Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Michael Fabricant.)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me to secure the debate. The riots in early August took place in many parts of the country, but the images that many will long remember—the House of Reeves furniture store on fire, Monika Konczyk jumping from a first floor window—were images of my home town. It is good to see the right hon. Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks) here. We represent different parties in this House. He may not agree with everything I have to say today, but we are united in our determination to uncover the facts about what happened on that night, and to see something positive come from the ashes at Reeves Corner and along the London road in his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) has asked me to put on record his apologies for not being here; he is abroad on Foreign Affairs Committee business.
On 11 August, the House had just over four hours to debate what happened in many parts of London and in some of our major cities. Many hon. Members, including some whose constituencies were affected, did not get to speak. Although the work of the Riots, Communities And Victims Panel and the Metropolitan police’s own internal review are still ongoing, two months on we have a much clearer picture of what happened, what the appropriate lessons are for public policy and what still needs to be done.
I want to start with the issue of who, or what, was responsible. Much media coverage in the immediate aftermath of the riots featured the term, “feral youth”. The implication was of a lot of teenagers on the rampage. There was also a lot of discussion about whether this was a direct result of the very difficult decisions that the Government have made in relation to public spending.
Talking to my borough commander, and having had the opportunity to review much of the CCTV footage in Croydon, it is clear that there was a significant degree of organisation—it was not just a spontaneous protest. According to figures from the Prince’s Trust, 19% of those in London who have been arrested are known gang members. Undoubtedly, a number of others who were arrested are involved in gangs, although that involvement may not yet be known to the police. Data published in September by the Ministry of Justice showed that, of the 1,715 who came before the courts by midday on 12 September, 73% had a previous caution or conviction, and the average number of offences that they were guilty of was 15.
On the age of those responsible, the Ministry of Justice figures for the whole country show that 21% of those who came before the courts were under the age of 18. Some 52% were under the age of 21. The figures that I have obtained from the borough commander in Croydon show that the age profile of those involved in the offences in Croydon is significantly older. Just 15% of those arrested are under the age 18, and only 38% are under the age of 21. The picture given that it was just teenagers who were responsible for these offences is therefore highly inaccurate. I think that all hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to regret the demonisation of a whole generation of young people.
My hon. Friend is building a powerful case. Does he agree—he has already presented some figures—that those involved in the riots in London, as with the disturbances in Gloucester, were mostly people with previous convictions or warnings? Although there is much to be done to highlight opportunities, especially employment opportunities, we should not confuse the treatment of one with work on the other. Responsibility is key.
I agree. Both are issues, but we should start with the individual responsibility of those involved. I will come on to develop both of those points during my speech.
The first lesson is the importance of tackling gang culture. My starting point on the issue is that this is not just a matter for the police. We cannot simply enforce the problem away. We also need to offer a way out of gangs to young people, many of whom may have felt pressured, in terms of their own safety, to get involved. We need to work with the local communities that are suffering from this problem to ensure that they are involved in bringing peer pressure to bear on those who are involved. There is a lot in the Centre for Social Justice report, “Dying to belong”, which was published in February 2009.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He is talking about breaking gang culture. Does he agree that young people tend to be drawn to gang culture largely because of a lack of good role models in the community, a poverty of aspiration and the lack of social mobility in our country?
Those are all factors. We could also look at family breakdown, and particularly a lack of male role models across the piece. As I said, the CSJ report has compelling analysis about what leads people to get involved. I look forward to the Government’s statement, which, the Minister may confirm, should be made in a couple of weeks’ time, on how they intend to respond.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I commend the role that he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks) played during the disorder. As he knows, the Home Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry and is coming to Croydon on 21 October. Has he had an opportunity to look at the evidence that Bill Bratton and the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner gave to the Select Committee on Tuesday, when there was a comparison between gang culture in this country and in the United States? Does the hon. Gentleman think that that could be helpful, as we try to fashion an acceptable way of dealing with the problem?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I have not had a chance to see that evidence. When I leave the Chamber, I will look at it. It is important to look at what has been achieved elsewhere in the UK and abroad to deal with these problems. I will now try to make a bit of progress, because I want to allow all the hon. Members here to contribute to the debate.
The second lesson is one that the Secretary of State for Justice has set out clearly: it is about changing how our prisons operate in order to tackle the issue of reoffending. Clearly, many of the people who were involved in these disturbances had been through our prison system, and it did not do anything to change their pattern of behaviour.
On the police response, the briefing that all London Members have received from the Metropolitan police tells us that there were 3,380 officers on duty on the Saturday, 4,275 on duty on the Sunday, 6,000 on the Monday when the disturbances in Croydon took place, and 16,000 on the Tuesday. It then, with commendable honesty, states:
“Were adequate resources deployed”
over the weekend and on the Monday?
“With the benefit of hindsight the answer would have to be no.”
I think that all hon. Members who represent London constituencies would share that judgment.
The third lesson for the Government is clearly that police numbers matter. Yes, the police cannot be exempt from the need to save money to deal with the deficit that we have inherited. Yes, we can do much, much more to ensure that more police officers spend their time actively and visibly on patrol on our streets. At the end of last year, however, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said:
“I don’t think anyone…would make a simple link between the increase in the numbers of police officers and what has happened to crime. There is no such link.”
When the riots broke out, the response of the Government and the police was a two-and-a-half-fold increase in the number of police officers on the streets—and it worked. The Government are right to say that numbers are not the only game in town, but they are clearly an important part of it.
The performance of the police from Tuesday 9 August onwards was significantly better. I had the pleasure—on the Tuesday, when the Mayor of London came to Croydon—to meet the person who is now the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and was enormously impressed with a pep talk that I overheard him give to a number of officers who went through a very difficult time the night before. A much more robust approach from the police, in terms of breaking up groups of people who were attempting to form, is what prevented further disturbances from happening. It has also been enormously important to see police officers proactively going out, knocking down doors and arresting suspects in the early hours of the morning. It is important that the people involved in the disturbances do not feel, and their friends and neighbours do not feel, that they won—that they beat the police. The robust approach that we have seen since then is important.
I ask this question as the chair of the all-party group on retail and business crime. A lot of retailers feel that crime against their shops is seen as a victimless crime. Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of people who were committing these crimes felt that they were committing a victimless crime because in the past sentencing had not been robust enough?
I will come on to sentencing in a second, but anyone under the illusion that those crimes were victimless should consider the experience in Croydon. As I am sure the right hon. Member for Croydon North will say, the devastated shops were not those of the major multinational businesses but of small businesses—family businesses on one premises—often owned by members of the black and minority ethnic community. The crimes were absolutely not victimless.
As of 10 October, 2,819 arrests had been made throughout London and 1,700 people charged. The cost of that operation so far to the police in Croydon is £1.4 million. Clearly, the police face a difficult time on budgets, so who will pay for that? On 11 August, the Prime Minister said on the Floor of the House:
“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.”—[Official Report, 11 August 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1065.]
There is still uncertainty in the Metropolitan police about where the money is coming from, and I hope that the Minister will provide reassurance.
As well as the policing costs, under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 responsibility for uninsured losses falls on police authorities. Even if insurance claims are paid, the insurers who have paid may recover their loss from the police authorities. Two days ago, in the House, that figure was estimated to be £330 million. Does that not add some force to my hon. Friend’s point?
My hon. Friend has real expertise in the area and he makes a powerful point. We need reassurance on both those issues. I will now make some progress, if hon. Members will permit me, because I want to allow time for everyone present to speak in the debate.
The Metropolitan police estimates that in London alone there are more than 20,000 hours of closed-circuit TV to view. That gives rise to a lesson and to a question. The lesson is the importance of CCTV. There are legitimate civil liberties concerns—no Member would want our country covered in surveillance cameras—but CCTV has played a crucial role in bringing people guilty of offences to justice. I was much encouraged that on 11 August the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary made more positive noises about the contribution that CCTV can make. I understand why the Government wish to ensure that, when a system is introduced, the proper checks are made, but I will be grateful to hear from the Minister that the Government recognise the important contribution that CCTV can make to deterring crime and catching criminals.
My question concerns the police estimate that it will take nearly 12 months to review the remaining evidence. The Government must ask whether it is reasonable for such a review to take that long. If not, the Met police will need assistance from outside London, not to patrol the streets as they did in the immediate aftermath of the riots, but to get through all the evidence.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will, for the last time, but then I must make progress.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate him on securing the debate.
In Lewisham, the borough commander tells me that he has a team of 25 police officers currently reviewing some of that CCTV footage and investigating the riots. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the potential impact on other policing in the borough, given the amount of resource dedicated to that?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. For a few weeks after the riots, the public understood the need to concentrate all resources on the operation but, clearly, carrying that on for a whole year would impact on other areas of police work.
The next issue I want to refer to is the crucial one of intelligence. Crimestoppers has made a great contribution. The police will say that they were receiving intelligence from people who would not normally provide it. In the two weeks before the Conservative party conference, however, I visited every school and sixth-form college in my constituency, to talk to young people about their attitudes. On the vast suite of issues, their views were similar to those of my middle-aged and more elderly constituents, but on one issue there is a difference: their attitude towards the police. Young people of all backgrounds, but in particular young black men, do not have confidence that the police are there and on their side. I am in my late 30s, and it seems to me that the police have moved on a long way from the situation when I was growing up, but it is clear that a significant problem remains. The police must ensure that they win the respect and trust of the people they are policing. Policing in this country is based on the principle of policing by consent. At the moment, that consent is not there from crucial sections of the community that they need to police.
In Croydon, as in many other areas of the country, there was a huge public response, which was seen in the clean-up afterwards and in donations of money to help rebuild the House of Reeves store and some of the other damaged properties. Since the riots, I have seen more than 60 people in my surgery who have had ideas for projects to work with young people and to stop such events happening again. Government and local government must ask how we co-ordinate that upsurge of good will and ensure that some of those projects come to fruition.
I also wish to touch on the issue of bringing those responsible to justice. First, I want to praise the courts for the speed of their response. Court staff, some of whom may well be made redundant over the coming months as a result of the savings being made, went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the courts processed cases quickly. There must be a question for the Ministry of Justice about whether that swifter process of justice can be maintained so that those who have committed violent crimes are taken to court sooner, rather than after often long delays.
The Ministry of Justice research tells us that those who committed offences during the riots were more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence and a longer sentence than if they had committed the same offence a month earlier. I spent much of the summer defending that sentencing approach against various eminent lawyers on TV and radio, because it has done much to restore faith in our criminal justice system. I quote what his honour Judge Andrew Gilbert, QC, said when sentencing defendants at Manchester Crown court:
“The people of Manchester and Salford are all entitled to look to the law for protection and to the courts to punish those who behaved so outrageously. It would be wholly unreal therefore for me to have regard only to the specific acts which you committed as if they had been committed in isolation...Those acts were not committed in isolation and, as I have already indicated, it is a fact which substantially aggravates the gravity of this offence. The court has to pay regard to the level and nature of the criminal conduct that night, to its scale, the extent to which it was premeditated, the number of persons engaged…and finally…the specific acts of the individual defendant…For the purposes of these sentences, I have no doubt at all that the principal purpose is that the Courts should show that outbursts of criminal behaviour like this will be and must be met with sentences longer than they would be if the offences had been committed in isolation.”
I entirely agree with those sentiments, but does my hon. Friend accept my view that sentencing should and must remain an issue for an independent judiciary, whether courts or magistrates? The bigger concern was that some of the exemplary sentences in the immediate aftermath were being egged on by the political class or the press, and it would be a retrograde step for justice to be meted out in that way and not left firmly in the hands of those who are experienced in sentencing matters.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Decisions on individual sentences must be for judges and magistrates. It is reasonable for us as Members of Parliament to reflect in generality the views of our constituents, but the individual decisions must remain with judges and magistrates.
I wish to comment on some figures from my borough commander about the impact on crime resulting from that sentencing approach. If we compare Croydon in the period of 17 July to 14 August—including the day when the riots took place—with the period of 15 August to 11 September, property crime is well down, as we would expect because a huge number of property offences were committed on 8 August, but violent crime is down by more than 20%. That seems to show clearly that we are offered a false choice on crime and punishment, between those who argue for a tough punishment and that prison works and those who say that it and rehabilitation do not work and that people come out and reoffend. It seems to me that both those things are true: removing dangerous, violent people from the streets gives a break to the law-abiding and leads to a reduction in crime, but we must also reform our prisons so that they do a more effective job of rehabilitating people and changing their pattern of behaviour.
Finally, I want to turn to some of the underlying issues and come back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). It is important that Government and Opposition politicians reflect on some of their long-held views. When I listened to the statement and the debate on 11 August, some argued that the disorder was purely a matter of criminality and moral failing, while others argued that it was all about inequality and unfairness in society. It seems to me, again, that both arguments have some merit.
Clearly, there are issues about parenting and a lack of fathers. As a man, I certainly feel that there is a real role for making the case for the responsibility that men have, if they were present when the child was conceived, for the rest of that child’s life.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I need to make a little more progress, because I am conscious of time.
