyebrows when the right hon. Member for Tottenham suggested that gang culture was not an issue in 2000 when he became an MP. It has been a problem, although I think that there is now a critical mass in parts of London that used to feel unaffected by it. One of the interesting things about the riots was how previously quiet suburbs, such as Clapham and Enfield, which were perhaps regarded as leafy suburbs not too far away from some of the gangland areas of south London, Edmonton or Walthamstow, suddenly became subject to some real problems. That is something that we have to bear firmly in mind.

As I have said, this will require patient, time-consuming activity. The St Andrew’s club, of which I am proud, as the local Member of Parliament, to be president, is even closer to us than the Churchill Gardens estate; it is within 500 yards of Parliament. It was the oldest boys’ club and is now a boys and girls’ club. A phenomenal amount of resource was put in to ensure that there were sports clubs and teams. There are also opportunities for dance and music lessons.

The club desperately requires funding. The local authority is not able to give it the funds it has had in recent years. We have tried to build up a trust, so that relatively wealthy people living nearby are able to put in money. It is helpful—not so much in keeping people off the streets, although that is one distinct element of it—and its catchment area goes well beyond the immediate vicinity of Westminster. The clubs that it puts in place go south of the river.

That opportunity for distraction, provided by clubs in particular, is, as the right hon. Member for Tottenham said, something that we middle-class parents can often provide for our children almost as a matter of course, without recognising that for many others costs and more general factors make the opportunity much more limited. I hope that in such areas we can try to wean people off gang culture, although it is extremely difficult. Even if there were a direct economic choice between a job and the attraction of cheap and easy money, compatible with a chaotic lifestyle, it would be difficult to wean many long-standing gang members away. Aspiration is an issue: paucity of aspiration and of expectation.

I want to finish with one other observation. I do not want to play down the importance of the issues. I have a feeling that, although we have not had to worry about gang culture in my constituency, we may go beyond the critical mass in a year or two, if we do not nip things in the bud today. However, we must also recognise there are many unsung, relatively quiet young men and women in our communities, doing a phenomenally good job. They work hard and have developed aspirations. Perhaps it is self-discipline that has brought that about, rather than anything from their family. They are unsung heroes and I hope that they will play their part in improving their communities in years to come. It is important that we should not look on young people as simply problematic. We can be proud of them, while we do our level best to tackle the problems addressed in the debate.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) The hon. Lady complains that the Government and perhaps the current Mayor of London have not produced the goods, as she would have liked, but it is only fair to mention that, in the past few years, 10,000 knives and guns have been taken off the street, in a widespread amnesty, and we have also ensured that there are an additional 1 million police patrols per year on the streets of London. It is also fair to say that that builds on what happened under Mayor Livingstone, but the trajectory has been in that direction: we have continued some of the important work done in our capital city in the past decade.