With permission, I would like to make a statement. First, let me thank you, Mr Speaker and right hon. and hon. Members for returning. When there are important events in our country, it is right that Parliament is recalled and that we show a united front. I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for the constructive approach he has taken over the past few days. I have tried to speak with many of the Members whose constituencies have been affected, and I would like to pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for his powerful words and actions over recent days.
What we have seen on the streets of London and in other cities across our country is completely unacceptable, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning it. Keeping people safe is the first duty of Government. The whole country has been shocked by the most appalling scenes of people looting, violence, vandalising and thieving. It is criminality, pure and simple—and there is absolutely no excuse for it. We have seen houses, offices and shops raided and torched, police officers assaulted and fire crews attacked as they try to put out fires. We have seen people robbing others while they lie injured and bleeding in the street, and even three innocent people deliberately run over and killed in Birmingham. We will not put up with this in our country. We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets, and we will do whatever it takes to restore law and order and to rebuild our communities.
First, we must be clear about the sequence of events. A week ago today, a 29-year-old man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by the police in Tottenham. Clearly, there are questions that must be answered, and I can assure the House that this is being investigated thoroughly and independently by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. We must get to the bottom of exactly what happened, and we will.
Initially, there were some peaceful demonstrations following Mark Duggan’s death and understandably and quite appropriately the police were cautious about how they dealt with them. However, this was then used as an excuse by opportunist thugs in gangs, first in Tottenham itself, then across London and in other cities. It is completely wrong to say there is any justifiable causal link. It is simply preposterous for anyone to suggest that people looting in Tottenham at the weekend, still less three days later in Salford, were in any way doing so because of the death of Mark Duggan. Young people stealing flat-screen televisions and burning shops—that was not about politics or protest, it was about theft.
In recent days, individual police officers have shown incredible bravery and have worked in some cases around the clock without a break, and they deserve our support and our thanks. But what became increasingly clear earlier this week was that there were simply far too few police deployed on to our streets, and the tactics that they were using were not working. Police chiefs have been frank with me about why this happened. Initially, the police treated the situation too much as a public order issue, rather than essentially one of crime. The truth is that the police have been facing a new and unique challenge, with different people doing the same thing—basically, looting—in different places but all at the same time. To respond to this situation, we are acting decisively to restore order on our streets, to support the victims of this terrible violence and to look at the deeper problems that led such a hard core of young people to decide to carry out such appalling criminality. Let me take each in turn.
First, restoring order. Following the meetings of Cobra that I chaired on Tuesday and Wednesday, and again this morning, we have taken decisive action to help ensure more robust and more effective policing. As a result of decisions made by Metropolitan police Commissioner Tim Godwin and other police chiefs up and down the country, there are now more police on the streets, more people being arrested, and more criminals being prosecuted. The Metropolitan police increased the number deployed on the streets of London from 6,000 to almost 16,000 officers, and this number will remain throughout the weekend. We have also seen large increases in deployments of officers in other affected areas. Leave in affected forces has been cancelled, and police officers have been bussed from forces across the country to areas of greatest need. Many businesses have quite rightly released special constables to help, and they performed magnificently as well.
More than 1,200 people have now been arrested across the country. We are making technology work for us, by capturing the images of the perpetrators on CCTV, so even if they have not yet been arrested their faces are known and they will not escape the law. As I said yesterday, no phoney human rights concerns about publishing the photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice. Anyone charged with violent disorder and other serious offences should expect to be remanded in custody, not let back on the streets; and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail.
Courts in London, Manchester and the west midlands have been sitting through the night, and will do so for as long as is necessary. Magistrates courts have proved effective in ensuring swift justice. The Crown courts are now starting to deal with the most serious cases. We are keeping under constant review whether the courts have the sentencing powers they need, and we will act if necessary.
As a result of the robust and uncompromising measures that have been taken, good progress is being made in restoring order to the streets of London and other cities around our country. As I have made clear, nothing should be off the table. Every contingency should be looked at. The police are already authorised to use baton rounds. As I said yesterday, while they would not be appropriate now, we do have in place contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours’ notice.
Some people have raised the issue of the Army. The acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan police said to me that he would be the last man left in Scotland Yard with all his management team out on the streets before he asked for Army support. That is the right attitude and one I share, but it is the Government’s responsibility to make sure that every future contingency is looked at, including whether there are tasks that the Army could undertake that might free up more police for the front line.
Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill, so we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
I have also asked the police whether they need any other new powers. Specifically on facemasks, currently they can only ask for them to be removed in a specific geographical location and for a limited time. I can announce today that we are going to give the police the discretion to require the removal of face coverings under any circumstances where there is reasonable suspicion that they are related to criminal activity. On dealing with crowds, we are also looking at the use of existing dispersal powers and whether any wider power of curfew is necessary.
Whenever the police face a new threat, they must have the freedom and the confidence to change tactics as necessary. This Government will always make sure they have the backing and political support to do so. The fight back has well and truly begun, but there will be no complacency. We will not stop until this mindless violence and thuggery is defeated and law and order is fully restored on all our streets.
Let me turn to the innocent victims. No one will forget the images of the woman jumping from a burning building, or of the furniture shop that had survived the blitz but has now tragically been burnt to the ground; and everyone will have been impressed by the incredibly brave words of Tariq Jahan, a father in Birmingham whose son was so brutally and tragically run over and killed. Shops, businesses and homes—too many have been vandalised or destroyed and I give the people affected this promise: we will help you repair the damage, get your businesses back up and running and support your communities.
Let me take each in turn. On repairing the damage, I confirm that any individual, home owner or business that has suffered damage to or loss of their buildings or property as a result of rioting can seek compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, even if uninsured. The Government will ensure the police have the funds they need to meet the cost of any legitimate claims, and whereas normally claims must be received within 14 days, we will extend the period to 42 days. The Association of British Insurers has said it expects the industry to pay out in excess of £200 million, and has assured us that claims will be dealt with as quickly and constructively as possible.
On supporting business, we are today setting up a new £20 million high street support scheme to help affected businesses get back up and running quickly. To minimise the costs facing businesses, the Government will enable local authorities to grant business rate relief, by funding at least three quarters of their costs. We will defer tax payments for businesses in greatest need, through Time to Pay and other practical support. And for houses and businesses that have been the most badly damaged, we have instructed the valuation office immediately to stop liability for council tax and business rates.
A specific point was raised with me in Wolverhampton yesterday—that planning regulations make it difficult for shops to put up protective shutters. We will weed out unnecessary planning regulations to ensure that businesses can get back on their feet and feel secure as quickly as possible.
On supporting local communities, I can confirm that the Bellwin scheme to support local authorities will be operational. However, to ensure that urgent funding is immediately available, we are today establishing a new £10 million recovery scheme to provide additional support to councils in making areas safe, clean and clear again. The Government will also meet the immediate costs of emergency accommodation for families made homeless by the disturbances. The Secretaries of States for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Innovation and Skills have made available to the House details of all those schemes today. Of course, the situation continues to evolve, and we will keep any additional support under close review.
Finally, let me turn to the deeper problem. Responsibility for crime always lies with the criminal. These people were all volunteers; they did not have to do what they did, and they must suffer the consequences. But crime has a context, and we must not shy away from it. I have said before that there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong. This is not about poverty; it is about culture—a culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.
In too many cases, the parents of these children—if they are still around—do not care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing. The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken. As I said yesterday, there is no one step that can be taken, but we need a benefit system that rewards work and is on the side of families. We need more discipline in our schools; we need action to deal with the most disruptive families; and we need a criminal justice system that scores a clear, heavy line between right and wrong—in short, all the action that is necessary to help mend our broken society.
At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs. Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes. They earn money through crime, particularly drugs, and are bound together by an imposed loyalty to an authoritarian gang leader. They have blighted life on their estates, with gang-on-gang murders and unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders.
In the past few days, there is some evidence that they have been behind the co-ordination of the attacks on the police and the looting that has followed. I want us to use the record of success against gangs from cities such as Boston in the USA and, indeed, from Strathclyde in Scotland who have engaged the police, the voluntary sector and local government. I want this to be a national priority.
We have already introduced gang injunctions, and I can announce today that we will use them across the whole country for children and for adults. There are also further sanctions available beyond the criminal justice system. Local authorities and landlords already have tough powers to evict the perpetrators from social housing. Some local authorities are already doing this. I want to see others follow their lead, and we will consider whether these powers need to be strengthened further.
I have asked the Home Secretary to work with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and other Cabinet colleagues on a cross-government programme of action to deal with this gang culture and to report to Parliament in October.
I believe that we should be looking beyond our shores to learn the lessons from others who have faced similar problems. That is why I will be discussing how we can go further in getting to grips with gangs with people such as Bill Bratton, former commissioner of police in New York and Los Angeles. Of course, the problem is not just gangs; there were people who saw shop windows smashed and who thought that it would be okay just to go in and steal. It is not okay, and these people, too, will have to face the full consequences of their actions.
In the past few days, we have seen a range of emotions sweep this country: anger, fear, frustration, despair, sadness and, finally, a determined resolve that we will not let a violent few beat us. We saw that resolve in the people who gathered in Clapham, Manchester and Wolverhampton with brooms to clean up our streets. We saw it in those who patrolled the roads in Enfield through the night to deter rioters. We saw it in the hundreds of people who stood guard outside the Southall temple, protecting it from vandalism. This is a time for our country to pull together.
To the law-abiding people who play by the rules and who are the overwhelming majority in this country, I say: “the fight back has begun. We will protect you. If you have had your livelihood and property damaged, we will compensate you. We are on your side. To the lawless minority, the criminals who have taken what they can get, I say: we will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done.