Clearly, we need to be careful about generalising. Several of my friends were brought up by single mums who did a great job, so we must not demonise any class of parents. There is, however, an issue about a lack of fathers and definitely an issue about people witnessing or experiencing violence at home. The WAVE Trust report in 2005 pointed that out strongly. There is a great community group in Croydon called Lives Not Knives, which works with ex-gang members, and I sat in one of its seminars about a month before the riots and listened to four ex-gang members, all of whom had either personally experienced or witnessed traumatic violence at a young age. There is a clear link between that and violent conduct later in life. I welcome what the Government are doing to address problem families and community budgeting. More could be done to promote fostering and adoption to take young people out of the care system, and clearly we must address educational disadvantage, exclusion and truancy.
I shall end by mentioning three issues to which I do not have a solution, but are relevant to the debate. On youth unemployment I obtained figures from the Library showing the trend in general unemployment versus youth unemployment over the past 20 years under Governments of all political complexions. In 1992, youth unemployment was two thirds higher than general unemployment. By 1997, it was double general unemployment; by 2001, it was 140% of the general unemployment rate; and in 2005, it was 165% of the general unemployment rate. We must address the other factors that are making it much harder for young people to find work in our society, relative to the general population.
We must also address the culture of materialism in society, which is one factor behind the behaviour we saw. It is clear from the situation in Croydon that there is an inextricable link between gang culture and the drugs trade. We must address the issue of how we deal with illegal drug use in our country.
I do not pretend to have answers to all the problems, but the emerging evidence of what happened throughout the country in early August has clear lessons for public policy. I look forward to hearing the contributions from other hon. Members.
Order. As many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, I encourage brevity.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on a subject that has rightly attracted a great deal of attention and comment. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing the debate, and on his speech, which demonstrated a thoughtful, serious and insightful analysis, almost all of which I agree with—I hope that that does not embarrass him.
The three issues that I intend to cover are the causes of the riots, the immediate response by the police, emergency services and other public authorities, as well as the general public, and longer-term considerations, including measures that might help to prevent a repetition.
I shall start with the causes, and the factors that contributed to the worst outbreak of civil disturbance that the country has experienced in at least 30 years. In the immediate aftermath of the riots, we heard some over-confident and sometimes simplistic analyses of the causes. The hon. Gentleman rightly illustrated the fact that the extent to which people wanted to blame it entirely on criminality, or entirely on social and economic factors, was wide of the mark. Clearly, some people involved were criminals with previous convictions, and some of the activity was straightforward criminality. The extent to which many criminals descended on a retail parade in Charlton when they received a message that it was unprotected and open seemed to suggest straightforward criminality. It was certainly an orgy of looting.
That leaves the question of why the outbreak of theft should have occurred on that particular occasion. What was the trigger that prompted the multiple incidents in London and other cities during the period 6 to 9 August? Similarly, it is too simplistic to attribute the riots only to social and economic factors, even if it remains true that in general the more deprived areas bore the brunt of the rioting. In my constituency, Woolwich probably has the greatest deprivation, and it was the epicentre of the rioting, whereas more affluent areas such as west Greenwich were largely unscathed.
In trying to understand why the riots occurred, I spent some time reviewing the evidence, including some revealing CCTV footage from Woolwich town centre. I watched it with our police borough commander, Richard Wood, and I suspect that I went through a similar process as did the hon. Gentleman, who undertook a similar review of the evidence with his borough commander.
The CCTV evidence from Woolwich makes it clear that the incidents that occurred in the early part of the evening of 8 August, while groups of youths were gathering in and around General Gordon square, which is the heart of Woolwich town centre, could be categorised generally as antisocial behaviour. However, from around 8.15 that evening, the mood changed, and within a short time a police car had been attacked and set on fire, a public house had been looted and set on fire, and a large-scale riot had begun to take root. It caused extensive damage to other premises in General Gordon square, as well as adjoining Powis street and further away on trading estates along the Woolwich road into Charlton as far as the Greenwich peninsula.
In my view, the change from a potentially problematic display of antisocial behaviour to a full-blown riot occurred when the group of young people who had gathered in the area realised that the police did not have the numbers or capability to stop them. Within a very short time, from their understanding, the police were powerless to prevent disorder, and the situation in Woolwich and the surrounding area was out of control.
I want to stress four specific points. First, the London borough of Greenwich had not suffered the disturbance that had affected other areas, such as Tottenham and Lewisham, on the previous days, and there had been no serious incidents or riots early in the evening of 8 August in Woolwich, so under existing procedures—within the Metropolitan police in London and more widely with other police authorities—for mutual aid, some officers were withdrawn from the borough of Greenwich to provide assistance elsewhere. That is why police numbers in Woolwich were inadequate to cope with the riot when it took place. I want to make it clear that that was not a local failure, but it reflects on the arrangements applying throughout the Metropolitan police area because there were simply insufficient police to contain the riot when it kicked off in Woolwich.
Secondly, I referred to the people gathered in and around General Gordon square as youths. That does not mean that they were predominantly young people. Yes, some juveniles were involved, and some young people under 18 were arrested and charged, but in my judgment the majority of those involved were over 18, and were probably in the age bracket 18 to 25, although some were older. There were some shocking images of people who should have been exercising a mature influence clearly egging on other rioters and benefiting from the chaotic situation.
Thirdly, those involved in the riots, and those who were consequently charged with criminal acts, came from different ethnic backgrounds. The Greenwich and Woolwich constituency is a diverse community with representatives of many different ethnic groups. That diversity applied equally to those involved in the rioting. It is not the case that one single ethnic group was responsible or even disproportionately involved.
Fourthly, those involved in rioting did not seem to come disproportionately from one location, one part of London or one particular type or tenure of housing. It is important to understand that.
Has my right hon. Friend given some thought to the suggestion that some people should be evicted because of their involvement in the riots? I know that his borough has taken a particular stance on that, and I wonder whether he has any comment to make on it.
I entirely understand that if someone has been guilty of trashing their home, their estate or the area immediately surrounding where they live, it would be appropriate under normal procedures for action to be taken to seek possession of their property because of their behaviour, but a different issue arises if people who have been charged and even convicted of a criminal offence are then deprived of their tenure when they would not be so deprived if they had been convicted of such an offence outside a riot. In the example that I gave, if someone stole some DVDs or videos from an electronics shop during a riot and was, as a result, subject to possession proceedings, it would send an odd message if that applied in that case, but not in the case of someone who had been convicted of stealing videos from an electronics shop in other circumstances. That seems to be the nub of the problem. Tenancy laws must be applied, and they must be applied in relation to the tenancy and its surrounding area, not used as a second means of punishing people who should be punished under the proper processes of the law.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, in some cases, councils have talked about using eviction laws to punish a whole family where just one person has been involved in rioting? One case, which was announced soon after the riots, involved a mother and her younger son being threatened with eviction because the 17-year-old son was involved in rioting some distance from the home. The mother and her younger son were entirely innocent, but the younger boy was going to be made homeless as a result of something his older brother had done.
My hon. Friend raises an important and complex issue. I hope she will understand that so as to keep my remarks brief I will not go into detail, although she may wish to refer to it in her speech. It is clearly problematic if an attempt to use tenancy law is applied to a wider range of people, including the family of the tenant in question, who have to respond in relation to a particular criminal activity perpetrated by one individual. That area requires thoughtful, rather than knee-jerk, reactions.
I see that I am not succeeding. Will hon. Members please accept that I wish to be brief? I do not want to take up too much time because other hon. Members want to contribute. I have said as much as I wish to on that particular subject, and I will move on because I have other points to stress.
As I said, there was no indication to suggest that the rioters came from one particular location. However, the hon. Member for Croydon Central, and his colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks), might be amused at one potentially misleading piece of evidence that I gathered quite early on. I came back from my holiday on 9 August, and one of the first things I did was ask my borough commander for evidence of who was responsible for the disturbances and where they came from. Having checked the people in the cells in Woolwich, he told me that a disproportionate number appeared to come from Croydon. There is a simple explanation for that. Croydon is not full of criminals who converged on Woolwich; rather, their presence reflects the fact that the riots in Croydon occurred earlier in the evening. Once the cells in Croydon were full, the police—quite properly, given Met procedures—used custody suites in neighbouring areas, and cells in Woolwich were used to accommodate a number of people from Croydon.
That is an important lesson in the potential misuse of statistics, and I cite it for that reason. One should be careful to dig down beyond initial, superficial statistics, and understand what lies behind them. I hope that the hon. Member for Croydon Central will forgive me for casting that aspersion on his constituents.
Let me turn to the immediate response to the riots. The situation on Tuesday 9 August was transformed by the deployment of large numbers of police officers in Woolwich and the other parts of the capital affected, and in other areas of the country. Throughout the day, I was bombarded with texts predicting all sorts of problems and threats to various places. I was told that the O2 Centre and Greenwich park were to be attacked, and that various other landmarks in the area would be targeted. That was a measure of the electronic media world in which we live; communications are fast and such rumours can spread quickly. However, although the rumour mill was working overtime, in reality none of those places was trashed or attacked. The presence of large numbers of police completely transformed the situation, and on 9 August, and on subsequent days, there was calm in London. It was not calm elsewhere, and I am aware of problems in other cities, but in London the deployment of the 16,000 police officers, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, had the crucial impact of deterring further trouble. I hope that the review being conducted by the Metropolitan police will reflect on that and make appropriate recommendations.
My right hon. Friend is being generous with his time. The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) made a point about the immediate response to the riots being inadequate in terms of police numbers. Those of us who represent constituencies in Manchester and Salford were particularly annoyed that not only were police numbers inadequate to respond to the disturbances on that Tuesday evening, but 100 of our best trained officers had been sent to London. That was one of two major mistakes. The second was that our riot police—in Manchester, the tactical aid unit—are geared up not for highly mobile rioters, but to defend space and property. They need retraining for a different kind of riot.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and that issue needs to be considered fully in the evaluation of what happened and in the police review. I hope that the review by the Metropolitan police will reflect on the deployment of appropriate numbers of officers with suitable skills and the ability to cope with such situations, and ensure that we are never again exposed to the risk of a rerun of the events of 8 August.
In Woolwich, and throughout London, we saw the determination of large numbers of our fellow citizens to reclaim their streets. In Greenwich, the local authority, police and other emergency services acted swiftly and efficiently to clear the mess, shore up and secure buildings damaged by fire and looting, and get back to normal as soon as possible. In Woolwich last weekend, we were proud to welcome the 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment on parade in General Gordon square as a clear symbol that Woolwich is back to business as normal. I hasten to add that the military was not there to enforce law and order; it was a purely ceremonial parade by a regiment that is based in Woolwich, and we are proud to have it with us.
What about the longer-term implications of the disturbances? I am not one of those people who fears that we may experience more riots in the immediate future. Apart from the obvious lessons to be learned about police numbers, we should reflect, as the hon. Member for Croydon Central has done, on the effectiveness of CCTV. Those images played a hugely important role in identifying many of those involved in the riots and providing evidence to support prosecution.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that those who are nervous about the civil liberties implications of the use of CCTV should reflect on that position. CCTV has played a crucial role over the past two and a half months, and continues to do so. The certainty of conviction is a powerful deterrent, and all those who have seen the number of people identified, charged, brought to trial and convicted as a result of that evidence should reflect on the likelihood of the same thing happening again should the disturbances be repeated.
I support the right hon. Gentleman’s comments as CCTV has played a fundamental role in the detection of those terrible crimes. I have been involved with the police in looking at crime in my constituency of Stourbridge, and it has been incredibly difficult to obtain CCTV coverage for any area, despite criminal activity being quite high in a particular location.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point about her constituency, but I hope she will forgive me if I do not respond because it is clearly a different situation from that in Woolwich.
Although to some extent we can be satisfied at the degree to which those responsible for riot, disorder and theft in early August have been brought to justice, we cannot be complacent and we should not ignore warning signs for the future. As I have stressed, we cannot simply blame what happened in August on economic and social factors, but it would be foolish to ignore the truth that widespread unemployment among young people creates a climate of despair and alienation in which those affected may be more vulnerable to influences placed on them and pressures to get involved in criminal or gang activity.
As I have described, in the lead-up to the riot in Woolwich, we saw a gathering of young people who clearly had nothing better to do than hang around the town centre. That powerful image sends a message about the importance of finding more constructive activities for young people in our society. The Government must give the highest priority to reversing the disastrous rising trend of unemployment among young people.
Yesterday, I attended the annual awards ceremony for the Young Builder of the Year. We heard inspiring stories of young people from difficult backgrounds who had overcome huge obstacles to learn the skills and the work ethic necessary to train and succeed in the construction industry. We need to do far more to extend such activities, but sadly, as one of the Youthbuild UK sponsors at the event pointed out, the scope for taking on more young people and extending those training opportunities that have proved so successful is severely limited in the present climate. In particular, he highlighted the loss of the future jobs fund, which has been a major source of opportunities for such people. There are therefore important lessons for the Government to learn from this.
