Disturbances (Wood Green)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Reg Race Mr Reg Race , Haringey Wood Green 12:00 am, 8th July 1981

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the riots that took place in my constituency of Wood Green last night".

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Morton) has returned to his constituency today following the riots there last night. I am sure that he would have wanted to be associated with this application had it been possible for him to be here.

There were a large number of disturbances in my constituency last night, and 35 shops in Wood Green High Road were looted or had their windows broken. Reports in the press and by various individuals claim that 26 policemen were injured and 50 civilians arrested. Crowds of 400 to 500 youths—black, white and of Mediterranean origin—roamed around Wood Green High Road. A serious situation developed.

We urgently need to debate the disturbances. It is clear from the discussions that I have had in my constituency that the youths involved were trying to emulate what happened in Liverpool, Toxteth, Southall and, possibly, Brixton. The House has a responsibility to make its view plain. It is clear that the youths were attacking authority, for whatever reason. It is clear that background factors were operating in my constituency, as they have in other constituencies—for example, unemployment and housing conditions. The Prime Minister referred to those factors from the Dispatch Box yesterday.

The House has a responsibility to discuss such matters in a sane, civilised and responsible manner to discover precisely the degree of responsibility of those factors in creating the disturbances. Hon. Members have a responsibility to request an urgent debate on the role of the police. I wish to say immediately that I was present at some of the disturbances last night, observing what was taking place. The attitude of the police was good. They displayed considerable restraint and cooled the situation.

We must debate the issue because a number of vital factors are at stake. How many more constituencies will be affected before it is debated and hon. Members can ask Ministers what they intend to do? All that we have heard so far from the Home Secretary are statements about the equipment of the police. That is not good enough. We need an urgent debate to discuss the background to the riots.

I do not wish the House to take no action during the long, hot summer and to be open to sniping from the public for not understanding what is happening and for taking no action. It is the responsibility of the House to debate the issue and the responsibility of the Government to tell us what they intend to do to prevent further riots and to alleviate the terrible distress and problems in the inner urban areas.

When occurrences such as those at Liverpool. Toxteth, Southall, Brixton and Wood Green arise, we are constantly faced by arguments that they are straightfor-ward race riots. Some argue that the black community is to blame for all our social and economic ills. Because they make such statements, it is incumbent on us to ensure that we discuss the future of race and community relations in the inner urban areas. We must put on record the truth about community relations and the threat to them that exists—sometimes because of the attitudes of leading figures in the community, sometimes because of the attitudes of the police, sometimes because of housing conditions and sometimes because of unemployment.

We must have an urgent debate if we are riot to be accused of misleading the public and of not taking into account the real problems faced by the many hon. Members who represent inner urban areas.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) gave me notice before 12 o'clock this morning that he might seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the riots that took place in my constituency of Wood Green last night".lb/> The House will have listened with anxious concern to the hon. Gentleman. It will recall the exchanges, which are clear in my mind, which took place on Monday. I have a firm impression that the issue is to be debated before we rise for the Summer Recess. We are, of course, in the month of July. No one should be under the misapprehension that the House will not have its chance to discuss the serious issues that have been presented and the disturbances that have caused us such anxiety.

As the House knows, it has instructed me to give no reason for my decision. I listened with concern and anxiety to the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot submit his application to the House.