We need to show the world, which has looked on, frankly, appalled, that the perpetrators of the violence we have seen on our streets are not in any way representative of our country, or of our young people. We need to show them that we will address our broken society and restore a sense of stronger morality and responsibility in every town, in every street and in every estate. A year away from the Olympics, we need to show the world the Britain that does not destroy, but that builds; that does not give up, but stands up; that does not look back, but always looks forward. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for his decision to suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that Parliament be recalled. Whatever we disagree on week by week, month by month, today as a House of Commons we stand shoulder to shoulder, united against the vandalism and violence we have seen on our streets. The victims are the innocent people who live in many of our cities, who have seen their homes and businesses destroyed, their communities damaged and their confidence about their own safety undermined. There can be no excuses, no justification. This behaviour has disgusted us all. It cannot be allowed to stand; we will not allow it to stand.
I join the Prime Minister in mourning the loss of life, including those killed in London and Birmingham. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have died—with people such as Tariq Jahan. We stand with him because he is the true face of Britain—the Britain of which we are all proud.
I also thank our brave policemen and women throughout this country for the work they have been doing on our behalf, and all our emergency services. We salute them for their courage, their dedication and their willingness—yet again—to put themselves in harm’s way for all of us and all our communities. Thanks to them, a degree of order has been re-established on our streets, but all of us in all parts of the House know what the public want and what they are entitled to: a return to normality, as well as order.
Normality does not mean shops having to shut at 3 pm because they fear looting. Normality does not mean rushing home because you are scared to be on the streets. Normality does not mean being fearful in your own home. People want to have back the most fundamental of all liberties: the ability to go about their business and lead their lives with security and without fear. They have a right to expect that and we have a responsibility to make it happen. To do that, Parliament needs to do its job. We need to unite against the violence and to be the place where we examine and debate frankly all the issues involved—how we have got here, what it says about Britain and what the response should be.
On policing, I agree with the Prime Minister that this is a job for the police, but will he say what functions he thinks the Army might be able to perform to relieve pressure on the police? Will he confirm that the significant additional operational costs that the police now face will be funded from the Treasury reserve and so not place extra pressure on already stretched budgets? Will he also confirm that the increased presence on our streets, which he said would remain in place to the weekend, will remain beyond the weekend, until the police can be confident that the trouble will not recur?
The events of the past few days have been a stark reminder to us all that police on our streets make our communities safer and make the public feel safer. Given the absolute priority the public attach to a visible and active police presence, does the Prime Minister understand why they will think it is not right if he goes ahead with the cuts to police numbers he has planned? Will he now think again about that policy?
On criminal justice, the public are clear about wanting swift, effective and tough action to send a message about the penalties and punishment that follow from the violence that has occurred. We must see swift progress from charge to trial in these cases. Can the Prime Minister confirm that there is the capacity in the courts and among our prosecutors to deal with cases swiftly, not just for first appearance, but throughout the trial process, including when people get to trial? It is right that the Crown Prosecution Service is taking into account the aggravating circumstances within which the horrendous criminal acts that we have seen took place in recent days. Does the Prime Minister agree that magistrates and judges need to have those circumstances at the front of their mind so that those found guilty of such disgraceful behaviour receive the tough sentences that they deserve and the public expect? As the Prime Minister said, we have also been reminded about the importance of CCTV in catching those responsible, so will he undertake to look again at his proposals on CCTV to be absolutely sure that they in no way hinder bringing criminals to justice?
Thirdly, we need all our cities back on their feet and operating as normal. That work began—I pay tribute to the heroism of the thousands of volunteers who reclaimed our streets and showed the true spirit of those cities and our country. I welcome what the Prime Minister said and all the different elements of help that he announced. Can he reassure us that the help that is provided will meet the need, and that there will not be an arbitrary cap on the amount that he announced if it turns out that further resources are required? Can he assure us that these funds will flow straight away so that people can get on with rebuilding their lives and communities?
Fourthly, on the deeper lessons that we need to learn, the Prime Minister said in 2006:
“Understanding the background, the reasons, the causes. It doesn’t mean excusing crime but it will help us tackle it.”
To seek to explain is not to seek to excuse. Of course these are acts of individual criminality, but we all have a duty to ask ourselves why there are people who feel they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from wanton vandalism and looting. We cannot afford to let this pass and calm the situation down, only to find ourselves in the same position again in the future.
These issues cannot be laid at the door of a single cause or a single Government. The causes are complex. Simplistic solutions will not provide the answer. We can tackle the solutions only by hearing from our communities. What the decent people I met on the streets of London and Manchester told me and will tell the Prime Minister is that they want their voice to be heard. They want us to go out and listen to them in thinking about the solutions that are necessary. Before any of us say we know all the answers or have simple solutions, we should all do so.
Will the Prime Minister explain how those in areas affected will have their voice heard as the Government seek to find solutions to the issues that we have seen? Does the Prime Minister agree that there must be a full independent commission of inquiry swiftly looking at what has happened in recent days and what lessons we need to learn—not an inquiry sitting in Whitehall hearing evidence from academic experts, but reaching out and listening to those affected, the decent law-abiding majority affected by these terrible events? They deserve and need to be heard.
We need to look at and act on all the issues that matter—the responsibility we need from top to bottom in our society, including parental responsibility; and an end to a take-what-you-can culture that needs to change from the benefits office to the board room. The Prime Minister is right. We need a sustained effort to tackle the gangs in our cities—something we knew about before these riots. In the consideration that the Prime Minister gives to how we tackle gang culture, will he look urgently at the Youth Justice Board report published last June, which had a series of recommendations about what the Government should be doing to tackle gang culture?
Of course, as we look at the solutions we need, questions of hope and aspiration are relevant—the provision of opportunities to get on in life that do not involve illegality and wrongdoing. When we talk about responsibility, we must not forget ours, not to the tiny minority who did the violence, but to the vast majority of law-abiding young people. They are a generation—this is not about any one Government—worried about their prospects and we cannot afford to fail them. We cannot afford to have the next generation believe that they are going to do worse than the last. They should be able to do better. That is the promise of Britain that they have a right to expect.
In conclusion, successful societies are built on an ethic of hard work, compassion, solidarity and looking after each other. Ours must be one society. We all bear a share of responsibility for what happens within it. It is right that we came back to debate these issues. It is right that public order must be paramount, but it is also imperative that even after order and normality are restored we do not ignore the lessons that we must learn. We cannot afford to move on and forget. To all the people who have been in fear this week, to those who have lost loved ones, homes and businesses, we owe a duty to ensure that there is no repeat of what we have seen. That is our responsibility to the victims and to the country, and the Opposition will play our part in making it happen.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said today, but also for what he has said in recent days, and, if I may say so, the way in which he has said it. He made a number of points.
First, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to praise the emergency services and the work they have done. It is particularly remarkable that in spite of the fact that fires have been started in many cities across our country, there have been no casualties from those fires. That speaks volumes about the professionalism and brilliance of our firefighters nationwide.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly says that it is important that as soon as possible we get our high streets, cities and towns back to a real sense of normality. That has to start with the increased police presence so that people feel the confidence to go out and enjoy their towns and cities, and I believe that that will happen, so that our cities become the great and bustling places that we want them to be.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the police, the courts, communities and the deeper lessons, so let me just say a word about each. I chose my words on the Army carefully. None of us wants to see a break away from the great British model of policing where the public are the police and the police are the public, but Governments have a responsibility to try to look ahead at contingencies and potential problems, and to start asking about potential problems and difficulties in advance. That is exactly what Cobra has done—for instance, by simply asking whether there are tasks, such as some simple guarding tasks, that could be done that would free up police for more front-line duties. This is not for today, or even for tomorrow; it is just so that there are contingency plans should they become necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about operational costs. Of course, the Treasury reserve is being used. He asked about policing numbers beyond the weekend. Deployment must be an issue and a matter for police chiefs. They will want to assess the intelligence and the situation before making those decisions, but they should feel free to deploy as many police as they need for as long as they need. What matters most of all, more than anything else, is restoring order on our streets.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of police budgets, and I am sure that this will be debated. Let me just make a couple of points. Over the next four years, we are looking for cash reductions in policing budgets—once we take into account the fact that there is a precept that helps fund the police—of 6%. I believe that is totally achievable without any reductions in visible policing, and a growing number of police chiefs are making that point.
Let me make two additional points on that. Today we still have 7,000 trained police officers in back-office jobs. Part of our programme of police reform is about freeing up police for front-line duties, and that is why I can make this very clear pledge to the House: at the end of this process of making sure our police budgets are affordable, we will still be able to surge as many police on to the streets as we have in recent days in London, in Wolverhampton, in Manchester. It is important that people understand that.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the courts system and whether we can surge capacity in our magistrates and Crown courts. Yes, that is exactly what Cobra has been asking for in recent days. On sentencing, I chose my words carefully. Of course, it is for courts to sentence, but the Sentencing Council says that those people found guilty of violence on our streets should expect to have a custodial sentence.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about CCTV. We fully support CCTV. We want to regulate it to make sure that it is used properly, but it has been immensely valuable, as I have seen for myself in police control rooms up and down the country.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there would be any cap on the money that is available for communities. Of course, the Riot (Damages) Act has no cap at all, and because we are allowing the 42-day period people will be able to apply to the police and the Government will stand behind the police.
When it comes to the deeper lessons, the right hon. Gentleman is right. He quoted a speech that I made when I said that explaining does not mean excusing, and he is right to say that the causes are complex. I hope that the debates we will have on the causes will not immediately fall into a tiresome discussion about resources. When there are deep moral failures, we should not hit them with a wall of money. I think that it is right that the absolutely key word that he used, and which I used, was responsibility. People must be responsible for their actions. We are all responsible for what we do.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked how we will listen to communities and what sort of inquiry is necessary. As I found when talking with many Members on both sides of the House, who are deeply in touch with their communities, their police forces and police chiefs, one of the first things we can do in this House is properly bring to bear all the information we are hearing from our communities, and I understand that the Home Affairs Select Committee is going to hold an inquiry. I think that we should ask a parliamentary inquiry to do this work first. I thank him for the general tone of what he said and hope that we can keep up this cross-party working as we deal with this very difficult problem.