We must also improve opportunities for young people under 18 through youth and sports clubs, so that they can get involved in constructive and healthy activities, rather than possibly being sucked into the fringes of gangs and criminal groupings. Earlier today, I spoke to Councillor Jackie Smith, cabinet member for children and young people in the London borough of Greenwich. She emphasised that the council is seeking to maintain youth services in Greenwich against the background of deep cuts in its budget.
The importance of that issue cannot be over-emphasised, and one point that I want to make in conclusion really reinforces it. Today, I spoke to Naomi Goldberg, who runs Greenwich Action for Voluntary Services, the co-ordinating body for the voluntary sector in Greenwich. It recently conducted a survey among voluntary organisations in the borough, which highlighted a stark difference between organisations working with young people and other voluntary groups in their perception of their relations with the police.
Twenty years ago, the borough had a serious problem with racist crime, which culminated in the killing of Stephen Lawrence. It has been a long, hard fight to improve community relations and relations between the police and ethnic minority groups, but there has generally been significant progress. Relations between adult groupings and the police are generally much better, but as Naomi Goldberg told me today, there is no such confidence among organisations working with young people.
The hon. Member for Croydon Central made the point, which I strongly reinforce, that if we allow young people and the organisations working with them to continue to feel that they do not have a constructive relationship with the police, we will store up all sorts of problems for ourselves. Against the generally positive background of improvements in relations between the police and the community, that is a stark reminder of the importance of tackling this issue, and I hope that the review of the riots being conducted by the Metropolitan police will pay attention to it.
We all have lessons to learn from the rioting in early August. I hope that the debate continues to reflect the wide-ranging experience of different Members and is informed by real understanding of the causes of, and the factors behind, the riots, rather than by some of the rather over-simplistic rhetoric that we heard in the immediate aftermath. If so, I hope we can really tease out the lessons to be learned and ensure that there is a constructive response.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing the debate. When we compare the contributions so far with the debate in August, it is clear that they reflect a different mood and the thought that has gone into the issue since the riots.
I am conscious of the time, so let me briefly profile the two evenings we experienced in Enfield. I was fortunate—that might sound odd—to witness first hand much of what happened on the first evening. The damage on the Sunday—the first so-called copycat riot—essentially affected the main high street in Enfield town. We should have a clear understanding of what the borough of Enfield is like, because it is not, in its entirety, a typical old-fashioned suburban area. Indeed, some wards have the highest levels of deprivation in Europe. Equally, and strangely, however, many of the incidents took place in the market town area of Enfield town, which is regarded as more prosperous. The high street was completely damaged, and we lost many of the retail stores that one would usually expect to see, including, sadly, a department store that had been trading in the area for more than 35 years, which had its whole frontage damaged.
The arrest data originally pointed to a 50:50 ratio between people from inside and outside the borough. I am, however, conscious of the need not to mislead Parliament, and I should say that this is still a moving picture. Indications suggest that the ratio between people from inside and outside the borough is more like 60:40. However, it is an interesting dynamic, and perhaps the most notable journey undertaken by someone who came for the riots was from Twickenham, which is, of course, on the other side of London.
The youth and adult data are becoming particularly prominent in our discussions. Based on the arrest records, it looks as if about 22% of the offenders who were arrested in Enfield were under 18, but I will say more about that later, if I may.
On the cost, there was not just the immediate cost of the damage. Parts of the borough, which saw riots early on, on the Sunday, closed down early for the following 10 days out of a fear of repeat damage. That meant that traders experienced an extended period of lost business. However, the biggest damage was to our reputation in Enfield. The one thing many people will not forget is the damage to the 250,000 square feet Sony warehouse in the north-east of the borough, which burned for more than a week after the riots. Sadly, that has put at risk up to 250 jobs.
The good news is that the community response to the riots has been nothing short of spectacular. In my discussions with Sony, it has demonstrated a genuine commitment to try to stay in the local area, using its skilled work force. Given the crisis management that it would have needed after the riots, that demonstrates a remarkable leap of good faith, and we hope that it will be successful in its plans to stay.
As regards what we saw on the streets of Enfield, I was enormously impressed by the response from the community. Enfield actually opened for business while riots were still going on in other parts of the country. As a result, community cohesion benefited. I was enormously impressed with the community’s leaders, who came together to work with and support the police in the aftermath of the riots. The general relationship between the police and the public, who were very much in evidence in the morning following the riots, has proved a real bonus to the town.
I should draw attention to access to finance, and I have a question for the Minister. Can we have an update on how much finance victims of the riots, including the businesses that suffered, have accessed? The proportion of victims in Enfield who have accessed finance is currently extremely low. Our neighbourhood and business community showed grim determination in getting on with things and opening as quickly as possible, although I accept that, aside from what we saw at Sony, the damage we suffered was nothing like that suffered in the constituencies of Members representing Croydon. However, it would be useful to know where we are on access to finance.
I may be agreeing with the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), and I hope that will not embarrass him. I have shifted my opinion slightly. I was firmly in the camp that saw these events as pure criminal behaviour, and I hope Members will understand why. Anyone who stood with residents on the streets and witnessed gangs of marauding thugs trashing the town and people’s gardens before jumping into their souped-up cars clutching their loot to drive away and cause more damage elsewhere would understand people’s intense anger. I shared that anger, and I believed that what we had seen was nothing less than pure criminal behaviour, but I accept that, when one looks at these things in context, there are other issues to address. Indeed, I will be happy to address them shortly and, I assure Members, briefly.
In my discussions with the police, we identified three types of rioters. There was the G8 rioter—the person who was, as far as we could tell, probably behind much of the social media organisation. They came simply to trash the corporate stores and lay waste to businesses, however small or large. The police tell me that there was also an element who were simply there for a fight with them, and that is what sparked the serious events, such as the overturning of a public disorder van carrying a number of police—actually, they did not quite overturn it, but they certainly trashed it. Then there were the looters. However, among those were many people who were caught up simply because they were present. Gracia McGrath, the chief executive of an early intervention charity, Chance UK, said:
“Let me put it in context. If you are 10 or 11 years old, and you go out on the streets not knowing whether or not to join it, and you see adults, some of whom you know (mothers, learning assistants and postmen have been amongst the people arrested so far) setting fire to property, looting and throwing stones at the police, why would you think it was wrong?”
I thought about that comment, and I think there is significant truth in it. Young people who were involved were initially entirely demonised but, considering the context of what they witnessed being done by so-called responsible adults, I have tempered my views, and I believe that we have much more work to do in early intervention programmes to secure the future for some younger children than I first thought. I acknowledge that.
Nevertheless, hon. Members will understand that I welcome the stiff penalties that were given. There is no question in my mind but that anything less would have been an invitation to do more of the same. I accept the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) that it is entirely up to the courts to undertake the sentencing process. If hon. Members feel that some sentences were extreme, the due process of appeal will deal with that. It is not for politicians or others to interfere.
I am a school governor and have seen that there are children who have a family background that would not be recognised by anyone in this Chamber as a family. I have become acutely aware of the link between such backgrounds and the growing trend for youngsters to get engaged in gangs. It does not surprise me that there is evidence to suggest that some co-ordination, rioting and looting happened in areas affected by gangs. At the moment, gangs will sometimes look to primary school children who have no sense of order, boundaries or discipline in their homes—such as they are. The gangs offer an alternative environment for them. The work that the Government are now focused on, to deal with gangs in early intervention programmes, will bring major, significant improvements to our country in the next few years.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interesting and thoughtful analysis of some of the root causes of the summer riots. We were grateful that there were no riots in my constituency, but I urge hon. Members not to forget that many of the factors identified as underlying causes of riots are still present in places that did not riot. Early intervention and other programmes should be considered on a nationwide basis, and not simply in reaction to events.
I thank the hon. Lady; it is all too easy to focus on areas where there were riots, and not to recognise that there may be issues elsewhere.
I welcome the work of Enfield council, where a cross-party team has been put together to try, essentially, to answer the question “Why Enfield?” Why was Enfield one of the areas hit by riots? Why did the participants choose to riot, and what was the make-up of the group of rioters? The youth offending service is undertaking excellent work with those who have offended, by talking to them and asking them those simple questions—not remotely or on paper, but in one-to-one interviews. That information will be made available to the Enfield council cross-party group, which I am sure is looking forward to seeing it.
I still think we must be patient to understand fully what went on. There was tremendous unwanted and criminal behaviour, which should have been punished. The context—and I welcome the tone of today’s debate—is that we are right to examine a little deeper the causes of what happened.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for initiating the debate, and for the manner in which he made his remarks. I, too, agree with most, though not all, of what he said, and I am sure that that does not embarrass him. It is a good thing that the House can come to some agreement about the issues.
I hope that hon. Members will recognise that for the constituency of Tottenham this has been the most disturbing of summers, and I want to make my remarks in the context of what the riots mean for our country as a whole. For any constituency to experience two riots within a generation is a major tragedy—not just for that constituency, but for the country. When I was 13, I was growing up yards from the Broadwater Farm estate, and for me it has been poignant and stressful to represent the constituency 25 years later. I know what it is for someone to grow up in Tottenham, and to fill in double the number of application forms, because they must fill in the N17 or N15 postcode and are worried that they will not get an interview as they are from Tottenham. A huge stigma attached to my constituency for many years. Indeed, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) ran against me when I was first selected for the constituency and she will recall that in 2000 that stigma remained.
I think that, despite much deprivation and poverty, before August this year most people, when they thought of Tottenham, thought of the football club and whether it was staying or going, not of the riots, so it is particularly tragic for the constituency that they happened. Many people have asked me whether things have changed and are moving on. Of course, there is tremendous resilience in the people of Tottenham. I might say, as a son of Tottenham, that there is tremendous resilience in me. However, there is obviously deep frustration, anger and fury that the riots should have happened. It is right to express my constituents’ concern that the riots might not have needed to happen, which brings me to the incident that started the summer of unrest—the death of Mark Duggan in the Tottenham Hale area of my constituency.
If there has been any success in policing in our country, and in most developed countries, in the past 20 to 25 years—this is a matter beyond party allegiance—it has been down to the innovations behind community and neighbourhood policing. I am proud of my party’s record in bringing that forward, but it is something that, across political parties, we cherish and want to encourage.
The real tragedy of what happened at the beginning of August was a total breakdown, it seems to me, in community policing. We had an Operation Trident incident that the local police did not know about. A young man lost his life, and his family found out about it on television. All of us who are parents know that there is that fear—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Before the Division, I was talking about community policing—its successes, but also a breakdown that I think happened in this case. A Trident operation was taking place in Tottenham Hale in my constituency. It is not clear at this stage what that operation was about or why it chose to enter into what led to firearms being discharged in a busy traffic area at the height of commuter time on the Thursday evening before the riots.
I am deeply concerned that many London MPs—indeed, MPs across the country—have got used to a scenario in which they tend to be more comfortable with local police with local intelligence and connections. However, if police come into their area for any kind of operation, they are far more nervous. Often, when things do not go according to plan, that involves officers coming into the area. In looking at the matter—I know that there are several inquiries—we need to reflect on how operations beyond a local area can use local knowledge and intelligence. I do not know the circumstances of the operation or why it took place, but clearly it led to the death of Mark Duggan.
I accept some of the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman has put into mind. We all appreciate in London that community policing needs to be by consent, and there were clearly issues in the case. However, another aspect of communication was lacking in the Tottenham case, something he might come on to.
A deep concern for many of us present is that, almost at a mendacious level, the Metropolitan police, through its communications department, put out only part of the story. The rumour that went round was that there had been an exchange of fire, which clearly was not the case. If that had been an isolated incident, we might have put it to one side, but as we all know, there were similar issues regarding the death of Jean Charles de Menezes on 22 July 2005. That is a deep concern, beyond the usual suspects of those who might be concerned about police behaviour. There is a sense that, all too often, the police try to get across a communication with a spin approach in relation to activities in which tragic deaths occur. That all too often begins to unravel rapidly, with the terrible results that we saw in August.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. With great sadness, I say that, for the first time in many years, there is a strong sense of “them and us” in communities such as the one I represent. It seems that the Metropolitan police is unable not to close ranks or not see briefings on a particular incident filter out before the facts have been properly and independently assessed. Of course, for those who were looking on at the incident—this was in a place with busy traffic, and many people were in the local area—the account that they picked up in the initial radio and television broadcasts and the papers the next day did not accord with what they themselves had seen. Immediately, in the hours that followed, there was a trust deficit and a breakdown of the sense of policing by consent, whereby the community and the police work side by side and recognise that, in any organisation, things can and do go wrong, and individuals can make the wrong judgment. Of course, I do not pass judgment on what happened.
Then we had the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has sought to apologise for its press office briefing in which it was said that Mark Duggan had fired a gun. It turned out that that statement was wholly premature and wholly untrue. My community needs to believe in the IPCC after the catastrophe that was the Police Complaints Authority. Mistakes such as that statement are catastrophic for that trust.
