I remind the House that in view of the enormous interest in the debate I have imposed a limit of five minutes on Back-Bench speeches. There is no limit on Front-Bench speeches and I leave it to the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary to tailor contributions in light of the level of interest.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The last five days have been a dark time for everybody who cares about their community and their country. Violence, arson and looting in several of our towns and cities, often openly in front of television cameras, have destroyed homes, ruined livelihoods and taken lives. As long as we wish to call ourselves a civilised society, such disorder has no place in Britain.
I know that the House will want to join me in paying tribute to the bravery of the policemen and women who have worked to restore order on our streets. In particular, I know that hon. Members will want to lend their support to the police officers who have suffered injuries in the course of their duties, and the whole House will want to send condolences to the families of the three men so senselessly killed in Birmingham on Tuesday night.
The violence of the last five days raises many searching questions, and the answers may be painful to hear and difficult to put right. Why is it that so many people are prepared to behave in this way? Why does a violent gang culture exist in so many of our towns and cities? Why did the police find it so hard to prevent or contain the violence? It will take time to answer those questions fully and adequately, but I will take each of them in turn.
First are the reasons behind that behaviour. We must never forget that the only cause of a crime is a criminal. Everybody, no matter what their background or circumstances, has the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Those who make the wrong decision, who engage in criminality, must be identified, arrested and punished, and we will make sure that happens.
Does the right hon. Lady not recognise what the Prime Minister said earlier? Every crime has a context. Is it not important, therefore, to have a full and proper inquiry, led by somebody of the level and competence of Lord Scarman, to look at the wider context of all these events? Of course, as the Home Secretary says, stating the blindingly obvious, the acts are the responsibility of those who committed them.
The right hon. Gentleman asked the Prime Minister exactly the same question, and he gave a very clear answer. The Home Affairs Committee will consider the policing of the violence that has taken place over the past five days, and I will bring a report on gang culture and the number of gangs in our society—I will make further reference to it—to the House in October.
I commend the points that my right hon. Friend has made in opening the debate. Does she share the concern relayed by a number of hon. Members about the soft sentences for such disorder passed in the cases that have already gone through the courts? Does she share my concern that, although we talk about riots, the number of people charged with riot is very small? As these were riots, whoever is charged with an offence during the nights of disorder should punished accordingly.
We have been clear in encouraging those who are making decisions about charging and, indeed, those who will make sentencing decisions in the courts to consider these crimes in the context of the circumstances. My hon. Friend refers to the fact that no one has been charged with the very specific offence of riot. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are making the right charging decisions, and they are doing so in the context of ensuring that they recognise the impact that people being on the streets can have.
No one doubts that the violence that we have seen over the past five days is a symptom of something very deeply wrong with our society. Children celebrated as they smashed their way into shops. Men in sports cars arrived at stores to steal goods. Women tried on trainers before they stole them. A teaching assistant was caught looting. Thugs pretended to help a injured young man but robbed him. They are shocking images, but they are in fact symbols of a deeper malaise in our society.
Almost 2 million children are brought up in households in which no one works. One in three children leaves primary school unable to read, write and add up properly. We have the highest level of drug abuse in Europe. Almost 100 knife crimes are committed every day and nearly 1 million violent crimes every year. Half of all prisoners reoffend within a year of their release from prison. Those are serious social problems, and we cannot go on ignoring them. No one is pretending that there are easy answers to such deep-rooted problems, but they are the reasons why the reform of welfare, schools and the criminal justice system cannot wait.
The right hon. Lady lays out the context of the difficult role that faces our police. In that context, is it not bizarre that the Government should choose to make such swingeing cuts to the Home Office budget and particularly to the police budget, in comparison with other budgets that have survived relatively intact? Why does she not fight her corner and ensure that we have enough police on the streets to do the job?
I am clear that there will be enough police on the streets to do the job that we and the public want them to do, and that police officers want to do. I say to any other Opposition Member who wants to make a similar point that I listened to the previous statement and it is now absolutely clear that the Labour party has abandoned any pretence of having a credible policy to deal with the deficit.
The Prime Minister said this morning that, all of sudden, the Met could turn out 16,000 people in a day, rather than the previous 6,000 or whatever the figure was. That does not take into account all the other policemen and women from all the other forces. How many Met police were in fact turned out, and how many came from other forces?
A significant number did indeed come from other forces. I do not want to give the right hon. Gentleman figures that are incorrect, so I will get the precise figures for him. It is right that the 16,000 figure that the Prime Minister spoke about included mutual aid from other forces. I pay tribute to all the forces around the United Kingdom that have been willing to provide support and particularly trained police support units.
Is it also the right hon. Lady’s understanding that if a police authority has had to dip into its contingency fund to pay any of the additional costs of high police visibility, which we all understand have to be met, it will be recompensed—that there is no question of police authorities having to expend the money themselves?
The right hon. Gentleman has been involved in home affairs long enough to know that a scheme is available under which police forces can make special requests to the Home Office in relation to specific expenses that they have had to incur. There are some rules on how the scheme operates, but as the Prime Minister made clear, we are committed to providing support to police authorities, and therefore police forces, in relation to the financial implications of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. As the House will be aware, those costs could be significant, given the events on our streets.
Apropos police budgets, will the right hon. Lady comment on what it has been reported she was told by Greater Manchester police about what happened on Tuesday:
“We really didn’t have the staff, protection or resources to deal with it. I find it really, really frustrating and really worrying that people could have got killed.”
So overstretched were our officers in Greater Manchester, particularly in Salford, that apparently they reported to the Home Secretary that they could have been killed. It is not only Labour Members who are saying this; it is police officers, as well.
I was pleased to visit Greater Manchester police yesterday and to sit down with some of the officers—the most highly trained riot officers—who had been on the front line in Salford on Tuesday night. One of the most striking comments made by an officer was that he had looked up into the sky and it was dark because it was raining bricks. They were under extreme pressure that night, facing violence of a ferocity that they had not seen before. There were times in Salford when the police did not have sufficient numbers to deal with what was happening on the street, and they had to retreat and regroup both for their personal protection and to make sure that they could do their proper job of protection on the streets.
Following the right hon. Lady’s reply to Mr Llwyd, who speaks for the Welsh nationalists, can she give similar figures for Manchester and Liverpool, which also drew on resources from surrounding forces? We heard earlier about injuries sustained by Cheshire officers, for example. I think the figures ought to published and made available to everyone.
I could provide a map of where officers went around the country, but it was not a matter of simple exchanges between one force and another. Officers from one force will have gone to support another, with subsequent backfilling by officers from a further force. The whole point of the ACPO PNICC—police national information co-ordination centre—arrangement is that such movements around the country can be worked so that when a force asks for numbers to be increased, officers are available. The key element is that the officers in question are mainly in police support units—officers who are specially trained in public order—thereby ensuring that the officers on the streets have the right level of training.
In response to Mr Burrowes, the Home Secretary said that no one had been charged with riot because the particular circumstances of riot had not arisen, or the charge was inappropriate. Will she confirm that that fact will not be used by the Metropolitan police to weasel out of providing the compensation that should be provided under the Riot (Damages) Act?
My constituency was badly affected on Monday. I wanted to ask about the police cuts. The Prime Minister told us earlier that the budget cuts could be managed with no reductions in visible policing. As the Home Secretary knows, in London a large number of police sergeants are being taken out the leadership of safer neighbourhoods teams in a very visible way. Are we to take it that the Government think there is a different way of managing cuts in London from the one that is being implemented?
No. We are leaving police forces, as is appropriate, together with their police authorities, to decide in relation to budget what will happen. We are leaving chief constables to make operational decisions about how they do that. What is absolutely clear in relation to the Metropolitan police is that under the leadership of the last Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan police increased the availability of police in terms of the number of hours that would be spent and the amount of ground that could be covered by moving to the single patrols. They said, “There is a different way of doing this.” That is a good example of how such an innovative approach can improve the presence on the ground.
I shall now move on to the question of gang culture in many of our towns and cities. Six per cent. of young people are thought to belong to a gang of one kind or another. Gangs are inherently criminal. On average, entrenched gang members have 11 criminal convictions, and the average age for the first conviction of a gang member is just 15. They are also inherently violent. Gangs across the country are involved with the use and supply of drugs, firearms and knives. From talking to chief constables who have dealt with the violence of the past few days, it is clear that many of the perpetrators, but by no means all of them, are known gang members. So we have to do more to tackle gang culture.
We have already announced plans to provide £4 million in funding to London, Greater Manchester and the west midlands over the course of this year and next to tackle their gang, guns and knives problem. We are providing a further £4 million over two years to community organisations working to stop young people becoming involved in gangs, help young people get out of gangs and support parents to help their children, and we are working with the Prince’s Trust to support young people who want to prevent gang violence, through the new Ben Kinsella fund.
It is clear that many of the perpetrators of these appalling crimes have been very young children indeed, and we know the limitations of the criminal law in relation to detention for young offenders who are under 14. Does my right hon. Friend agree that efforts to use restorative justice principles with young offenders, making them face up to the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done would be a good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and in the crimes that we have seen?
I have long been a supporter of restorative justice where it is going to work. That is one of the key issues that we need to look at when we consider what is an appropriate way of dealing with individuals. Restorative justice has a record of dealing particularly well with those who are young and first offenders. However, sadly, it may be the case that even at a very young age, some of the people we are looking at who have been involved in the violence are not simply first offenders. It is a sad comment on our society that there may be those who have been involved as gang members in criminal activity previously. But we need to do more.
I am grateful. Does the Home Secretary accept that the evidence from the police and the community in urban communities such as mine is that there are 40 or 50 serial serious criminals who are regularly the causes of most of the trouble and most of the crime, and who were involved in the past week’s activities? Can she give an assurance that with chief police officers and local police commanders they are a central target for activity, so that they cannot sweep in the youngsters referred to in the previous question and others, who become the followers, but are following only because there is someone seriously criminal who leads?
I can assure my right hon. Friend that the police are very clear that they want to identify and arrest all those who have been involved in the activity that has taken place over the past few days, and they are conscious that that means not just those who find themselves caught up in it, but those who are the core criminals, who are well known to them. As a number of chief constables have been saying to me, they know a number of the gang members who have been involved because they have had interaction with them before.
I hope that hon. Members will bear with me and allow me to make a little more progress because I am conscious of the time available for the debate.