Why have our police been dispersing these hoods so that they can riot in other vicinities, instead of rounding them up? Does the Prime Minister remember that in 1971, at the peak of the opposition to the Vietnam war in the United States, the US Government brought 16,000 troops into Washington, in addition to the police, who rounded up and arrested the rioters and put 40,000 of them in the DC stadium in one morning? Has he any plans to make Wembley stadium available for similar use?
I want the Wembley stadium to be available for great sporting events, and I think that it is important that as we get back to a sense of normality those sporting events go ahead. My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and to be fair to the police—we should all think carefully before starting to criticise police tactics when they are the ones on the front line—they now say that to begin with they spent too much time concentrating on the public order aspects and not enough time concentrating on the criminality aspects. It has been the greater police presence on the streets and the greater number of arrests that has helped to bring this situation under control. One police chief told me yesterday that it is time to tear up some of the manual on public order and restart it. He said, “We have done this many times in the police and we will do it again and get it right.” It is in that spirit that we should praise British policing.
I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about the death of Mark Duggan and about compensation for victims. In Tottenham, 45 people have lost their homes, which were burnt to the ground. They were running out of their homes carrying their children in their arms, and their cry is, “Where were the police?” We can have this debate today, but it is no replacement for hearing from the people themselves. Will the Prime Minister come to Tottenham and speak with those victims and the independent shopkeepers, hairdressers and jewellers whose businesses are lying in cinders? Will he also commit to a public inquiry to consider why initial skirmishes were allowed to lead to a situation in which the great Roman road, Tottenham high road, now lies in cinders?
I will certainly take up the right hon. Gentleman’s invitation to go to Tottenham and hear about that for myself. When I visited Croydon, I found real anger on the streets about what happened and how it could be allowed to happen. There was a lot of questioning about police tactics and the police presence. As I said in my statement, to be fair to the police, I think that to begin with, because of the situation with Mark Duggan, they were hanging back for a very good reason, but they clearly understand and accept that that went on for too long and that their presence needed to be greater, more robust and needed to protect people’s homes and shops. We will now do everything we possibly can to get those people re-housed quickly and ensure that that money is available, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has been in touch with almost all the local government leaders affected and we will keep that up. In terms of what inquiries are necessary, I think that we should start with the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry. We should let it do its work and take it from there.
I will certainly do that, and I was impressed, in the control room of the West Midlands police and emergency services yesterday, by how amateur photographers have been sending in footage to help the police to arrest those who are guilty. As has been said today, everyone has a responsibility. Media organisations, too, have a responsibility, and I hope that they will act on it.
No one disputes for a second the Prime Minister’s determination to meet what he describes as the first duty of Government to keep the streets safe, but does he not understand that his repetition of what amount to Treasury lines about police numbers and police budgets, and about prison numbers, sounds very complacent? I beg of him to recognise not only the reality that those cuts will lead to fewer police on the streets, but that he must reverse the softer sentencing plans of his Justice Secretary and stop the ludicrous plan that the Justice Secretary has to close prisons when there is patently now an urgent need for more prison places.
I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about police numbers, and indeed neither do many chief constables. The chief constable of Thames Valley police said that
“what I haven’t done at all is reduce the number of officers who do the patrol functions, so the officers you see in vehicles, on foot, in uniform, on bicycles. We haven’t cut those numbers at all.”
Let me make this additional point to the right hon. Gentleman. One thing the past three days have demonstrated is that the Met, where we have 32,000 officers, actually could take the action to surge from 3,000 on the streets to 16,000 on the streets. I think that is a demonstration of using what you have to maximum effect.
Metropolitan police officers have shown great courage and a high degree of determination over the past few days, but does the Prime Minister share my concern about reports that police officers on several occasions were instructed to stand and observe the rioting and looting? Does he agree that that cannot be acceptable behaviour, and that, if perhaps for understandable reasons because of the controversies after the G20 summit the police are concerned that they might be criticised for over-reacting, there is an urgent need for fresh guidelines so that there is no ambiguity and that it is the police, and not looters and rioters, who will control our streets?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point, and obviously we will look again at the guidance. Let me be clear: there was no instruction to police officers to stand back, but as I have said, and I think police chiefs have been very frank about this, the balance between what is right for public order and what is right for stopping criminality—looting and thieving—was not got right to start with. They admit that, they accept that, but they were—to be fair to the police, who do a very difficult job on behalf of us all—facing a new set of circumstances. Yes, they have had riots before; yes, they have had looting before; and, yes, there has been violence and vandalism; but we have not in our country before had the same thing happening in different places with different people all doing it at the same time. That was a challenge for the police—a challenge that I believe they are now meeting excellently—but they did not get everything right to start with and they are the first to admit that.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his telephone call yesterday. What happened in Salford on Tuesday night was not about protest; it was about deliberate, organised, violent criminality. Will he give his full backing to the police to intervene in such circumstances? Some officers, who did not have riot gear and were not trained, had instructions to stand by and watch what happened. The effect on public confidence is devastating, so will he ensure that the police have the backing and confidence to review the guidance so that we never again see the police fall back in the face of a violent mob, as we saw on our streets?
The right hon. Lady speaks with all the authority of a former policing Minister who knows this issue well and, I know, discussed it with the chief constable of Greater Manchester. Clearly, what happened in Salford was unacceptable, and tragically it reversed very many good years of excellent work, breaking up gangs and taking on organised criminals, and I suspect that what happened is that those gangs and criminals saw it as an opportunity to reassert themselves. All those lessons must be learned, and I know that the Greater Manchester police chief, to whom I too have spoken, wants to learn those lessons. It is not right ever to cede control of our streets to hooligans, which is what happened briefly in Salford, but we have to rest with the operational judgment of police chiefs when they are on the streets, and the time to learn the lessons is now.
I commend the Prime Minister for his decision to take action on gangs, but I want to raise another issue with him. He rightly told the House that the whole country was moved by the dignified words of the father of Haroon Jahan yesterday, who made those comments against the background of some ethnic tension and managed to calm the situation. There is at least a risk that evil-minded people will try to use these conflicts to raise ethic tensions and conflicts further. Will the Government take action with the leaders of communities to ensure that that is prevented?
The Government will certainly do that. I was in Birmingham yesterday and joined a meeting of community leaders from all religions, all creeds and all races, who came together to make sure that the communities did not respond inappropriately to the dreadful events that had happened. I pay tribute to the chief constable of West Midlands police, the leader of Birmingham city council and all the people who went out from that meeting and spoke to their communities to appeal for calm. The scenes that we all saw on our television screens last night of communities coming together in Birmingham to try to stop the violence was a model of how these things should be done.
Bearing in mind what the Prime Minister has just said, what justification can there be in the west midlands for very experienced police officers who have served for 30 years or more being forced to retire against their wishes because of the cuts? Where there is no adequate police presence, as has unfortunately been the case once or twice in the past few days, does not the mob take over?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. When I was in Wolverhampton yesterday, I heard that the number of police officers was roughly doubling overnight compared with the previous night. I suspect that the same was happening in Walsall, West Bromwich and other parts of the west midlands. One lesson we must learn is that we need the ability to surge the number of police in our communities very rapidly when such problems arise. Let me say again that the police do a difficult and dangerous job on our behalf. They learn from experience. The police in our country are hugely experienced in dealing with difficult situations. They do not always get it right. We must praise them when they do get it right. Here, we must say that some of the tactics need to change, but we should not substitute our own judgment for theirs—that would not be a sensible approach.
My constituents and I witnessed shocking events in Enfield on Sunday and Monday. What was particularly shocking was the age of a number of the culprits. Will the Prime Minister ask the police authorities to work with the education authorities to identify the many secondary school children who were out committing crimes?
That is certainly a sensible suggestion. Over and above that, we must recognise that the responsibility for the fact that some of these children—I use the word “children” advisedly—are out on the streets rests with their parents. We need parents to take more responsibility for their children, teach them the difference between right and wrong, and point out that this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable.
It is undeniable that these criminals who looted, stole, rioted and caused intolerable damage to their victims must be dealt with by the police and the justice system. I ask the Prime Minister, do we regard these people, however abject their acts, as irreclaimable to society, at great cost to the police, the justice system and the prison system, or will we have positive policies to try, if at all possible, to reclaim them for society?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we must never write people off, however bad they are. We must try to build a stronger society in which we can turn people’s lives around. One of the lessons from this is that too many people have been left for too long and we need much earlier intervention. This is something that Members from all parts of the House have spoken about. When we see children going wrong, we must intervene earlier rather than leaving them to fall out of school and lapse into a life of criminality.
If these riots had broken out in any city or town in Australia or America, the police would have had at their instant disposal water cannon, plastic bullets and tear gas. Across the UK, British people watched on television while police were instructed to stand back when shops were looted, homes were torched and cars were set on fire. Does the Prime Minister really believe that 24 hours’ notice of the use of water cannon is good enough? Is it not the case that this is not about police numbers, but about police being given the tools to do the job?
First, let me say to my hon. Friend that the police have access to baton rounds and they can make the decision to use them—in London, they came quite close to making that decision. That must be an operational decision for the police. The very strong advice from the police is that because, on the whole, they were not dealing with very large crowds, but with very mobile crowds who were intent on criminal behaviour, water cannon would not have been appropriate. That is the police view. The point that I have made is that we should be ready for every possible contingency in future, so we should know how we would answer future questions. That is why water cannon are now available at 24 hours’ notice.
However, I do not agree with my hon. Friend in that I think that the greatest possible deterrent to the lawlessness that we saw is for people to know that, if they do that looting and violence, they will be pulled out of the crowd, arrested immediately and be in front of a court that night. That is the answer. The key to that is more police on the streets so that they are able to be more robust in their interventions.