All of us who are parents know that feeling when our children leave the house: we have this paranoid sense that something is going to go wrong and we think: “They are not going to come back. Somebody is going to knock on my door.” Every parent who experiences the death of a child deserves a better service. The fact that things did not happen in the appropriate way is surely something that shames us all. This family found themselves stuck in the middle. The local police say, “It is not our responsibility. We have to back off now.” The national organisation says, “Is this our responsibility? Are we meant to do this?” The following day, after the liaison has not gone appropriately, people find out from the television what has happened, and rumours begin to circulate because of a disjunction between what communities saw and what is being briefed and said. There is a peaceful protest outside the police station, which is not unusual in the context of my constituency and other constituencies in London when someone dies following police contact. The appropriate senior officer is not there. It takes some time to get someone there, then answers are not forthcoming in the way the family expect and want. We know what happens as a consequence.
The Metropolitan police understand that there must be an inquiry on the matter to see what led up to the riots. The IPCC is also inquiring into those initial few hours and what role they played. The consequence of the actions has been huge.
I, too, have sat with the deputy borough commander and looked at the footage of what took place in Tottenham on that night—that was at my request. The scenes that I saw were some of the most depressing I have ever witnessed. I have sat with families who have been victims of knife crimes and I have done some inquest cases that involved some horrific things, but the scenes that I saw were depressing. I expected to see anger and frustration on the faces of some of those who were attacking Tottenham high road, but instead I saw joy and happiness. That is why it was so depressing.
I was categorical in my condemnation of what we saw in Tottenham on that Saturday night and Sunday morning. There can be no excuse whatever for the large-scale arson that we saw in London. The fact that no one is dead as a consequence is truly amazing. We saw 56 properties burn to the ground and 50 families lost their homes and all their possessions. Young children are still experiencing nightmares as a consequence of what happened and independent shopkeepers, the vast majority of whom have migrated to this country, again face financial ruin as a consequence of riots. That is totally unacceptable. People who get up every single day to go to work had their businesses burned to the ground. I caution those who rush to make excuses for this kind of behaviour because it is wholly unacceptable and we must remain firm on the choice that people have to make.
We had a debate earlier this week about some of the underlying causes of gun violence. I remember a difficult period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when young people such as me had a choice about whether to get caught up with the mob. I made my choice back then and I stand by it now. I will not, 25 years later, change my mind about the difference between right and wrong when it leads to such loss for ordinary, decent, hard-working people. The attack on the community and the police was ferocious. I saw scenes on the video that looked a bit like Grand Theft Auto. Young people were lining up trolleys to barricade themselves away from the police. Extinguishers were thrown at the police and a gun was pulled on them. We saw people casually setting fire to buildings.
When I was rung by the police on the Saturday evening and told that a car was burning outside the police station, my first response was to wonder why the car was left in the way that it was by the police. I then hoped that the fire would be put out quickly. A second car was set on fire, then a bus was set alight. I wondered why the initial policing was not there, because Spurs were playing and there was a huge police presence in the area.
What took place across the rest of the country in the days ahead was mirrored in the London borough of Haringey. The Tottenham retail park was looted for hours and no police were present. When the manager of Comet showed me the photographs and the CCTV footage of what took place, it was clear that there were more people in his shop that night than are ever there during the day. Although the lights were off, it was like Christmas day because the lights from people’s mobile phones could be seen. People were looking for goods and helping themselves. The place had nothing left in it by morning, and that is one of the biggest and most successful Comets in the country. We do not need to talk about JD Sports; that had the same image in the Tottenham retail area. Wood Green, one of our important shopping areas in north London, was totally ransacked for hours and hours.
What happens when good, hard-working people who live in those areas see no policing? Bad news is the consequence. Young teenagers who may never have been involved with the police get caught up. The same is true of those who are in their 20s, which was the profile of many of those who were arrested. This cannot be the formula for proper policing by consent. As MP for Tottenham, I understand the consequences and issues of that night. I have to raise million of pounds to regenerate the area. Who will provide that money?
I am pleased, of course, that the Mayor of London has allocated initial funds for the riot area, but the irony is that the two areas of London that were bidding to become enterprise zones were Croydon and Tottenham. The reason that we spent most of last year fighting each other to get an enterprise zone, and demanding of the Mayor that we get one, is that the scale of regeneration necessary in Tottenham, even before the riots, was on a par with that in other parts of the country that have seen far greater regeneration. I am talking about Salford and parts of Manchester, parts of Birmingham and the Olympic area. Tottenham will need a far bigger story than the neighbourhood renewal that is being proposed. I believe that the community in Tottenham deserves that regeneration. We need jobs. I need the other half of the BBC. I need some major back-office Departments or quangos. Tottenham deserves that, Edmonton deserves it and the wider north-east London area deserves it. I hope that the community will now get it.
[Katy Clark in the Chair]
There has been some suggestion that if Spurs stay in the local area and renew their ground, that will be enough. Of course it will not be enough. I want Spurs to stay in the area, but a football club cannot possibly be the anchor of regeneration in an area that is struggling so much, such as Tottenham. There are big questions about the policing, and therefore about what the regeneration response will be as a result of the damage that was caused.
I want to raise a couple of other issues in relation to the broader issue of policing with consent. The first is that I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to police with consent if the police do not reflect and look like the community that they serve. I hope that hon. Members will understand that I am not talking now in a sort of old-fashioned, socialist, equal opportunity kind of way. I am talking about pragmatic policing and how to police a busy urban area. It cannot be acceptable that, despite the advances that have been made, we have 32,441 police officers in the Met and only 867 of them are from a black or black British background. Just 4.7% of the police officers in the country are from ethnic minorities.
We all know London and we all recognise that there are boroughs in London, such as my own, where more than half the people in the community are from an ethnic minority background. If we are not to walk down the road that America has walked down—with armed police—and if we are to maintain our model of policing with consent, what does that consent really feel and look like? And how can we accelerate this process? It will take a lot more than good will and fine rhetoric. It will take some serious, positive action to get a move on with the kind of numbers that we now need if we are to protect the integrity of a police force that does not routinely carry guns.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. It might surprise him to know that a lot of police officers—maybe even the vast majority—would thoroughly agree with him on that point and would desperately like to see black and Asian members of the police force, as I would myself, but some of the responsibility lies not with the police, who have thrown open their arms and said that they want this change, but with leading and influential members of the black community in parts of London. We need to encourage them to go out and say, “The police force would welcome your application and it really wants you to join,” because that is the reality. The police feel that they are not getting support from those influential members of the black community. I hope that we will get it soon.
This debate is rather circular, because the hon. Gentleman will understand that the kind of summer that we have had and the run-up to it have not done a great deal to encourage the very young people I need to join the police force to go out and do so. Nevertheless, I lay bare the scale of the problem.
Many of us here today will have landed in cities in America, looked at the police force and the local community, and thought, “Wow! I wish we had that here!” If it can be done on the streets of New York, it can be done here. That is what we need to learn from Bill Bratton, who has come to town. The same thing must be done here or I am afraid that our whole policing model will become very hard to maintain.
I agree entirely with the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. However, in relation to New York, does he know whether there is evidence that the better representation of black and minority ethnic communities, for instance in the police force, automatically leads to more effective policing by consent?
Of course, serious issues remain for all police forces, particularly those policing urban areas, but at the heart of the discussion, as other hon. Members have said, is trust. I was a very young man and lawyer when the first round of debate about stop and search happened, and here we are—25 years later—still having that same debate. When will we put it to one side?
Let us look at the figures. Young black people are stopped and searched at seven times the rate of young white people, and some are stopped at 27 times the rate of young white people, particularly where there is a section 60 order in place. There is a section 60 order in place in my constituency. That issue is very real. I am not suggesting that we should abandon stop and search. It seems to me that those who argue for the abandonment of stop and search need to stop and think. The No. 1 issue that young people are raising in London is knife crime, and against that backdrop of course we must have stop and search. It is patently obvious that to keep young people feeling safe on their way to and from school, we must stop and search, but we must do it intelligently and with a police force that the broader community trusts. That is why the figures that I have cited in relation to the ethnic minority profile of the police are so crucial.
In addition, I am hugely critical of the decision effectively to downgrade stop and account, and stop and search. I still believe that when a police officer stops and searches someone, they should put down the name of the person that they stopped and they should certainly put down whether there has been any injury or damage as a consequence. I sat on the delegated legislation Committee dealing with the changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code and stop and search, and I listened to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice make arguments about bureaucracy, but I say to the Government that those are precisely the issues that undercut trust in the fact that stop and search can be done intelligently. That is leading to real antagonism among young men, particularly young black men in London.
I have been stopped and searched. I was stopped and searched during the last general election.
Wasn’t your rosette a giveaway? [Laughter.]
I was not wearing my rosette on that occasion; I had taken it off. I was stopped and searched. I was not happy about it, but I understood. Obviously, I opened my mouth to speak, although I did not say who I was because I wanted to see how it would pan out, and it was okay.
Stop and search is a reality of communities such as mine, but it must be done with trust. I am also concerned about the officers who are doing it. If we are to have a Met, I want young people—I do not care what their colour is, actually—who have grown up on the streets of Hackney, Peckham, Camberwell, Tottenham and Kensal Rise in our police force. I do not want a police force that effectively consists of young men and women who have grown up anywhere but in London. I must say that too many officers come from far-flung areas, which means that the relationship-building process with communities is problematic.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what is wrong is not the policy per se, but a lack of empathy and understanding on the part of young people of what it is like to be a police officer and to have to approach a group of young people and stop them? More importantly, as he says, there is a lack of understanding among police officers who are not local to a community about what it is like to be someone who is stopped every time they go out at the weekend and to see a lack of respect in the way that that is done? The problem is not the policy per se, but the way it is being applied.
The hon. Gentleman puts his point well. In a civilised country, a burden always lies on the majority, and some of what we say in such a country relates to how the minority are treated. I have met young men—good young men—at university. I asked two young men who run the youth group at my local church whether they had been stopped and searched. One had had a good experience; the other had had several experiences that were not so good and had left him embarrassed and demoralised in relation to his local community. The differentiation that one needs to make in a complex, multi-layered, multicultural, multiracial London of subcultures takes local knowledge and understanding, and we need to face up to that truth.
There are questions about why the rioting took place on the scale that it did, against the backdrop of 460 people having died as a result of police contact since the IPCC was set up and not one police officer having been convicted. I ask hon. Members to think about those statistics and about why a community such as mine finds it extraordinary that, following Mark Duggan’s death in August, measures were not put in place to anticipate the worst, given current levels of unemployment and the fact that too many young people were out on the streets with nothing to do.
It is important that I qualify my use of “young people”. When I speak to my secondary schools, not one of their young people has been arrested, and when I look at the profile of arrests, there is a tiny proportion of under-18s.
When someone gets well into their 20s, I believe that they account for their own behaviour, so the caricaturing of young people that I saw this summer and some of rhetoric about race made me deeply ashamed to be part of this country. It was so sad to see us slip back to the sort of discourse we saw in the 1980s. I was disappointed that major national shows such as “Newsnight” could get their presentation of the issues so badly wrong. Let me say in this House to David Starkey, “How do I sound? I sound English because I am English, thank you very much.” For one of our historians to be allowed to question me in the way that he did was a disgrace, and it undermines the importance of the debate and the 20,000 young people sitting at home in my constituency, wanting to do what is best, but worried and anxious about what is going on. It is for those young people that I hope we all play our part in properly regenerating Tottenham, ensuring that there are opportunities and a growth strategy. We cannot have a constituency with the highest unemployment in London left to sink when bankers and others are bailed out.
The previous Chair asked Members to keep their contributions brief. The Member who has just spoken took more than 30 minutes, so I, too, ask Members to speak for a shorter time.
I will endeavour to follow your strictures, Ms Clark.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing this important debate, and I want to say that it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who so effectively articulates his community’s frustrations about what happened there.
I wish to use this opportunity to again express my condolences to all those who lost loved ones in the rioting. The rioters’ behaviour was unacceptable and without justification, much of it driven by gratification, or greed—the right hon. Member for Tottenham said that he saw smiling faces during the events. Much of the rioting was conducted with total disregard for people’s safety. I had the chance to visit Croydon shortly afterwards, and the arsonists there clearly had no regard whatever for the people living above the shops to which they chose to set fire. They had absolutely no idea whether people were in the flats, and I hope that they are severely dealt with.
I commend the performance of individual officers and of the emergency services generally. I am sure that Members will have received briefings from a range of organisations. The Local Government Association briefing refers to the London fire brigade’s receiving nearly 2,200 calls from the Monday to the Tuesday of the riots, which was about 15 times its usual rate. The fire brigade had to attend fires in many places around London; the clear intention of the arsonists was to draw the brigade in, with the police to back it up, so that they could then move on to commit their crimes elsewhere.
I commend also the work of local authorities, many of which responded immediately and were able to clear up the damage to such an extent that people walking through the streets the following morning were not so aware of what happened the night before and, finally, I commend my local police. My borough commander, who is about one year from retirement, never expected to be leading a baton charge down Sutton’s High street. He effectively dispelled those who intended to cause trouble in our town centre.