We need to help communities more in sharing ideas and expertise on how we can tackle their gang problems, so working with ACPO we will establish an ending gang violence team of experts drawn from across the country, from the police service, local authorities and the voluntary sector, to provide an up-to-date map of the scale of the problem and practical, on-the-ground expert advice to areas wanting to get on top of their gang problems.
In January we launched gang injunctions, which give the police the power to impose tough sanctions on adult gang members, such as barring them from entering certain parts of town, appearing in public with dogs or wearing their gang colours or emblems. As the Prime Minister said in his statement earlier today, we will now go further and introduce gang injunctions for young people under the age of 18, not just in pilot form but throughout the country. As the Prime Minister also said in his statement, and as I said in answer to a question, I will present a report to Parliament in October on a cross-Government programme to combat gangs.
I have listened carefully to what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have had to say so far, and I have heard already that we want the police to be able to surge in numbers in immediate crisis situations. The Home Secretary has now given a reassurance that the police will focus on the most prolific and serious offenders in our communities and she is now going into detail about how the police will work with a range of community partners to end gangs. There has to be a limit to what the police can achieve, and in Greater Manchester we will have 1,500 fewer of them at the end of this period. Cuts do need to be made, but at the moment a 20% cut genuinely needs to be re-evaluated in the light of the incidents and the severity of the events we have seen.
I pay tribute to the way in which the right hon. Lady has entered into the debate generally. Her constituency was particularly badly affected and is a particular example of criminal gangs operating on the streets in order to test and press the police. I will give the same answer to her in relation to police budgets as I gave earlier and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to a number of Members who raised the issue. At the end of the spending review period, the police will have the numbers to enable them to deploy in the way they have done during the last few days. It is possible to make cuts in police budgets by taking money out of matters such as better procurement to ensure that we can achieve the cuts that we need to make while still leaving police able to do the job that we want them to do and that they want to do.
“we have large numbers of officers still in roles that do not require the skills, the powers and expertise of a police officer. It is through that route over the next four years where we will achieve quite a bit of savings.”
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the emphasis that she is putting on the gang culture, which the Prime Minister himself referred to when he said that it was a culture that glorifies violence and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities. Does she agree that the legal restraints that are placed upon, for example, the police, social services, teachers and parents, in imposing discipline in the home, in school or elsewhere, directly derive from a number of legal constraints that come from, for example, the Human Rights Act 1998, which needs to be repealed? We cannot deal with the culture and with the question of rights and responsibilities unless we deal with one of the root causes, which is this idea that people can do anything and get away with it.
We are taking steps to deal with the culture, and one example is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is taking steps to ensure that we restore discipline in our schools. My hon. Friend refers to the Human Rights Act, which was referred to during questions to the Prime Minister, and my hon. Friend is well aware that we are looking at the issue both through the Bill of Rights commission that has been set up by the Ministry of Justice and my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary and work that we are doing with the ECHR.
I ask hon. Members to bear with me, because I am very conscious of the fact that many will wish to speak in the debate.
I want to move on to the questions about the police reaction to the violence, because I know that hon. Members, like members of the public, are concerned about the speed and quality of the police response. That response has changed over the past five days and has differed across the country. We need to appraise it honestly and bluntly and learn lessons where things have gone wrong. As we know, the first disturbances in London began in Tottenham on Saturday night. The police operation began with the originally peaceful protest about the death of Mark Duggan. Officers were understandably cautious about how they policed the protest, but as the violence began they lost control and a fully fledged riot followed.
On Sunday night, with Tottenham calm, the police managed to nip in the bud trouble at Oxford Circus, but the violence spread to Enfield and Brixton. On Monday night, the number of officers deployed in London increased to 6,000, two or three times more than there are on a normal evening, but still that was not enough and, with the violence reaching Hackney, Peckham, Croydon, Ealing, Lewisham and Clapham, officers were overwhelmed. In Clapham, the mob ran amok for more than two hours before the police regained control. That is simply not acceptable.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister and I held a meeting with the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, in which he set out his intention at least to double the deployment of officers. During the day, a number of offenders were identified, arrested and taken out of circulation. Officers took a tougher approach and intervened earlier to disperse groups before trouble began. Leave was cancelled, special constables were mobilised and mutual aid was stepped up, so up to 16,000 officers were deployed in total. As I said, officers took a more robust approach to tackling disorder and making arrests. There are tricky days and nights ahead, but thanks to the efforts of those thousands of officers order has in large part been restored.
The whole House admires the bravery and courage of the police officers, who were often up for three or four days without any time off, and we understand the need to police the disturbances in Tottenham carefully, but young people were seen looting Wood Green shopping centre and Tottenham Hale retail park for hours early on Sunday morning, which I think gave the green light to every little hooligan in London to come out on following days to loot and steal.
It is unacceptable that people were able to do that on our streets. There were not enough police on the streets on Saturday night. The number of police was increased further on Sunday and Monday, and it was then clear that that needed to go further. We had a conversation with the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who presented plans to more than double the number of police on the streets. I have been clear over the past few days that we need not only the police presence, but a tough policy on arrests to give a very clear message that these actions have consequences so that people do not think that they can get away with it in the way the hon. Lady suggests.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. The surge in officers that came after the decision taken at 9 am on Tuesday made a huge difference in my constituency and meant that we had a peaceful night. Did the commissioner explain why he did not increase the number of police to 16,000 sooner? The police in my constituency dealt with a really impossible situation and we are incredibly grateful to them, but why was that decision, which was announced by the Prime Minister at 9 am on Tuesday, not made sooner—for example, on Monday evening, because it was very clear in our area, given what had happened on Sunday night, that this would get far bigger?
The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point. That is one of the issues that we need to look at in more detail when dealing with this. However, the answer that I would give him is that when the police were looking at their numbers and bringing in some mutual aid, which they did on Monday night, they were of the view that they would have the capacity to deal with what they believed was going to happen.
The police were dealing with a different situation from that which they had seen before. One comment that a number of chief constables and officers have made to me is that they were surprised by the speed with which gangs were able to mobilise through the use of social media, and I shall come on to the issue of social media. Very real questions have to be answered about how we take forward those policing matters, and that is why we need to make sure that we learn the lessons from that situation.
Mr Umunna is right that the number of officers then put on the streets on Tuesday night was effective. That robust policing, coupled with a robust arrest policy, was effective; it has been continued, and other forces have followed it through.
It is very easy for us as politicians to be armchair police officers, and it would have been wrong to comment on the night, but we need a cold analysis in order to know whether, for example, the lessons of the surge in London were taken on board in other parts of the country. That is not a matter that should divide the House; that is a matter of concern to my constituents, obviously, to those of other Greater Manchester Members and to those in other cities and conurbations throughout the country.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point, and yesterday I had a conference call with chief officers from throughout the country to tell them that we wanted them to adopt exactly that approach. I shall refer to that in a few minutes.
I am going to make a little more progress, because, although the number of officers on the streets on Tuesday night made a difference in London, we saw more disorder in other parts of the country. We saw it in towns and cities including Manchester, Salford, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and, for a second night, Birmingham, where there was further violence. In Greater Manchester and the west midlands, despite the best efforts of officers, we saw for a while that thugs, not the police, were in control of the streets.
In Winson Green in Birmingham, as we know, three young men were killed when they were hit, apparently deliberately, by a car, and I, like the whole House, want to pay tribute to Tariq Jahan, the father of one of the victims, for an extremely dignified call for calm, which undoubtedly did much to calm community relations.
As I have just said in answer to an intervention, yesterday I convened and chaired a conference call with chief officers from every force in the country. We agreed the mobilisation of all special constables, the cancellation of police leave throughout the country and the adoption of the tactics deployed by the Metropolitan police in London. Again, there are difficult days and nights ahead, and we are not complacent, but at this stage order has been resorted.
We said that we would do everything necessary to bring the disorder to an end, and we meant it. We made it clear to the police that there was nothing to stop them using baton rounds if they judged it necessary, and we put the water cannon stationed in Northern Ireland on standby, to be deployed within 24 hours. The police made it clear to me that they did not want to use them, and, as things stand, what is working to restore order is officers on the streets and robust policing with the help and support of local communities. We would jeopardise that if we rushed to use things such as rubber bullets.
During the Prime Minister’s statement, we heard a lot about the stand-and-observe order that was apparently given to the police in particular circumstances. We all agree that that was terrible, but was not the policy determined mostly by police concern about over-reaction, given that they have been so criticised for how they dealt with the G20 riots, on which there is a case pending in the European Court of Human Rights? Does the Home Secretary agree that, whatever police powers we end up agreeing with, in such circumstances we must provide consistent support when things go wrong?
My hon. Friend makes an important point that I will come to in my remarks.
The police are concerned to ensure that when we talk about robust policing, we definitely give them backing for what they want to do. Policing by consent is the British way, but the police retain the confidence of the wider community only if they are seen to take clear and robust action in the face of open criminality. On Monday night it was clear that there simply were not enough officers on duty. The largest policing event in London is the Notting Hill carnival. There were about 6,000 officers on duty on Monday night, which is the number that the police usually deploy for the Notting Hill carnival. It was clear that in the circumstances that developed that was not enough officers on duty.
It is clear to me that the original police tactics were insufficient—exactly the point that my hon. Friend Margot James raised. After the criticism of previous public order operations for excessive force, some officers appeared reluctant to be sufficiently robust in breaking up groups. Many arrests were made, but in some situations officers contained suspects in a specified area where they were free to commit criminal damage and steal, instead of intervening and making arrests. I want to make it clear to the House that in making these points, I am not criticising the police. Too often, the police are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Nowhere is that truer than in public order policing. I want to be clear that as long as officers act within reason and the law, this Home Secretary will never damn the police if they do.
As I have just said and as I have made clear to the police from when I first took on this role, I will always back officers who do the right thing and operate within the law. Appropriate action must be taken against officers who do the wrong thing, but we will back officers who do the right thing and I will back them as Home Secretary.
I ask my hon. Friend to bear with me for a few minutes because I want to talk about another way in which the police response could have been better, which is in the harnessing, sharing and analysis of intelligence.
