Main Question again proposed.
The West Midlands police force did excellent work in quelling the disorder. We must recognise that many of these riots were organised. The disorder in Birmingham and across the west midlands was organised by youths using modern technology on smartphones and social networks. The police were, to some extent, always playing catch-up. I therefore believe we need to look at the effectiveness of their current techniques to ensure that the police can protect the public effectively in this new world. We must also recognise the crucial role played by brave individual police officers and the work they did to quell this disorder, and I pay tribute to every police officer who was on the streets of Birmingham and across the west midlands over the past few days.
Respect and responsibility start at home, and we must create a situation in which parents understand that it is unacceptable for them not to know where their children are. Discipline in the classroom is important. I know my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has recently introduced measures to improve school discipline, and that is crucial. We need to clean up our towns and we must not accept irresponsible and criminal behaviour.
It is time for everyone to play their part, take responsibility for the state of their community and put right the outrageous wrongs we have seen over the past several days.
This has been a tragic week for my home city of Birmingham. It has been most obviously tragic for those who have lost their lives and their families and friends, but it has also been tragic for those whose businesses have been hit and whose property has been destroyed. My part of Birmingham was not dramatically affected by the disturbances, but the fear there was just as real as it was everywhere else.
We witnessed appalling scenes in Birmingham, other parts of the west midlands and elsewhere, about which there has rightly been unanimous condemnation in the House today. There has also been unanimity in calling for the right kind of robust police response. It is important too, however, that when our constituents call for things such as water cannon and rubber bullets, we faithfully report what the police say to us. The clear message from the police in the west midlands is that those things would, at best, have been irrelevant and could have been destructive if used. That is not to say that they should not be available in reserve; they already are, and they always have been. They were not appropriate on this occasion, however.
It was a time of appalling scenes, but it was also a time of real citizenship. I want to pay my own tribute to the emergency services and to echo what the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) said about West Midlands police and their officers. There are also countless council and other workers out there, cleaning up promptly through the night. We need to pay tribute to them.
I also pay tribute to the work of politicians of all parties on the city council and colleagues in this House, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). Real citizenship was shown by volunteers, too. The people who turned up with their brooms—interestingly, it was the Twitter network that brought people to the centre of Birmingham and elsewhere to clean up—were predominantly young, and that emphasises the fact that there should be no stigmatisation of young people. It was young people who drove the broom brigades.
As a city—this is probably the case elsewhere—we need at times like this to celebrate what is good about our city and what brings us together. We saw that graphically in the profound dignity of Tariq Jahan just last night. On Sunday, Birmingham will come together as a city. An event has been organised to celebrate the achievements of the racing driver Nigel Mansell, who will see a star in his name put on one of the main streets of Birmingham, but many of us are saying that we should make that event a celebration of our city, of what brings us together and of the fact that we are bigger and better than what we saw this week.
In the last few seconds that remain, let me say two things. It is not point scoring to warn about the impact of the coming police cuts. I hope that Government Members recognise that. It is also not point scoring to warn about the effects of cuts to services for young people. This is about keeping the infrastructure we need in place to prevent such things from happening again. If we are not to stigmatise people, we need to support them. That means that the infrastructure and services must be in place to give them a voice and to allow them to have the opportunities they need and demand. I do not mean those who were committing the violence this week, but the thousands of young people in Birmingham and up and down the country who say that they want more opportunity, want to see change and want to be listened to. We must listen to them, and that must be the message from this debate, too.
The rioting that affected Clapham Junction, which is in the heart of Battersea—to make a boring geographical point, it is not in Clapham, but in Battersea, as Clapham is several miles away, a point that causes great confusion—affected many businesses, leaving some of them very damaged, and left the community badly shaken. I live very close to Clapham Junction and once the police made it clear that serious trouble was expected, from about 8 o’clock, I spent an hour or so visiting businesses that were still open, particularly takeaways and restaurants, to advise them of what was going on and to urge them to take precautions. Many of them felt that they had not been given sufficient warning by the authorities and felt rather let down, and that has resulted in a loss of confidence in the authorities.
I am also glad that, although we all acknowledge the bravery of the police and what they did, the Prime Minister said in his statement that senior police offices have acknowledged that some of the tactics need to be reviewed. In truth, parts of my constituency were a free-for-all for hours, with scenes broadcast on rolling news of people helping themselves that made it far harder to restore order. The numbers piling in were increasing as that carried on. Many people were appalled to see open criminality being tolerated on the streets.
I do not know what shocked me more: passing the giggling groups of teenagers phoning their friends to check on their trainer size, the van that parked opposite my house with eight or nine balaclavaed youths piling out of it who went up to Clapham Junction, gathered up armfuls of stuff, got back in the van and drove off—obviously I have given the registration number to the police—or the fact that the first person convicted lives in Battersea and is a 31-year-old school worker in a south London primary school. We have to be very careful about reaching for easy solutions about social exclusion when we look at some of the people who have been convicted.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if that school worker is convicted—I say this in the presence of the Secretary of State for Education—it would perhaps be a good move for the school to consider dismissing them from its employment as a poor role model to the children?
In truth, I cannot see how someone convicted of that offence could possibly be a role model. I am sure that the authorities will take the right action.
I want to say a word about the mix of police skills, and about numbers. A lot of points have been made—some of them a bit party political—about numbers, but in my conversations with my area commander, the emphasis has been on having the right skills mix available to the police. The skills that a safer neighbourhoods team constable has are quite different from those of a trained public order officer, and the two cannot easily be substituted for each other, so it is not purely a police numbers issue; it is about those on the ground having the right skills mix to deploy, and being able to react to a very fast-moving new challenge.
On the effect on retailers, I think people have been shocked to realise that loss of livelihood does not feature as high in the priorities as many feel it should when it comes to public order. It is a very serious thing for people to lose their business or their job, particularly in retail; the ultimate irony is that retail is an area of the economy that provides entry-level jobs to young people straight from school. It is the most stupid area of all to attack, and to deprive people of jobs in. If JD Sports pulls out of some of the areas that have been badly affected, the people affected would have a very similar demographic profile to those who attacked it. That is absolutely crazy and self-defeating, so I very much welcome the measures that the Prime Minister announced on business rates holidays and so on.
I should like to make a plea, and I am sure that hon. Members will take this up with their councils. As we know, many small businesses do not apply for the relief that they are due. I have said to my council, which has been very responsive to the idea, that it should provide a form-filling service to very small businesses, to make sure that they hit their deadlines and that nothing is rejected because the forms are not in order. Wandsworth has been very responsive to that idea, and I very much hope that other councils will do the same. We do not want to hear of people missing out because they missed the deadline.
There will be a lot of focus in the coming months on the causes of the problems. Essentially, there will be a focus on the gulf between the values of the young people who marched towards Clapham Junction on Monday night, armed with a brick, and the many more young people who descended on Clapham Junction the next morning, armed only with a broom, to help with the clear-up.
As soon as I heard that there were riots—and they were riots—in my constituency and in the borough of Croydon, I left my family holiday, and I have spent the last two days talking to many hundreds of victims. I think it is best, in the brief time available to me, to report to the House on what I have heard. There were hundreds of people on the rampage in Croydon, ranging, I am told, from those aged eight or 10 to those in their 50s, but obviously most were teenagers and people in their 20s. As the House knows, major buildings were torched; there were absolutely devastating fires. Those buildings, many of which housed businesses and accommodation, have now been demolished. When I looked at the area on Tuesday morning, I realised that it could be London during the blitz, or Berlin in 1945. It is no soundbite to say that it was a war zone. Many were lucky to escape with their lives, and not to be burned to death. A woman jumped from a burning building.
Many dozens of small businesses—offices and shops—were trashed or robbed. There was theft on a gigantic scale. Those small businesses were mainly owned by people from our ethnic communities—hard-working, enterprising people who put their life savings into their businesses. They worked to build them up, and now they have seen them devastated.
Of course there were brave police officers, firefighters and ambulance staff, but the thin blue line was very thin indeed; frankly, in my constituency of Croydon North it was virtually invisible, in the minds of the victims. It is interesting that the centre of Croydon, with big national offices such as those of Nestlé, major superstores such as Marks & Spencer and national brands, was protected by the police, so the mobs descended towards west Croydon, and came into my constituency—the poorer part of the borough, where enterprises are small and tend to be owned by hard-working families. I heard dozens of reports, as I ducked into shops to look at the devastation, that the police had effectively been nowhere to be seen; 999 calls were sometimes unanswered. When people got through they were told that no officers were available. If they dared to call again out of fear about what was happening, they were told they were being a nuisance and, “Please do not call again.”
The thugs ruled the roost. Looking at it objectively, the thugs were more mobile, certainly more numerous and made more effective use of technology than the police. That is the reality as I see it. The looters in Croydon North did not have just an hour or two; they had all night to loot and loot again. The shopkeepers told me that people were returning hour after hour to take everything away. None of this was helped by the absurd decision of Metropolitan police commanders to withdraw our very able and experienced police commander from Croydon to look after strategy at Scotland Yard, meaning that when the riots kicked off that experience was not available.