Many aspects of what happened rightly need to be subjected to scrutiny. The right hon. Member for Tottenham mentioned the initial incident involving Mark Duggan and its handling by the Metropolitan Police Service and the IPCC. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to say more about that incident because it is under investigation, but one aspect of it that distresses me is that there does not seem to have been a great appreciation of the history in Tottenham. That history seems to have escaped many of the parties that one would have thought would have been aware of it and more sensitive to the need to deal with the matter very carefully.
The availability of officers with level 2 public order training needs to be looked into. In London, just four groups of 18 officers are trained to deal with this type of incident. The Met also needs to look at scenario planning. It was clear that the service was not set up to deal with this number of incidents, or with this scale of disturbance. I am sure that lessons will be learnt about how it can ramp up the number of officers much more quickly. I say that with the benefit of hindsight. I do not think that the Met or anyone else could have anticipated what would happen on that first night and in the days that followed.
There are also lessons to be learnt about gangs. Perhaps I was guilty at the beginning of saying that there was heavy gang involvement; the figures suggest that it was only 13%. Perhaps the G8 anarchists were the main instigators, but we will find that out only later. Perhaps they were involved in, or responsible for, the most serious violence.
I welcome the Government response as it stands, with the £20 million allocated by the Department for Communities and Local Government to help recovery and regeneration. I know, having seen the impact in Croydon and reflected on how many different parties will have to agree to work together quickly and effectively, including the local authorities, the insurance companies and businesses affected, that great commitment and co-operation will be required. If that work does not happen quickly, some people will walk away from their businesses, particularly those who have costs. I was talking to a dry cleaner who said that £70,000 was needed simply to buy the equipment again, so swift action is needed.
On the criminal justice response, I have written to the Secretary of State for Justice to see what lessons were learnt about how the courts responded. They responded quickly, but there have been concerns that they did not get the information they needed, such as probation reports. Was that the case? There may be lessons to be learnt about courts operating overnight, although, as I understand it, magistrates who are volunteers may not be enthusiastic about the prospect of working through the night as a matter of course.
On the criminal justice response, as I have stated already, serious crimes were committed and they will receive serious sentences. The riots were an aggravating factor but, in my view, some of the sentences were still disproportionate. Members will know the case of Ursula Nevin, a mother of two children, who was sentenced to five months in prison for handling stolen goods, although she was not personally involved in the riots. The appeal judge in that case clearly felt that the sentence was disproportionate, the aggravating factor of the riots notwithstanding. One consequence, according to UNICEF, is that the child prison population has risen by 8% since the riots, which is of concern to us all. Of those charged, 65% were remanded in custody, whereas normally only about 10% are.
An opportunity was missed to use restorative justice as part of the rehabilitation revolution. It would have been an appropriate response to force low-level offenders to sit down with victims, if the victims wanted it, in order to apologise and make reparations for what they did. Restorative justice is effective. Home Office research shows that it leads to a 14% reduction in reoffending, which we all want. It could also have been an opportunity for intensive community sentences. Projects were set up under the previous Government, and I hope that they will be evaluated, as I believe that they will prove at least 10% more effective than short-term prison sentences in reducing reoffending. Again, if we are serious about reducing reoffending and reducing the number of victims in the longer term, we must consider such measures.
On restorative justice and community sentences, in the words of the chief inspector of prisons, it stands to reason that someone paying back to the community on a supervised scheme, and someone who has to pay bills and behave responsibly, is more likely to go straight than someone locked up and sleeping through their sentence. The Government intend, rightly, to ensure that prisoners cannot sleep through their sentence and are encouraging work in prisons, but that is a long-term ambition on which we are working.
On the local authority response, I thought that today’s debate would involve a stronger push for eviction of tenants and withdrawal of benefits. Some speakers, particularly one speaker who may come after me, may push that agenda, but we will see. On the eviction of tenants, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) rightly pointed out that some anomalies will be involved. One anomaly that he did not mention is that, if a private owner-occupier was involved in the riots, they cannot be evicted from their property, so distinguishing between tenants and private owners is a challenge. Also, there are problems associated with evicting tenants for offences committed in their area but not tenants who committed offences in other areas.
I suspect that most of that would fall foul of human rights legislation, which will not be removed from the statute book any time soon. However, there is a fundamental distinction between a private tenant and a tenant of a local authority, in terms of the responsibility that a local authority has to act on behalf of all local residents. Although I accept the grave concerns expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), do they not see that the community out there feel strongly that lessons must be learnt? If we do not use a range of different tools to make it clear how much the incidents have distressed the community, the perpetrators will be seen to have got away with it.
I agree that the community wants to see lessons learnt and appropriate action taken. At the same time, I hope that the community feels that it was disproportionate for Wandsworth council, for instance, to proceed with the eviction of an 18-year-old—I will not mention his name, because I do not feel it appropriate—his mother and eight-year-old sister from their home in Battersea. That was a disproportionate response to the sins of the 18-year-old, who said:
“It’s not that I regret anything”—
personally, I think that he should regret a lot—
“but I am appalled that they’ve put”
“in this position because of me. She has nothing to do with this. These are the consequences of my actions, not hers.”
I agree entirely with the latter half of that quote.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way once more, and then I must conclude.
I do not wholly disagree with the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, but if that 18-year-old repeatedly behaved antisocially in the area where he lived, surely the tenancy agreement into which his parent entered would state that that could be grounds for eviction? Ignoring the whole business of the riots, when one person in a family continually behaves in an antisocial fashion, that is clearly legitimate grounds for removing that family from their tenancy. On involvement in the riots, the key point, as I hope all Members can agree, is proportionality and whether the involvement was in the locality. If both those tests are met, that is reasonable grounds.
It is about proportionality. We must all decide where the line in the sand must be drawn, but I add that the rest of the family were apparently involved in the local church and in volunteer groups. We all know from personal experience that sometimes it is necessary to take action against whole, dysfunctional families, but equally, in some families, one individual is completely out of control while the remainder of the family do their best to ensure that that individual does not act in that way.
We discussed youth services at some length during the debate earlier this week on gangs. The Government have a responsibility. Undoubtedly, we have decided to reduce budgets for local authorities, but equally, local authorities cannot hide behind that entirely when it comes to some of the decisions taken to withdraw excessively large percentages, or indeed all, of the funding available for youth services. Local authorities can exercise some degree of prioritisation, although I acknowledge that they must do so within a more restricted funding envelope.
It is also important for Government to ensure that the justice system treats children differently. It is important, even if we abolish the Youth Justice Board, that the justice system should still recognise that children are different and should be treated differently.
I will call for the winding-up speeches to begin at 5.15.
It is the first time that I have spoken under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. Welcome to the Chair.
We have had an interesting debate. I intend to be brief, so I will skip over some of my comments rather than repeat the contributions of others. I echo other Members in supporting the comments made by the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), particularly about not demonising young people. I found it hard to disagree with nearly everything that he said, but I am angry that the Secretary of State for Justice has spoken about feral children and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has spoken about ghettoes. That is a slur on my constituency and many others, and on many of my friends and neighbours and the friends of my children. I hope that the measured comments made by the hon. Member for Croydon Central and most colleagues here are more reflective of the reality of the Government’s thinking than the knee-jerk reactions to media headlines.
We need to be aware of stereotypes. The pictures and the arrest record—I have seen the pictures myself, as have other Members—show that a number of older people wearing work clothes were involved in looting. There is still work to be done. We are analysing the figures in Hackney to see exactly who was involved—the figure keeps changing, so I will not quote anything now. CCTV has been instrumental in solving this, and I am pleased to hear a strong feeling from all parties in the House that CCTV is here to stay and has a role to play. When people talk about civil liberties, I simply ask whose civil liberties they mean. My constituents want more, not less.
The majority of those involved in Hackney—on Clarence road and the Narrow way, which is in the heart of my constituency and was at the heart of the troubles—were over 18 years old. About 16 businesses were very badly damaged. We were very fortunate that we did not suffer the same problems as Croydon and Tottenham. That was largely down to the very good work of the fire service, which sat in our excellent CCTV centre and ensured that any dangerous fires were dealt with quickly and that others were allowed to burn out. That was really important and shows that, with good co-operation across the emergency services, some of the worst aspects that hit other places can sometimes be prevented.
I agree that race has been subject to an unfortunate stereotype. I echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The comments of illustrious academics and the way in which they were made on “Newsnight” were very unhelpful, have caused great ill feeling in my constituency, and do not reflect the general people whom I represent, whatever their colour or background.
I know that the Minister does not represent the Home Office, but he is a representative of Her Majesty’s Government, so I point out to him that they need to look at the issue of police numbers. Surely it is time to rethink. We had issues about the number of police available in Hackney on the night of 8 August. They were able to hold a line but no more. The fact that it took two to arrest people meant that it was impossible to do the arrests while maintaining the line and preventing further damage and looting to property in my borough. That meant that people such as Siva Khandian, a shopkeeper whom many will have seen pictured in newspapers, had his shop completely ransacked and looted. Others suffered similarly. Residents in Clapton square were scared stiff because cars were burning outside their homes. I do not blame the police, but it meant that there were real challenges. If this is a time for cross-party consensus, we should pause for thought and look at the numbers of police available in London. I join the Mayor of London, with whom I agree on this occasion, in saying that we need seriously to make sure that we have the policing numbers available to tackle such problems and, crucially, to deal with our ongoing community issues.
I want to touch on the issue of stop and search. I do not have time to develop my arguments, because many other Members wish to speak. My right hon. Friend raised some interesting points. I, too, am not against stop and search, but I think that attitude is an issue—the attitude of the police, in terms of courtesy and respect as they carry out a stop and search, as well as the attitude of those who are stopped and searched. I hear strong views from young people and their parents, who feel aggrieved that their children and they themselves are stopped frequently. There are also young people who tell me, “I’m glad that I was stopped, because I know that a person carrying a knife or a gun will also be stopped.” In Hackney, when there have been serious complaints about officers and they have been identified, some have been dismissed from the service of the Metropolitan police because of their attitude during stop and search. The Metropolitan police need to publicise that more. I urge the Minister to take that back to his colleagues at the Home Office, because parents and young people come to me so often to raise their concerns and it is difficult to pinpoint what action to take. I am not pinpointing individuals—I am sure that there are confidentiality issues—but it is important to say that the police have standards and where they have the evidence they will act and remove bad apples from the cart.
It is also important that the community makes complaints that are specific and not generalisations. I am sure that many Members have attended meetings in which people rail against the police in general terms. When I and others, including police officers who are present, ask them for specifics, they respond with nothing. As a Member of Parliament, I need those specifics—I am happy to be a third-party reporting body and pass them on, and I do when I get them—but I rarely get them. They are important.
We are short of time, so I will ask some particulars of the Minister. The Riots Communities and Victims Panel is visiting a number of areas in which riots took place, but, as I understand it, Darra Singh and his team do not, at present, intend to visit Hackney. Why is that? I do not necessarily expect an answer, but will the Minister at least write to me to explain why that is the case? We could then look at getting Darra Singh and his team to visit, which would be helpful, because I think there are lessons that we can pass on to other areas.
The Home Office has agreed to meet me, as the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch. I am concerned that, due to personnel changes in the ministerial team, that agreement has slipped. The Government report on this issue and gangs in particular is due out at the end of this month, but we are already halfway through it. I hope that the Minister will take that concern back to his Home Office colleagues.
Has a Communities and Local Government Minister met with key groups in Hackney that are doing interesting work? The trading places scheme is funded by the council through the Crib youth group, led ably by Janette Collins and her colleagues. It gets young people to trade places with key professionals, including police officers, to do exactly what I think the hon. Member for Croydon Central suggested—getting people to understand each other’s points of view. That is proving successful and lessons could be learned for other areas. It is important that it is looked at and replicated, if necessary.
On evictions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) talked about knee-jerk reactions, about which we must be wary. Evicting people because of riot involvement sounds easy, but we need to beware the law of unintended consequences. Let me be clear: those involved in these riots deserve punishment. My constituents are clear about that, too. However, at two recent Clapton conferences in my constituency Hackney residents demonstrated a real understanding of the complexities of the situation. They were talking about wider issues than the riots alone, but they recognised that, in some cases, antisocial behaviour, particularly by the youngest, is a result of chaotic family backgrounds and situations. Under the proposals that some have made, those differences would not be highlighted and people could be evicted and more problems created as a result. Where do these people go? Will they be put into the private sector, unable to pay and keep up with rent? What would that do to other members of the household?
Hackney council supports the same tough approach as I do to crime and antisocial behaviour. Prior to the events of 8 August, it had already begun a wider review of tenancy agreements that included possible changes to conditions relating to antisocial behaviour, gang activity, domestic violence and irresponsible dog ownership. The council is also discussing similar proposals with other large landlords in Hackney. The issue, however, is more legally challenging than it is made out to be. I do not have time to go into that, but a legal definition of “locality,” for instance, limits what can be done. I am all for eviction, where necessary, under the current tenancy agreement, but to say that people should be evicted just because of the riots is an issue that needs to be addressed. Issues relating to home owners versus tenants are also important. We all also need to bear in mind the many intergenerational households in my constituency and elsewhere as a result of the shortage of family homes. That could mean three generations of a family being put out with nowhere to go.