Even in the best of economic times, we would not have the resources to keep up this level of deployment continuously, so public order planning and intelligence will need to be considerably better. This is not the first time that criminals with plans to disrupt life in our towns and cities have used technology to plot their crimes. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and messaging services such as BlackBerry Messenger have been used to co-ordinate criminality and stay one step ahead of the police. I will therefore convene a meeting with ACPO, the police and representatives from the social media industry to work out how we can improve the technological and related legal capabilities of the police.
Social networking has obviously been heavily involved in the organisation of the disruption. However, open social networks such as Twitter have also provided the police, including Kent police, with an opportunity to dispel rumours and myths about where future disturbances will happen. There is more of a problem with closed networks such as BlackBerry Messenger. Will the Home Secretary congratulate forces that have used social networking to their advantage and concentrate on the closed networking opportunities that have been used by others?
I certainly congratulate forces that have used social networking to their advantage. Kent police are one example and the Metropolitan police have also used social networking. That is why what should be done in relation to social networking is not an easy open-and-shut case. There are positive uses of social networking sites as well as negative uses. That is why it is important that I convene the various parties involved to sit down and talk this matter through in a sensible way. Among the issues we will discuss is whether and how we should stop people communicating via such websites and services when we know that they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
There is a limit on Back-Bench speeches and I have already spoken for more than half an hour, so if hon. Members will bear with me, I think that I should finish my speech and give Back Benchers the opportunity to speak.
A further difficulty, not just in the past week’s disorder, but in other recent operations, has been face covering by criminals. The police already have a power to require people to remove face coverings in certain limited circumstances. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows officers to force their removal only in a specific geographical location for a limited time, linked to a threat of violence. That does not leave discretion to individual constables or allow officers to nip trouble in the bud early. We will change the law to allow police officers to remove face coverings if they have a reasonable belief that they are related to criminal activity, under any circumstances. As the Prime Minister has said, we will also consider the use of existing dispersal powers and whether any wider power of curfew is necessary.
We often say in the House that there can be no liberty without order and the events of the past five days have shown that more clearly than ever. The tide is turning, and order is returning to our streets. Since Saturday, more than 1,200 people have been arrested and more than 400 have been charged. Courts in London, the west midlands and Manchester have worked through the night and offenders are already starting to be prosecuted. I am clear that the perpetrators of the violence must pay for their actions, and the courts should hand down custodial sentences for any violent crimes.
The tide is turning because communities throughout the country have said that enough is enough. It is turning because the thugs are being arrested and locked up. It is turning because of the bravery and dedication of the men and women of our police forces. We ask police officers to put themselves in harm’s way on a routine basis. We ask them to go into dangerous situations that most of us hope we will never experience. We have the best police officers in the world and we owe them all a debt of gratitude.
We gather today in sober circumstances, when the scenes on the streets of Britain’s cities have disturbed and appalled us all: burning buildings, looting, beatings, smashing windows, setting cars on fire, with shop owners fearful for their livelihoods and residents fearful for their very lives. City dwellers, who have been proud of regeneration and the reclamation of the streets as urban crime fell, suddenly feel afraid to walk outside their doors.
Yesterday, I talked to a woman in West Bromwich outside her shop. It is a small shop, which she staffs alone. Two of her neighbours were also small business women running their own high street shops. On Tuesday afternoon, those women were terrified by gangs who tore down that high street, throwing bricks and setting a van alight outside the sweet shop on the corner. Yesterday, they were back in their shops—they work hard—but they were afraid. The jeweller’s opposite had decided not to open at all. The security and confidence in going about their daily lives that they normally took for granted had been destroyed.
We have all been horrified by the extent of criminality—the opportunistic looting, the aggression, the greed, the lack of respect for people, property, community or the law—that we saw in those involved over a series of nights. However, we must not let that blind us to the heroism, bravery and determination of communities to support law and order and to stand against the violence and the chaos.
In particular, I want to join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to those police officers who have worked so hard to face up to the criminals and restore order. Many have been out on the streets working 17 or 18-hour days, standing up to baying mobs. Officers have come from throughout the country into cities to help, and specials and police community support officers have been doing everything they can. We should pay tribute to their bravery and to that of the fire and other emergency services.
We should also pay tribute to those in our communities who have worked hard to prevent violence from escalating: the thousands who have joined clean-up campaigns; the people who are helping the police now, reporting the neighbour who has suddenly got three new tellies; and those who are reaching out to young people to prevent them from getting drawn into criminal activity. We should recognise that millions of young people across Britain were also deeply appalled by the violence of a minority. They reject the criminal action that we have seen.
All our thoughts will also be with the family and friends of those who have died. I particularly want to send condolences, as the Home Secretary has done, to the families of the three young men in Birmingham who were killed in the early hours of yesterday morning in the constituency of my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood. She has told me how much those young men were loved and how devastating their loss is to their friends, families and communities. Special tribute must go to Tariq Jahan, who stood before the public, just hours after losing his son Haroon, to appeal for calm. He said:
“'Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united.”
That was the sentiment of a man and a family in their darkest hour, which has resonated—and should—throughout the country.
It was a disgrace to see literally thousands of British citizens, many of them not yet even old enough to vote, ripping through our urban fabric, but standing against them now are not just thousands of British police officers, but millions of British people, who love their cities and towns, and who support their communities and the rule of law. That is what has been so shocking and disturbing for city dwellers over the past few nights: the fear that the rule of law, which we so often take for granted, could suddenly seem to be ripped up. Those women in West Bromwich whom I talked to yesterday need the confidence to keep their businesses open and to be able to lock up at night and walk the streets home to their families in safety. People have a right to feel safe in their homes and safe on their streets. Maintaining respect for the rule of law is a fundamental part of our democracy and why we as democrats in this House all stand to support it now. Ultimately, it is about respect for other people—for their safety and their livelihoods.
That is why we now support the Government and the Home Secretary in their work to restore order to our streets and normality to our communities. I know that the Home Secretary has been deeply worried and concerned about these events from the start. I know that she called my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy on Sunday to express her concern and that she returned to the Home Office on Monday. I commend her for doing so, and for her early grasp of the seriousness of the violence. We support her and the Prime Minister in their determination to restore order to Britain’s streets. As other Members have said, it is important that we come together in this House to condemn the criminality that we have seen. There is no excuse for the violence, destruction and theft, putting lives as well as livelihoods at risk. The perpetrators must take responsibility and face the consequences of what they have done.
The Government were right to convene Cobra, were right to recall Parliament and are right to support the police in the action that they need to take. Thankfully, last night was relatively calm, and we have seen progress being made. However, Ministers will also know that it is not sufficient to restore calm for a night or a week. Our cities cannot afford for these problems to simmer and bubble, and then to spill over again in a week or month, or when the next big public event takes place. We need a clear strategy for tackling this violence throughout the summer and beyond. That is the task for Parliament now: not just to condemn, but to debate the action that must be taken.
That means, first, support for strong action through the police and the courts, and considering the powers that the police and the courts have. More than 1,500 people have been arrested so far, and that is rising all the time. Those who committed criminal acts must face the full force of the law. The Home Secretary was right to show her support for robust police action as well. I welcome the all-night sittings of the London courts to ensure that charges can be swiftly brought. I welcome too the use of CCTV, which has played a powerful role in identifying the culprits, and the use of dispersal orders and other powers to intervene fast, rather than waiting for disorder to take hold. We also support looking further at the issues of face coverings and curfews.
However, those now in government have in the past have criticised the use and the existence of many of the powers concerned, previously voting against many measures on face coverings and now, in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, making things harder for the police, including on CCTV. I particularly ask the Home Secretary to look again at her proposals to introduce considerable additional layers of new bureaucracy for the police and councils who want to introduce CCTV. I hope that she will think again. As she does so, she may also want to consider looking again at plans to ban antisocial behaviour orders.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I wanted to intervene when she was being particularly measured in her response, which I welcome. Will she dissociate herself from the ill-judged comments by the former London Mayor, who sought to put the blame for what happened on the streets of London on Government actions?
No, that is not what Ken Livingstone was saying. He has been very clear that those who have committed criminal acts need to take responsibility and to feel the full force of the law.
Let me add a word of caution to the Government briefing on water cannons and baton rounds. The perception in the newspapers has been that it was only the Prime Minister’s intervention that has made possible the use of water cannon and baton rounds, and the Home Secretary seemed to suggest something similar in her statement today. However, it is important to be clear that the police already had the power to use baton rounds or to ask police in Northern Ireland for the use of their water cannon. That is an operational matter for the police, not a political judgment for Ministers. The Home Secretary will know that the ACPO head, one of the few chief constables to have used water cannon, has made it clear today that those options are open to senior officers but would not have been useful in the particular circumstances that the police faced.
The Home Secretary has rightly backed the police when they need to be able take robust action, but I hope that she will also—as part of that backing—affirm that the police are able to make independent operational decisions based on the individual circumstances that they face and that politicians are not trying to direct the police on issues as important as the use of water cannons and baton rounds. Fundamental to the rule of law that we are now working so hard to sustain is the principle of an impartial, professional police service, involving policing by consent, and that must be preserved.
I would also caution against any consideration of the use of the Army to play a policing role. If we have enough police, we do not need the troops. They have their own important job to do.
Does the right hon. Lady not agree that while of course the police have discretion to use water cannons and baton rounds, it is very important for our political leaders to articulate their support? We must not fall into the trap that her Government did when Ministers in the Ministry of Defence failed to give backing to troops doing very difficult jobs in very difficult circumstances. It is important that Ministers back the actions of our police.
I simply disagree that when we were in government we failed to back our troops in difficult situations. We were very clear always to back the troops in the very difficult job that they did.
It is right to back the police and be very clear that we will support them when they have to take very difficult and robust decisions, but some of the briefings to the newspapers suggested that the police did not have the powers to use water cannons or baton rounds, and that they had them only because the Prime Minister had stepped in to authorise them and to encourage their use. This issue needs to be carefully handled. The police have always had those powers and it is right that they should use them in operational situations where that is appropriate and they judge that they are needed. We should back them in such circumstances, but I caution that we should be clear that it is an operational judgment for those police officers, not a matter of direction by politicians.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. If these horrendous events were to occur in the era of police and crime commissioners, is she confident that chief constables would have the power to make such decisions should a baying public demand different action from the commissioners? Would chief constables be able to withstand that pressure?
Senior police officers who I have spoken to are concerned about the possibility that their activities will be constrained or inhibited by inappropriate intervention by American-style police and crime commissioners in operational decisions. It is important to note that the operational independence guidance has not yet been agreed between the police and the Government.
