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Public Disorder — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:09 pm on 11th August 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 12:09 pm, 11th August 2011

My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement that was made by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"First, let me thank all Members of the House for returning. When there are important events in our country, it is right that Parliament is recalled and that we show a united front. I am grateful to the leader of the Opposition for the constructive approach that he has taken over the past few days. I have spoken with many of the Members whose constituencies have been affected, and I would like to pay tribute to the Member for Tottenham for his powerful words and unstinting work over recent days.

What we have seen on the streets of London and in other cities across our country is completely unacceptable, and I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning it. Keeping people safe is the first duty of government. The whole country has been shocked by the most appalling scenes of people looting and of violence, vandalising and thieving. It is criminality pure and simple, and there is absolutely no excuse for it. We have seen houses, offices and shops raided and torched, police officers assaulted and fire crews attacked as they try to put out fires, people robbing others while they lie injured and bleeding in the street, and even three innocent people being deliberately run over and killed in Birmingham. We will not put up with this in our country; we will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets; and we will do whatever it takes to restore law and order and to rebuild our communities.

First, let us be clear about the sequence of events. A week ago today, a 29 year-old man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by the police in Tottenham. Clearly, there are questions that must be answered, and I can assure the House that this is being investigated thoroughly and independently by the IPCC. We must get to the bottom of exactly what happened-and we will.

Initially there were some peaceful demonstrations following Mark Duggan's death. Understandably and appropriately, the police were cautious about how they dealt with them. However, this was then used as an excuse by opportunist thugs in gangs, first in Tottenham itself, then across London and then in other cities. It is completely wrong to say there is any justifiable causal link. It is simply preposterous for anyone to suggest that people looting in Tottenham at the weekend, still less three days later in Salford, were in any way doing so because of the death of Mark Duggan. Young people stealing flat-screen televisions and burning shops was not about politics or protest; it was about theft.

In recent days, individual police officers have shown incredible bravery and have worked in some cases around the clock without a break. They deserve our gratitude and our thanks: but what became increasingly clear earlier this week was that there were simply far too few police deployed on to the streets, and that the tactics they were using were not working. Police chiefs have been frank with me about why this happened. Initially, the police treated the situation too much as a public order issue rather than essentially one of crime. The truth is that the police have been facing a new and unique challenge, with different people doing the same thing-basically looting-in different places, but all at the same time. To respond to this situation, we are acting decisively to restore order on our streets, to support the victims of this terrible violence and to look at the deeper problems that have led such a hard core of young people to decide to carry out such appalling criminality. Let me take each in turn.

I will start with restoring order. Following the meetings of COBRA which I chaired on Tuesday, Wednesday and again this morning, we have taken decisive action to help ensure more robust and more effective policing. Because of decisions taken by Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin and other chief officers, there are now more police on the streets, more people arrested and more criminals being prosecuted. The Met Police increased the number of police deployed on the streets of London from 6,000 to almost 16,000 officers, and this number will remain through the weekend. We have also seen large increases in deployments of officers in other affected areas; leave in affected forces has been cancelled; police officers have been bussed in from forces across the country to areas of greatest need; and many businesses have released special constables to help. They, too, have performed magnificently.

More than 1,200 people have now been arrested across the country. We are making technology work for us by capturing the images of the perpetrators on CCTV, so even if they have not yet been arrested, their faces are known and they will not escape the law. As I said yesterday, no phoney human rights concerns about publishing photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice. Anyone charged with violent disorder and other serious offences should expect to be remanded in custody, not let back on the streets: and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail. Courts in London, Manchester and the West Midlands have been sitting through the night, and will do so for as long as necessary. Magistrates' courts have proved effective in ensuring swift justice. The Crown Courts are now starting to deal with the most serious cases. We are keeping under constant review whether the courts have the sentencing powers they need and we will act if necessary.

As a result of the robust and uncompromising measures that have been taken, good progress is being made in restoring order to the streets of London and other cities around our country. As I have made clear, nothing is off the table. Every contingency should be looked at. The police are already authorised to use baton rounds. As I said yesterday, while they would not be appropriate now, we do have in place contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours' notice.

Some people have raised the issue of the Army. The Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said to me that he would rather be the last man left in Scotland Yard, with all his management team out on the streets, before he asked for the Army. That is the right attitude and one I share. But it is the Government's responsibility to make sure that every contingency is looked at, including whether there are tasks that the Army could undertake that might free up more police for the front line.

Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers. Specifically, currently they can only remove face masks in a specific geographical location and for a limited time. So I can announce today that we are going to give the police the discretion to require the removal of face coverings under any circumstances where there is reasonable suspicion that they are related to criminal activity. On dealing with crowds, we are also looking at the use of existing dispersal powers and whether any wider power of curfew is necessary.

Whenever the police face a new threat, they must have the freedom and the confidence to change tactics as necessary. This Government will always make sure they have the backing and political support to do so. The fight-back has well and truly begun. But there will be no complacency, and we will not stop until this mindless violence and thuggery is defeated and law and order is fully restored on all our streets.