In a debate yesterday, I talked about the impact on young people of the cuts to education maintenance allowance and so on, so I will not go into that, but it is worth highlighting some good news stories and how the community rallied around. Residents raised more than £20,000 for Siva Khandian, who owned the convenience store in Clarence road that he saw his neighbours looting. Street sweepers worked through the night, clearing up as the riots continued around them. Council officers put in extra unpaid hours, to support businesses in particular. Police slept in the corridors of the police station, because it was not worth their while to go home—they wanted to be there and cancelled their leave. Residents came to clean up the next day. Residents and businesses joined forces for a street party in Clarence road on 15 August. Jamie Cowen, the managing director of Your Square Mile, contacted me and said that he has some money that he wants to make sure goes to the riot-affected areas. People across the board—I have named only a few—have made a big difference.
I do not have time to go into the issues surrounding gangs, but I am sure that we will have time to debate them again. I emphasise to the Minister that we have good experience of what integrated gang intervention can do. Gang violence dropped by 59% in six months after our joint multi-agency gang intervention unit, based in Hackney town hall, was formed. There are some lessons to be learned there. Early intervention is vital. Important youth work is taking place with younger children from the age of eight onwards. In the schools that I visit, there is a real issue with eight and nine-year-olds getting hooked into gang culture. A small number of people are involved in gangs, but the wider fear is my big concern—the parents who take their children out of school and to different areas, and the fact that young people are afraid to walk the streets.
Of those involved, young people were not in the majority. However, if these events mean that we focus on gangs, the fear of walking down the street and other fears that young people have, some good can come out of the terrible events of that weekend in August.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), I watched the dreadful and, at times, terrifying scenes of disorder that took place in so many of London’s shopping centres. My first thoughts were often with the business owners whose livelihoods had been destroyed. Those very hard-working folk are supporting not only families, but our neighbourhoods. They are often the very glue of our local communities and deserve not only our deepest sympathy, but the fast-track help that has been promised by the Government, which I hope they have already received in relation to insurance claims and the like. If there is any problem with that, I hope we will be made aware of it, so that we can collectively do our best on their behalf.
As a father bringing up two young children in central London, I fervently hope that families living in the areas that were directly affected by the riots will not give up on this wonderful city. I love London—not just the historic six square miles that make up my constituency, but the collection of villages that have spawned a whole range of suburbs that most Londoners know only from a cursory glance at the tube map. Those are the districts I love to walk through because their variety and communities never cease to amaze me.
Coincidentally, it was only four days before the riots began that I ambled from the City of London in my constituency through Hoxton and Haggerston and into central Hackney, Clapton, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington. It was a hot summer’s day as I walked down Clarence road. With all its lovely little bistros, that street is very unlike the common perception of Hackney. I walked down Mare street and to the edge of the churchyard of St John’s, Clapton. Little did I imagine how, within a few days, the area would turn into a front-line riot zone televised across the UK and the world.
To pick up on one or two other contributions, many of the areas affected by the riots have changed beyond recognition in the 30 years since the race riots of the 1980s. Huge investment has taken place in the public realm and gentrification has progressed apace, while the ethnic and cultural mix has been transformed. I am not naive enough to suggest for one moment that certain parts of the areas that were subject to the riots do not have some deep-seated problems. However, the sense that, for example, Hackney is some sort of lawless ghetto enveloped in hopelessness is well short of the mark, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) rightly pointed out.
I am afraid that a lot of what happened was opportunistic criminality. I am slightly concerned not about the idea that the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 should be invoked—of course it should be invoked—but about the idea that the police should get full compensation back. There needs to be an incentive for the police to do their best to maintain law and order, even in some of the most difficult circumstances. If the Metropolitan police were to have full reimbursement of the £300 million concerned, there would not necessarily be an incentive for it to act rapidly if such events occurred in the future. For many people, the most terrifying thing was the sense of utter lawlessness, particularly in areas around Clapham Junction and Lavender Hill. It was interesting that when one heard people being interviewed, there were young yuppies saying, “What the hell is going on?” The whole place had been enveloped by opportunistic criminality.
There is so much more I would have liked to say today. I shall talk a bit about youth violence specifically in my area of Westminster, which thankfully was a part of London that was not particularly badly affected, apart from on a slightly ad hoc basis. The local authority is doing what it can and I want to put some of that work, which I hope will be emulated in other parts of London, on the record.
It is right not to consider the issue to be entirely a youth problem but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) rightly pointed out, we must consider early intervention. As we know, the Government have pledged to tackle some 120,000 problem families before the next election. We should not necessarily be wholly driven by such targets but, none the less, I hope that that figure will focus minds. Inevitably, local authorities will be at the forefront of local solutions to meet that challenge.
In the last full year, 2010-11, Westminster saw a 49% increase in serious youth violence incidents, rising from 197 to 309 incidents. Already, we have seen 133 incidents for the first few months of this financial year. Under the leadership of the cabinet member for children, young people and community protection, Nickie Aiken, pioneering work is being done on tackling gangs, so that the problem is nipped in the bud. Only 48 hours ago in this Chamber, we had a discussion on that issue. It was rightly pointed out that, for too many young gang members, gangs are a surrogate family because they are often living in very chaotic households, which thankfully are alien to the experience of probably all of us here today. In Westminster, we have developed a “Your Choice” programme, which builds on the principles of early intervention, information sharing and personal responsibility.
Does my hon. Friend agree that family intervention is key to dealing with the matter and that those programmes work because they take in the whole family together, look at the root cause of the problem and try to find a long-term solution?
Very much so. The pure economics of the matter show that if you can reach that small number of families, huge amounts of money can be saved. Otherwise, if we do not reach those families, there are wasted lives that will be put to shame.
The focus of the “Your Choice” programme is on having key transition stages from primary to secondary school. However, it has also developed targeted gang exit programmes, cross-border gang mediation to try to break down the postcode rivalry that lies at the bottom of many of the problems surrounding gang culture in London, and support to get young people into sustained employment and training. We all appreciate how difficult that is, and I fear it will be for some time to come as elements of the economy continue to deteriorate. We also need intensive support to be given to parents and families in the holistic way that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) described.
We want to try to provide families with a real choice: take the services on offer and become real members of the community, or face a range of enforcement options. That choice is based on evidence of what works, including tried and tested programmes in Westminster, such as the successful gang exit programme. Only 5% of youngsters on that programme received a conviction compared with 42% before the strategy began.
Does the hon. Gentleman have any experience of gang injunctions in his constituency? We have had great difficulties getting them to work in Hackney. Has he had any conversations with people in his borough or with other Ministers about them?
We have not had any in my constituency. As I mentioned the other day, one of the issues surrounding the Churchill Gardens estate in my constituency is the worrying sign that we are getting close to a tipping point and that the gang problem will become much more intense than in certain parts of the northern end of the borough, which the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) represents. That is clearly not something I am entirely aware of.
I appreciate that other hon. Members want to speak, so I will just say a couple more things. It is important to recognise that turning around the lives of what are regarded as problem young people and families takes time, patience and, inevitably, resources. All too often, local authorities have to rely on one-off funding pots, which often fail to deliver an impact or may deliver that impact only in the very short term, with the problem ultimately reoccurring before too long.
The programme that Westminster is trying to develop requires a sustainable funding stream to ensure that the council can intervene early and support young people to make the right choices in their lives. If we can secure sustainable funding, we will aim to intervene early and support children as young as the age of five through that programme. Westminster city council has secured funds to deliver the bulk of the programme for the current tax year, but it wants to be able to deliver a sustainable programme over three to five years. I have made representations on that and, as I mentioned the other day, I am someone who believes in getting the deficit down and who has tried their level best to recognise that that means not standing up, even at a constituency level, for programmes when cuts are being made. This is probably the only exception. We need to look at the provision of youth services. If we are to have a genuine long-term impact, one of the legacies of trying to ensure that the riots do not happen again must be that we examine those services.
In Westminster—I am sure this is replicated in all London boroughs and, indeed, in boroughs outside the capital represented by hon. Members here today—we have had a substantial reduction of some £828,000 from the funding of our youth services as a result of the emergency Budget in June 2010. That was followed by a further £513,000 reduction in the current tax year. In the light of the rioting, all local authorities will be keener than ever not only to secure money for their programmes but, I hope, to ensure that we can improve the lives of the most vulnerable. As is so often the way in life, the prevention will end up being considerable cheaper in the medium and longer term than the cure that will otherwise be before our eyes.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing such an important debate.
As has been widely reported, Ealing was subjected to violent rioting on the Monday night of 8 August and in the early hours of Tuesday 9 August. Ealing Broadway town centre, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), was very badly hit. What is less known and less reported is the fact that West Ealing town centre, shared between the hon. Lady and myself in Ealing, Southall, was also hit very hard by these terrible acts of wanton lawlessness. Related criminal actions also took place in Hanwell and Southall, but to a lesser extent.
Let me place on record my total condemnation of the mindless criminals who ran amok on the normally peaceful streets of Ealing, terrorising innocent bystanders, attacking residents enjoying an evening meal in our many restaurants, threatening shop keepers and their staff, and even threatening residents in their own homes. Their brazen criminality left one man dead, and others are homeless after their homes were burnt down. Dozens of shops and businesses have been seriously damaged, and scores of cars were burned or smashed. It is difficult to find words to condemn strongly enough the actions of this feral minority who literally brought anarchy to the streets of my constituency and those of other hon. Members.
I place on record my thanks to the Ealing borough commander, Andy Rowell, and to his police officers who heroically tried to stem this tide of evil on our streets. Unfortunately, they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of mainly young adults intent on inflicting this sickening violence on our community. The police were responding to numerous roaming gangs who were clearly using mobile phones and social networking sites to communicate with each other and were thus very mobile, co-ordinated and difficult to pin down and stop.
We have to address the lack of sufficient available public order police as back-up in this situation, and the question of police numbers and resources. In Ealing, 44 officers with riot training and equipment were deployed earlier in the evening to other parts of London. Only a similar number of officers, without training or equipment, were left to try and deal with a mob of more than 200 rioters until reinforcements finally came hours into the riot. In the days that followed, police from all over the country—Cleveland, Sheffield, Berkshire and many other places—patrolled the streets of Ealing to prevent a repeat of the rioting and to provide reassurance to my constituents. It is a sobering thought that the number of 16,000 police officers who were deployed on the streets of London after the riots is the same number of police officers due to be cut. God forbid that we have a reoccurrence of the riots after police numbers have been cut. I urge the Government to halt the current cuts to the Met police in the capital and to the police across the country.
I pay tribute to the emergency services and to Ealing council, which worked throughout the night to provide CCTV pictures for the police to try and track these criminals, and to prepare an emergency response and clean up in the morning. The council, having picked up via Twitter during the night that local residents wanted to take part in the clean-up in the morning, arranged for them to be provided with materials to do so. Hundreds of local residents turned up in the morning to take part and very quickly had both Ealing and West Ealing cleared up. The council had extra street sweepers and refuse collection vehicles on the streets from 5 am and also repaired the roads, which had been damaged by burnt out vehicles, in very quick time. It was a tremendous effort, especially by local residents, who showed the real spirit of community and pulled together in difficult times.
I would like to address a number of issues relating to the aftermath. Obviously, the work to bring the perpetrators to justice is ongoing and I urge my constituents who have any information that would help in this regard to contact the police. Local businesses have provided the police with their CCTV footage and any other evidence that will help to bring about convictions. Ealing council is working closely with the police to use its extensive CCTV footage to bring the full force of the law down on these criminals. It is imperative that all those who committed these outrageous acts are brought to justice and not given the impression that they can get away with wanton law breaking.
On the Tuesday night, all was quiet across Ealing, but there had been warnings that Southall, in my constituency, might come under attack. Having met the police, the local faith, business and community leaders arranged to have volunteers outside places of worship and businesses to protect them. This was a powerful and united community response that received praise from the Prime Minister. However, we all have to make sure that such actions, or other responses by citizens seeking to defend themselves, do not lead to vigilantism. Given the tragic death of the three men in Birmingham who were trying to protect their business, we also need to guard against any inter-racial community tensions. In Southall, all law-abiding religions, races and creeds stood together against the lawless.
Finally, it is vital that as much help as possible is given to local businesses and communities to recover from the impact of these terrible events. In Ealing, the council used a £250 million fund from reserves to provide each affected local independent business with a £1,200 civic disturbance payment, interest-free repayable grants of up to £20,000 for more affected businesses, free weekend parking during September in Ealing and West Ealing, and individual advice to affected businesses through an assigned regeneration officer. One month’s business rates relief has also been given to those affected businesses and one week’s relief to businesses in the affected areas. There are still issues around claims for loss of business and ongoing levels of insurance premiums that the Government need to help with.
Everything needs to be done to stop a repeat of these disturbing events. I call on the Government to consider the impact of making such large cuts to local council budgets, and the effect that this has had on youth services provision at a time when young people so clearly need support and guidance from the community around them. We must be confident that we can protect our streets should such events occur again. I call on the Government to halt and review the cuts to police numbers and resources. There can be no question that the cuts, as they stand, decimate police numbers and have a significant effect on their ability to deal with events like those we saw in August.