The Prime Minister rightly made great play of the ability of the Metropolitan police and, for example, the Greater Manchester police to draw on officers from other forces, but it is not clear to me whether it would still be possible to move police around the country following the introduction of political commissioners. The pressures against it would be enormous.
The Met’s ability to put 16,000 police officers on the streets of London depended partly on mutual aid. It depended on the ability to draw on officers from other parts of the country, which is a hugely important principle. It is part of our policing model, and it has been effective. However, as my hon. Friend says, we should consider whether a chief constable and a police and crime commissioner campaigning to be re-elected by the local community will put local policing before their obligations to neighbouring areas that may face greater pressures. That is another major concern that has been raised with me.
This issue raises serious questions about resources which need to be addressed. Like the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, I have asked police representatives whether they need more powers to do their job in the present circumstances. One senior officer put it very bluntly: he said that the problem in the early stages had been not a lack of powers, but a lack of cops. As the Home Secretary has confirmed, there were not enough police officers on the streets when the violence started. No one anticipated the scale of the violence that our cities would face. In some instances, the police did not step in to make arrests because they did not have enough officers out there to do so while also containing the public order problems that confronted them.
Last night, again, the Met put 16,000 officers on the streets. That is more than five times the normal likely strength in the capital, and it worked, but it came at a cost. Thousands of officers from other areas must be paid for, as must the cancelling of leave. The last couple of nights have probably cost the Met alone millions of pounds, and we need some clarity about the Government’s position. The Prime Minister said that, under Victorian legislation, the costs of riot compensation would be borne not by police budgets but by the Treasury reserve, and I welcome that announcement. However, the Prime Minister also appeared to say, in answer to a question asked by Members, that the Treasury would stand behind all the extra operational policing costs as well. I hope that that is correct, because the Home Secretary seemed to say something very different. She appeared to suggest that the pressure would sit on the reserves of the police authorities and forces involved.
I shall be happy to give way if the Home Secretary wishes to clarify the disparity between her comments and those of the Prime Minister. I hope she will agree that the costs of policing unprecedented riots and criminality must not necessitate cuts in the very neighbourhood and community police whom we need in order to prevent further criminal action.
First I want to give the Home Secretary an opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the immediate additional operational costs that the Met and other forces will incur. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary says, from a sedentary position, that she has already clarified that. The Prime Minister may need to correct the record, because he certainly gave me the impression, and I think he gave many other Members the impression, that the Treasury would stand behind any of the additional operational costs faced by the Met and other police forces as a result of this unprecedented criminal activity. Those costs could well be considerable, because we do not know how long the police activity will need to continue. Will it continue through the weekend or into next week, and how will it be paid for? Will it have to be paid for by police budgets which are already extremely stretched and already under pressure? Will normal, routine policing be overstretched as a result of the Government’s decision not to fund these extra, additional and exceptional costs?
The Prime Minister was answering a question that I had put to him, and I was very clear that what was meant was if a police authority dipped into the contingency, the additional costs would be reimbursed to it. I think that what the Home Secretary just said in answer to me was that an authority would have to make an application for that, but she tended to support what the Prime Minister said. That was my understanding; is it also my right hon. Friend’s understanding?
The Home Secretary will be immensely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs for desperately trying to create some consistency between what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said. I will certainly give the Home Secretary the opportunity to confirm whether my right hon. Friend is correct and in what circumstances the police forces will be able to get additional help, because I am afraid she has not clarified that. I am sure my right hon. Friend would make an excellent Home Secretary, but I think the current Home Secretary may need to answer his questions, and mine as well. I still await the Home Secretary’s answer, but she remains silent.
The right hon. Lady asks the Home Secretary to clarify a point, but may I ask her to clarify a point about her earlier comments on Ken Livingstone? On the BBC, Mr Livingstone said that the Government’s policies were creating social division, bringing conflict between the communities and the police. Does she support that point of view, or will she condemn it?
Ken Livingstone was very clear about the need for people to take responsibility for their actions and also the need for those involved in recent events to be punished. He was very clear about there being no excuse.
I have to say to the Home Secretary that we still do not have an answer. In the discussions I have had with the Met police, they have expressed concern that the additional cost of the extra policing required as a result of this criminality will come not from the Treasury reserve, but from their own reserve. Like the reserves of many police authorities across the country, the Met reserve is extremely stretched as a result of the police cuts. If this situation continues over many days, I am deeply concerned that the Met may end up having either to reduce the level of policing on the streets before it is ready to do so or to make cuts elsewhere in its budgets on routine policing. The Home Secretary has still not given any answer as to what she would do to support the Met police and other police forces. She really does need to think again on this and provide more information to the House, and to police forces and communities across the country about what support they will get.
I must, I am afraid, take the right hon. Lady back to what other members of her party have said, and seek clarity on that. Chris Williamson tweeted that
“the Tories are back alright. Why is it the Tories never take responsibility for the consequences of their party’s disastrous policies”,
with the hash tag “tottenham”, but Ms Abbott has said:
“Cuts don’t turn you into a thief.”
Which of them does the right hon. Lady agree with?
I noticed the hon. Gentleman’s nerves when holding his piece of paper to read out what was clearly another Whips’ question, but I say to hon. Members that serious issues need to be addressed in this House about what the Government are doing, and what this House should be doing, to address the serious criminality that is taking place.
Let us deal with the wider problems this raises about resources for our police and the views that are being expressed to us—and, I am sure, to Members on the Government Benches in their constituencies—about the scale and pace of the policing cuts across the country. The Prime Minister claimed that he was making only 6% cuts, but he used cash figures, not real figures, when he knows that inflation is high and that the cuts set out in the spending review—according to the Treasury’s figures, not mine—were for a 20% cut in the Government’s police budget. The independent Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary report makes it clear that 16,000 police officers are going as a result—the equivalent of every one of the police officers on London’s streets last night will go.
Any of us who were on London’s streets last night will know quite how many police officers were on the streets of our capital. We have heard the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary tell us that front-line, visible policing will not be hit, but, with respect, it is being hit already. The HMIC has confirmed that front-line officers will be lost this year. The Prime Minister himself used a figure of 7,000 officers in back-office jobs, but 16,000 will be cut.
We agree that the police need to make savings and efficiencies, that they need to do more to get police officers out on to the streets and that they can sustain sensible reductions in their budgets, but the cuts set out by the Government go too far, too fast, and we do not agree that now is the time to cut 16,000 police officers across the country.
I will give way to the hon. Lady, if she can tell me whether she supports cutting 16,000 police officers at a time like this.
I think the right hon. Lady would agree that recent events have united those of us living in the north and the south and in rural and urban areas. May I take her back to the time of the previous Government, who introduced a raft of community support officers with no power of arrest and had a load of police officers with the power of arrest filling in forms? Does she think that that was the best use of police resources at that time?
I think it was right to increase the number of police officers and to introduce police community support officers. PCSOs have done an excellent job across the country, working with police officers and communities, and have been an important part of addressing some of the tensions, concerns and difficulties that we have faced in the past few days.
Today, the Prime Minister again ruled out reopening the police budget. I implore him to think again. The newspapers report that Ministers now have doubts, and I urge him to listen to them.
The right hon. Lady is making much of a point about the whole issue of police cuts that was made by a number of her right hon. and hon. Friends during questions to the Prime Minister. Will she clarify for us the Opposition’s policy on police cuts? Do the Opposition still support police cuts of 12%, or do they want a review of or a moratorium on that? Will she guarantee police numbers or will she not?
The Home Secretary will know, because we have had this debate in the House many times, that we believe it is important to give the police enough resources to sustain the number of police officers. We maintain that position now.
The HMIC gave its view that the police could sustain a reduction of about 12% in their budget over the course of the Parliament. The former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, also said that his assessment when he was in office was that 12% could be sustained over the course of the Parliament and that that would allow the police to sustain the police numbers that we believe are so important. Instead, the Government are cutting by 20% and the steepest cuts are in the first two years. They are cutting more in the first few years than we would have done over the course of a Parliament. That is why the police, despite making immense efficiencies and taking immense actions to deliver savings, are finding that the number of police officers is being cut. That includes some of the most experienced police officers in the country, who are being forced to take early retirement against their wishes—officers whom we need and whose experience and contributions we need now.
I ask the hon. Members who are standing in a frenzy to listen. If they will not listen to the members of their Government who are clearly starting to have doubts, or to Opposition Members who have been saying for many months how dangerous it is to make such large cuts in the policing budget, will they at least listen to their constituents, who are deeply concerned about the decisions that they are taking and the scale of the policing cuts that the Government have announced? The public know that more officers on the streets of the capital have made them safer, and they do not want those cuts now. The Liberal Democrats have raised an interesting point: if the Government called a halt to American-style police and crime commissioners, that alone would save £100 million that could go back into policing and restoring confidence.
Given the right hon. Lady’s great concern about the number of police officers, will she join me in congratulating Cambridgeshire constabulary? The chief constable has committed to ensuring that he has more police constables at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning, and he is already recruiting. Will she congratulate the constabulary on that, as well as on its performance over the last few days?
The HMIC’s independent assessment of Cambridgeshire’s position is that it will lose around 80 officers over the course of the Parliament and the spending review. It will need to have a discussion with the HMIC, which has carried out a detailed assessment, not simply of what will happen in the first two years, but of the consequences over the course of the Parliament.
I need to make progress, because hon. Members all want to make serious points. This is a time for us to have a debate about the events of the past few days, and I want to give Members across the House the opportunity to speak.
We need to look at the wider action that is essential for maintaining order, and to see why so many people became involved in rioting and criminal action. Boots on the streets are not enough to sustain safe communities for the long term; that requires all of us to do our bit to stand up for law and order. It requires parents to ask where their children are, and where that new pair of trainers has come from. It requires teachers, neighbours, classmates, friends and family, social workers, youth workers and the neighbourhood police—each one of us—to ask what we can do to stop people getting caught up in gangs or frenzies of criminal activity.