I welcome all the steps that the Prime Minister has taken since the start of the disorders and join him and others in condemning the criminality and praising the police. Like him, I was out on the streets of London yesterday, and the key issue was police visibility. Is the Prime Minister saying that, if a police force has to dip into contingencies to pay for what has happened in the past few days, the Government will reimburse all the money?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for the work that I know his Committee will do in the coming weeks. The Treasury is standing ready to assist police forces. Clearly, the bill for the Metropolitan police force for the past few days will be large and, if they continue to deploy in those numbers, it will get larger and the Treasury will stand behind that.
Those of us in the communities affected give our thanks to the police and the emergency services, but are conscious that if the best deterrent is being caught, the police have a minority of officers trained and able to use riot headgear and equipment. Will the Prime Minister, with the Home Secretary, consider reversing that so that there is a presumption that most police officers are in that position, and can act and intervene? Will he ensure that the full force of the law does not descend only on the hardened 50 per community—the serial criminals—but on the adults with children who were also going into the shops and nicking stuff, and not just the children for whom they are meant to set an example?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, of course there will be a proper review of the right balance between riot police and normal borough policing so that we meet such emergencies better in future. Of course that will happen.
In terms of prosecuting the guilty, the police should go after everybody. They have the CCTV images, and people all over the country are ringing up and explaining that their neighbour has just acquired a new 42-inch plasma screen. I encourage even more people to do that for as many people as possible to be nicked.
The people of Liverpool are united in their absolute condemnation of the criminal acts that wreaked so much havoc and caused so much fear in parts of Liverpool in the past few days. What specific arrangements has the Prime Minister made to enable the city and others that have suffered similarly to be assisted in a swift recovery?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for speaking on behalf of Liverpool, which also suffered from the violent disorder. Liverpool will be able to apply, through not only the existing Bellwin scheme but the new special scheme which does not have a threshold that needs to be crossed to claim payments. Also, the Riot (Damages) Act is effectively unlimited in the claims that can be made and, as I have said, the Home Office will stand behind police forces. There is therefore a series of measures and there will be written statements in the House today, so the hon. Lady can see full details and share them with her council leader.
I think the police have the clearest possible message that we want them to be a police force. We want them to be focused on crime; we do not want them fighting paper behind their desks. They have had a very clear message from the whole country this week that people want visible policing, but they want very robust policing too.
The Prime Minister will be as pleased as I am that there has been no rioting or looting in South Shields. He has rightly praised the independence and professionalism of the chief constables. Why, therefore, does he want to get rid of them all and make them stand for election?
We are not proposing to make chief constables stand for election; what we are proposing is to have police commissioners stand for election, replacing police authorities. The point that I would make is this: yes, we have independent police chief constables and, yes, they have to be responsible for their judgments, but in recent days the argument that it is important that they are accountable politically—and there is a discussion that can take place between politicians and police chiefs—is a thoroughly good one.
Ealing town centre was badly smashed up on Monday night. A man is critically ill in hospital, having been attacked by a yob when he tried to put out a fire in a litter bin. People are pretty devastated. Morale was slightly lifted when we heard the Prime Minister say that those big enough to take part in the protest are big enough to take the consequences. Can he assure my constituents that those who are found guilty of being caught up in this mayhem will feel the full force of the law, including prison sentences?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I thank her for the briefing that she gave me on what had been happening in Ealing, particularly on Monday night. I can give her that assurance: sentencing must be a matter for the courts, but the Sentencing Council is clear that people taking part in violent disorder should expect to go to prison.
May I invite the Prime Minister to join me and the people of Walthamstow in putting on record our gratitude not only to the police, who have worked so hard to restore calm to our streets, but to the outreach and community workers, who have been out every night talking to people to reduce the tension and restore order on our streets in partnership with the police? May I invite him to meet those people, so that he can understand that talking about resourcing that work is not a tiresome debate? Rather, we must learn from their experience in restoring order, not just over the next few days but on every day in our communities across the country.
I am certainly happy to meet the hon. Lady. The point she makes—that reclaiming the streets is an issue not just for the police but for everybody—is absolutely right, and we have seen fantastic examples of that right across our country. The point that I was trying to make about resources is that of course resources will be debated in the debate that follows, but I hope that we can also have a debate about some of the culture, some of the upbringing, some of the parenting and some of the deeper points that lie behind these problems.
Front-line officers were telling me last night that they have been afraid to use a measure of physical force because of concerns about criticisms by Members of Parliament, which they have seen before. I welcome the Prime Minister saying that we will be robust and do whatever it takes, but can he assure us that Members of this House will support the police if they have to strike people with batons or kettle them in? Force has to be met with greater force.
My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise, because he serves as a special policeman. The point is this: people want robust policing, and of course the police have to be sensitive to things that have happened in the past—sometimes the pendulum can swing too far one way, and then too far the other way—but I am sure that the message has been received loud and clear that when there is such violent criminal behaviour, people want a very robust response.
The Prime Minister has talked about the role played by gangs and technology in the disorder that has taken place over the last week. Does he share my concern about the popularity and accessibility of internet footage glorifying gangs and knives? What will he do to ensure that those despicable videos are taken down?
The hon. Lady speaks very powerfully for Lewisham and her constituency, and also on this issue, on which frankly everyone has responsibilities —not just Members of Parliament, the police and parents, but media companies and social media companies that are displaying those images. All of them should think about their responsibilities and about taking down those images. That is why the Home Secretary is going to have meetings with those organisations to see what more can be done.
Two of the shocking images that the Prime Minister referred to in his statement took place in my constituency. May I thank him for coming to Croydon on Tuesday? Yesterday and the day before, my constituents finally got to see the kind of policing—in terms of visibility and robustness—that they want to see every day. Can he reassure me and my constituents that we will see not just a temporary change in police tactics and visibility, but a permanent one?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he did to introduce me to some of the affected shopkeepers and home owners in his constituency, some of whom have been made homeless. I can give him that assurance, because—as I have said—one of the things that has been demonstrated in the last few days is the importance of surging police numbers quickly. There are 32,000 officers in the Met, and having just 3,000 on the streets on Sunday and 6,000 on Monday was not enough. That is why action was taken to increase the numbers and I am sure that lessons will be learned in that regard.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been available with resources to support the police here in what they are doing. In the context of reviewing the actions of the police in the past few days, may I ask the Prime Minister to get them to involve the PSNI, given its lengthy experience of riot control, so that it can advise on how to handle such situations in future?
It is of course enormously helpful having Sir Hugh Orde, who served so well in Northern Ireland, as chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and I raised in Cobra the issue of accessing the expertise of the PSNI. One of the issues that we needed to grip quickly was the fact that this was not a political protest; they were looting gangs and so every case was different. That was one of the difficulties that the police service faced.
Is it any wonder that these events have taken place when the authority of parents, teachers and the police has been eroded so consistently for so many years? Hopefully the Prime Minister will reverse that process. He has said again and again that it is the stability of families that counts, and he has made tremendous progress in advancing the debate, but before the election he said that marriage was the key and that he would introduce a married persons tax allowance. That still has not happened. Will he now do it?
As my hon. Friend knows, I think that we should support families and marriage in every way that we can. We should set a simple test for all Government policies of whether what we are about to do will enhance responsibility, whether of parents, teachers in school or police officers on the streets. If it will, we should do it, but if it would not, we should not do it.
Does the Prime Minister realise that in times of economic downturn acquisitive crime always increases? The difference this week was that it was backed up by extreme violence and perpetrated by mobs. In that light, may I ask him to reconsider the cuts to police budgets? He will be seen as giving in not to mob violence, but to common sense.
I simply do not accept this determinism that changes in the economy mean automatic changes in the levels of criminality. Indeed, the figures for the last recession disprove that. We should be clear in this House that it is criminals who are responsible for crime. It is an individual act, and we should hold people responsible for their acts.
Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Welsh police forces that gave great support to police forces across England.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the leadership that he has shown on this issue and the initiatives that he has announced today. Is it not the case, though, that those local authorities that attempted to close down youth services should think again and perhaps consider shutting off some of the more lavish perks enjoyed by some local authority workers instead?
At a time when everyone has to make budget reductions, every organisation, be it central Government, local authority or police force, has to focus on the front end and the things that matter most. We are doing that in government and police forces are doing it too. Local authorities should do the same.
I was on the streets of Hackney at the height of the rioting on Monday night, and I know how frightened people were and remain. The most important thing is to regain control of our streets, but, on the Army, I am well aware how attractive the further militarisation of this situation is to some Members of this House and even to some of my constituents, but the Prime Minister will be aware that Sir Hugh Orde, who has ordered the firing of baton rounds and the use of water cannon in Northern Ireland, is against the use of such things in the current situation. I say to this House, whether it is a popular thing to say or not, that the further militarisation of the situation we face will not help and might bring things to an even worse level.
First, let me agree with what the hon. Lady said, I think very powerfully, about the fact that this was criminality on the streets, and about how frightened people were. I agree with Hugh Orde and others who say that now is not the time to take such steps. Government have a responsibility to ask about contingencies: to work out what will happen next, and what would happen if things got worse. Those are responsibilities that we take very seriously. Let us, however, take this opportunity to pay tribute to what the armed services often do in our own country when it comes to floods and other emergencies. They play an incredible role, and we should thank them for it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time like this, facing the circumstances that we face, it really is a nonsense that magistrates courts must refer cases to the Crown court because their own sentencing powers are inadequate? Will he take immediate steps to give magistrates courts the powers to deal with these cases so that the perpetrators can be where they belong—behind bars?
As I said in my statement, we keep the sentencing powers under review. Magistrates courts can pass sentences of up to six months, and they have been doing so. They have been passing sentences overnight, and also referring cases to the Crown court. I think it vital for us to ensure that there is enough Crown court capacity to deal with these cases quickly.
