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Public Disorder — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 11th August 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat 1:00 pm, 11th August 2011

My Lords, I, too, would like to associate myself and these Benches with the sentiments that have been expressed and to extend our condolences to those people who have lost so much in the terrible events from Saturday onwards. I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minster's Statement today.

There is absolutely no excuse for the terrible scenes that we have witnessed on the streets of London and beyond in our cities over the past few days. Our deepest sympathies must go to those families who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods. As we have heard, we must work to restore hope and confidence in our cities.

I have lived in Hackney and Islington all my life. I served as a councillor in those areas, which were among those where we have seen terrible unrest. I worked in Tottenham for almost a decade from the mid-1990s; in fact, I was there earlier on Saturday before all this happened. I know the area and the people well. I know that the vast majority are law-abiding, decent people who care deeply about their community. They are absolutely traumatised by what has happened to their neighbourhood. They did not have very much to begin with; all they had was their high street and that is now destroyed.

Whether we like it or not, the young people who rioted, looted and trashed their streets are part of our society. As the Prime Minister's Statement acknowledged, there is a deep-rooted problem with gangs in many inner-city areas. We know that in London, for example, there are more than 250 active gangs. The police know who they are and who the leaders are. These gangs have been allowed to grow and to take a hold for more than a decade-for 10 or 15 years. They draw in young people who are out on the streets and they spread criminality. When I was a councillor, mothers would come to my surgery begging me to get them transferred because they were so terrified of living on these estates and because of the way in which their families and their children were intimidated if they tried to resist joining these gangs.

These social problems did not happen overnight in our inner cities, where there are huge inequalities and a big social divide. We have to acknowledge that. We have a disconnection in a section of our society-an underclass of young people who have poor education and no skills and who come from dysfunctional families. They feel that they have nothing to lose. They have no fear of authority. Who are their role models? Millionaire footballers and rock stars. They want the latest gadgets, trainers or mobiles. This is what they aspire to.

The solutions for these riots must come from within our diverse communities. Please can we ensure that we do not demonise all young people? We certainly should not demonise all black young people. In future proposals to rebuild these communities-I am pleased that my noble friend the Leader of the House announced in the Statement that funds will be made available-can we ensure that these young people play a role in the rebuilding so that they feel a sense of ownership and pride in those communities? Let them have some work to do to rebuild their own communities.

It was clear that the police were often overwhelmed and could not protect property or stop the looting. On Monday night, in Dalston in Hackney near where I live, a large group of Turkish and Kurdish shopkeepers came together and successfully protected their businesses from rioters. They told me that they had no option. They prevented their high street from being trashed. I pay tribute to such people. I pay tribute to the Sikhs of Southall and the Turks and Kurds of Dalston. When strength was needed and they needed to stand up in their communities against this thuggery, they spontaneously demonstrated what was very good in our community. They did this in a good and peaceful way and nobody was harmed. We have seen what is very bad in our communities and society but we have also seen what is very good. We need to recognise that and pay tribute to it. We should not focus just on the bad.

I ask my noble friend the Minister how we can restore confidence in the police, because a lot of people feel that they cannot rely on them now. Vigilante groups are being formed up and down the country, which we must feel are not welcome. How can we restore confidence in the police and prevent the need for the rise of these groups of vigilantes around the country?

On a final note, I think that a lot of us were very moved during the break by the words of the Norwegian Prime Minister, who said that at times like this we need more democracy and more humanity. We need to be guided by that and to reflect on it before we make any knee-jerk reactions in response to what we have seen.