We should ask why some people had so little respect for the rule of law and for others in society, and why some people felt that they had nothing to lose by breaking the law in such a way. We should look at respect, responsibility and aspirations, but asking those questions is not about excusing individuals—quite the reverse. Nothing excuses the way people behaved. It is not about avoiding justice or appropriate punishment; those engaged in criminal acts must take personal responsibility for them, and they must feel the full force of the law. It is about preventing further crime and disorder. We will have that debate in more detail in future. I would caution against over-simplistic approaches. I agree that more should be done on parenting, but that will be harder if family intervention projects and Sure Start are cut. I agree that more needs to be done about gang culture, which has been getting worse.
South Wales, and Wales as a whole, has been fortunate in experiencing no rioting. In fact, the devolved Administrations collectively did not have the experience that England had. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most important to look at why forces in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland successfully held their communities together and have, in partnership with their communities, avoided the riots that England has had, despite south Wales facing £47 million-worth of cuts over this Parliament?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about why some areas fell victim to looting and criminality on such a scale, and others did not. A series of important questions need to be properly addressed. The Home Secretary raised some of them—for example, the speed and nature of the police response, and the role of social media. That is why we Labour Members believe that there is a case for a special commission of inquiry that can ask the questions that a Select Committee might not be able to ask because of its departmental remit. That needs to be properly done to give those communities that have been most affected a stronger voice in this debate about what has happened and what needs to happen now.
I welcome what the Home Secretary has announced about action on gang culture. London Members have been warning for some time about the problems that it is creating and the fact that it has been increasing.
Most recently, my hon. Friend Ms Buck did so in her Adjournment debate, and the Home Secretary will know that other Members have done so, too. The Home Secretary needs to move fast on this. In June 2010—14 months ago—an independent report by the independent inspectors commissioned by the Youth Justice Board on the rise of gang culture was published. It said that a national strategy to deal with gang culture among under-18s was urgently needed. It set out specific measures for the police, the prisons and others. That was 14 months ago.
In March, my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker asked for the Government’s response, but the record in Hansard shows that the Government were still considering how to respond. Clearly, it is a concern that there have been delays in responding to the report, but we have the recommendations available now. I urge the Home Secretary to implement them urgently and to use them as the basis for further work that I hope we can support. I hope that action on gang culture is something that we can agree on across the House. Indeed, I believe that there is much that we can agree on, including action in the criminal justice system and support for the police.
There are still four areas in which we ask the Government to think again. The first is setting up a proper commission of inquiry to look at the wider problems and why the riots happened. Secondly, they must look at the immediate resource pressures faced by the Met and other forces as a result of policing the rioting and criminal activity. Thirdly, there is the wider issue of resources and the serious need to reopen the policing spending review. Fourthly, they should make it easier, not harder, for the police and councils to use CCTV, which has been so important.
I began by saying that these are sober circumstances. We have seen awful events. But we cannot just despair that nothing is to be done, and we must not. When street crime became a serious problem 10 years ago, we seemed to face an epidemic. Action was taken by the Government and police. Prevention work was done and work was undertaken through the courts. It made a difference, and street crime came down. It is possible to tackle criminality, to work together to bring crime down. That is what must happen. We have seen crime fall; we must do so again.
People I spoke to after the rioting and the violence told me not that they are ashamed of their country but that they are still proud of our communities, our towns and our cities. The shop owners to whom I spoke had posters in their windows saying “I love Sandwell”. People want to stand together to support their communities and to stand against this awful violence and crime. We now in this House must stand together with them to do so.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In view of the level of interest in our debate, and after discussion through the usual channels, it is my intention at 6 o’clock not to move the Business of the House motion in the name of the Prime Minister which would have terminated our proceedings at 7. It is my intention to move an alternative motion to enable us to continue until 8 o’clock to enable another 12 Members to take part in this debate.
The Leader of the House has just warmed the cockles of my heart. I am absolutely delighted to hear what he has just said, and I hope that it will be well received on both sides of the House. I thank him. I remind the House that there is a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions, but that is subject to review, and it is likely to be reviewed downwards, not upwards.
I have the great honour of representing the town where I have lived all my life. Thousands of public servants, businessmen and people who work in the community and voluntary sector day by day do their best to make our town a better place to live. On Monday night a few hundred people did their worst to undo all that good work to attack our community. Shops and people’s homes above the shops were burned out in old town, west Croydon and New Addington, including Reeves, an iconic family business that survived the great depression and the blitz. More than 50 people were forced from their homes. More than 200 businesses were devastated and our tram system was put out of action. Let us be clear: there is no justification whatever for such organised criminality.
Contrary to some reports, those responsible were not all young and they came from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. They represent only a tiny minority. The real Croydon is the public servants: the outnumbered police officers and the firemen who risked serious injury to protect people; the council officers who the next morning tried to house the homeless; the hundreds of people who turned out to clear up our streets; the people who have pledged money to help businesses rebuild; the businesses that provided clothing for those who lost everything in the fires; and the people of New Addington who turned out to defend their shopping centre. Our town is not perfect, but we are proud of it and we are united in our determination that we will not let the wreckers win.
What has happened over the past few days is a big test for the Government. For too long in this country we have been too soft on those who break the law and too tolerant of those who have no respect for other people. My constituents are looking for four things. The first is to restore order. The Prime Minister came to Croydon on Tuesday and I am deeply grateful. He promised extra police and different tactics and he delivered on that, but those numbers and those tactics need to continue and we need to know why they were not in place on Monday. I also welcome what he said in the House about fresh powers on curfews and on modern social network technology and on powers for the police in relation to people who cover their faces.
Secondly, people want criminals brought to justice. CCTV played a crucial role in identifying who was responsible and I hope that Members on the Treasury Bench will take note of that. People want those responsible to be properly punished and to make reparation to those they have damaged. They want those who have committed these crimes not to have access to taxpayers’ money in the form of benefits. They want those who are council tenants evicted, so that decent people on the waiting list get a home instead. They want those who are not British citizens removed from this country.
The third thing relates to compensation, and I warmly welcome what the Prime Minister had to say about compensation for residents and businesses. The fourth thing is trying to sort out the underlying issues that led to the behaviour we saw. Just because there is absolutely no excuse for what happened does not mean that we in the House should not try to understand.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech on behalf of his constituents. Does he agree that the deployment of 16,000 officers in the capital meant that yobs were off the street, and that the Government’s proposed plans to cut police numbers mean that yobbos will be on our streets?
I want the level of visible policing to continue. I recognise that we have to cut police budgets because of the economic position we face, but I want the current level of visible policing to continue.
No, I cannot give way because other people want to speak.
I do not pretend to have all the answers to the long-term problems. On Tuesday night, I had to go home and explain to my eight-year-old son why people behave in this way. It seems that the choice being offered is that this is about either morality or poverty, but elements of both are involved. There is an issue about upbringing. Too many young people in my town are brought up in highly unstable environments, without parental role models. Many parents feel they no longer have the power to discipline their children, and there are clear issues about discipline in schools, which the Secretary of State for Education is trying to sort out. Too many young people have no respect for other people or authority. They are very conscious of their rights but not of their responsibilities to others. Sadly, in this great city of ours there are people who are marginalised and who feel that they do not have access to the huge opportunities that many Londoners enjoy. We need to address all those issues, however uncomfortable they are for those of us on the centre right or centre left of politics.
It is no coincidence that these events took place in the summer holidays. We need to make sure that people have something productive to do when they are not at school or when they are out of work.
As my hon. Friend will recall, I have a faint connection with Croydon Central.
My hon. Friend’s second and fourth points are united. One of the problems is the feral children aspect. It is all very well to talk about parenting, but they have no parents of any value, and conviction would not keep them away from crime.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There is a great charity in Croydon called Lives Not Knives that tries to help people out of gang culture. Many of the former gang members whom I meet have come from backgrounds with no parental role models. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been passed from foster home to foster home, and people have been abused while in care. That is absolutely an issue. I am not sure whether Mr Allen is in the House, but we must consider intervening earlier when young people first show signs of getting into difficulty, rather than waiting until there are real problems.
My real hope is that something positive will come out of what has happened over the past few days and that we will see in this country not just measures for a few days to restore public order, but a completely fresh approach to how we tackle crime, how we treat our young people, how we interact with them, how we bring them up, how we listen to what they have to say and how we try to build a stronger, more cohesive society in this country.
My constituents sent me a clear message before I came to the House today. They are not looking for party political bickering, squabbling or point scoring; they are looking for Members to show some leadership, to look into the underlying problems, to restore order and to find a long-term solution. I hope that all Members will focus on exactly that point as we go forward in the debate.
The events of last week started with the death of Mark Duggan, one of my constituents, during a police operation. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, there were reports of an exchange of fire between Mr Duggan and the police. We now know that two shots were fired and that they both came from police weapons. A grieving family and my constituents deserve to know the truth about what happened that night. The IPCC investigation must be thorough; it must be open; and it must be seen to be independent.
Other serious questions need answering. Why did the Duggan family first hear about the death of their son not from a police officer, but when the news was broadcast on national television? Why, when they arrived at Tottenham police station to ask questions and to stage a peaceful protest, were they made to wait for five hours before a senior police officer was made available to them? Why, when that peaceful protest was hijacked by violent elements, were a few skirmishes allowed to become a full-scale riot, with far-reaching consequences? Mistakes have been made by the Metropolitan police, and this must be subject to a full public inquiry.
I will not give way; forgive me.
On Sunday morning, I stood amid the burning embers of Tottenham High road. There is no connection between the death of a young man and the torching of the homes of Stuart Radose and 25 other families in the Carpetright building. There is no connection between the treatment of the Duggan family and Niche, the landlord of the Spirit of Tottenham, being held at knifepoint while his pub was ransacked. I could go on. This violence was criminal, and we condemn it utterly.
Tottenham has brave and very resilient people—I have no doubt that we will get through this together—but as the TV cameras begin to move out, I urge the Government and the House not to forget the people of Tottenham. In the House and beyond, we must also begin a much more difficult discussion: we must address why boys and girls aged as young as 11 engage in the kind of violent and destructive behaviour witnessed this week, and as we do so, I urge hon. Members on both sides to avoid reaching for easy slogans and solutions.
These riots cannot be explained away simply by poverty or cuts to public services. That the vast majority of young men from poor areas did not take part in the violence is proof of that. Many young men showed restraint and respect for others, because they have grown up with social boundaries and a moral code. They have been taught how to delay gratification and to empathise with others rather than terrorise them. Those values were shaped by parents, teachers and our neighbours.