I have to say to the House on behalf of my constituents that there was no law in Croydon North that night. There was just lawlessness. There was no order, but there was grave disorder. There were virtually no police; the vandals were in command. People are angry and upset and we have got to do better in future.
When Parliament was recalled, a couple of my constituents, having watched awful scenes on television, said to me, “Oh great, so the cities are burning and the politicians are going to talk. That is really going to fix things.” But I have been really pleased that this has not been a talking shop today and some really tangible provisions have come out of this. In many ways, the communities around our country feel that politics has been sleep-talking into this situation.
Although no one could have predicted the manner in which these riots arose, communities up and down the country have seen something that the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out: once kids see that they can do something and get away with it, the problem suddenly becomes an awful lot worse. Throughout communities, and certainly in my constituency, people have been terrorised in their own homes and prisoners in their own neighbourhoods because kids have been allowed to get away initially with low-level stuff, then a bit more, then a bit more.
So the frustration and despair that was felt in many communities at seeing that there were no consequences to these actions was suddenly writ large over the entire nation. The people of Britain know that there cannot be a situation in which actions have no consequences. That is one of the major lessons that we have to learn. It is like a broken window policy. We have to start low-level to avoid reaching the high level. Actions have consequences.
As chair of the all-party group on boxing, I cannot talk about the riots without mentioning the amazing role that boxing clubs have played. Moss Side boxing club and the boxing academy have been on the media. They reach out to young people with energy and aggression who are prone to activities such as rioting. Boxing clubs show them that actions do have consequences. There is discipline and if kids train and do well, they get better at something and they can take control of their life and do something with it. That is testament to fact that the concept that actions have consequences can work in a positive way.
How have we got to this stage? How have we got to the “You can’t touch me” approach that can be seen in schools when teachers try to discipline kids and on the streets when policemen try to move on or discipline kids in the street? It has to be down to an abuse of the very valid concept of human welfare and human rights. Over the past years we have seen the rights of criminals come above the rights of victims such as my constituent Helen Stockford. She has suffered terribly and the state has not been there for her, while it has been there to safeguard the rights of her attacker.
How has this been allowed to come about? Well-meaning human rights legislation has been taken out of context, perhaps by people who do not live in the daily reality of the consequences of a distorted human rights concept. The worst thing about a human rights concept that takes away action and consequence, and boundaries and discipline, is that not only our country suffers. Not only our cities burn when kids realise that they can loot stores and get away with it, and then get away with it again; those children themselves suffer. As everyone knows, without boundaries, we cannot know achievement. By taking away discipline, we are taking away from children the basic rule by which one can achieve, and that is simply wrong. It is a lesson that we must all take away from this wake-up call of a week.
In Liverpool on Monday and Tuesday we had two terrifying nights, which I experienced at first hand, but I do not want to dwell on the perpetrators. I want to talk about the victims, the community response and future resources.
There have been many victims in my constituency and across Liverpool; they have seen their homes, property and livelihoods attacked. I joined Alison and her family early yesterday morning. Her pub, the Earl Marshall off Lawrence road, had its windows smashed and was looted late the night before. It was an attack on a family business and a community institution. It was totally unacceptable, and there are too many similar examples of local businesses vandalised—their shutters still closed today—and cars set on fire.
A very small minority carried out that criminal activity, wreaking havoc on local residents and bringing shame on the city. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). An overwhelming majority harnessed the positive powers of open social networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, to organise, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a community clean-up. Just a few hours later at 9 am, people turned up in droves, with bin bags, brooms, gloves—young and old, a couple with a baby—all eager to get stuck in and clear away the smashed glass and charred rubbish. The people of Liverpool channelled their anger and abhorrence at what had happened in a massively positive way. When trouble sadly happened again on Tuesday night, even more people turned up on Wednesday morning to help in the clear-up, showing the true face of Liverpool. They were joined by the council, registered social landlords, clear-up teams and the police. A group of strangers from across the city, volunteers and professionals, affectionately referred to as the Liverpool riot Wombles, restored pride to the city.
In Merseyside the police have done a formidable job protecting our community and keeping everyone informed. Like my colleagues, I have not heard a bad word about their formidable efforts to protect the city and to limit damage to the rest of Liverpool. Chief Constable Jon Murphy and his team are to be commended. Merseyside police were deployed to London on Monday, but they returned to contend with the disturbances on Tuesday night. My concern is how they will be able to deal effectively with future trouble, which of course we sincerely hope will not occur.
On that point about pressure on the police, I pay tribute to Nottinghamshire police officers, many of whom worked 18 to 20-hour shifts. One of them worked a 26-hour shift. Does my hon. Friend agree that police cuts of 20% would make that situation even worse?
Of course. The cuts are incredibly concerning. Merseyside police have already been recognised for the cuts and efficiency savings they made before the latest police settlement. No accommodation for those efficiency savings and back-office cuts was made in the settlement.
Perhaps before we decide that police cuts are the reason for the problem, the hon. Lady should consider the words of the chief constable of West Yorkshire, who said he had the resources he needed and that he had enough resources to invade a south American country.
Two weekends ago, before the troubles occurred, I was out with the police in my constituency, and it was evident then that they were already stretched on a Friday night to respond to all the priority 1 calls. Over the next few years, until 2015, Merseyside police are set to lose 800 police officers, so the challenge is about the number of police officers we might lose in the future. My constituents have told me more than 100 times over the past couple of days that they want more police officers on our streets, not fewer. I echo the call from the shadow Home Secretary that the Home Secretary should clarify whether police forces will be able to recoup the additional costs they have incurred over the past few days. If they cannot, I am even more concerned about future community safety for my constituents and across Liverpool.
My concerns extend to all our emergency services. On Tuesday night four fire engines were attacked in my patch while they were attending fires. That was a completely despicable act. Merseyside fire service is already stretched and bearing the brunt of the biggest cuts in the country. I urge the Government to revisit the amount of resources that all the people who put their lives on the line to protect us, heal us and put out our fires deserve in order to look after my constituents, all the people of Liverpool and the entire British public.
I start by using this opportunity to thank and to express my admiration for the emergency services and their work—not only the emergency services that have been working at the flashpoints that we have all heard about through the press and so on and in today’s debate, but those that have been working in areas where problems have arisen although people might not be aware of them, such as in the London borough of Sutton, where many police officers, police community support officers and specials have been deployed.
I would also like to express support for the action that the police have taken. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to be critical friends of many organisations, including the police, and to express support for them when we support their actions. I also want to express my condolences and sympathy to those whose loved ones have either died or been injured and to the businesses that have been affected either directly or indirectly. Clearly, in the areas where the main demonstrations have taken place, businesses have been affected, but businesses in other areas have been affected indirectly because the early closures that have taken place can have a substantial impact on many small and medium-sized enterprises.
Of course, there can be no excuse for what has happened. Indeed, I do not think that the rioters are making any pretence that theirs was a political protest; it was criminality, pure and simple, and an opportunity for mayhem and violence that they think will be without consequences. It is our responsibility to ensure that there are consequences for them.
Let me underline the fact that there are positives. Members have referred to the positive action that has been taken in relation to clean-ups, for instance, and I want to underline the important roles that young people are playing in many organisations—whether in the Scouts, Youth Parliaments, air cadets or a host of other organisations where young people are making a positive contribution.
In the time that we have for the debate today, it is difficult to identify the solutions to problems that we have seen over the past couple of days and, indeed, the areas that require further investigation, but the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who is no longer in his place, quite rightly highlighted some issues around communications between the IPCC and the Met and communications with the family, and that matter requires investigation.
Other Members have proposed the deployment of water cannon, rubber bullets and curfews as a possible solution. We need to consider that very carefully indeed, particularly as other Members have quoted their police officers and said that many believe, for instance, that water cannon are completely unsuited to fast-moving scenarios, with groups of people moving around quickly. We also need to consider the tactics and training that have been used. For instance, if it is correct, as I have been informed by an ex-senior police officer, that the Met plan for no more than three or four disturbances taking place at the same time, that will clearly need to be considered.
The past four days have been extremely depressing. They have done enormous damage to our international reputation. They have left families in mourning and businesses damaged. They have rocked our fundamental freedoms to their foundations. Today, the fight back begins. It will be a long campaign, but it is one that we cannot afford to lose.
I am proud today of the way in which Parliament has conducted this debate. For me, the politics of law and order and of security and protecting our citizens have never been about the difference between right and left; they have always been about the difference between right and wrong. Parliament has made that very clear indeed today.
I want to pay my personal tribute to the men and women of Salford’s police, Greater Manchester police and the police forces that came to our aid this week, in very difficult circumstances indeed. They were incredibly brave, committed, courageous and fearless in the face of some pretty horrendous circumstances. On Tuesday night, I saw for myself, in my community, the violence that was going on at Salford precinct. It was localised; we managed to contain it in one small area of the city, but in that small area, it was extremely intense. The cars of local journalists were torched. At one stage, according to the chief constable, there was a mob of about 1,000 people, and we did not have enough police officers to face them.