May I beg the Prime Minister to change his mind about the commission of inquiry? This is not going to go away, although we might wish it to do so. It is a complex, changing social phenomenon, which we have to understand in order to combat it. Will the Prime Minister announce the establishment of a commission of inquiry this week? This goes to the roots of the present situation. As the Prime Minister knows, I am a great supporter of Select Committees, but it is not enough to leave the matter to a Select Committee inquiry; we need a national commission of inquiry.
I think that we should have confidence in the ability of our Select Committees in the House to do this work, and I think that the Home Affairs Committee does an excellent job. As I have said, I do not rule out other things for the future, but let us start with that. Sometimes, commissions of inquiry have had to be ordered because Committees of the House have not been able to reach the information or the people, but I do not see why that should be the case in this instance.
Some cities have suffered hugely this week, while others have avoided violence and managed to quash any potential trouble before it kicked off. When inquiries are established and when the Select Committee does its work, will the Prime Minister ensure that we learn lessons not only from the areas where violence did kick off, but from cities such as Cardiff and Sheffield, where there was no trouble? Perhaps we can learn lessons from what went right in those areas.
I, too, thank the Prime Minister for visiting Croydon earlier in the week, where he met our decent citizens who had become victims, had seen their buildings and businesses burnt down, and had seen their offices and shops trashed. The plea from people in that Croydon war zone—for that is what it was—was, “Where were the police?” For hour after hour after hour, people were free to pillage and loot, with no uniformed officers around.
This is not partisan. May I ask the Prime Minister, on behalf of the people whom I have met over the past two days, distraught and sad people, the people of Croydon North who have been the victims—may I plead with the Prime Minister, on behalf of my constituents—to think again about police numbers? The people of Croydon, and indeed the people of London, want more police in London, not fewer. Providing fewer would be precisely the wrong policy, at precisely the wrong time for our society.
The time that I spent in Croydon with the right hon. Gentleman was incredibly powerful. I heard about the immense frustration, and the anger, that those shopkeepers, householders and tenants felt. Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman, however. The problem was that the police were not on the streets. The problem was not about police budgets in four years’ time, but about the availability of the police right now. There are 32,000 officers in the Met. We needed to get more of them on to the streets more quickly, and more of them to Croydon. It is about now: it is not about the budgets of the future.
I welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments about the role of social media. May I urge him to look into what might be called the internet equivalent of hoax 999 calls? It would seem that the police have had to waste considerable time dealing with false and malicious rumours about mob activity, and the law and penalties must be fully up to date with that.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Just as the police have been using technology more effectively, so the criminals are now using technology more effectively. An awful lot of hoaxes and false trails were laid on Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger and the rest, and we need a major piece of work to make sure the police have all the electronic capabilities that they need to hunt down and beat the criminal.
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman just one area where we have already made progress but I want to see further progress: discipline in schools. We have got to make sure that schools are able to confiscate things from children and to exclude children without being overruled by appeals panels. All those steps add to responsibility. We must also make sure that every single tax and benefit is pro-family, pro-commitment and pro-fathers who stick around. Part of the problem is that fathers have left too many of these communities, and that is why young people look towards the gang.
The Prime Minister has referred twice in the past 24 hours to phoney concerns about human rights. He will be aware of the many letters we all receive from people who are dismayed by decisions taken that seem to laugh at our values and beliefs in this country. If he is serious about wanting to build the responsible society, may I suggest that that will be much more easily achieved if we remove the invidious Human Rights Act from legislation?
The specific point that I was making was about the concern that is often expressed, and was expressed to me over the past couple of days, as to whether under the Human Rights Act “Wanted” pictures, as it were, could be published. I wanted specifically to send a message to police forces and local authorities that they should go ahead and do that. On the Human Rights Act more generally, my hon. Friend knows that we have plans to reform it at source under the European convention on human rights.
In relation to Birmingham and the west midlands, may I add my tribute to the work of the police, the emergency services and local authority workers, and also to the active citizenship shown by the broom brigades and the profound dignity of Tariq Jahan last night? However, I ask the Prime Minister to look again at the police budget figures he mentioned. He mentioned 6%, but the cuts amount to a lot more than that for metropolitan areas because of the way the formulae work. Will he look again at that, as I think he may be operating on the basis of duff figures?
First, let me again pay tribute to what was done in Birmingham; it was a model of bringing communities together, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman played a part in that.
The point I am making is that police funding comes from both the grant and the precept, and if we make normal assumptions about the precept, what we are asking for is on average a 6% cash reduction over four years. I do not think that that is impossible while keeping up police visibility, and a growing number of police chiefs are agreeing with that. For the hon. Gentleman’s West Midlands force, we are basically taking the funding back to its 2007 level. From the way he is speaking, people would think we were taking it back to the 1987 level.
I urge the Prime Minister to resist the knee-jerk calls for a revision to the plans for the police budgets and police numbers. We should remember that this is about the deployment and management of resources, and about the more effective use of resources. That is the view of my chief constable in the west midlands, and it is the view that should prevail.
My hon. Friend is entirely right: what matters is getting the most out of the budgets that are there. This is not a big day for politics, but both parties went into the last election promising to make reductions in policing budgets; the Opposition were proposing a reduction of £1 billion. As we are prepared to freeze police pay, reform allowances and ask for greater contributions to pensions, and because we have got rid of the stop form and are reducing reporting on stop and search, we can make those reductions without affecting visible policing. But that is possible only because we have made those difficult decisions, which the Opposition are not making.
On Tuesday night, all was quiet across Ealing, but there had been warnings that Southall might come under attack. Local people at the Sikh gurdwaras, mosques, Hindu temples and churches arranged to place volunteers outside their religious places of worship to protect them. I thank the Prime Minister for mentioning Southall and the role played by the volunteers during that day, but I assure him that those people were led by the local Member of Parliament, local councillors, faith leaders, community leaders and business leaders. May I ask him to come out to my constituency and meet those volunteers and community leaders so that they can ask him a few questions that they feel have not been answered in the past and that they fear he will not be able to answer in the future? Will he visit my constituency in the very near future?
I can see that I am going to get a number of very enticing invitations today. I think the whole country admires the protection of the temple in Ealing, Southall. I have huge admiration for those people who want to protect their homes, their properties and their communities. Of course, that should be the job of the police and we need to ensure that the police are on the streets in greater numbers to do that. I pay tribute to the people of Ealing, Southall for what they achieved.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the problems addressed by his statement and those that will be addressed by the subsequent statement from the Chancellor have one factor in common: a widespread belief that anyone can have anything they want without paying for it and without living within their means? Will my right hon. Friend therefore resist the siren calls to give up his plans to make all departments, including the police, live within our means, especially as every police officer whom I know and to whom I have spoken says that they could dramatically increase the proportion of their time used effectively to the public good if they were deployed more efficiently? It cannot be beyond the wit of man to live within those budgets and improve good policing with 6% less resources.
My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. I made a point of sitting down with my own chief constable in my constituency surgery and going through her budget line by line, to see the changes that were being made so that savings could be made but visible policing would not be affected. With a 6% cash reduction, it can be done.
The Prime Minister has made much, as others have, of the importance of parental responsibility. Does he realise that for many of the people involved in gangs, their parents are the gangs? Some of the issues to do with gangs and how they operate in inner-city areas such as Lambeth are crucial to this debate. Will he also tell me, please, what he means by a gang injunction?
The hon. Lady is entirely right that there is no single measure that will increase parental responsibility and break up gang membership. One reason why I have asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) to play a role is that, before he took up his role on the Front Bench, the social justice organisation with which he was involved spent a huge amount of time trying to look at the best practice in dealing with gangs. There are gang injunctions at the moment that apply only to adults—we will be applying them to children—which can prevent people from doing particular things. That is a good start, but, as I have said, there is no one single answer.
May I join my colleagues from Croydon in thanking the Prime Minister for his visit, which was hugely appreciated? I also join them in their call to maintain the high police profile down there. Does the Prime Minister agree that once the situation is stabilised we need to consider the underlying causes and, as he says, to accept that there is a small group in our society who do not know the difference between right and wrong?
The Prime Minister is completely right when he says that the tactics failed. Many in my constituency who support the police were horrified when they saw police in full riot gear watching as looters went into shops, filled plastic bags full of loot and left, unarrested by the police. That was a victory for criminals. Will the Prime Minister give my constituents and this House an assurance that if there is another criminal assault on the centre of Manchester, all those criminals will be arrested?
I can go further than that and say that even those criminals who did such things while the police did not intervene in the way that he and others would have liked will be arrested, too. Their faces and pictures are captured on CCTV, and even as we had the Cobra meeting this morning 60 arrests took place across London. I am sure that the same is happening in Manchester, too. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to examine tactics and ensure we get things right in the future.
The Prime Minister has quite rightly identified that there has been major criminal activity. I welcome the attempt to help the victims, and specifically to help small businesses through the deferral of tax. Will he also ensure that the tax authorities do not penalise businesses that are late in filing tax and VAT returns, and in doing the paperwork, because of the disruption with which they are coping?
May I voice my support for the police, including the brave officers who faced unprecedented violence and criminality in Manchester on Tuesday night? The Prime Minister says that this is about now, but there is one practical thing that he could do that would reduce the pressure on the Metropolitan police in particular: delay, or preferably cancel, the proposal to allow terrorist suspects, who are currently required to live away from London, to return to the city from the start of next year. Will he give that serious consideration?
As the right hon. Gentleman served in the Home Office, I will certainly look very carefully and closely at what he says. Let me join him in paying tribute to the police; his fellow Member of Parliament for Manchester, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), put it slightly differently. I am sure that everyone in this House will praise the bravery of officers, and what they do, putting themselves in harm’s way. It is not fair to blame them if sometimes the tactics do not work. I think we have to be very careful in the way we express ourselves on this issue.