The right hon. Gentleman and I are both members of the all-party group on fatherhood. Does he agree that there is more we can do to encourage fathers to be committed to the mothers of their children and to their children?
I certainly agree that that is the major issue this country must confront, but a “Grand Theft Auto” culture that glamorises violence must also be confronted; a consumer culture fixated on brands that we wear rather than who we are and what we achieve must be confronted; a gang culture with warped notions of loyalty, respect and honour must also be confronted. A civilised society should be policed not just by uniformed officers, but by notions of pride and shame and of responsibility toward others. In this House and beyond, we have some deep thinking to do about what that means.
Although that is true, there is another side to the story. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister warned that those involved in the rioting were risking their own futures. I am afraid the problem is far greater than that. Those lashing out—randomly, cruelly and violently—feel that they have nothing to lose. They do not feel bound by the moral code that the rest of society adheres to; they do not feel part of the rest of society. We cannot live in a society where the banks are too big to fail, but whole neighbourhoods are allowed to sink without trace. The problems of those neighbourhoods have not emerged overnight, but the events of the past week are a wake-up call.
Following the race riots 10 years ago, the Cantle report warned of white and black communities living “parallel lives”. Today the same is true, but the polarisation is not between black and white; it is between those who have stake in society and those who do not; those who can see a future through education and those who cannot; those who can imagine doing a job that is respected and well paid and those who cannot; those who might one day own their own home and those who will not.
I repeat that nothing justifies what we have seen this week, but I remember what it means to grow up poor, to live without a father as a role model, to feel frustrated and angry about my circumstances, to want to lash out and to consider the idea of picking up a bottle and joining in with the crowd. I was steered away from those things by my mother, by an elder brother, by my pastor, by great teachers, role models and youth workers, and I thank them all for that, but I was also steered away by the promise of something different—by the idea that, one day, I might go to university and get a decent job. That idea is what we have to realise for so many people in the coming weeks, months and years.
The events in south London follow what Mr Lammy has so clearly described. In Walworth and Peckham, on the Old Kent road, in Rotherhithe and in many of our other communities, we saw on Tuesday night scenes that none of us can ever have expected to see. There was some absolutely despicable behaviour—people being pulled off their motorbikes and scooters, and women driving alone whose car windows were smashed and whose car, with them inside, was raided for its contents. In the evening, we saw parents with their children—women with their youngsters—going in with the younger people to take things out of shops on the Walworth road. People were crying on the street because they had just been promised a job in a shop that was being broken up and might not be able to carry on in business.
Unlike so many other subjects that the House debates, the aberration of these events link north and south. In my constituency, in Bacup, there was a riot by disaffected young people. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is time for the police to take off the kid gloves, to use the full force of the law and, where possible, to prosecute and imprison those who have engaged in such disgraceful behaviour in both the north and south of this country?
That is a clear view shared across through House. We have a common message that the law must be applied fully and without reservation, but I qualify that in one respect: it is even more important that those who are the role models—the adults, the parents and the serial criminals—are caught and dealt with without compromise. The 10-year-old, the nine-year-old, the eight-year-old, the follower, the person who got on their BlackBerry the message saying, “Come down here, it’s kicking off down here”—yes, of course, if they give in, they are to blame, as are their parents for not knowing where their children are going at 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 o’clock at night. But the older youngsters, and the ones who are over 16, 17, 18 or 21, particularly need to be seen in our courts and dealt with.
Public opinion is clear that these disturbances were not caused by this Government or the previous Government, or by the capitalist system. Public opinion is clear that they were simply criminal activity. The borough commander in Southwark made it clear that when people who have been nicked and are now being questioned in Southwark were asked why they had committed the offences, they did not put up some political argument for their action. They were clear that it was for the trainers, the televisions, the kit in the windows. They were clear that this was criminality.
It is also clear that over the past few days there were very few house burglaries in Southwark. The people who were normally doing the burglaries were out on the street kicking in the windows. I am grateful that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have accepted that the serious serial criminals, often the gang members, had a truce—between the gangs—over the past few days. That was recorded and it can be seen. They decided not to fight each other, but to go in and take on the community. Some people joined them who should know better—some professionals, some people from outside; the teaching assistant, the graduate—but the serious contributors to trouble in our communities, who are no good at all, are the people on whom we need to focus. Every one of the 32 borough commanders in London will say that there are about 30, 40 or 50 people who lead the local gangs and whose pictures are in the back of the police stations, and we need to concentrate on them.
When MPs break the law and fiddle their expenses, or when police officers receive money from journalists, we have to understand that there are other questions out there and that greed applies across the board, but those were not the presenting issues last week. I want to set out where we need to go now. Above all, we need to support the businesses. Our high streets need to be back to work. We need to shop in our high streets, support the small traders and make sure they have the necessary national support.
People want to give, and there ought to be systems whereby they can contribute to the statutory funds. If we have Disasters Emergency Committee appeals for east Africa, we can have an appeal, if people want to give, for north London, south London, Liverpool, Birmingham or Manchester too. Additional help may be needed for local councils and the local police holding the additional people in custody. There must be a willingness to report the culprits and, as we heard earlier, the media must hand over the information that they have. It is no good standing there and recording it, and not offering the information that would allow people to be dealt with.
We need to make sure that we tackle the causes of continuing violence. As was rightly pointed out in an intervention, two thirds of those who offend come from families where there has been a history of offending. It is generational and we need to recognise those dysfunctional families where the activity is repeated. The right hon. Member for Tottenham has often made the case that we need to recognise families where youngsters are taken out of school and out of the family early, because they become the ones most at risk. We need to support the parents, because some of them find it very difficult indeed. We need to make sure that our housing strategies and our youth services are supported, and that the mobile phone industry helps. We can recover soon, but we have to stand together and support our communities in doing so.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and to put before the House the experiences and the views of my constituents on what they have suffered over the past few days. When the problems started in my constituency on Monday night, we saw copycat criminality, mindless vandalism and looting. This behaviour appalled and sickened everyone in my constituency and Birmingham as a whole, and on Tuesday morning residents and traders woke up to unprecedented damage and destruction, and a resolve to work together to clean up the affected areas and make our city fit for business again. However, throughout Tuesday tensions were running high, and people came out in the evening on Dudley road and Soho road, and in other parts of my constituency, to protect their local businesses and to prevent any further damage.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, events took a tragic turn as three of my constituents, Shazad Ali, Abdul Musavir and Haroon Jahan, from the Winson Green area, were murdered while protecting businesses and property on the Dudley road in a hit-and-run incident. Scores of people were present at the scene and many others arrived in the immediate aftermath. The men were taken to City hospital, where a further crowd gathered, concerned and devastated at what had happened.
Winson Green is an incredibly tight-knit community in the heart of Birmingham. The local community do not just consider themselves to be each other’s neighbours and friends, but rather they consider themselves family. Everyone is an aunt or an uncle, a brother or a sister. It is the best feature of this community, which faces significant daily challenges. Understandably, given the loss of three of their own, people were distraught and emotions and passions were running high.
I was involved in many meetings yesterday, which brought together community leaders, elders, inter-faith groups and the police. All were keen to express their anger, anguish and upset at the events, and sought to talk about what had happened and how to prevent any further trouble. One of the most important and difficult meetings that took place yesterday was between the police and the local community. Many of those in attendance witnessed the horrific events of the night before, or were there for the aftermath. Concerns were raised at that meeting about the police presence, police response and police numbers, as well as the delay in getting ambulances to the scene, and other practical and operational issues.
It is important that once we have seen off the threat of further violence in the area these concerns are thoroughly reviewed and that the police work with the community to learn lessons from what happened and the response to it. Given the level of anger and the potential for further tension, it was important and significant that these concerns were raised with the police by the local community directly and at a grass-roots level, and this must continue to happen. It was also made clear that keeping the people of Winson Green updated on the murder investigation is of the utmost importance. We know that one man has been arrested and is being questioned by police in connection with the incident, and West Midlands police inform me that further arrests are possible.
I was also able to meet and talk to the families of the deceased yesterday. Words cannot describe what they are feeling right now, having lost young men in their prime. All three were well known to everyone and were much loved. I pay tribute to the families of all three men. They have behaved with dignity and calm in the face of truly tragic circumstances.
In particular, I pay tribute to Tariq Jahan, father of Haroon Jahan. We will all have seen him on our TV screens yesterday, facing the media and the public having just lost his son. His dignity, his composure and his heartfelt plea for calm were truly humbling for all of us working to prevent any further trouble in the area yesterday. Not only did he face the media, but he made his pleas directly to the community. He arrived on the scene of the public meeting that took place yesterday afternoon and addressed the crowd who had gathered outside because they were unable to get in due to the space constraints. Tensions were running very high.
He again appealed for calm. He told the people gathered that he wanted the police to have the support that they needed in order to find the people who murdered his son. His interventions throughout the day yesterday were instrumental in maintaining calm overnight. He set the tone and the community followed. I am proud of everyone who last night prevented any trouble from occurring, who maintained a peaceful vigil that was dignified and ordered, and who heeded the words of Tariq Jahan and the families. I appeal to everyone in the community to continue this calm and responsible attitude over the coming days too. In particular, I reiterate the vital importance of working with the police to make sure that there is no further trouble.
I conclude by echoing the words of Tariq Jahan. Yesterday, addressing the crowds on Dudley road, he said:
“I lost my son…Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home”.
I cannot put it any better than that, and I urge everyone to remember these words over the coming days and weeks.
Ealing town centre was smashed up badly on Monday night and the damage was devastating and heart-breaking to see. It was also terrifying for those people who found themselves innocently caught up when the mayhem kicked off. A quiet suburb was literally turned into a war zone for one dreadful night. A 68-year-old man is lying critically ill in hospital after being attacked near Ealing Broadway for trying to stop some youths setting a litter bin on fire. Frankly, we are all still finding this hard to get our heads around.
However, since then the community has shown remarkable spirit in the way it has pulled together to reclaim the streets. A fantastic operation, organised by the council and enthusiastically supported by local residents, businesses and emergency services, had cleaned virtually the whole place up by lunchtime the next day, which was heart-warming. People were buying new brooms to join in. I spent all of Tuesday meeting many of those who had been caught up in the nightmare and was moved by their courage and determination to get on with their lives.