The Home Secretary herself acknowledged today that initially we did not have enough police officers on the ground. In the first instance, we had ordinary officers in their ordinary gear—clearly, we could not send them into such circumstances. They had to stand by, and the fact that they did so while looting took place was a devastating blow to public confidence. When the riot police came, fully protected and with the right training, there were not enough of them, and at one point in the evening they had to retreat in the face of violence. They ceded the ground to the thugs and criminals. We can never let that happen again. The message to people that they, not the forces of law and order, are in control is absolutely devastating. I know that our chief constable is learning the lessons of that evening and it will never happen again. I am not criticising the police officers but we have to make sure that those tactics are not repeated.
I am pleased that overnight the number of arrests in Greater Manchester and Salford has increased. On that evening, there were only three or four arrests, because the police did not feel able to go in and arrest people on the spot. Now, there have been more than 30 arrests in Salford and, I think, 170 across Greater Manchester. I am delighted that the courts are sitting on a 24-hour basis. Three CPS officers were in the police station overnight preparing the cases and the charges and getting them to the courts. The headline in today’s Manchester Evening News, “Instant justice”, sums it up: people have been given immediate custodial sentences—they committed the action and they have got the consequences. That is what the public wanted.
I commend the Manchester Evening News because it has given every single photograph it took throughout these events to the police. I say to the other media—the broadcast media in particular—that they must do the same. It is their duty as public servants to make sure the police have that information.
My final point is that we have all seen positive things—in my area, young people have been on the streets cleaning up. In the past 10 to 15 years, we in Salford have changed our community dramatically and transformed opportunities for young people: we have new schools and a new hospital; whereas before only 20% of young people got qualifications, now 70% do; and our unemployment rate has come down. There are opportunities. Salford is my city, and I am determined that we will not slip back to the bad old days of despair and hopelessness among our young people. We have a massive job to do, but I am determined to ensure that local and central Government, our public services and our citizens themselves use all our efforts. Yesterday, I heard expressions of shock, outrage and horror, but what I also heard from Salford people, who are the salt of the earth, was a fierce determination that these people will not win and we will protect our city.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (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.
When I saw the flames on the streets of Tottenham on Saturday night, I had a deep sense of foreboding because I knew that it was only a matter of time before the same problems came to the streets of Hackney, not just because we have many of the same underlying social conditions but because the same gangs run backwards and forwards across the border between the two communities.
I want to stress that the pictures that people have seen on their television screens of looters in Hackney do not represent my community. What represents my community is the hundreds of people who turned out the following morning to clean up Hackney and to make good their community. I want to thank my council officers and my chief executive, Tim Shields. It is easy for Westminster politicians to denigrate council officers, but when people arrived to clean up Hackney at 10 am, council staff had been there before them and had swept Mare street and the surrounding streets, and everything was clean and orderly before 8 am. Council officers in Hackney had also been up all night monitoring CCTV, monitoring buildings in the high street for arson, and making sure the police got there to stop arson so that we did not see buildings in flames, as we saw in other parts of London. I would like to thank the emergency services and my borough commander, Steve Bending, who did the very best with the resources that were available to them.
When my hon. Friend describes the response of the police in Hackney, does she share my concern that there was a poor and slow police response to what happened in the Tottenham Hale shopping centre? Does she agree that any inquiry into the policing activities must examine why there was so little police availability for that incident?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but one has to admire people’s willingness to stand up for their community and defend their community. We saw on the streets of Hackney members of my Turkish community, wanting to defend their restaurants. However, we must be careful about vigilantism. It is one thing to defend one’s business, but it is for the police to be on the street defending communities. We have seen what happened in Birmingham. I worry about vigilantism tipping over into ethnic conflict in some of our big cities.
Some Members of the House are talking as if disaffected, violent, criminal urban youth, with no stake in society, are overnight phenomena. I put it to the House that in London, to my knowledge, we are looking at the third generation of black boys who have been failed by the education system. I do not say this today because I have read about it in the paper. Ever since I have been a Member of Parliament this is an issue I have worked on. For 15 years I have had conferences about London schools and the black child, trying to bring the community together, trying to bring mothers together, trying to encourage them not to blame the system, or the schools, or politicians, but to take responsibility for their own children’s education. I have held workshops in Hackney for the black community, for the Turkish community, and I have had six years of running an award scheme for London’s top achieving black children. And I tell the House this: it has been impossible to get publicity for much of this activity, just as many ordinary people in our communities who are working hard with young people and people on estates cannot get publicity. But when people riot, the media is all over our communities, and the next weekend they will be gone, leaving us with these issues.
Let me say, in the very short time available, that one of the things that I have learned from years of work, in particular around urban youth and the black family, is that most families want to do the best by their children. Members are getting up and talking about bad parents. Some of these mothers want to do the best, but they struggle. I gave an award a few years ago to a young man who came here from war-torn Somalia at the age of eight and he got a first from London university. He lived on a grim estate in Brent. His brother was in a gang. It is not just about toxic areas, toxic estates, toxic families; these are individuals. Let us hope that what is happening to boys and families in urban communities is not just this week’s issue, but is something to which the House will return and give the attention it deserves.
After witnessing the terrible scenes in my city on Tuesday night, as a Manchester MP I am grateful to have the opportunity to take part in this debate, particularly given the number of people who wanted to speak. We need to be clear that the scenes that we have witnessed around the country are nothing other than disgraceful criminal activity, carried out by mindless idiots and career criminals who take pleasure in causing trouble and who thought that this was a golden opportunity to rob and steal and not get caught.
I was pleased that on television both the shadow Justice Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition avoided endorsing comments from a small number of people who have tried to use this violence as a means of attacking Government policy and scoring cheap political points at a time when everyone should have been condemning the violence and criminal behaviour rather than giving anyone the chance to try to justify their own criminal behaviour.
Following the scenes in London, Liverpool and Birmingham on television on Monday evening, there was understandable concern in Manchester that such behaviour would spread to our streets on Tuesday. I spent the early evening on Tuesday out in the constituency to gauge the mood and watch out for any signs of trouble. In south Manchester, we were very fortunate that we did not experience the violence that we saw in the city centre or in Salford. Incidents of disorder and criminal activity were limited, but I was shocked to hear some of the comments being made by young people on the streets. One group of young people were talking about how they intended to go into Manchester and have a great laugh looting and attacking the police. One young woman, who cannot have been above 16 or 17, was shouting into her mobile phone, for everyone on the street to hear, how annoyed she was that she was not able to go and steal herself a new television because she was pregnant. This mentality shows the sorts of challenges we face to change the attitudes of a minority of people in this country.
A small minority of people have sought to try to explain away this poor behaviour on bad education, unemployment and a lack of things to do for young people, but that simply does not wash. Among the people already brought before the courts are a teaching assistant, a chef, a graphic designer, a university student and an 11-year-old child. It is not simply the disadvantaged and disaffected. Only a tiny minority of people have caused the trouble. The vast majority of people, regardless of their education, employment status or level of boredom, had absolutely no interest in being out on the streets causing trouble in Manchester or any other town or city across the country.
Yesterday, along with a number of Greater Manchester MPs, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), I attended a meeting with the police. It came as no surprise to me when the chief constable told us that the vast majority of those people who have already been arrested were already known to the police. The recent unrest has been seen by some as a golden opportunity to carry out their usual criminal activity, as they assume that they will not be caught. We need to get across the message that they will be caught, charged and convicted. I know that the police are working flat out to identify people involved in the riots, and I pay tribute to them and to the fire service for the job it has done under very difficult circumstances. Two people found guilty of offences have already been sent to prison. Swift justice will send out a clear signal to these criminals that they are not above the law.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the response of the people in Manchester to the devastating scenes in the city. I was out on the streets yesterday morning helping with the clean-up operation. Work had gone on throughout—
The Home Affairs Committee is going to conduct an inquiry, as we know, and we will see what conclusions it reaches and whether its report will be unanimous, but in my view a public inquiry might also be needed, because it is very important to determine the circumstances of Mark Duggan’s death, what happened afterwards and how his partner and family were informed.
When I refer to the involvement of social and economic factors, the immediate response from Government Members may be to claim that I am an apologist for what has happened. I am nothing of the kind. Like everyone else, I condemn the looting, the arson and the manner in which mobs were in control in the absence of the police. In some cases law-abiding people feared for their lives. That was the case in West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, which is near my constituency, and of course there was the tragic killing of three young men in Birmingham. I am not an apologist for law-breaking and never will be, but there are social and economic factors, such as deprivation and gangs. Questions have rightly been raised about the involvement of youngsters, some of them only nine, 10 or 11 years old, and, of course, the lack of parental control. Those are all part of the social and economic factors to which I have referred.
In the limited time available, I want to talk about the police. It is interesting that when Members have spoken today they have referred to the fact that the police were not around or that not enough of them were around. No one has suggested for one moment that there were too many police. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks), for example, that it was impossible to contact the police. In those circumstances, I ask the Ministers who are present, and the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, who are no longer in their places, whether it really makes any sense to go ahead with the proposed cuts.