I declare an interest as a serving special constable with the British Transport police. Because of the time and my own interest in policing, I want to frame my comments around that.
I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House. The debate has been thoughtful and has done away with a lot of the generalisations that were made at the time. For example, I cannot tell the House how much I welcome the fact that nobody has talked about single-parent mothers. If there is one thing that I personally loathe, it is the demonisation of single-parent mothers in generalised fashion. Instead, we have heard, rightly, about the problems of families. We have heard about the issue of absent fathers: it takes two people to create a child, and if one of them is absent it is often the father, so if we are going to demonise anyone let us start with them rather than the mothers. Thank heavens we seem to have moved on from demonising the mothers.
I found the speech of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) interesting, and I was surprised how much I agreed with much of what he said, although I see things from rather a different perspective: to me, the issue was not a race one at all. In following the riots on the television and, on one night, with a mobile support unit, they did not come over to me as a black issue—it was definitely a black and white issue. I did not notice anything with the Asian community, but perhaps that was a misconception. Certainly I and the police officers I worked with on the Wednesday night, when things had gone quiet, did not see it as a black issue at all, but as very much a problem for black and white communities. In fact, on that Wednesday night, our first response to a 999 call was to do with a group of white extremists—members of the English Defence League or something—in south London. As it happened, on the way to that call, because the Met had already taken over, we were diverted to deal with black youths in Lewisham. Perhaps that is my misconception though: I did not notice it in the press, but the right hon. Gentleman did, so I must take that on board.
The right hon. Gentleman made an important comment about getting more black and Asian people into the police force. I served for a while in Stockwell and have policed in Brixton. I was not comfortable with the fact that, often, the only police officers on duty were white, but a lot of police officers felt the same way. If we asked, the vast majority of police officers would answer that they really wanted black and Asian people to join the police—they really want the police to be representative because it makes their lives easier. I have spoken to black and Asian people—I spoke about this recently to a DJ who I imagine is quite influential—who say that they still do not trust the police. I gained an impression a little from the right hon. Gentleman that he felt the same way. May I just say this? In any organisation consisting of thousands of people, one will find some idiots—there is no doubt about it—but the vast majority of police officers are not racist and do not judge people by the colour of their skin.
Furthermore, in any station, police officers do not want to get into a situation in which half of them are sitting on one side and half on the other, whether because of skin colour, religion or something else. That is not a good idea for a police officer. If police officers have to press the orange “help urgently required” button, they do not want to think that half the other officers will not come because of things they have said or done in the police canteen earlier. Believe me, and I think that I speak for most officers, when I am in the police canteen I want all those officers to be my friend because I want to feel that they will come for me if I need their help, and vice versa. There is not as big an issue as perhaps there was 20 years, and I urge anyone in the black and Asian community, and in particular in the Black Police Association which had a policy of actively discouraging black and Asian people from joining the police, please, to get behind the police. If there are problems, black and Asian people can change them by joining the police and being part of the police service—it would help us all very much if that happened.
Various speakers have talked about stop and search. I have stopped and searched a lot of people over the past five or six years. It is embarrassing to stop and search people if they are not found with anything. I have always attempted to do stops and searches with as much courtesy as possible, and in an apologetic way, but there may be officers who have failed to do that, which is highly regrettable. They are making their jobs and those of their colleagues much harder if they fail to stop and search people courteously. I find it hard to believe comments by the right hon. Member for Tottenham that officers are no longer obliged to note down if someone gets injured in a stop and search. As well as a stop-and-search form, an officer is expected to fill in his personal notebook, and any officer who failed to put in a personal notebook that someone had received an injury would definitely be in breach of duty. That notebook is inspected by inspectors regularly.
Getting rid of stop and account was a good thing because, frankly, if someone came up to me and asked for the time and I answered them, technically they could demand a stop-and-account form, which led to all sorts of spurious cases in which officers were filling out long forms because people were trying to waste their time. There is no reason why police officers should not be able to go up and speak to someone. I agree, if they are going to undertake a search of any sort, that there ought to be some record, and there still is.
One of the great problems, however, is that it is quite difficult to stop and search people outside section 60 or section 44 areas. I can think of numerous instances, such as one in Liverpool street when I stopped someone for committing an offence for which I would not expect to carry out an arrest—begging, in this particular case. I then did a police national computer check and the person had a long record of carrying knives, violence and drugs. Under the circumstances, a quick stop and search might seem quite reasonable—not a strip search or an invasive search but an airport-style pat down of the people in question, just to check that at that moment they did not have a knife or drugs on them. Police officers, however, are not allowed to do so and, because of that, many people are walking around London with knives and guns because they know that it is actually difficult outside section 60 or section 44 areas for the police to stop them. The first time I was able to carry out a search—I will not go into the details, but the set of circumstances allowing me to do it were strange—I found a handgun on the 16-year-old involved, which made me think that there must be a lot of other 16-year-olds walking around with handguns who were pretty safe from being caught.
There has been some mention of tactics. One of the criticisms of the police has been that they did not get involved—when the car was on fire or whatever—at an early enough stage in the proceedings. Again, I look at it from the police officer’s point of view. They feel the pressure from politicians in rooms such as this. We have seen a number of riots over the past few years, and outbreaks of mass disturbance. After some riots, we have seen police officers criticised for their use of force. When people talk about robust policing, let us not mince our words: what we are talking about, at the extreme, is the police officers rapping their batons and walking forwards in an aggressive and forceful fashion. That is how they are trained to do it; they are trained to look forceful because at the moment that the baton comes out nothing less than an aggressive approach will work and remove people. The problem with that is that, as the police officers are walking forwards, they have their batons up and are getting ready to strike, and that is the photograph that will appear in the Sunday papers the next morning: the great British bobby looking out aggressively, probably shouting, and with a large metal baton ready to strike someone. The police officers might actually be quite scared as they are doing it; they do not really want to be in that position and they do not want to strike anyone but, once they are in that position, they do not really have much choice other than to go forwards. Yet, opening up the Sunday papers the next day, members of the public in suburbia and Members of Parliament see the picture and say, “This is an outrage! How dare the British police officer go for them! Look at how aggressive they were!” The police are trained to be aggressive: we spend two days a year training to look aggressive, because we hope that the aggression will put a person off and get them to move backwards. But no one sees that, just the photograph. Police officers therefore come under incredible criticism.
After one of the riots, a police officer was prosecuted for obeying exactly the instructions that we are all given: tell people to get back, if they do not go back, push them back, if they still keep coming forward, strike them with a baton. It does not matter whether the person in front is a large male or a small female—believe me, a lot of police officers have been assaulted by small females, and we are not trained to make that differentiation. If at all possible, we will protect ourselves from anyone, and rightly so.
Is the hon. Gentleman at all reassured that, in relation to the policing of the riots, I am not aware of anyone having made any complaints about how they were handled?
We will wait and see what happens.
I want to make the point that the use of force in that way is a necessary option for the police, and one for which they have been criticised. The police then moved on to use what the press call kettling—the police call it something else—in which, basically, they keep a line and keep everyone within that line. They have been criticised for that, by Members—
Some of us want to talk about the riots.
If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will wait until the Chair has a problem. I am answering remarks made earlier on.
Police have been criticised for kettling, and the point I am making—this is why it is relevant to the riots—is that the criticisms of the police that they stood back and did nothing are totally unfair because Members of this House, in all parts, have in the past criticised police for using tactics that would have dealt with those riots in the first place.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham also spoke about specialist police forces coming into an area from outside. With the sorts of operations to which he referred, such as firearms units, the police officers would necessarily have to come in from outside, because of the level of training required to carry out such operations. I think it would be unwise to try to pass judgment on such a matter before a full report has taken place.
I congratulate hon. Members on the way in which they have addressed the matter. If I were them, however, I would think carefully about making general criticisms of the police without a full understanding of the pressures that they are under. I hope that all hon. Members in the House will do their best to encourage their communities, particularly black and Asian communities, to persuade their members to join the police, hopefully to ensure that such riots do not happen again.
Order. The wind-ups will start at 5.15.
The riots happened because they could, and there is a real issue about how the police handled London on those few nights. There were simply not enough police officers available, and there seemed to be little direction from the centre. I am sure that all the borough services did what they could, but there seemed to be no overarching direction on how to deal with anything.
By 3 o’clock in my constituency, everyone knew what was going to happen. We had phone calls to our offices, the police knew, we knew about the BlackBerry messages, and some of the young people who were demonised turned up at Mitcham police station asking the police to look at their BlackBerries to ensure that everyone knew what was going to happen. However, unfortunately Croydon went up first. Understandably, the officers at Mitcham went to Croydon. It was rather like young boys learning to play football. There are 22 players on the pitch, and when the ball goes to one end, all 22 follow. That is precisely what happened.
I say that not to criticise anyone in particular, because what has happened has happened, but to provide a tool for the future. We have a new regime at New Scotland Yard, and I hope that it will learn. There is an issue about shift patterns, and availability at weekends and in the evenings, which must be addressed. My police force, under Mr Wolfenden whom I regularly criticise, deserves no criticism at this point, but I want to share a story that is symptomatic of what happened in my constituency and, I am sure, in all the constituencies represented by hon. Members here today.
The police went back to Wimbledon police station because they had no riot-trained officers, who, understandably, were in Croydon. They got together what bits of old kit they had to make up protective gear. They went out of Wimbledon police station, but they did not have a bus or a car to travel in, because they were all somewhere else, so the police marched the 2.5 miles from Wimbledon police station to the Tandem leisure centre. When they got there, there was nothing they could do because there were so many people rioting and looting because they could, and because the police were not there to defend anyone. The consequence was that people were frightened.
I have underestimated the fear felt by residents who were not involved. People were worried that rioters would march up their street and set their house on fire. Elderly people could hear the noise, but did not know what they would do if people came towards them. The mums and dads of young men and women were worried that their sons and daughters would go out and become caught up in the riot. The fear was represented in every community.
We as MPs must deal with that fear, build relationships with the community, and work in our communities. If I had the opportunity, I would tell people, whatever their party, that the consultation on individual electoral registration closes tomorrow, so they should look at the document, and say what they think about it. If we lose young people in London from our electoral register because of those judgments, our position will become much worse.
I want to make four brief points. First, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who referred to the importance of elected representatives reflecting on some of the things that have been said, whether descriptions of feral underclasses—I completely disagree with that—or some of the things that we may have said. Some of us were raw at the time—I was a victim in the riots—but we all have a huge responsibility to think carefully about the words that were used, and to challenge when appropriate. At a meeting in my constituency, young people said that it is fine to burn Argos because local people do not run it. No, it is not fine to set Argos alight. Local people are employed there, and some people were very frightened.
Secondly, I agree with much of what has been said about the police. We must think about numbers, the ability of the police to surge numbers when necessary, police tactics, and how many people are trained to deal with riots. Thirdly, on the criminal justice system, I believe that in August it was necessary to send a clear message that people would not get away with rioting. Some of the sentences that have been dished out have been disproportionate, but we must not forget that it was necessary to send out a clear message at the time.
Fourthly, on the wider Government response, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is entirely right to talk about the need for the Government to think about regenerating some of the communities where the rioting took place. The riots did not take place in Witney or Tunbridge Wells; they took place in areas of significant deprivation where there is high unemployment. We need to put the matter right, and the Government must come up with a policy that addresses some of those fundamental issues.
It is a great pleasure, Ms Clark, to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. This has been an excellent debate, and largely consensual. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing it, and on his measured speech. He set the tone for those who spoke after him.
Everyone in the Chamber and throughout the country was shocked and appalled by the scenes that they witnessed on the streets of our towns and cities in August. The Leader of the Opposition has made our position extremely clear. He said that nothing can excuse or justify the acts of violence that we witnessed in those terrible days a couple of months ago. It is right that people who engaged in riotous behaviour should face the full consequences of their actions, and that has been reflected in the contributions today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) made an important point. He said that it is clear that there were complex reasons behind the riots, so it is important not to look for a quick fix and easy answers to what happened. It is important to examine those complex reasons in full detail, so that we understand why the terrible scenes occurred. He also stressed the importance of CCTV. There is a debate at the moment about its use, and whether it is valuable or should be reduced. He made the point extremely well that it has been invaluable in bringing to justice some of the people who were involved in the riots earlier this year.
The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) highlighted the spirit of his constituents, and that was reflected in all towns and cities that were affected. We saw the best and the worst of human behaviour. I was pleased to hear him say that his opinion had shifted since his early response, and I welcome his support for early intervention. He also stressed the need to understand what went on, and to get to the bottom of it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) made a passionate speech, and stressed the importance of people, whatever their community or background, understanding the difference between right and wrong. I totally agree. He also stressed the importance of neighbourhood and community policing, and said that something had clearly gone wrong with community policing in his constituency. That is regrettable, and there is a real need to re-establish trust in the police. It is essential to take that forward.