Literally thousands of victims deserve to see justice done, and it seems to me that there is very heavy reliance on the use of closed circuit television to capture images. Are the police considering other things, such as spraying indelible chemical dye on rioters, so that they can identify them and pick them up the following day?
In Nottingham, the police public order squads, whom I accompanied last night, are a tribute to the best of our front-line public service workers, but does the Prime Minister recognise and accept that the scheduled reductions in public spending—not only for the police, but for the fire and ambulance services, the courts, and the much-maligned back office staff—will affect the ability of those teams to respond effectively? Will he please think again?
It is an hour and 20 minutes before I have said it, but I have to say it: there is a reason why we are having to reduce these budgets, and that is because we inherited a complete fiscal car crash. There is a connection between this statement and the statement that we are about to have, which is that if countries do not get control of their fiscal situations, we can see what happens, with even the largest countries in the world getting their debt downgraded.
The Prime Minister is quite right to look at the events of this week in the context of social malaise and family breakdown. May I press him on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)? The policy to which he referred—support for marriage in the tax system—was in the coalition agreement and the Conservative party manifesto on which we were both elected. Surely, this week of all weeks, it is time to look at the holistic context, support marriage and the family, review the policy, and bring forward proposals to support marriage and the family in our country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that was in the manifesto, and it is indeed in the coalition agreement. The coalition agreement, where the two parties take a different view, makes allowance for that, and I remain a strong supporter of that proposal.
As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I am confident that our report will make a serious and significant contribution, but does not the Prime Minister accept that something more than that is needed? We need an in-depth, wide-ranging, full-time report, led by somebody with an authority and independence equivalent to that of Lord Scarman, and we need that quickly if the issues to which the Prime Minister has referred are to be fully explored.
Let me make a couple of points to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know served in the Home Office. First of all, sometimes the need for wider commissions of inquiry has come about because the House of Commons Select Committees could not get to the bottom of an issue; we are not even at that point yet. Secondly, these events are still continuing, so to start talking about what sort of inquiry there should be now is, I think, wrong. The third point that I would make is this: of course one should not jump to conclusions, but I think everyone is clear on the differences between what we have seen in the last three days and what we saw in 1981. This was not political protest, or a riot about protest or politics—it was common or garden thieving, robbing and looting, and we do not need an inquiry to tell us that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that following the G10 demonstrations in London, and the unfortunate death that occurred, many police officers have been reluctant to use force? If they do use force, what reassurances can he give them?
May I pay my tribute to the West Midlands police, who did an excellent job in trying to contain some very unpleasant events in Birmingham and surrounding cities? It was right for the courts to sit overnight, because those who are guilty have to be punished quickly, but what discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Justice Secretary to make sure that our prisons have the capacity to deal with what they will be receiving?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and I was in her constituency yesterday. The discussions that we have had at Cobra, and Justice Ministers were present at all the meetings, were to make sure that we had enough capacity in police cells, enough capacity in the magistrates courts system—the Solihull court has been sitting over a 24-hour period—and enough capacity in our prisons to deal with this. I have been assured on all those levels that the work is there and the capacity is available.
Yesterday and the day before, homes and businesses in my constituency were vandalised by a very small minority. It was the majority who came together in Liverpool on Tuesday and Wednesday morning to clean up the mess, but there is some damage that could not be swept away. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will ensure that the police have the funds to meet the cost of any legitimate compensation claim. Will the Prime Minister confirm that all these funds will be in addition to Merseyside police’s, and other police authorities’, existing budgets?
That is exactly what I have said. There is the Riot (Damages) Act, so businesses, even if they are uninsured, can apply to the relevant police force, and the Home Office will stand behind that force. That is obviously a scheme that has been in place for decades. In addition to that, there are, of course, the two schemes that I have announced today, one of which will directly impact on the hon. Lady’s constituency, because it was affected by the riots.
Does the Prime Minister agree that what we have witnessed on the streets of our major towns and cities is nothing more or less than pure criminality and thuggery? Those who seek to excuse that behaviour, putting it down to deprivation, poverty, or current Government policies, are themselves symptomatic of the no-blame, no-responsibility culture that has undermined our society and led us to this sorry state.
After the riot in West Bromwich, local traders told me that they feared the emergence of a new class of criminal consumer: BlackBerry-enabled, self-organised groups, whose new-found collectivism had diminished their fear of the police and increased their contempt for the law. Their clarion cry to the Prime Minister was: “Please reverse the planned reduction in police in the west midlands by 1,000 uniformed police officers.” [Interruption.] I am sorry he does not like to hear that. If he is going to give them the answer no, would he at least agree to keep the matter under review?
The first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question, which was all about the new technology that the criminal is using, bore no relation to the second half of the question, which was about resources. What matters is whether we are going to give the police the technology to trace people on Twitter or BlackBerry Messenger or, as I said in my statement, on occasion to close them down. That is the step that we should be taking, rather than immediately launching into a discussion of resources in four years’ time.
May I urge the Prime Minister to consider not just the amount of compensation and business continuity assistance, but its speed? Time is of the essence in getting businesses back on their feet, so that there are more jobs and money in communities that so badly need them.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I can say that the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) will, from his office, be giving one-stop-shop advice to all Members of Parliament who have affected businesses that want to see that money flow quickly. It is very important not just to set up those schemes, but to make sure that the money is paid rapidly.
There are 1 million 11 to 19- year-olds in London. The Prime Minister has said a lot about children and young people, but he has not in an hour and a half said anything positive. Will he take this opportunity to make it clear that the vast majority of young people are decent, law-abiding, good people and they are appalled by their stigmatisation by the media. They are appalled, they are afraid. They are not criminals. They are just in fear at this time.
To be fair, in my statement I said that what had happened was in no way representative of the brilliant young people we have in our country. As I understand it, tomorrow there will be a meeting of people, I think in Westminster, saying very specifically that this was not done in their name. I applaud that and all the other initiatives by people who have stood up and said, “This was not done for me or has anything to do with me.”
The Prime Minister has linked social media to violence. Will he join me in congratulating the huge number of people who have used social media for positive activities such as organising clear-ups? I pay particular tribute to Cambs cops for telling people what was happening and getting rid of rumours. Will he accept those positive issues and agree that clamping down on social media could have damaging consequences?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is why the Home Secretary is going to explore the issue with the social media companies and other services. The key thing is that the police were facing a new circumstance. Rioters were using the BlackBerry service—a closed network—so that they knew where they were going to loot next, and the police could not keep up with them. We have to examine that and work out how to get ahead.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to punishment the courts need to put compensation of victims at the heart of their deliberations, whatever the income or means of the offender, and should deploy to their fullest effect the powers to confiscate the proceeds of crime?
I agree with my hon. Friend. He speaks with great expertise as he has practised criminal law. There may be opportunities in the forthcoming sentencing Bill to look at even further powers of confiscation to make sure we really get after these criminals.
On Sunday and Monday night we saw violence, looting and ransacking in my constituency and my borough. Some people out in the country have sought to attribute these acts to particular racial or religious groups. While we may not know the exact causes of all the events around the country, does the Prime Minister agree that people of all different religions and races were responsible and that to racialise this issue is gravely wrong and does our country a great misservice?
My constituency in Bristol West had violent disorder not only this week but in April, and we appreciate the strong words that the Prime Minister has used today. In dealing with the deeper issues in society, does he agree that people who feel marginalised from society are much more likely to listen to and then respect those strong words if people at the other end of the social spectrum not just in the board room, as the Leader of the Opposition said, but rather more popular people in society do not display such venal and conspicuous consumption behaviour that sets such a bad example for people who are following them?
I thank the Prime Minister for coming to Wolverhampton yesterday and meeting retailers who were affected by what happened, including Mr Sham Sharma, whose computer shop was ransacked and looted. What we have seen in recent days is what happens when order breaks down. When order breaks down there is no liberty; there is fear. The Prime Minister is right to say that those who did this are responsible, but Governments also have responsibilities. Will he reconsider his Government’s plans to make CCTV harder for our communities to use instead of easier, and will he also look again at police numbers? The idea that the budgets cuts he is making will not affect numbers may look good as a line to take, but it will not convince the public—
We are making sure that CCTV is properly regulated, but we do not want to restrict its use. CCTV is vital in the fight against crime, and I am 100% committed to it. May I say how much sense I thought the right hon. Gentleman spoke yesterday when he talked about the fine line between order and disorder and the importance of giving support to our police, including the excellent work done by the West Midlands force?
Order. I am very keen to accommodate the interest of colleagues, but we are now starting to get mini speeches. It is entirely understandable, but it absorbs a lot of time. May I appeal to colleagues for brevity—a legendary example of which I know will now be provided by the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley)?
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that £1.5 billion a year can be made in police efficiency savings. Will the Home Office mandate collaboration to ensure that those savings are delivered, thus protecting the front line, which is what we all want to do?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. HMIC has said that those savings are available. It did not take into account the pay freeze for police officers, the increased pension contributions or some of the extra work that we have done to cut paperwork. That is why I feel so confident in saying that on average 6% cash reductions over four years should lead to no reduction in visible policing.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our police services this week, but crisis policing is not an alternative to embedded, sustained, community policing. So I was disappointed when visiting damage in my constituency to talk to safer neighbourhood sergeants who are losing their jobs today and being made to reapply for them, as part of 300 safer neighbourhood job losses in London alone. The Prime Minister says that when circumstances change we must change. He must now change his policy of damaging the leadership of London’s safer neighbourhood police service.
As I said, what we saw in London over the past few days, where we have 32,000 officers in the Met, was a greater deployment of more of those officers on to the street. Frankly, it was not good enough that there were only 3,000 deployed when this started. It shows how much can be done, getting up to 16,000 deployed, with help from outside. Those numbers will be available at all times in the future, even with the reductions that we are making in budgets.