I have heard various accounts of what happened on the night, but there is a thread running through what most people have told me: they feel that they did not get the policing they needed. I understand their frustration, but it is important to say that this is not a debate about cuts in police numbers. In London, police numbers are actually going up and the borough commander in Ealing has told me that he is happy with his police numbers. The concern is about the deployment on the night. I must put on the record my admiration for the way the police were prepared to put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the public as best they could.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for being such a feisty champion for her constituents. Will she congratulate the 22 officers from Derbyshire police force who had been brought down to help the Metropolitan police? When they got the call at 2 o’clock in the morning, they packed their bags and came straight down.
Yes, of course. The police have shown themselves to be really wonderful, particularly in being prepared to get together and help wherever there is trouble.
I also think that this country needs to have a debate about what policing it wants. As the Home Secretary said earlier, the police are often damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Too often we hear criticism that on occasion they are too heavy-handed, and next they are accused of being too soft. It is up to the public, their elected representatives and the police to have a debate and decide exactly what policing we want. Policing in this country is performed by consent. The police need our consent if they are to go in and provide a slightly more robust response, which is the sort of response that I am happy to see and for which they would certainly have my consent.
One of the real problems is that the police are extremely concerned that if they act out of a defensive position and go forward while holding the crowd or watching for evidence, they might find themselves in the dock. We must support them utterly and completely and say that from now on when they act in good faith they will have our total support, unlike what happened after the G20 riots.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. They need our consent and the confidence to be able to go into any situation knowing that they have the authority to act of our behalf to do whatever is necessary to enforce the law, which is what they are there to do. In Ealing, we welcome the extra police officers we have had on the streets on the past few nights and the extra measures announced today by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
The other big question everyone was asking is how parents can allow their young kids to be out on the streets after dark, knowing that there is trouble around and seeming not to care whether they get caught up in it. It is all very well demanding more of Government and more of the police, but we should also demand more responsibility from certain parents who just do not seem to care. So often it is their communities that take the hit, with businesses and shops shutting and jobs being lost.
What happened in Ealing at the hands of these feral young people, some of them only 11-years-old, contrasts so sharply with what I saw only a week ago, when I spent a morning with 60 16-year-olds who had just spent a week up north building a team together on an Outward Bound training course. Last week they were back in west London talking about how they would plan a fundraising campaign for local charities and organise some social projects for their local community. It was the first year of piloting for the new national citizens service summer programme. It was truly inspiring. Clearly, the more we can involve people in such programmes, the better our chance of keeping them off the streets and out of trouble.
Nowhere that has come under attack over the past few days ago has deserved it; Ealing certainly has not. It is a wonderful place to live and work, and it is already back in business, although a number of shops and small businesses will need all the help that they can get to get back on their feet. I very much welcome what we heard from the Prime Minister earlier about how we will help them to do just that, but we in Ealing want to know that, if trouble springs again, the police will be in a position to respond effectively and decisively with public support, and that those troublemakers who have brought such misery to our community will be brought to justice and given the punishment that they deserve, just as the Prime Minister confirmed to me this morning.
The Home Secretary, in her speech, said that the tide has turned. I wish that she was right, because the fact is that the rioting of the past few days has abated, partly due to excellent police action and partly due to the weather, but it could come back at any time and under any pretext, so we must prepare for that and prepare to change the context in which the rioting took place.
Of course, as the Prime Minister said, teachers have a role, but it is not their principal role; of course, parents have a fundamental role, but many of the young people who have behaved in such a dreadful manner over the past few days come from dysfunctional families, perhaps with single parents, perhaps with a mother or a father who is unable to help because of their own personal problems; and, of course, the police have their role, and in our city of Manchester we have outstandingly good police, for which we are grateful. But that is not enough.
In Manchester, this is not our first experience of urban rioting. Thirty years ago there was rioting in Toxteth in Liverpool as well as rioting in Moss Side, adjacent to my constituency. At that time, Michael Heseltine was Secretary of State for the Environment, I was his shadow, and we discussed those issues. Michael Heseltine realised and understood that it was a question not only of criminality, but of urban and social regeneration. He went to Liverpool, lived there for three weeks and came back with plans for urban and social regeneration.
We condemn the people who have committed those crimes over the past few days, but, until the context in which their lives are lived is changed, condemning them will not stop them or others like them doing it again. To do so, we need—by the Government and by the rest of us—social reclamation projects that bring people into society in order to be part of society.
We in my constituency, for example, have a project called RECLAIM, in which young people from troubled homes and young people who have been offenders are mentored, made active, given jobs, given a voice and given a social conscience—and it works. I urge the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education to come to Manchester and to look at RECLAIM to see how kids who have gone wrong or who might go wrong can be put on the right path, made useful members of society and gain control of their own decisions and destiny.
I happened to be watching events the other night with my 87-year-old grandfather, who was born into abject poverty—seven living in a two-bedroom terrace cottage with an outside loo that was a hole in the garden. I turned to him and said, “Did you ever think of rioting? Did you ever think of stealing the latest gadget?” and he said, “No.” Why is it that in the 1930s poverty was not an excuse for poor behaviour, but apparently in the 21st century it is?
The hon. Gentleman just does not understand. The overwhelming majority of people living in poverty and deprivation and in dysfunctional homes will not commit crimes or turn antisocial, but some will. There is no point in pretending that because most will not, all will not.
We have to do something about this because our society is being damaged. I represent a deprived constituency where people are proud of the area in which they live. I want to make everybody who lives in my constituency, in our cities and in our country proud, but to do that we have to do the kind of things that RECLAIM is doing in Manchester. We have to ensure that people understand that they have a choice. Wanting to steal does not mean that one has to steal. Wanting some commercial object does not mean that one has to go out and take it under the guise of a social protest. We have to do these things because there is no point in simply having a blanket condemnation of young people who go wrong. Our job and our responsibility is not simply to punish them when they go wrong, but to try to ensure that they do not go wrong again and that others do not follow them. We must seize this moment. We have not got much time, but we can make this society work better.
Order. There are a lot of Members who want to speak and we want to call all of them. So I ask Members to do a little less intervening and to shorten their speeches. I will drop the limit to four minutes to give everybody a good chance of contributing.
I start by paying tribute to my borough commander, Sue Williams, and her Metropolitan police team, who have done a wonderful job in difficult circumstances in the London borough of Redbridge. I also pay tribute to my local council in Redbridge, including the council leader, Councillor Keith Prince, the deputy leader and leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Councillor Ian Bond, and the leader of the opposition, Councillor Bob Littlewood of the Labour party. They have united, with no party politics whatever, to do what is best with the police force for Redbridge. That is a lesson that we should all learn for the sake of our constituents.
Over the past few days, I have visited the Co-op in Barkingside, the Tesco in Manford way in Hainault and the JD Sports in Newbury Park. I also visited a gentleman whose livelihood had been burned to the ground. He is a market trader and his van was set on fire with his stock in it. Those businesses have lost business, but more importantly the staff were scared. Each and every one of us in this House owes it to them to have a rational debate about how we will rectify and tackle the situation.
What I believe is important is that we take the handcuffs off our police. The wonderful police forces of our great country should be allowed to do what they think they need to do, whether the powers are given to them now or are already in place. If they think that water cannon are necessary, they should choose that. If they think that plastic bullets are necessary, they should choose that. Most importantly, each and every one of us in this
House should give our great police forces the backing that they need. We should not be critical when it suits us and praise them when it suits us, but stand behind them the whole time. Will mistakes be made? Without any question, yes they will, but that is something that we have to deal with and cope with in a rational way when it happens.
I do not believe that it is my place to tell judges how to sentence people, but I do believe that when anyone is found guilty of crime, the clear message must be sent to others that crime does not pay. We are not talking about anybody other than thugs, criminals and looters. That is not to say that Sir Gerald Kaufman was wrong to say that we should not disregard people—of course we should not do that. Equally, if someone has done something wrong, whatever their background—whether they are a millionaire’s daughter or come from poverty—they must pay the price for that crime.
We must also consider several related issues. The other night—it was about 5 o’clock in the morning—I decided to go around my constituency to see what was happening. I visited the sports shop that had just, sadly, had its window smashed and its stock stolen, and I saw a group of youths. I do not know whether I was mad or possessed—some people would say probably both—but I stopped and asked them what they were doing. They were not doing anything wrong—it comes back to the point that not everyone is doing something wrong—but I gave them some advice, which, I am delighted to say, they took. I said, “Go home, because you’re going to get nicked if you stay out. You won’t do yourself, your parents or your community any favours. Go home now.”
We were quite fortunate in Ilford North—we had violence and problems, but it was not as bad as in neighbouring Ilford South. My neighbour, Mike Gapes has gone to a community meeting today. We agreed that I would speak and that he would go to the meeting. I pay tribute to him for his work in Ilford South, where things were a lot worse, and where he made a difference. That is what we are all about in the House—making a difference. On this occasion, let us have no political point scoring. Let us all make a difference together for the sake of what is best for our constituents.
On Monday, my constituency was the scene of violent disorder. Cars and bins were set on fire, shops were looted and there were ugly clashes between police and rioters. The windows of my constituency office were smashed, the door was kicked in and computer equipment was stolen. However, compared with those who have lost their homes and businesses, I was one of the lucky ones.
I first learnt of those events as I sat in a New York taxi, on my way to start my honeymoon. As I listened to voicemails—one from my alarm company and two from the police—I felt physically sick. Were my staff okay? Had people been hurt? What was going to happen next? As I spoke on the phone to Lewisham’s police commander, I thought back to our conversations during my first year as an MP. They ranged from my concern about the popularity and accessibility of internet footage glorifying gangs and knives to his concern about the increasing number of 13 and 14-year-olds coming into contact with the police for the first time. I thought back to the television coverage of the protests in central London about cuts to the education maintenance allowance. They were largely peaceful, but stayed in my memory because of the frightening images of a minority—a small groups of teenagers, faces masked by hoods and scarves, looking for a fight.
Some argue that this week’s riots are the direct product of Government cuts. I do not buy that; it is too simplistic. Yes, some youth centres have closed; yes, young people are angry about tuition fees, but the people out rioting on Monday are, by and large, not those who use our youth clubs, or, I suspect, those who are re-evaluating a university education because of increased tuition fees. No, the riots are primarily the result of disaffected, marginalised youths looking for a ruck. They are the result of mindless idiots who capitalised on an opportunity to nick some trainers or a plasma TV from Argos.