In the west midlands it is intended that there will be 1,000 fewer officers. Indeed, more than 100 officers who have more than 30 years’ service have already been asked to leave against their wishes. They do not want to retire from the police service. The Government have argued time and again that that is necessary because of the cuts, but I believe that reducing police numbers and taking the view that what has happened in the past few days will not be repeated is very foolish. I know that my view will be dismissed as purely party political.
The other point I want to make is that I am very wary indeed of rubber bullets, water cannon and the rest of it. I am, always have been and probably always will be a firm believer in the ordinary policing that has been used in this country. In my view, the use of water cannon, rubber bullets and the rest of it, which has been suggested, far from resolving the issue, would probably escalate it and would have made the situation in the last four nights even worse. Let us put our confidence in ordinary policing and for heaven’s sake not go ahead with the reduction in police numbers. It makes no sense at all.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), for whom I have a great deal of respect, but I am afraid that I disagree with him on water cannon, the issue to which I want to speak this evening. In doing so, I declare my interest as a special constable with the British Transport police, and I also speak on behalf of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who would like to be here but is not for family reasons. I also thank all those police officers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to defend local communities during the past few days, some 40 of whom have come from Northamptonshire.
I simply cannot understand, and nor can my constituents, what the problem is with using water cannon in this country. Rioters do not like being cold and wet, and they will go home. If we spray them with cold water, especially if there is dye in it so that we can see who the troublemakers are, we will find that it is easy to arrest them. That is not an operational matter for the police, as we have been told throughout today; it is a matter for the Home Office, and I note that no Home Office Minister is present on the Treasury Bench to hear these remarks, which is a great shame.
I have a Home Office letter, dated 22 December 2010, from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who is responsible for crime prevention. It states:
“Water cannon are not approved for use in England and Wales. Chief Officers would need to seek Home Office approval under the Code of Practice on Police Use of Firearms and Less Lethal Weapons if they wanted to introduce water cannon to England and Wales as a potential public order tool.”
Responsibility for water cannon rests with the Home Office, not with chief constables. The letter goes on to state:
“The Home Office would carefully need to consider its operational merits, its technical and medical risks and its impact on the British model of policing before approving it as a tactical option for police. However I do not think anybody wants to see water cannon on the streets of Britain as we have a different culture of policing.”
May I tell Her Majesty’s Government that my constituents do want to see water cannon on the streets of Britain? We want to see rioters hosed down, sprayed and covered in purple dye, so that we can see who the troublemakers are.
Does my hon. Friend not agree, however, that water cannon are generally better at dispersing large groups of rioters who are confronting the police? In recent days, we have seen agile, nimble groups of rioters who have been evading the police, so water cannon might not be that useful in those circumstances.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and the rioters over the past few days have not been like those in Parliament square, but when those riots occurred recently the same excuses were trotted out about how water cannon would not be appropriate. They would be appropriate, because if all those yobs in Parliament square had been hosed down and covered in purple dye they would soon have gone home, so it is simply not fair to expect police officers, with a riot shield in one hand and a baton in the other, and when they are told off for hitting somebody with a baton, to face a violent mob without giving them the weapons that they should have to bring order back to our streets.
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point, but water cannon would have helped with the riots of recent days, because someone who is cold, wet and covered in purple dye is far less likely to loot their local TV shop, JD Sports or whatever, as they would know that the police would be able to come and get them pretty quickly.
I welcome the news today from the Prime Minister that at last we are going to have some action on face coverings. May I commend to the Government my Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill, which I introduced earlier in the year, and which would have banned the covering of all faces in public? If we are going to do so for people with criminal intent, we will at least take a step forward, but may I urge Her Majesty’s Government to give the police stop-and-search powers so that they can apprehend people in order to search for face coverings? The existing legislation prevents police officers from stopping and searching somebody to see whether they are in possession of face coverings.
My constituents want to see water cannon used against rioters, and they want to see legislation to ban face coverings for those intent on promoting criminal violence. Basically, we are too soft in this country on those who would set about causing violent disorder, and it is time that the police service became a police force once again.
This has been an important debate with some powerful and eloquent speeches. It has fully justified the decision by the Prime Minister to ask Mr Speaker to reconvene Parliament.
We have had a view of the whole country and of the constituencies that have been scarred by the violence over the past few days. In my Leicester constituency, there has been disorder. In an interview with my local radio station after what happened in Tottenham, I was asked whether I thought that it would happen in Leicester. I said that I doubted it, because Leicester is not the kind of city where such events occur. Sadly, they did occur, and I pay tribute, as have so many right hon. and hon. Members across the Chamber, to the local police force for what it has done over the past few days.
The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) put forward powerfully his views about what should be the police’s tactics. Although I accept that policy is a matter for the Home Office, in the end these are matters for the police. Politicians can articulate their views, but at the end of the day it is the police who face the most difficult tasks of all.
Last night I was in Clapham. I apologise to the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), because I thought that Clapham Junction was in Clapham, but of course it is in Battersea. I was with her excellent chief superintendent, David Musker, and I went to meet some of the victims of the disorder. I pay tribute to what the police have done. This debate has highlighted the importance of visibility and I think that we will return to that issue.
I thank the members of the Home Affairs Committee, some of whom are here, such as the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for agreeing to hold a wide-ranging inquiry into these disorders. We have just published our terms of reference and I have sent a copy to every right hon. and hon. Member of this House. Sitting here listening to this debate has almost been like the start of the evidence sessions, because each Member has put forward a powerful case for acting in different ways. I hope that Members will suggest organisations that might want to give evidence to the Committee. We will of course look at police tactics, the operation of gangs and mobile communications, and we will revisit issues that we have looked at in the past, such as in our inquiry into the G20 protests. This will be a thoughtful and measured inquiry, which will begin on 6 September. I am glad that the Mayor of London has agreed to be a witness. That was a pre-arranged evidence session, but he will now start off our inquiry, hopefully along with the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Notwithstanding the importance of that inquiry, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to have a wider inquiry into what the Prime Minister earlier described as the context within which crime happens, and that there should be a full-ranging public inquiry in addition to the excellent work that I am sure our Committee will do?
That must be up to the House after it has considered all these matters. My right hon. Friend is right that this matter goes far beyond issues of policing and moves into issues of justice and education. It was good to see the Secretary of State for Education here and I am glad that he will wind up the debate on behalf of the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who came into this House with me 24 years ago, has been going on about the issues of black youth for 24 years-plus. Other Members of the House have done the same thing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) made it her whole career in the House to talk about the need to bring communities together and to get neighbourhoods involved in policing. Government Members have done the same. There is no monopoly of wisdom.
We need to consider wider issues, but, for the time being, let us concentrate on giving the police the resources they need and ensuring that the disorders come to an end. Let us then move on to try to get some practical solutions to ensure that such violence never happens again.
I have just seen the press conference held by the young man from Malaysia, who was mugged by people who appeared to come to help him. Twenty million people have viewed that incident on the world wide web. It is important for the reputation of our country and our citizens that we get the solutions right.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I wish him well in his important work and look forward to the Committee's report.
My constituency is a microcosm of Britain in its ethnic make-up. The similarity between Northampton South and the national make-up is startling. I have sought the views of my constituents across that ethnic spectrum in the past three days and I said that I would report their words to the House, because they are important and we need to listen to them.
My constituents said that we should not seek to provide excuses or justification for violent disorder; and that we witnessed blatant criminality and thuggishness in the riots and we should recognise that. They told me that we need to stand up to those who are driven by a total disregard for others and should make no apology for them. They said that we need to protect individuals in our communities, their livelihoods and the businesses where they work. They were the victims in the past four days, not the people who chose to disregard and abuse them. My constituents say that, consequently, our first priority is to maintain order on our streets, and I bring that message to the House.
My constituents also say that we need to change the culture of our policing; that law enforcement, like justice, needs to be done and seen to be done; and that when punches are thrown at a police officer, the person should be arrested there and then so that the pictures go out across the nation, showing that the police are taking law enforcement seriously. Saying that they will get people later through CCTV has less of an impact. Immediate action is a vital part of stopping copycat criminals, and we need to take that on board.
I am sad to say this to my Front Benchers, but we need to review police numbers. We need to look at what is happening this year and take the riots into account. The review should be not only about numbers, but about deployment, and we should conduct it before we make our decisions about the funding formula grants next year.
My constituents told me that the riots were not a matter of poverty, ethnicity, multiculturalism, unemployment or cuts. They say that claiming that is an insult to the many hundreds of thousands of people who come from underprivileged backgrounds and who have fought their way out and created successful lives, making a success of business and careers. They are sick to death of being tarred with the same brush. It does not help our society to do that. We need to take on that message, too.
My constituents are not very happy with the politicians. We need to take responsibility in the House for what we do. They deplore the fact that we do not seem to listen to them. They tell us that we are failing in that respect. They deplore our misrepresenting of important issues and putting political slant first. They deplore the fact that we make promises that we cannot or do not keep, and that we spin and show them disrespect. That goes for all of us. It is no good saying that it applies only to Government Members—it is all of us, and we need to take that on board. That is the message that I promised to bring to this place. My constituents want us, too, to change our act. We are part of the problem; we need to be part of the answer.