Today marks the start of a long, sober and difficult post mortem to find out why parts of our society chose to rob the very communities of which they are part. The Prime Minister implied that we must start by looking at the powers given to the police. May I ask him to assure the House that if the police choose to use water cannon they can do so without influence by Ministers? If necessary, they should also be allowed to close down mobile phone rebro masts, as was done after the 7/7 bombings, to make sure that we isolate the use of Twitter and Facebook, which allowed the mobs to be one step ahead of the police.
Of course conversations have to take place between the Home Office and the police about the use of different technologies or tactics. The point that the Home Secretary and I have been making over recent days is that they should feel free to examine whether they need these capabilities in the knowledge that they will have political support for doing what is necessary to keep our streets safe.
The Prime Minister keeps referring to 16,000 police officers in London. We had them only because they came down in bus loads from places such as Salford, leaving the Greater Manchester police overstretched and unable to face down a violent crowd of 1,000 individuals. We have already lost more than 300 police officers. There is no case for any more cuts.
I do not think that the hon. Lady is being fair on the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police National Information Co-ordination Centre system, which makes sure that police officers are sent to the areas where they are needed. Greater Manchester itself was getting mutual aid from other parts of the country.
The Prime Minister spoke of the significant number of young people who have no moral compass and no sense of community. On Monday I visited one of the pilot sites of the national citizenship programme and was impressed with what I saw. May I ask that when those pilots are audited and reviewed, and recommendations are made for the programme proper, the events of the past few days are taken into account?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I feel passionately that national citizen service is a great idea for young people in our country and we want to make it available to as many young people as we can. We are piloting 30,000 places over the coming months and I look forward to visiting some of them. They will help to demonstrate what the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) spoke about, which is how many positive role models there are among our young people.
Hundreds of specialist police officers have been deployed from Scotland’s eight forces in support of colleagues in England, and it is right and proper that everything is provided to assist areas struck by rioting and disorder. Can the Prime Minister confirm what conversations he or the Home Secretary have had directly with the Scottish Government about that support?
I am not aware of any conversations, but I am aware of the excellent role that Scottish police officers played, particularly helping the West Midlands force. I saw for myself their impact when they arrived in Birmingham, and it is very good that our forces can co-operate in that way.
Will the Prime Minister pay tribute to police forces from outside London, such as Bedfordshire, which sent considerable numbers of officers to London and whose remaining officers have had to work greatly extended shifts, magnificently supported by large numbers of special constables, to keep policing going in Bedfordshire?
The police, courts and Crown Prosecution Service must be commended for their work around the clock to deliver swift arrests and charging decisions, but they have much more to do, not least to ensure that successful prosecutions are now delivered. Given the unprecedented nature of these events and the strain that the justice system is already under due to budget cuts, will the Prime Minister commit today to making additional resources available to ensure that justice can be delivered for victims?
At Cobra, there was not only a Justice Minister but also the Attorney-General, making sure that when a police force reported any problems with the local CPS we could work quickly to make sure that resources were put in place. We should continue that in the coming days, perhaps mostly at official level, to make sure that bottlenecks are dealt with.
I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend said about robust sentencing. Although speedy justice is important, it should not be at the expense of unacceptable compromises. Surely all those who organise riots through misuse of social media, attack police, throw missiles or commit arson should face long sentences of imprisonment.
These are indeed difficult times and the safety of our communities is important. The Prime Minister talked about the Olympics and the damage to our international reputation. It was right that the England international was cancelled on Wednesday, but is it right that Premier League and Football League fixtures may be cancelled this week? What is the Prime Minister’s view?
This was discussed at Cobra this morning. As I understand it, subsequent to that it has been decided that the Tottenham game against Everton should be postponed, but the intention is that other games in London, at the start of the Premier League season, should go ahead but perhaps starting earlier in the day. That sounds sensible, if it is indeed what has been agreed between the Premier League and the police.
I thank the Prime Minister, and very much welcome the tangible provisions he has put in place in case, heaven forbid, such riots should ever happen again. The fact that there has been no consequence from criminal actions has been a problem that communities out there have been screaming about for years, from low-level antisocial behaviour to excrement put through letter boxes—just talk to people in Henbury in my constituency. Although I very much welcome the provisions for emergency situations, can the Prime Minister reassure me that the fact that criminal and antisocial actions have consequences will seep right down to the start of those problems in our local communities?
My hon. Friend speaks powerfully about this. It will be a wake-up call to the police on the way they work with communities, and will make them even more determined that even low-level disorder and violence must be punished quickly. We must look for good things to come out of this situation, and one good thing should be that the police will connect themselves even more deeply to communities, some of whom do feel let down.
I pay tribute to all the public sector workers we rely on time and time again, and in particular those in Staffordshire. Over many months, I have had letters from serving police officers concerned about the Winsor report and the knock-on effect on morale, and about A19 and losing senior officers. Now they are concerned about the fact that having been called on at our time of need—out on the streets, putting themselves in the firing line—they are having their leave cancelled and having to give up holidays due to overtime requirements. It was an hour and a half before we heard the words “Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary”, and we have heard nothing about Mayor Boris Johnson’s view about policing cuts. Will the Prime Minister finally get to his feet and address the loss of 16,000 jobs?
I do not know whether we need an inquiry into safety in the House, Mr Speaker, but someone seems to have stolen the hon. Gentleman’s jacket.
I accept that we are asking police officers to do a difficult job and, yes, we are asking them to undergo a pay freeze, as other public sector workers are doing, but we are giving them the backing they want by cutting paperwork and enabling them to get out on the street and do the job they want to do.
I am grateful for the Prime Minister’s concern, but I assure the House that nothing disorderly has happened. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) was perfectly in order. He was focusing not on sartorial matters but on violence, and he was perfectly in order. We will leave it at that. I ask the House to try to rise to the level of events.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, particularly the support he is offering small and medium-sized businesses. As someone whose business has been directly affected, although not disastrously, I know the disruption it is causing. Will the Prime Minister assure me that no business will be lost and no livelihood subsequently lost because of the actions of those thugs and hooligans, and that the £20 million support fund, if deemed not big enough, will be increased to make sure that those things do not happen?
Of course we will keep the issue under review, and there is the Riot (Damages) Act as well as the £20 million scheme. I believe that should be enough, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be on the case.
Violence is always to be condemned, but as the Prime Minister said, seeking to understand violence is a world away from seeking to justify it. Indeed, we ought to try to understand it to stop it happening in future. Given the growing evidence, from Scarman onwards, that increasing inequality has a role to play in drawing at least some people into violent behaviour, can the Prime Minister reassure the House that comprehensive impact assessments will be undertaken before his Government introduce any more policies that increase inequality?
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating policemen from Suffolk and across East Anglia who came to London in support of their colleagues? Will he answer this question? My constituents were shocked to discover that only 3,000 of the 32,000 policemen in the Met were on duty. What are we going to do to change that and can we get cross-party support for it?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising Suffolk and other police forces in East Anglia and Essex who got police officers into our capital. The point I made about the deployment of officers is one of the lessons we have to learn about the ability to surge up numbers quickly when circumstances require it.
Does the Prime Minister agree that no matter how good a job the police do in arresting people, too many thugs simply do not care if they are caught, because they have no respect for or fear of the criminal justice system? Until we resolve that, we will not be able to resolve the wider problem.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There will be people arrested this time who casually entered a broken-down shop and nicked things, thinking it was somehow okay, who will get an almighty shock when they get a criminal record, and potentially go to jail—quite right too. But my hon. Friend is right to say that there is a hard core who are not frightened enough of the criminal justice system, and we need to make sure that they are.
On behalf of the overwhelming majority of my constituents who were appalled by the organised criminality that trashed the centre of Manchester, I thank the Prime Minister for his phone call to me. There has to be a review of policing tactics, and he is committed to it. That may reveal that because police officers in Greater Manchester were working 12-hour shifts on the night Manchester was trashed, there is a real question about the numbers available. In that context, can the Prime Minister commit to the House that he will at least review the situation to make sure that numbers can never be an issue in not having uniformed police on duty when we need them?
Of course, we will look at all these issues, and ACPO, the Home Office and others will want to learn all the lessons. I would simply make the point that, because it was possible in Manchester, London, Wolverhampton and elsewhere to surge the numbers up more rapidly on Tuesday, it would have been possible on Monday. This is not to criticise the police—no one can get everything right when they are dealing with these difficult situations—but we have got to look at the surge capacity, rather than pretending that this is all about resources in two, three or four years’ time.
My constituents will commend the Prime Minister’s statement and the Leader of the Opposition’s sentiments, which are in marked contrast to those of the former London Mayor, whose shameful comments seeking to justify the riots that wreaked havoc in places such as Enfield should be condemned by all the House. Although we provide unqualified support to our police, is this about not just resources but empowering our police—perhaps to get their hands on water cannon or rubber bullets, but to free them up by reducing both the time that it takes to process individual arrests and this risk-averse culture, which is tying their hands?
As my hon. Friend used to work as a solicitor, he knows well that far too much time is taken up in paperwork after an arrest is made. We need to cut down that paperwork. Joint working between the police and the CPS is already helping with that. Virtual courts are helping, and the 24-hour courts that have been working around the clock have made a big difference, too.
The vast majority of people in Scotland share the anger and frustration of the victims of these crimes, but they are extremely disappointed at the First Minister’s statement that this is an English problem. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that he will seek advice from Strathclyde police. Will he extend that to the judicial system in Scotland, which took seriously the concerns of the police and community and imposed appropriate sentences?
The day after the riot and looting at Clapham Junction in the heart of Battersea, my constituency, we saw the inspiring sight of the broom army of volunteers coming together—many of them young people—to do something really positive. As well as wanting to reclaim streets, which I am afraid they did at times feel had been abandoned, they also wanted to express solidarity with local shopkeepers and businesses. I very much welcome what the Prime Minister has said on business rate suspension, but will he commit the Government to do all they can to support everyone locally who wants to ensure that we keep those vital businesses going and attract more businesses into our cities and town centres?