Let me turn to the innocent victims. No one will forget the images of the woman jumping from a burning building or the furniture shop that had survived the Blitz now tragically burnt to the ground. Everyone will have been impressed by the incredibly brave words of Tariq Jahan, a father in Birmingham whose son was so brutally and tragically run over and killed. I give the people affected this promise: we will help you repair the damage, get your businesses back up and running, and support your communities.

Let me take each of these in turn. On repairing the damages, I can confirm that any individual, homeowner or business that has suffered damage to or loss of their buildings or property as a result of rioting can seek compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act, even if uninsured. The Government will ensure that the police have the funds they need to meet the cost of any legitimate claims, and whereas normally claims must be received within 14 days we will extend the period to 42 days. The Association of British Insurers has said it expects the industry to be paying out in excess of £200 million, and it has assured us that claims will continue to be dealt with as quickly and as constructively as possible.

On supporting businesses, we are today setting up a new £20 million high street support scheme to help affected businesses get back up and running quickly. To minimise the costs facing businesses, the Government will enable local authorities to grant business rate relief by funding at least three-quarters of their costs. We will defer tax payments for businesses in greatest need, through Time to Pay and other practical support. For houses and businesses that have been the most badly damaged, we have instructed the Valuation Office to immediately stop liability for council tax and business rates.

A specific point was raised with me in Wolverhampton yesterday: that planning regulations made it difficult for shops to put up protective shutters. We will weed out unnecessary planning regulations to ensure that businesses can get back on their feet and feel secure as quickly as possible.

On supporting local communities, I can confirm that the Bellwin scheme to support local authorities will be operational. However, to ensure that urgent funding is immediately available, we are today establishing a new £10 million recovery scheme to provide additional support to councils in making areas safe, clean and clear again.

The Government will also meet the immediate costs of emergency accommodation for families made homeless by these disturbances. The Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and Business have made details of these schemes available to the House today. Of course the situation continues to evolve, and we will keep the need for additional support under close review.

Finally, let me turn to the deeper problems. Responsibility for crime always lies with the criminal, but crime has a context and we must not shy away from it. I have said before that there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong. This is not about poverty, it is about culture-a culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities. In too many cases the parents of these children, if they are still around, do not care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing. The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without proper action being taken.

As I said yesterday, there is no one step that can be taken, but we need a benefits system that rewards work and is on the side of families. We need more discipline in our schools. We need action to deal with the most disruptive families. We need a criminal justice system that scores a clear, heavy line between right and wrong-in short, all the action necessary to help mend our broken society.

At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs. Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes. They earn money through crime, particularly drugs, and are bound together by an imposed loyalty to an authoritarian gang leader. They have blighted life on their estates with gang-on-gang murders and unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders. In the past few days, there is some evidence that they have been behind the co-ordination of the attacks on the police and the looting that has followed.

I want us to use the record of success against gangs of cities like Boston in the USA and Strathclyde in Scotland, which have done this by engaging the police, the voluntary sector and local government. I want this to be a national priority. We have already introduced gang injunctions and I can announce today that we are going to use them across the whole country for children and for adults.

There are also further sanctions available beyond the criminal justice system. Local authorities and landlords already have tough powers to evict the perpetrators from social housing. Some local authorities are already doing this. I want to see others follow their lead, and we will consider whether these powers need to be strengthened further.

I have asked the Home Secretary to work with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and other Cabinet colleagues on a cross-government programme of action to deal with this gang culture, with a report to Parliament in October. I also believe that we should be looking beyond our shores to learn the lessons from others who have faced similar problems. That is why I will be discussing how we can go further in getting to grips with gangs with people like Bill Bratton, former commissioner of police in New York and Los Angeles.

Of course, the problem is not just gangs. There are people who saw shop windows smashed and thought that they could just steal and it would be okay. It is not okay and these people will face the full consequences of their actions.

In the past few days we have seen a range of emotions sweep this country: anger, fear, frustration, despair, sadness and, finally, a determined resolve that we will not let a violent few beat us. We saw this resolve in the people who gathered in Clapham, Wolverhampton and Manchester with brooms to clean up the streets. We saw it in those who patrolled the roads in Enfield through the night to deter rioters. We saw it in the hundreds of people who stood guard outside Southall Temple, protecting it from vandalism.

This is a time for our country to pull together. To the law-abiding people who play by the rules, and who are the overwhelming majority in this country, I say: the fight-back has begun; we will protect you; and if you have had your livelihood and property damaged, we will compensate you. We are on your side. To the lawless minority-the criminals who have taken what they can get-I say this: we will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you and we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done.

We need to show the world, which has looked on appalled, that the perpetrators of the violence we have seen on our streets are not in any way representative of our country, nor of our young people. We need to show it that we will address our broken society and restore a sense of stronger morality and responsibility in every town, every street and every estate. A year away from the Olympics, we need to show it the Britain that does not destroy, but that builds; that does not give up but stands up; that does not look back, but always forwards. I commend the Statement to the House".