There have been devastating events in my constituency, where we saw criminals breeding fear in residents and leaving destruction in their wake. I, too, pay tribute to the authorities in my area and to the council, whose clean-up with the help of local residents on Tuesday morning was so effective that by the time I arrived back in the constituency from my holiday—I came as soon as I could—the area was unrecognisable from the night before.
Police commander Steve Bending and fire commander Graham Howgate and their officers have also done a good job in restoring order to our streets. Their police officers are sleeping in the corridors at Hackney police station, ready for any further trouble. They are working closely with council officers in the CCTV room controlled by the council. Although there was still damage in Hackney, the use of CCTV has been effective in reducing it. To anyone who suggests that we reduce the use of CCTV, I would say that not a single constituent has ever asked for that. They always want more, not less, and we have seen the effects of that today. I would ask the Government to remember that.
In Clarence road in my constituency, where the worst of the troublemakers were kettled in, the police faced a real challenge. Around the police line there was looting, with cars in flames. There were not enough police to stop the looting at that time, so there are questions that the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police need to ask at the central level about police deployment—about their ability to deploy at the right speed to get to the right place at the right time—and, of course, about police numbers. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley). Now is the time to pause—to stop and think about cuts to police numbers. We do not need fewer; we need what we have now. We know that Ministers will trot out the mandarin maths that they are being fed. We need to listen to what people are saying out there on the ground and learn the lessons from what we have seen. Cuts of 20% are too deep and will have a devastating impact on our neighbourhood policing teams.
I welcome the support for businesses that the Prime Minister has announced. One business man, Shiva Kandiah in Clarence road, spent 11 years working seven days a week, with just one day off every year on Christmas day, building up a business that is now devastated. When will the full details of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 scheme be announced, and can we be told now, at the end of this debate, whether it will help the uninsured and the under-insured?
I have very little time to look at the causes, but it is clear that gangs were heavily involved in such activity up and down the country, and certainly in Hackney. There are three reasons to tackle the gangs. I will not repeat what hon. Friends and colleagues have said about crime being punished. We know that those criminals need to be dealt with, and residents want them dealt with severely, but young people in Hackney make up around a third of all residents in the borough, and they are afraid. They are afraid to walk around their own streets at night, and their parents worry too. Those young people worry about going to activities and youth clubs outside their postcode areas. They should enjoy the same freedoms as most of us did when we were young, and their parents should not have to worry.
The key thing is that we are seeing a potentially lost generation, as children of primary school age are being hooked into gangs early, with some already directly involved and others with family members involved. Schools and youth support can do only so much. We need to break the cycle. I therefore welcome the Government’s talk of a report on gang culture, but it must be one that listens to young people. We have hardly heard a voice from young people in this place today, which I would have liked to have had time to reflect in the debate. We must talk to those who are good citizens, as well as those who are disaffected. Top-down will not deliver. We need local people and organisations working together to stop the gang culture once and for all and rescue and prevent the lost generation of very young children from getting hooked into wider criminal activity.
When I was asked this morning why I had made a 2,000 mile round trip, leaving my family to be here, even though my constituency is not affected, my answer was very simple. It is because I care for this country, like every Member here, and I am deeply upset and angry at what has happened.
My constituents have said to me clearly that they want to see the rioters made to clear up and pay for the damage that they have caused, as well as being punished. They want to see the police move more swiftly, being deployed when needed and acting more robustly when necessary. I have a concrete proposal to make tonight. I do not want us to use the term “shoplifting” any more; I think that we should rename it “shop theft”. Let us call it what it is. At the same time, an £80 fine for stealing up to £200 worth of goods is simply inadequate. We need tougher sentences for shop theft, as I believe we should call it. Many of my shopkeepers in Leighton Buzzard and elsewhere have talked to me about the problems of shop theft—indeed, it is a problem for us all—so I would ask the Government to act on that.
I praise the broom armies that we have seen in Battersea, Hackney, Liverpool and other areas. There is good in this country. Many people have praised Tariq Jahan from Birmingham, and I join them. I also wish to praise Pauline Pearce from Hackney, who told a mob of youngsters that they were doing wrong and that they should not riot. Good on her! Let us have more decent British citizens like her standing up and doing the right thing, because then we will have less trouble. We all have a stake in this, not just the forces of law and order. Every one of us—Members of Parliament and members of the public—can play our part in stopping these rioters getting their way.
Of course our young people need hope for the future and a stake in our society, a home of their own, a job, support when they get married and help with saving and loans to start up a business. The Prime Minister said that he hoped this debate would look at changing the culture in our country. In my own small way, I want to play a little part in doing that this afternoon.
Where do we learn right from wrong? We learn it from teachers and from the police, but above all we learn it from our parents. Being a parent is a really tough job if there are two of you, but it is particularly tough if there is only one of you. I salute single parents, many of whom do a fantastic job, but if there were more fathers around fewer people would join gangs. I salute Tony Wright, a former Labour Member, who said a few years ago:
“When some other hon. Members and I were children, the cry would sometimes go up, ‘Wait until your father comes home.’ For many children in this country, there is no father to come home.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2005; Vol. 434, c. 650.]
He was right. Let us unite around the need for more fathers to help bring up our children and teach them right from wrong. That is what the Prime Minister called on us to do when he spoke earlier today.
There are things that we can do to strengthen families, such as community family trusts—there is one in my constituency. The “Let’s Stick Together” course is being piloted by the Department for Education in an excellent initiative. It started in Bristol and is spreading around the country. It is a small start, but let it spring up in every constituency. We can also reduce the couple penalty in the benefits system, and the Work programme will be a big help in that area too. We all have a part to play by acting responsibly. Being a parent is the most important thing that any of us will do, and that is part of the solution.
Our hearts go out to all of the victims of the destructive violence we have seen in the last week, including those in the three episodes that have occurred in my constituency, and to those so tragically killed a couple of days ago. Every single one of these acts is an individual act of criminality for which those responsible must be prosecuted, and our grateful thanks go out to the police for the work that they have done. We owe them a debt that we should not repay by cutting their numbers and assaulting the leadership and integrity of our safer neighbourhood teams.
This was not a protest and no one marched or looted with a manifesto, but nothing comes from nothing. This was an unprecedented event—an explosion on our streets that reflects a chasm between many parts of society and elements of our urban youth. We have heard a lot during this debate of concerns about the way we live now, including family, fatherhood and the community, and those are issues that we should address. We have also heard concerns about the economic prospects for our young. We have heard very little about other great themes such as values, consumerism and the stresses on our society caused by a 30-year widening in inequality. We have also heard very little about the problematic relationship between too many of our young people and the police, but that deserves to be addressed.
Very few, if any, of these issues started on election day last year, and I am happy to confirm that fact. I know that cuts in public spending did not cause the riots that we have seen, although I also believe that youth unemployment and cuts in our youth services have not and will not help the problem of young people with nothing to do and no prospects. However, I urge Government Members to recognise that if we are to continue a thoughtful and mature debate on the causes of this crisis, they should not imply that many of the roots of the problem lie in May 1997. That is not true either, and we will not understand the problems if we follow that path.
In the few seconds left to me, I want to focus not on the immediate policing priorities with which we have rightly been concerned this week, and not on the great themes of our economy, our society and our institutions of authority, but on a very practical issue involving gangs. It is of course true that in Hackney, south London and other parts of the country we have had a gang culture for many years, but it is also true that there has been an explosion of gang activity. Some of it is criminal, and some of it involves youth gangs. Those activities overlap in a way that is sometimes fluid and sometimes distinct—sometimes they feed off each other—but now it is percolating not just into city communities such as mine in Westminster and Kensington, of all places, but out into the suburbs. It is facilitated and driven by social media, although not caused by them.
We can turn that gang culture around, and we can do it quickly. There are fine individuals and fine voluntary and community organisations that can play a part in solving the problem, but they need our sustained support, not just today, for six weeks or for six months, but over the coming years. I urge the House to accept that, if we condemn the criminal deeds that we have seen and punish the criminals who are responsible for them—as we must—we must also ensure that we do not write off our blighted urban young.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to speak about the appalling events that hit Enfield on Sunday night. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who gave a good account of those awful events. They also washed into Waltham Cross, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who has taken a close interest in the issue, and into my constituency.
My constituents would want me to express a number of emotions on their behalf during the brief period available to me. Those emotions include, of course, sympathy for the businesses whose livelihoods simply went in a matter of hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) made the good point that we must never understate the importance of the livelihoods of those businesses, and that must be reflected in how we enforce the law and punish those who seek to denigrate it.
Another of those emotions is shame: shame that one of the oldest department stores in north London, and in Enfield itself, has had to bring in counsellors to counsel members of staff who are still traumatised by what happened on Sunday night, and a dog team to reassure staff and customers about future trade. A jeweller has put sandbags in front of a shop that was raided, and other shops are boarded up because their owners are still in fear.
