It is always a pleasure to follow Hazel Blears.
My constituency experienced rioting on Tuesday evening. Shops were emptied and our city centre became a no-go zone. Businesses that took generations to build were destroyed in a matter of minutes. Livelihoods that took years to create vanished in a couple of hours. During the clean-up the next morning, I was struck by a mental image. There is an Indian saying that it takes a lot of effort to grow a flower: it needs water, love, time and effort, but anyone in one callous moment can come and stamp on it and destroy it.
Many hon. Members will have seen last night’s footage of Sham Sharma’s shop, which was completely looted by thieves. He and I have been struck by the total lack of respect and the disregard shown by some young people for the rights and property of others. We as a Government must do everything possible to make sure that this never, ever happens again. There is a need to restore confidence in the safety of our towns and cities, so that they are no longer boarded-up ghost towns of an evening. To achieve this, a continuing strong response is needed from the authorities. I welcome the initiatives announced earlier today.
Many are questioning the values of society and wondering how the country has ended up in this situation. I have had many conversations with a constituent, Mr Gurdev Rai, about what he calls the three Rs: respect, responsibilities and rights. It is clear that for many, the right to live free from fear has been destroyed by the events of the past few days. Some of the rioters have spoken of their rights to express their views, to “show the authorities what we can do”, and to cause havoc in doing so. Much has been said of their rights. However, they display very little acknowledgement of their responsibilities—responsibilities that each of us has to one another, to our communities and to this nation as a whole. Maybe that has been neglected in the education that young people have received, both at home and at school. It is clear that if everyone were to behave in this manner, our society could not exist as it does.
It is the responsibility of all to maintain everything that we hold dear to our hearts in this great country. We all agree on the principle of the right to vote and to hold an opinion, but to do so within the limits of the laws which protect the values of society. We should be grateful to live in a democratic and peaceful society. Let us be mindful that many young people across the world have been willing to die for the rights that we enjoy in this country. We have the right to free speech and a free press, and the right to congregate and protest peacefully.
The rioters have abused those rights and destroyed the stability that has long existed. They have destroyed confidence in the safety of our towns and cities, and left many of our young citizens terrified. They have let us all down, particularly their young peers. Scenes have been shown, too, of many young people who value their society and work hard to maintain it. To return to the flower story, what I saw in Wolverhampton on Wednesday morning was many young people planting those flowers for the future.
To live in a positive and enriching society, we must all ensure that we live by the principle of respect—respect for each other, our communities, authority and the law that maintains it. If we are to restore respect for authority in our society, we must start at home and especially at school. We need to return to the values that make our society great. That is not celebrity, fast cars, and a culture of “Me first,” regardless of the consequences. This is the real world where young people should look at those who aspire to respect others and work hard for what they achieve. These are the real heroes of our society, those who know their own value, respecting not only themselves, but their families, community, society and country.