Although the catalyst for the riots in Tottenham may have been anger at the police, I suspect that the person who smashed my constituency office window did not even know who Mark Duggan was. I do not believe that Government cuts or a widespread failure in police-community relations are solely to blame for the riots. I think that they are as much about kids growing up in households where no one gives a damn about what they are up to. They are as much about the glorification of violence in our society as anything else.
Having said all that, we must ask ourselves how the climate of anger and aggression has built up among some sections of the population in our inner city. What role have Government—I include previous Governments—played in creating the climate or allowing it to take root? Youth unemployment in Lewisham is high. I have been stopped more than once on the street by young people who are really angry about the fact that they cannot find work. They are angry that the Government are making it harder for them financially to stay on at college. I am genuinely concerned that the Government, perhaps unintentionally, are writing off a generation of young people who are growing up in our inner cities. That is not to make an excuse for what has happened—there is no excuse. The riots were shameful and those involved deserve everything that is coming to them.
I have two final points. We have to ask tough questions of the police. Was their response firm enough and quick enough? Many of my constituents do not think that it was. Secondly, we have to be very wary of those who wish to portray this as a race issue. If anything, it is about poverty—economic poverty, but also poverty of respect and poverty of responsibility. But I say again: there are no excuses for what has happened this week. The violence that we saw on our streets is a stain on the fabric of our society. Although we might wash it out over the next few weeks, the real challenge is in preventing it from ever reappearing.
May I use some valuable seconds and take this opportunity to enjoy a decent moment in this difficult debate, and say congratulations to Heidi Alexander on her recent wedding and that I am very sorry that her honeymoon was interrupted?
I made a solemn promise to my constituents at half- past 9 on
At around 6 o’clock in the evening, as youths—generally under the age of 25—gathered in our town centre, it became clear that this had been built up by social media throughout the day. The first outbreak occurred at about 7 o’clock, when those youths—150 of them—took to the high street, having gathered together, and then started their rampage down Church street in Enfield town. Sadly, although that outbreak was contained relatively quickly by good police work, it led to the destruction of some very good shops that have been there for more than 30 years. Mantella, the jewellery store, which has been a sole trader for more than 30 years in Enfield, lost more than £40,000 of stock. Pearsons, one of the few independent retailers with a long legacy in Enfield, was damaged front and back. And what was stolen? It was the good quality leather handbags. With a clear target in mind, high-quality goods ware taken.
We lost many, many stores down our high street, but at that point it was not over. For about an hour, the youths increased their numbers. As I stood among them, I heard them on their phones organising to bring other people up and talking about what trains they should take. Indeed, some of them hinted at where they may be going next.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there were riots recently in a holiday resort in Spain where the police used very robust tactics? We have heard talk about water cannon, but they used rubber bullets. Does my hon. Friend think that if the people rampaging through his constituency had seen pictures on TV of rubber bullets or water cannon being used, they would have had the incentive to go out and commit copycat crimes?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Indeed, he reflects the views of my constituents in advance of what I was going to say. Of course they were very distressed, and one of the questions—one of the wishes—was, “Why do we not use water cannons or rubber bullets?” They have proved effective in other locations. I accept that they are limited in their effectiveness in some parts—indeed, around London it would be difficult—but this case was a classic example of a wide town centre where dispersal could have been achieved, which might have changed things. Indeed, I believe that the mere threat would also restrict any future activity.
Unfortunately, later in the evening, when the outburst grew more serious and the thugs attacked a police vehicle containing a territorial support group unit, they would disperse and run up nearby residential streets—quiet, detached streets. It was there, at around 9.30, that 30 or
40 of them ran past me, pushing a 70-year-old man out of the way. We were face to face with them in the garden of some neighbours, and as they ran past, with their foul-mouthed abuse—these brave individuals, hidden behind their hoodies across their faces, clutching their expensive mobile phones—they embarked on finding their rather souped-up cars, which were parked in the same residential street. This was no moral crusade. This was not a campaign for social justice; this was simply criminal activity by those determined to profit from it. My constituents are furious at what happened to their town, but what is worrying was the extreme arrogance of the individuals involved. They had no fear of being recognised and no sense of right and wrong. As a country we now have to address this issue, and we will look at how to deal with such issues in the future.
My hon. Friend describes the high street that we share as constituency neighbours. On the subject of what we will do about it, he will go home on the tube with me and we will see the headlines about the fury at the soft sentences being handed down to the latest offenders. Does he share my concern that the punishment must fit the crime? If it is not to be prison, it must be proper restitution, paying for their plunder and repairing the damage that they have done to our communities.
My hon. Friend and neighbour, who suffered similar problems, identifies a key point. One of the other wishes of my constituents was that justice should be seen to be served. It is not unreasonable to expect that the thugs involved should receive custodial sentences and be put to good use in repairing some of the damage that they have done. We must take them out of this cycle of crime and make efforts to reform them.
I have three questions and I would be grateful for answers. The railway line ends at Enfield Town station. During the course of the day, the trains were packed with people coming to cause mayhem. A request was made to Transport for London to stop some of those trains, and the buses that were coming from other parts of London. It never happened, and my constituents would like to know why.
Secondly, we believe that the vast majority of these criminals were not from Enfield, as I saw first hand myself. If we share information from CCTV and YouTube with the education authorities and the police, they can work together to identify more of them. Thirdly, why were we not able to disperse the more than 100 people who were there in the early hours?
Let me pay tribute to the borough commander, Dave Tucker, and his team, and to Enfield council, who are now working together. Enfield is open for business. It has recovered well and our last legacy sadly—
Nick de Bois rightly concluded by saying that Enfield is open for business. Manchester is also open for business. All of the places hit by these riots must make the same claim. We must insist that life goes on and we sweep up the pieces. We must begin the difficult process of saying that we will not be defeated by the rioters.
The rioters in my city—probably some 400 people—are not representative of young people across Manchester, which has thousands and thousands of young people. That very limited number of criminals trashed the city of Manchester in a few short hours. The real comparison is with the bravery of the police, because individually and collectively the police took enormous risks on behalf of the public and we should pay tribute to them. The much-derided local government workers and public servants worked through the night to ensure that Manchester was fit for purpose the following morning. Volunteers came in from districts in and around Manchester to sweep the streets and help out. They should be the contrast to the very limited number of rioters. It is right that we seize the question of why these disastrous riots happened, because the reputation of our country and of my city has been seriously damaged, but we must point out that the rioters do not represent modern Britain. Moral panic is not the answer.
I hope that we will get answers from the Government on the question of compensation. It is not trivial. Police forces that face increased costs and citizens in the affected areas want to know whether adequate compensation will be provided to cover their costs, because there was ambiguity in what was said by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. I hope that the Minister can clear up that important issue later.
We need a wider inquiry into the whole question of how riots should be policed. This riot was different. There are no strong parallels with the 1981 riots that I remember: the causes and the structures are very different. Indeed, no real reason lies behind the current riots, apart from criminality. Nevertheless, we need to consider whether the policing of these events has lessons for the future.
I am not proposing a vindictive attempt to put the blame on the police. As I have said, they have been incredibly brave, and it ill behoves politicians to be armchair police officers. However, we must ensure that the tactics of policing are right and that we are aware of where we are taking our police, and that must include a review of numbers. The fact is that we are asking people in blue uniforms to stand up to thugs, and we must make certain that there are no gaps in those blue uniforms. I must say, not unkindly, to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, Nick Herbert, that when I see him with a riot shield I shall be more convinced that we have got the answers right. We, as politicians, must be prepared to do what we ask of our serving police officers.
Let me make a final point in the few moments that remain to me. I believe that it ill behoves Members in all parts of the House to look for easy scapegoats. It was not the abolition of educational maintenance allowance or the increase in tuition fees that caused these riots. However, they do suggest that that there is no future for many of our young people. We must begin to define a future for them, so that they believe that they are part of society’s solutions rather than part of society’s problems. If we do not do so, we will condemn ourselves—
Even before the disturbances of the last few days I had become increasingly concerned about active antisocial behaviour in my constituency, but the acts that we have seen over the past seven days have succeeded in crystallising that concern in my mind. We have seen astonishing and completely unacceptable acts of mindless violence in communities across Britain. I am bitterly disappointed and appalled that in recent days they have reached parts of Birmingham, West Bromwich, Sandwell—part of which I represent—and Wolverhampton in the west midlands, very close to my constituency. The perpetrators must and will be punished by the full extent of the law.
However, we also need to reflect on how this has happened. Let me quote from an e-mail that I received from a constituent:
“I may be wrong but I believe that the riots are symptomatic of a disrespect of values and we can trace the causes to a lack of discipline in schools; to a contempt of values ranging from litter, graffiti, antisocial behaviour through to more serious crime. I am convinced links exist.
I hope, perhaps in vain, that on this occasion, that sympathy will not be extended to the culprits of riots but to the victims. Instead of sympathising with the perpetrators, I hope that the Government will look to discipline in society that is currently weak and is a major factor in our present circumstances…Now is the time and the responsible public will be with you.”
It is important to stress that the overwhelming majority of people have been appalled by these actions, and are decent, law-abiding citizens. However, in my constituency there have been plenty of examples of low-level antisocial behaviour and crime which I believe could lead to wider problems. For instance, a couple of months ago there was a case of arson in a factory in Malt Mill lane, Blackheath. Metal theft has been a big problem throughout the black country, and the roof of Halesowen Church of England primary school has been stripped on several occasions. Graffiti in Stourbridge road and other parts of Halesowen have been a persistent and constant problem. My local police commander, Inspector Steedman, recently arrested five youths for that offence. They went before the magistrates court, and were fined a total of £29.
I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for giving way. Is he shocked to learn that there are reported to be more than 1,000 arson attacks a year in the borough of Dudley, and that I believe that to be a gross under-report? Every day when we read the Express and Star, we learn of arson attacks.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is very worrying.
I am a great believer in the “broken windows” approach to tackling crime. Allowing low-level disorder simply encourages further criminality in the same area.
The next point to consider is why this situation was allowed to spiral out of control more broadly across the west midlands. The police acted bravely, and I want to pay tribute to the chief constable of West Midlands police, Chris Sims, and his officers in Birmingham and other areas of the west midlands, who did an excellent job in quelling this disorder.
The debate stood adjourned (
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.