A further important emotion is the feeling of support for the emergency services, which have made such a brave and sterling effort in Enfield: for the action of the local police, for the strong leadership of David Tucker, their borough commander, and for their bravery and—despite enormous provocation—extraordinary restraint. However, my constituents want, and wanted at the time, tougher action and more police. The wave of violence that hit Enfield was intolerable, and it then crashed down on Croydon, Clapham Junction and Ealing, and beyond. My constituents have a serious question to ask: why did it take until Tuesday for that particularly robust policing to arrive on the streets? They want to give their unqualified support to our police, in terms of not just numbers but empowerment. They want the police to be free from the time-consuming process of processing individuals from arrest to charge, and from the risk-averse culture that advocates containment rather than confrontation.
However, there is also the issue of enforcement. The right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) reported reassuring news in an evening paper about instant justice, but there is less reassuring news from today’s edition of the London Evening Standard, which has the headline “Riot Police Fury at Soft Sentences”. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the riots on their streets, but, although 400 people have been charged, there has not yet been a charge of riot. I am assured, and I recognise, that there is a heavy evidential burden and that there will probably be charges in future, but that raises the issue of the serious offence of riot.
Guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service lists the characteristics of riots. For instance,
“the normal forces of law and order have broken down”—
they certainly broke down in Enfield—and
“due to the intensity of the attacks on police and other civilian authorities normal access by emergency services is impeded by mob activity”.
That happened in Enfield as well. Next it says that
“due to the scale and ferocity of the disorder, severe disruption and fear is caused to members of the public”.
That happened in Enfield, too. It also says that
“the violence carries with it the potential for a significant impact upon a significant number of non-participants”.
That happened in Enfield and beyond.
We must ensure that when these offences come before the courts, even though the specific crime may be burglary or theft, they are all considered in the context that there was a riot, and the culprits are punished accordingly. We must look at the offence of riot to see whether it is fit for modern purposes.
There is little time left to consider the deeper issues involved here. Whereas in years gone by rioters shouted “Church and King”, they now shout for “Adidas and Nike.” The pursuit now is for appearance, possessions and brands, rather than meaningful relationships, where the father is influential. He may well now be absent. We must all reflect on, and then tackle, these questions of value and culture.
Thankfully, the trouble in Bristol this week was not on the scale of that in London, Manchester and the midlands, and was not a repeat of the disturbances in Stokes Croft in Bristol, the so-called Tesco riot of a few months ago. It was for the most part an aimless copycat effort, although still very frightening for communities, who saw gangs marauding through the streets and setting fire to cars and bins. Having seen the television footage of what was happening elsewhere, the local community feared the worst, of course.
I congratulate the local police on how they kept the situation under control. That has to be the priority, to ensure that the public are kept safe and can get on with their lives. I am, however, concerned about some of the measures being proposed as ways of supposedly keeping them safe. We have heard that water cannon would be difficult to deploy, and completely ineffective where there is a swiftly moving crowd, and Sir Hugh Orde has warned against the use of plastic bullets. I am concerned that calls for such measures are distracting from what we really need: a visible, reassuring, on-street police presence, and people in charge of local policing who know what they are doing—not the shallow populism of an elected police commissioner, and not cuts to front-line police services.
The actions of the mob in London, Manchester, Bristol and elsewhere were mindless, criminal and inexcusable. Every time I see the YouTube clip of the injured Malaysian student being mugged by those purporting to help him, it seems more brutal, more depressing and more soul-destroying to think that people could act in such an inhumane way. However, the role of we politicians is not just to condemn. We will, of course, be pilloried by some if we try to understand, and if we dare to move beyond simple condemnations of thuggery and criminality, which are so easy to utter. However, it is our responsibility to try to prevent this from happening again, and not just in the short-term sense of policing our streets and keeping our communities safe. If we take that responsibility seriously, we need to have the political will and courage to persevere with policies that only reap rewards in the long term and perhaps sometimes do not reap rewards at all—policies that are resource-intensive and sometimes unpopular with voters who cannot understand why we are spending money on the “undeserving.”
I am talking about investing in people’s lives and futures. I am talking about intervention—about what some would decry as the nanny state. I am talking about schemes such as Sure Start, trying to give kids a better start in life and help their parents be better parents, and the family intervention projects, working with the most problematic “problem” families, addressing issues including alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health problems, domestic violence and criminality, and trying to break the cycle of deprivation and despair. They are about as far from a political quick win as we could get, but it is very important that we continue to take such steps. I am also thinking about schemes such as the education maintenance allowance, encouraging kids from poorer backgrounds to share the same aspirations as those with an easier start in life, and funding the work in local communities by groups such as Kids Company.
I am old enough to recall the way the inner-city riots in 1981 lit a spark in other towns, including my then home town of Luton. Indeed, I lived in Toxteth for a time as a student in the aftermath of the riots there. I saw a generation written off by a Government who did not believe in intervention and thought people should be left to fend for themselves. I urge this Government not to repeat the mistakes of the past Conservative Government, and instead to devote resources to trying to ensure that people’s lives now do not turn out the way their parents’ lives, and those of the generations before them, did.
My constituency was not hit by any rioters—and may it remain so—although we supplied police and so on, but I have considerable professional and political experience, over years, of the inner cities. I had great sympathy with the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) when she spoke. She is right: very few of the young and of the youth were involved. I would expect that. However, this takes me back to when I was in education in an inner-city area, looking at some of the special schools we had, including a very special school for very difficult youngsters. It is as well that the Secretary of State for Education is here, because I have him nailed to the seat and I can raise the issue.
At the bottom, the people who feed the gangs are the very young, and they are feral. We are talking about parenting, but they do not have parents—or not what we would call parents. The father has gone, or the mother, or both, or drugs and so forth are involved, so they are not what we would call parents. In some cases, even if the parents try, they are physically abused by their children. Those are the sort of children in some of these schools and, in particular, I have been talking to one of the teachers who helps to run one of the schools for these little and not-so-little monsters. She tells me the conviction method we must introduce has to break up that social life pattern. She says they must be forced for several months—perhaps years—to attend a really tough school or undertake real community service from 8 in the morning to 6 at night, preferably for seven days a week, and that they are otherwise to be at home with an electronic tag, under a curfew. They should have no mobile phones, no BlackBerrys, no lying in bed, no mixing or drinking with their gang mates and no shop-lifting or shop thieving, for either sport or supplies. In other words, we should disrupt their social networking and perhaps give them some education, hopefully, while obtaining some real community work from them, if we can.
That will cost money, but it just might help. It might give a break. If we can do that at the bottom—some Opposition Members who have had the same experience as I have will recognise this—we will start to stop feeding the gangs in our inner city and to stop them spreading.
I think the public will approve of the measured tone of many of today’s contributions.
Many constituents contacted me to say that they did not want to see point scoring. Let me mention just two. A woman called Jenny Ellis said that the public want a resolution of this crisis. She went on to say that I should feel free to give the Prime Minister a hard time on police budgets in the future, but for now we should concentrate on reclaiming the streets and dealing with these criminals. A vicar’s wife who helps lots of less fortunate people in my constituency was clear that this is not about disadvantage but wanton vandalism and theft. She is also a magistrate who will be sitting on Friday and she wants our support for the courts to take a robust line with these offenders.
I will not argue that everyone should get a custodial sentence, tempting though that is, but we will let the public down if those with previous convictions are bailed or if those granted bail commit further offences. I was shocked to read in the Birmingham Mail that one of the first rioters to be sentenced, for assault on a prison officer, got 10 weeks, of which he will probably serve five.
As we move on from these disgusting scenes, we must be conscious of the risk if there is a perception that the police are being criticised or undermined. Police officers marching and protesting and a perception of conflict with the Government do not raise the status of the police in the public mind. I do not agree with the Government’s plans for the police, but I urge them to try to seek agreement and avoid a stand-off. The last thing we need is a demoralised police force. A justice system that is perceived as soft will only embolden and reinforce the mindset of those who think the police are fair game and that nothing much will happen to them if they are caught.
I have just been contacted by some constituents who had their cars wrecked in a pre-riot orgy of vandalism. The sentences imposed on the perpetrators do not cover the damage, and the court made no compensation order. It is simply not good enough.
I join Members in all parts of this House in calling for support for the police. We must stand up for the victims of crime and support tough, deterrent sentencing. Vicious criminal activity and lack of respect for other people and their property simply cannot be tolerated. We must make clear that our No. 1 priority is the rigorous enforcement of law and order.
We meet today as the country reels from the senseless and sickening scenes that it has seen. People’s feelings are raw, and the full enormity of events is only just sinking in, but at least Parliament has today begun to give voice to people’s concerns. It has articulated clearly the majority feeling in the country that this was a mindless spree of violence for which no excuses can be made, and which must be dealt with severely.
We have made a start on the long and difficult task of rebuilding communities shattered by the experience, bridging the divide between the generations, and bringing the country back together. For thousands of people, this has been the worst and most terrifying week of their life. Some have seen homes and businesses lost or damaged; others have felt real fear on the streets where they live, perhaps for the first time. Many of them will have been watching our debate today. They will have heard powerful contributions from my right hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks); from the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell); and from my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), and for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), to name a few.