I certainly back what my hon. Friend says, and I know that she will be on to the Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills and for Communities and Local Government on behalf of her constituents. Let me say how much I admire the broom army, not just in Clapham but in other parts of our country. People came together to say that they did not want to put up with this and that they wanted to clean up their neighbourhoods. They are the best of British.
The Prime Minister will be aware that, in Leicester city centre, in my constituency, we had some instances of thuggish criminality, but thankfully not on the scale of other cities. However, the most disgraceful incident was the torching of Age Concern’s ambulance bus, which takes many frail, elderly people to day care on a daily basis. Will the Prime Minister consider putting aside emergency funds—a pot of money—to which charities can apply, so that they can replace facilities that were destroyed in these riots?
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. Some of the things, places and people who were attacked were truly shocking. For people to attack the sort of facility that he talks about really is appalling and should make us stop and think about what has happened in our country. On getting compensation and money, I have set out the schemes, all of which, I think, will be available to the sort of charity that he speaks about.
I join the Prime Minister in praising the bravery of the emergency services and echo the disbelief of the House that children as young as 11 and 12 have been involved in the violence and criminality of the past few days. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the age of any of the rioters prevented the police from using anti-riot techniques?
I will certainly look at what my hon. Friend says. Of course, the age of criminal responsibility is 10, and we do not have any proposals to change that, but she raises an important issue about whether the police at any moment needed to hang back because of the very young age of the looters—some of the people doing the looting were under the age of 10—and I will certainly get back to her about that.
For the past two nights in my constituency, I have had a very heavy police presence, owing to right-wing extremist groups focusing on Eltham and trying to create unrest and bad feeling between different racial groups. Although we want to support people who are public-spirited and come out to defend their communities, as some of my constituents have done, will the Prime Minister join me in asking those people not to be diverted from their efforts by those extremists who seek to exploit the situation?
The hon. Gentleman speaks not only for his constituents, but, frankly, for the whole House in deprecating the English Defence League and all it stands for. On its attempt to say that it will somehow help to restore order, I have described some parts of our society as sick, and there is none sicker than the EDL.
It will soon be 50 years since the last royal commission on policing, and the Prime Minister today has alluded to some of the changing challenges that the police have faced in that time. Since it is at least as important to be able to mobilise police officers as to consider absolute numbers, will he consider the case for a fresh royal commission?
When rioters spilled into the heart of my constituency on Monday night, local people of all backgrounds came together from businesses, mosques and the wider community. With the police, they stood in peaceful resistance to keep out the rioters and helped to keep the community safe. We are now faced with the threat of the English Defence League coming to my constituency in September. Despite requests to the police before these riots and to the Home Secretary, we have no affirmation that there will be a ban. Will the Prime Minister consider legislation, if necessary, to stop the EDL marching and to prevent static demonstrations from taking place?
My constituents are understandably angry about the violence in nearby West Bromwich and the centre of Birmingham. Does the Prime Minister agree that the most important thing now for the people of the black country and the west midlands is that the Government are seen to stand up for the law-abiding majority in our country?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was very struck at the meeting that I had in Wolverhampton with shopkeepers and residents that they simply want to ensure that the Government and the police stand up for the law-abiding, take back the streets and make sure that they belong to the law-abiding people of our country.
The cities have been the victims of the violence and criminality, but is the Prime Minister aware that, throughout the country, such as in my community in Hastings, there were rumours and counter-rumours and social media activity about gangs meeting and that only the good work of community leaders and our local police stopped anything kicking off?
Violence against others and theft should clearly be dealt with by the criminal law, but does the Prime Minister accept that removing people from social housing for unacceptable behaviour and putting them in social housing in other communities, taking that unacceptable behaviour with them, does not solve the problem?
My hon. Friend is right. Of course, we all want to see a country where opportunity is more equal, where people can go from the very bottom to the very top and where our schools are engines of social mobility, but the point that he makes is right: there is no excuse for the sort of law breaking, looting and violence that we saw.
Merseyside police say they will lose 880 police officers, with neighbourhood officers most at risk. Sir Hugh Orde says that “grass-roots neighbourhood policing” is key to policing in this country because of the effectiveness of building relationships and trust over the long run. Will the Prime Minister listen to Sir Hugh and reverse the cuts before long-term damage is done to the police’s ability to protect the public?
Chief constables up and down the country are now coming out and explaining how they will achieve these relatively modest budget reductions—6% in cash terms over four years—while maintaining the rate of visible policing. Labour committed to £1 billion of policing cuts; it would have had to do exactly the same as we are doing.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Sue Williams and the team in Redbridge on everything they did during the recent troubles and note the fact that what has changed in the past two days—I thank him and the Home Secretary for this—is that we have taken the handcuffs off our police and allowed them to do the job they want to do?
The Prime Minister has exalted CCTV, and rightly so. Does he agree with me that it can deter people from breaking the law? If so, will he look at the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which he obviously has not done yet, and change it so that local councils are allowed to put up CCTV cameras in areas such as those where riots took place?
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that those who are found guilty of committing crimes during the riots should be forced to face up to the full consequences for both their communities and individual victims of the damage they have done? That means tough sentences, but should it not also mean reparation? Does he agree that those young people should be forced to listen while the victims of their crimes explain what the damage to communities means, the jobs that will be lost, the damage to buildings and the sense of tragedy that many feel?
Does the Prime Minister accept that the events of the past five nights in London have changed the nature and context of the debate about police cuts? If he persists with them, the people of London will not understand and they will not forgive. Even his own party’s Mayor now opposes him on that policy.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that people in London will understand our saying that, over four years, police forces have to make cash reductions to the budget and live within those means. People in London have seen over the past three days what can be done when numbers are surged and police are brought out from behind their desks and on to the streets—from 3,000 to 16,000 in just two days.
The Prime Minister speaks for the public on sentencing, but the guidelines are set by a quango. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the Sentencing Guidelines Council and consider transferring its powers either to Parliament or to the locally elected police and crime commissioners?
My hon. Friend makes some interesting suggestions. I have always felt that the Sentencing Guidelines Council should be properly scrutinised by Parliament. We are considering the right way for Parliament to express its views on the contents of that very important set of documents.
May I give the Prime Minister the opportunity to dispel the confusion about his policy on surveillance cameras? Today, he seemed to say that he wants to see more of them, but the coalition agreement he signed up to says that the Government want fewer. Which is it?
Can the Prime Minister tell the House how many people have been charged under part I, section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986 with the specific offence of riot, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison? Does he agree that that would result in people being given the sort of sentences that the public demand, and will he make sure that the CPS does not undercharge people to get convictions, which will end in people getting lighter sentences that they deserve?
I cannot give my hon. Friend figures on which specific part of the Public Order Act people have been charged under, because, as he will know, that Act, which has really stood the test of time, has many parts under which charges can be laid. The latest figures that I have state that, in London alone, 880 people have been arrested and more than 370 have already been charged.
At a meeting this morning attended by a number of London Members of Parliament of all parties who, like me, are concerned about the impact of the riots on their constituencies, the Mayor of London made it perfectly clear that these events made an overwhelmingly powerful case for reconsidering the cuts in the police budget, which will have an adverse impact on the number of police available on the beat. The Prime Minister has been unwilling to listen to Opposition Members, but will he listen to the views of that member of his own party, who is the one elected person other than a national politician with responsibility for policing?
Today, as we speak, only 12% of police officers are on the beat at any one time. I simply refuse to accept that we cannot get better value for money and cut paperwork so that we get the more visible policing that everyone wants. The Labour party seems to be completely intellectually idle about even considering changes that could be made that would increase the visibility of police in our communities.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that, for rioters, the biggest deterrent is not being brought to the courts and being convicted, but the courts handing down what the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) described as some stiff sentences?
First, I think the greatest deterrent to such people is not just the sentence, but knowing that they will be arrested and put in front of a court. That is why the strength of numbers of police on the streets lifting and arresting people is vital. Secondly, when events such as these take place, it is perfectly possible for courts to set some exemplary sentences, to send out a clear message, and I for one hope they will do just that.
It is very important that we have a good network of police cells in our towns and cities, so that officers do not have to drive for miles after making an arrest. That is why cutting some of the paperwork and bureaucracy that has led to some of the cell closures is so important.
Too many times recently, we have seen the Metropolitan police force try to straddle its two main functions: leading specialist national operations and policing London. When the dust settles, will the Prime Minister consider the merits of the case for splitting the Met to ensure that we have a police force for London focusing on public order and low-level criminality, and perhaps an enhanced agency for specialist national operations?
The criminal justice system in north Wales coped admirably with civil disturbances in Wrexham in 2003 for two reasons: there was good use of CCTV evidence and immediate imposition of stiff custodial sentences. Why is the Prime Minister presiding over a Government who are making both those things more difficult?
I think that when people think about the events of recent days, they will conclude that police authorities, which have been relatively invisible and which I do not believe call the police to account, have not done a good job over the years. I think that having an individual to whom the police are accountable, which is what happens in London, is a far more powerful way to make sure that there is a proper conversation between elected individuals and police chiefs.
Given that we have had a year of social unrest, from the student protests and direct action against the cuts to the looting of the past few days, as well as the riots in Bristol a couple of months ago, all of which have put pressure on our police forces, I urge the Prime Minister to listen to the chair of my local police authority, who wrote to me overnight to say the last thing the authority needs at the moment is the disruption and distraction of elections for police commissioners.
Of course police authorities do not welcome the fact that they are being replaced, but I think that it is right that they are being replaced, because they have not done a good job at calling police chiefs and police forces to account. We need a new system for doing just that.
The Prime Minister was right to say that the riots not only appalled all law-abiding people in this country, but shocked people watching around the world. In the light of the riots, will the Government be prepared to review the policing arrangements during the Olympic games period, when understandably the police in London and in my own force in Kent will be highly committed?