I hope that in the powerful words of those speeches, the people watching our debate have heard echoes of their own thoughts—things said that they feel needed to be said. It is small comfort, but perhaps they will end today with at least some sense that somebody is listening—that they are our priority. They must remain so over the coming weeks until Parliament resumes.
Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that when Parliament resumes, those hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected but who have not been able to engage in this debate due simply to lack of time today will have a chance to revisit the issue and put on record their constituents’ concerns, including about their livelihoods, which have been threatened?
It is vital that hon. Members have that opportunity, as my hon. Friend suggests. The issues will not go away once the media crews depart, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said. People in the communities concerned will live with the issues for some time, and it is vital that we follow the matter through. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) said, we need to stand side by side with the communities affected. She spoke for not just her constituency, but every proud and right-minded person in Greater Manchester, and I thank her for what she said.
For the most part, the contributions have been well judged. They have avoided political point-scoring, self-serving or simplistic arguments, or excuses; people quite simply do not want to hear that. Instead, we must all focus on the job in hand, on a practical response, on lessons learned and on serious reflection on the deeper reasons why this happened. We have made a good start today on that task, and have sent a number of unambiguous messages. The first, to the courts and the legal system, is that all Members of the House expect them to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly and without leniency. The second message today, which is to the police, fire and ambulance services—and indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said, to unsung public servants such as council workers and youth service workers—is that we deeply appreciate their efforts in recent days to protect our communities, and that they will have full backing from across the House for an uncompromising response, should problems recur. Thirdly, we have sent a message to the victims of the appalling crimes.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the fear that has been so shocking—the fear felt by my constituents in Mitcham and Morden and people across London? Now is not the time to withdraw those police, fire and council officers; they need to stay in their places and bring back reassurance for many of our communities.
My hon. Friend is right. Communities that have been affected will only just be coming to terms with what has happened, and they need to see people standing with them in the days and weeks to come to ensure that they can rebuild their lives and their communities. We need to send a message from here today to those people who have been the victims of crimes, and have felt that fear. The message is that this House is united in ensuring that they receive practical and financial help without delay to rebuild homes, businesses and communities. Encouraging statements have been made today by the Prime Minister. We thank him for what he said, but he will expect us, as the Opposition, to ensure that these words are followed through, and we will indeed do that.
Today has been important because, one after another, Members on both sides have sent a message to the young people of England—a message that may not always come through to them from the media debate on these issues. Every single Member of the House meets decent and conscientious young people week in, week out. The vast majority are making a positive contribution to their communities. Indeed, they have been doing so this week, helping with the clean-up operations around the country. We simply will not allow a senseless minority to sully the reputation of our young people, divide the generations one from another or make them fearful of one another. We must also pledge to work hard to ensure that the voices of young people are heard in this debate as it unfolds. Perhaps with the inquiry that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has announced, we must ensure that their voices are heard in shaping the response to these events.
In the aftermath of any serious event, it is right that we all reflect on the circumstances and, where necessary, learn lessons. A number of issues have been raised today on which we hope that the Government will reflect. First, questions relating to the operational resources and guidelines for the police have been raised by many hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) and for Battersea (Jane Ellison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).
Acts of mob violence or vandalism are not new. I saw them myself at football grounds in the 1970s and 1980s. What is new is the speed with which crowds can gather and copycat violence can spread across a city and into other cities. That is a modern phenomenon made possible by the misuse of communications technology. Policing needs to change to respond to it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles said so powerfully, we simply cannot have a situation in which police officers have to stand by and thugs take control of the streets. So we urge the Home Secretary to work with ACPO on this, as she said she would in her speech. We also ask her to think again on the question of police numbers, which was raised by so many hon. Members this afternoon, and not in a point-scoring way. We heard these points raised by the hon. Member for Croydon Central and in a powerful speech by the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), who called for a review of this issue.
People in London will have noticed the divergent statements made by the Mayor of London and Ministers. It seems premature for Ministers simply to rule out any extra funding. It is not just about the Met. Cuts to frontline policing are happening all over the country, and people in other parts of the country know that shortages in the Met are filled by forces elsewhere. Rather than dismissing calls for funding to support police numbers, would it not make sense for the Government to reserve their position until they have received a detailed report from the acting Commissioner of the Met and from chief constables of other forces affected on the operational challenges that they faced in the nights earlier this week?
My appeal to the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet is not to announce a U-turn here, but at least to have an open mind on the question of police numbers and to consider looking again at the resourcing of our police forces when they have a clearer picture of the pressure they have been under this week.
Secondly, there are questions about the resources and capacity of our courts and prisons. We appreciate the efforts of court staff to hear cases—indeed they have sat through the night, as many hon. Members have mentioned. We want that to continue. There must be no return to business as usual or long delays before people stand trial. We welcome the report in the Manchester Evening News which shows how the courts are cracking on with the job of delivering instant justice. That is indeed what the public want and we urge the Government to find the resources to make sure that people are brought to trial. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said today, the Government need to look again at the number of prison places, and at sentencing policy to ensure that it reflects the mood of the House, and indeed the mood of the whole country. We urge them to do that.
Thirdly, points have been raised today by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary about the Government’s approach to tackling antisocial behaviour and the use of CCTV. In the early days of the Government, a change of policy was signalled, away from the use of CCTV, antisocial behaviour orders and the DNA database, but, as we have seen, CCTV is being used extensively to bring the perpetrators of violence and vandalism to justice. Listening to the Prime Minister today, I detected a different tone on these issues, and I welcome that change of tone. We welcome his recognition of the value of CCTV and the reassurance it can bring to many of the communities affected this week. We will continue to seek assurances that the Government will not hinder its use by local authorities. The Government need to take care that they do not send mixed or confusing signals in the whole area of tackling antisocial behaviour.
Fourthly, concerns have been raised today about the advice and support available to young people. Let me be clear: nobody rioted because of cuts to youth services, Connexions or the careers service, yet all those services have an important role to play in the response on the ground to rebuilding shattered communities. Youth workers are front-line prevention in many of our communities. The Home Secretary mentioned the work she wants to put in place to tackle gang culture, and I welcome what she said. However, it is important to recognise that youth services in parts of London and other cities have been working painstakingly for many years to prevent young people from falling in with gangs, yet as the Select Committee on Education recently reported, there is a significant loss of youth service support on the ground, with cuts of up to 100% in some areas. I urge the Secretary of State for Education to look carefully at what the Select Committee said.
Questions were raised in the debate about parenting, which is an issue that unites the House. We support parents, particularly young single parents, in giving the best possible support to their children. Following the Allen and Field reports, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to be vigilant about changes to the support offered through Sure Start and other early intervention services so that we ensure that valuable services for parents are not lost.
Schools have an important role to play, as many hon. Members said today. I again assure the Secretary of State that we will continue to support the measures in his Education Bill that improve the tackling of discipline in schools. I give him my word on that, but I ask him to look at some of the things we did that are working, such as the use of school-based police officers, who are very important in building links with young people to ensure a steady flow of information between them and the police. I urge him to reflect on that.
As our debate has revealed, the challenges we face are complex and must be approached on many levels. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) was right to draw a comparison with the early 1980s, when Michael Heseltine went around the country to engage deeply with the issues that affected people. I hope the Government will think about that and about the calls they have heard today for a deeper commission of inquiry on the issues, alongside the Home Affairs Committee inquiry.
That will help us all to avoid simplistic solutions to fit a preordained political narrative. For the left, it means not blaming everything on cuts. For the right, it means not demonising an underclass. It also means taking care in the language that is used. I do not think any part of this country is sick or broken. Every community has solidarity, decency and neighbourly spirit in it, with people trying to do the right thing. Every community has the capacity for self-improvement. We should support them, not knock them down and label them.
As the hon. Member for Northampton South said, addressing the deeper challenges means a deeper assessment of our society. In a powerful contribution, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham spoke about challenging the “Grand Theft Auto” culture that glamorises violence, and I entirely agree. We need a culture of responsibility in our schools, but we also need to face up to the fact that for all the progress we have made, our country is still scarred by serious inequality of opportunity, where life chances are unevenly spread and young people without social networks and connections often struggle to make their way in the world.
We need to consider those questions, but they are for another day. It has been a dark week, but the country should draw strength from the unanimity that the House has found today and, indeed, our dedication to respond collectively in the right way. At the close of the debate, it is right to pause for a moment to think of those who are recovering from injuries sustained, and particularly the families of Mark Duggan, Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir. As we go away from here this evening, back to our families, we should do so with the words of Haroon’s father at the front of our minds and the hope that we will find in the days and weeks ahead the same unbelievable strength, understanding and courage to deal with these events as he has shown.
We have had a very good debate today, and the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House have been of a uniformly high standard. The contributions made by hon. Friends and other hon. Members have made me proud to be a Member of Parliament. It was a vindication of your decision, Mr Speaker, to recall the House. In the past 15 months, Parliament has resumed its central place in the life of the nation, and the House and its Committees have done superb work. Once again, today, Members have faithfully reflected their constituents’ concerns and spoken in a way that enhances the reputation of the House and electoral politics.
I am particularly grateful to hon. Members from Lewisham, Enfield, Ilford, Ealing, Wolverhampton, Hackney, Tottenham, Battersea, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester for their speeches, which reflected their direct personal engagement with those who have been victims of this terrible week. The fact that they all spoke with such force and eloquence underlines the fact that we have Members who listen and are in touch, who act and then report back and who analyse what has gone wrong and argue for a better country. In that sense, when I hear calls for a commission of inquiry, I take the old-fashioned view that Members of Parliament are inquiring into the state of the nation, reporting back to the House and arguing passionately for change and that we should always stress that there is no better voice of the nation than this Chamber, and it has never done its job better than at the moment, reflecting the anger but also the hope of our constituents.
Despite what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, does he understand the concern not just in the House but across the nation that a public inquiry should be held into the events that have gone on? This has been a national event; it has affected people in every part of the country, and if it is simply left to a Select Committee, they will not feel that it has been properly addressed.
The point was made constructively, and I hope to respond in a constructive fashion. I will not rule anything out at this stage. We are still in the middle of restoring order. It is vital and appropriate that we show ourselves open to learning lessons, but I absolutely have confidence in the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The Home Affairs Committee has done a great job in the past 15 months, and he will do a superb job. The terms of reference of his inquiry seem to be broad and comprehensive. But, of course, lessons will need to be learned, and while we are in the process of restoring order it would be premature for any of us to say that our minds are closed to any constructive suggestion about what we can learn.
I should like briefly to refer to four particularly outstanding speeches that were made during the debate, the first of which came from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The points that he made resonated. From the moment that Mark Duggan’s tragic death came on to our television screens through to the horrific scenes that we saw over the weekend, the right hon. Gentleman’s voice has been one of common sense and moral clarity at a difficult time. His speech again today was superb, when he pointed out that the vast majority of young men did indeed show respect and restraint through the past week because they have grown up with a male role model, a moral code and a recognition of boundaries. He made the critical point that our great cities of course rely on our police forces, but ultimately order is policed by individuals who show pride, shame and responsibility to others. I could not have put it better myself.
I also agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). I share her sorrow at having to come back to this House from her honeymoon, but I have to say that, even though her husband may be disappointed, her constituents should be proud of her for the speech she made today. She pointed out that the riots are a result of disaffected and marginalised youth who have grown up in households where no one gives a damn, where violence is glamorised and where there is real poverty, particularly of responsibility and aspiration. It was a superb speech and she has done a great job for her constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) drew a vivid and affecting picture of how one of London’s most attractive suburbs could be convulsed by violence, as individuals intent on wrongdoing took to the streets in the most wicked of ways. He asked detailed and constructive questions about the roles that the local authority, schools and TFL can play in making sure that our response to future events is sharper. We will write to him to ensure that his constituents’ concerns are addressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) made a brilliant speech, in which she spoke up with passion on behalf of her constituents, pointing out that, for all those young people who picked up a brick in anger or greed on the night that violence gripped her constituency, there were many, many more who picked up a broom in optimism and hope the next morning. That underlines what the past week has shown: both the worst and the best of our country.
We see the worst when a 31-year-old man who is a learning mentor in a primary school, whose job is to inspire the young, is found guilty of burglary. We see it when a daughter of a millionaire couple who had the best education the state can provide becomes, it is alleged, a getaway driver for two other young criminals. When we watch the video of a young boy, who travelled across the world from Malaysia to study in this country because he saw us as a civilised community and a place of hope and learning, apparently being helped up, only to be robbed, all of us are sickened and ask: how can this happen in our country? When we think about the Sri Lankan couple, who fled civil strife in their own country to come here and build a life and a business, only to see their business trashed by criminals, or when we think of Salford town centre, which has been regenerated by an imaginative town council and a great MP, sent back a generation in one night by the violence of thugs, we all ask ourselves: why has a culture of greed and instant gratification, rootless hedonism and amoral violence taken hold in parts of our society?
Even as we despair, we can hope, because we have also seen the best of Britain this week, such as the volunteers mentioned by many today who took part in the clean-up operation immediately afterward. The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made the vital point that local authority officials, officers and workers have done an exemplary job, not least in her own constituency, where the mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, has shown real civic leadership. The way in which people who take pride in their community worked hard the next day to clean up the mess that had been created by an amoral minority was, to my mind, the very exemplar of public service. Also, let us not forget the work of the fire and ambulance services, who, alongside the police, risked life and limb to restore order and to ensure that people were safe.
We should take pride in the way in which multicultural Britain rose to this unique challenge: the Turkish citizens of Dalston who defended their families and businesses; the Sikh citizens of Southall who defended their gurdwara and their families; and the British Muslim citizens of Birmingham who sought to defend their communities. When three of them were mown down by one evil individual, we saw the best and the worst of Britain clash in one moment. All of us were moved beyond words by what Tariq Jahan said about the death of his son and the lesson that we should learn. We have seen modern Britons across this country stand up for old-fashioned British values of decency, solidarity and a determination to protect the vulnerable. If there are examples that we should bear in mind in this House and in our work in the weeks ahead, it is the leadership that those individuals have shown.
As well as seeing the best and the worst, we have witnessed a conflict on our streets between right and wrong. Those who have been committing these acts are individuals without boundaries, respect for others, or any moral sense. Those who were standing out against them and protecting us were the police. Let me pay tribute to the courage that has been shown by ordinary officers in the course of this week. Their leave was cancelled. Many of them have been working with very little sleep, facing the prospect of real violence and damage to life and limb, yet have uncomplainingly gone out there to protect us. We can be proud of those officers and the commanders, who have had to take terrible risks but who have ensured that for the moment order has been restored.
We heard how borough commanders from Hackney to Wandsworth and Ealing to Redbridge have ensured that the reputation of the Met, having taken a battering in recent months, is once again restored as a force that we can all take pride in. The chief constables of west midlands and Greater Manchester, faced with tremendous challenges, have also shown courage and imagination. We should applaud their bravery. Yes, there will be lessons to be learned. Yes, inevitably, in a difficult situation, when there was no intelligence of what was going to happen, mistakes will have been made, but how many of us could show the same degree of courage and resolution, faced with young men bent on violence and determined to cause havoc, when we knew that if we stepped out of line or transgressed the rules, we could find that our own life, livelihood and reputation were gone? Let us remember just how difficult modern policing is, before any of us casts a rhetorical stone at any of those individuals.
There were, across the House, widespread expressions of support for the police and for a more robust stance in the future. Having talked to a variety of police officers over the past week, I know that the sentiments expressed in the House go with the grain of policing opinion. My hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and for Ilford North (Mr Scott), the hon. Member for Lewisham East and the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), all of whom encouraged the police to take a more robust stance, will find and have found a willing audience in those who are responsible for deploying the forces that maintain order.
Both my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary agree. I have been privileged to spend time attending the Cobra briefing meetings over the past week, and I have seen the degree of willing co-operation, energy, imagination and determination on the part of both the civil powers and the police to deal with the situation that we faced.
Of course there are suggestions from hon. Members about things that we might consider in the future. I was particularly struck by the powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) who, speaking as a special constable, made a strong case for the deployment, if necessary, of water cannon. Let me underline to the House that the operational requirements of the police will be met in full by the Government. If they need support or help, they will get it. Yes, it is the Home Secretary’s ultimate decision whether a police force can use water cannon, but if any chief constable considers it appropriate to deal with any aspect of civil disorder, this Home Secretary has made it clear that she is on their side, and I hope the whole House will be. Mercifully, those steps have not needed to be taken, and our tradition of community-based policing by consent has seen our police force restore order to our streets with the help of our communities.
As we look at the way in which the police operate, it is important that we do not back-pedal on reform. Our police are still held back by a legacy of bureaucracy that I know all of us on both sides of the House want to tackle. There are still 1,000 process steps and 70 forms to get through when they are dealing with a simple burglary. Twenty-two per cent. of police time is spent on paperwork. Jan Berry, the former head of the Police Federation, has pointed out that one third of police effort is over-engineered, duplicated or adds no value. We can reform our police force in order to ensure that the officers we have are there on the streets where we need them, and this should be a cause that unites us across the House in a determination to ensure that police professionalism is respected.
But as the right hon. Member for Tottenham pointed out earlier, when we want our streets policed, we need them to be policed as much by the moral self-restraint of individuals as the uniformed presence of officers, and that means that we need to affirm at this time the values that we all know have been overlooked or neglected in the past. We all know that a culture of dutiless rights has led to a generation of parentless children. Being a father means taking on the most important job in the world, and those who are there when a child is conceived should be there when a child is raised. We need to remember: I am my brother’s keeper. We have a responsibility to others, and all of us find a fulfilment in service that is greater than anything that can be found in shallow hedonism or instant gratification. We need to say to the young people of this country—and the overwhelming majority know it and want to hear it affirmed—that hard work, self-discipline, aspiration, respectability and respect for others, the values by which they lead their lives, are the values that we will defend whenever and wherever they come under attack. I am so grateful that so many Members from both sides of the House have affirmed those principles tonight—
Motion lapsed (Order, this day).
Resolved, That this House do now adjourn.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)