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) commended the work of local authorities. Local authorities come in for a lot of criticism and receive a lot of brickbats, but their clean-up operations and responses were magnificent. I welcome his recognition of that, which was important to get on the record. I also share his view about the need for proportionate sentencing. Yes, people need to face the consequences of their actions, but the sentences must be proportionate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) stressed the importance of avoiding stigmatising entire groups—another important point with which I agree. She said that we must emphasise the need for respect, both within the community and for agencies that work on our behalf, including the police. She said that we should avoid a knee-jerk response, and highlighted the fantastic attitude in her constituency from the community, the general public, council workers and the police, who all responded magnificently. I welcome her putting those comments on the record.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) highlighted the opportunistic nature of much of the criminality in which people indulged, and he referred to the need to look at early intervention. He pointed out that local authorities will be at the forefront in dealing with the consequences of the riots and in finding solutions to prevent them from happening again. He stressed the importance of a sustainable funding stream. Investing in prevention is more cost-effective and far better than dealing with problems after they have happened.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) spoke about the impact of the riots on his constituency and stressed his concerns about inadequate police numbers. He mentioned the difficulties the police had in responding to the problems and riotous behaviour until more police were deployed from outside London to bring some order to the streets. He was worried about the reductions in police numbers, and called on the Government to rethink their proposed cuts to the number of police.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) made a point about the use of language and said how important it is to avoid demonising single parents. I agree with him; that point was absolutely spot on. He reinforced the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham for more black and Asian recruits to the police force, which will help to ensure a more sustainable and measured response. The hon. Gentleman also spoke from his own personal experience about the difficulties of policing, particularly the practical difficulties of more robust policing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) also spoke about inadequate police numbers and the need to learn lessons about deployment. She noted how police were deployed in Croydon, which meant that it was difficult to deal with the outbreak of rioting in her own area, and she stressed the fear and anxiety felt by her community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) spoke about the importance of being careful with the language that we use. We must be cognisant of police numbers and the tactics that were used. We all agree that it was important to send the strong message that people cannot get away with riotous behaviour. It is vital to regenerate those communities affected by the riots but, as hon. Members have pointed out, those areas that were not afflicted still have some of the underlying problems of the communities that were affected. We must be aware of that and ensure a measured response across the country.
It is important to look at how we can prevent a repetition of what happened in August and the appointment of Louise Casey to the troubled families unit is a welcome step in the right direction. I know of her work and have met her. She is a tremendous public servant and will do an excellent job in driving the agenda forward. We must also understand why such events happened, which will help to prevent a repetition.
As hon. Members have said, last month, we saw the best and worst facets of human behaviour. I believe that we must find a way of instilling a sense of civic pride in our communities and particularly our young people. It is difficult to understand how people can feel that it is acceptable under certain circumstances to smash up their own communities. If we can instil that sense of civic pride and hope, and give people a stake in their community, we will go a long way towards preventing a repetition of the awful scenes that we saw in August.
My hon. Friend has picked up on an important point that I would have liked to mention in my earlier comments. It is about the presence of hope and the belief in a positive future, which stopped many people from taking part in the riots. That is one of the key things that we must get right. In some of our inner-city areas, young people, people in their 20s, believe that they have real opportunities.
I totally agree; my hon. Friend is spot on. It is essential that we achieve that objective, but the question is: how can it be done? There is a significant role for the youth service, and we must give young people hope through providing employment opportunities and adequate training. If we can do that, we will have a chance of instilling that sense of civic pride and hope that is the way forward.
All right hon. and hon. Members will have received a briefing note from the Children’s Society. It has made a few observations that are worth putting on the record. On youth services it states:
“We are concerned that the funding available for youth services has been cut substantially. The Early Intervention Grant, the main grant available for local authorities to provide services for children and young people, has been reduced in real terms by around 23% both this year, and for 2012/13…Market research conducted for The Children’s Society in April this year indicated that services for young people will be among the hardest hit with over a quarter of the local authorities responding stating that cuts to youth services were likely, as well as cuts to services for youth crime prevention and support for NEET young people. This is further compounded by the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the Future Jobs Fund. Youth unemployment has already hit record highs over the last year and over a third of 16 and 17-year-old school leavers are currently without a job.”
Those are real issues for the Government to look at, and in many ways they were reflected in the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members across the Chamber. I hope that the Government will think again about the way they are reducing funding for local authorities, particularly in key areas such as early intervention and youth services. Will the Minister give the Chamber the benefit of his thoughts on how we can ensure that local authorities commission early intervention services, which are under real threat? How will he prevent funding cuts from impairing local authorities’ ability to prevent a repetition of the riots and to respond effectively if there is—we all hope there will not be—another outbreak of riots next year? I ask that because police numbers and firefighter numbers are being reduced, and that will create real pressure if we are not careful. Bearing it in mind that local authorities are seeing reductions in their funding, I would be interested in hearing comments from the Minister on how we can ensure that those reductions will not impair the ability of those public services to respond effectively in the event of an outbreak of riotous behaviour in future.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. This has been a very interesting and important debate, and I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing it and on the very thoughtful, measured and constructive tone he adopted, as did the other hon. Members who spoke. I recognise that not every hon. Member has had the chance to say all that they would wish to, but I will do my best to do justice to the comments that have been made. If I run out of time and do not manage to do so, I will write to hon. Members to deal with any outstanding matters.
As hon. Members said, we are some two months on from the riots and it has rightly been observed that they were on an unprecedented scale. Some 4,700 people had been arrested by the end of September. That compares with 82 arrests after the 1981 riots in Brixton. All of us will have seen shocking scenes, the details of which were relayed by hon. Members today. The whole country has rightly expressed its abhorrence of what happened, and hon. Members are right to do so today.
Some 1,800 businesses were affected during the four or five days of the riots, and 174 residential properties were affected, resulting in 167 households being displaced. Some 16,000 police officers were deployed on the streets of London alone from 9 August. That demonstrates the ability to surge the numbers—an increase of 10,000 officers from the day before.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a commitment in his statement to the House of Commons that the Government would
“help you repair the damage, get your businesses back up and running and support your communities.”—[Official Report, 11 August 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1053.]
I shall tell hon. Members how we are seeking to do that. By working with our partners, we want to help communities and businesses to get back to normal, restore footfall, restore pride in high streets as shopping and leisure areas, and help those most seriously affected.
The day after the Prime Minister’s statement, Ministers from the Home Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Ministry of Justice and I updated hon. Members on the Government’s multi-million pound support package to overcome the immediate recovery issues that those affected were facing. That was followed up with a “one month on” update sent to all English MPs, which was placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Ministers visited hard-hit areas. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government spoke by telephone to the mayor of Hackney. I have had one subsequent meeting with him, and our chief executive has met theirs and they will continue to meet. I was in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), seeing the businesses affected there. I went to see the 38 affected in my own constituency, in the town centre of Bromley, and like many other hon. Members, I viewed the CCTV footage. An inter-ministerial recovery group, chaired by the Secretary of State, has been set up to support business and community recovery on the ground.
The Minister knows that I mentioned that I chaired the all-party group meeting with leading figures from the insurance industry two days ago. They were concerned that the insurance industry should be involved in the regeneration efforts. That was successfully achieved in Cockermouth, where communities ended up with something better than they started with. That would go some way towards meeting the objective to which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) referred.
Yes, the involvement of the business community, including the insurance sector, has been discussed. We are in contact with them, and I am sure that we will be able to take that forward. For example, the quality of shutters that are put up by way of replacement can be an enhancement. That is one thing that has already been very much on the agenda.
Hon. Members have talked about how the riots occurred. I hope that they will forgive me if I do not go into too much detail about that but concentrate on the response. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the death of Mark Duggan, to which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) referred, and whatever the circumstances that led to that, I think we all agree that what happened later had little to do with it and was fuelled overwhelmingly by greed, deliberate thuggery and opportunistic or sometimes—I have to say, having seen the videos from my area—planned criminality. There is no excuse for that. Sadly, lives were destroyed, along with homes and livelihoods. We have heard about instances of businesses that had been going for years being put out of business. The loss of life—five lives in all—can be fairly connected with that.
It is good to be able to say that a response is already taking place. The fancy dress shop in Battersea that was ruined in the riots is now trading next door to its original building. Duncan Mundell, the proprietor, is opening an additional outlet in the Debenhams store opposite. He is building up his Hallowe’en trade.
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) here. I will certainly give way to her, because she has been instrumental in galvanising her community to try to achieve an holistic response.
My hon. Friend the Minister is too kind. I am very pleased that he has mentioned the Party Superstore, as I certainly wanted to draw attention to it. It is co-operating with Debenhams, which is a nice example of a small retailer and a big retailer working together. May I use this intervention to make one point and a plea? Wandsworth council has very successfully set up a one-stop shop for local businesses to go to for all the form filling, hand holding and so on. That has worked a treat, particularly for small businesses. It has enabled them to negotiate the minefield of forms and legislation, and is a model for how we should make our response.
My plea concerns the riot funds that the Department for Communities and Local Government controls. We need the deadline to be extended beyond Christmas, so that we can use the run-up to Christmas to let imaginative ideas for using some of that funding to regenerate high streets take root.
My hon. Friend is right about the first point; I shall come to the second point in a moment, if I may.
A tribute has already been paid to the emergency services. For reasons of time, I have not repeated it in detail. The strength of it is none the less undiminished. Remarkable bravery and professionalism were shown. In terms of specific Government activities, the DCLG and Business Link have set up web pages providing advice and information. Wandsworth and many other councils have taken the steps that have been referred to.
To look on the positive side, and perhaps to put things in perspective, for every person arrested, 15 people followed the “Riot Clean Up” Twitter feed. There is a good side to this, which we should not forget. We have ensured that the faith communities have been closely involved throughout. Reference has been made to appropriate and condign sentencing. That will continue. It is a matter for the courts, but the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice are also looking at the means of increasing the rate of recovery of fines for those who are not sentenced to custody; I think most people think that right and proper.
The Riot (Damages) Act 1886 is of course an important route for compensation. That has been referred to. We extended the claims deadline from 14 to 42 days. There is a helpline and website linked to a claims bureau at the Home Office to give further advice. Thus far, there have been 775 calls and more than 1,000 claims, in addition to claims made by insurers direct to police authorities.
On the same day as the Prime Minister’s statement, the Government announced a £10 million recovery scheme to help local authorities with their immediate costs. That operates on a similar basis to the Bellwin scheme, but does not have the qualifying threshold of 0.2% of revenue budget. That makes it easier for local authorities to receive support. Above the threshold, the Bellwin scheme has been activated.
We have offered advice and support to all the local authorities affected; they have dedicated contact officials at the Department. Some 35 local authorities have registered for the £20 million high street support scheme, which was set up specifically to support small and medium-sized enterprises affected.
We have listened to local partners and extended the payment deadline to 3 January, and extended the deadline for local authorities to submit claims to 31 January. That seems appropriate, so that local authorities can try to get going in the run-up to Christmas. It is also worth paying tribute to the business community. A £3 million charitable “High Street Fund” has been set up by Sir William Castell and the Wellcome Foundation, with a £500,000 donation from the Mayor of London, to offer immediate recovery grants. Business in the Community and the British Retail Consortium have also played an active part.
Inland Revenue has handled some 1,286 calls and agreed to some 162 time-to-pay agreements for customers whose cash flow is affected, worth about £3.4 million. We have also set aside £1 million for a homelessness support scheme to deal with the immediate re-housing costs of those who were directly made homeless. Every household that approached their local authority for assistance has either been re-housed or provided with advice and assistance. In Haringey, we have provided £35,000 for two caseworkers to support families in the River Heights estate. I, along with the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), held a recovery advice surgery for MPs from affected constituencies, which a number of hon. Members present attended.
We have set up the Riot Communities and Victims Panel, chaired by Darra Singh. I will check whether it has been to Hackney, but it is carrying out a number of visits around the country. I am sure that its objective is to meet as many authorities as possible. The panel will publish an interim report in November and present a final report to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in March 2012.
It is worth highlighting the community response, such as the “Love” campaigns in Manchester and Salford, “Liverpool Clean Up”, and the work done by Haringey’s community assistance centre, Tottenham Green leisure centre, and the volunteers in Vauxhall. In the medium term, we are providing £20 million through the London enterprise fund for the regeneration of Tottenham and Croydon, which will be administered alongside the Mayor of London’s £50 million recovery fund.
Does the Minister recognise that £10 million for Tottenham will simply not be sufficient for the needs of the poorest constituency in London?
That is specific targeting that goes to Tottenham and Croydon, in recognition of their circumstances, which no others receive. In addition, the Mayor has announced taskforces for Tottenham and Croydon. The one for Tottenham is headed by Sir Stuart Lipton, and that for Croydon by Julian Metcalfe, the entrepreneur behind Pret A Manger. It is not the end of the story.
I welcome the support from the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) for Louise Casey and her work in the problem families unit in my Department. The unit is working to deliver early interventions to 120,000 problem families. We are consulting on the question of evicting antisocial families. I know that different views have been expressed in the debate, but we think that that is a legitimate tool that should be in the box, and authorities of all political complexions have viewed it as an appropriate option. Ultimately, such matters are decided by the courts.
Finally, the Home Secretary is leading a cross-Government review with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the problem of gang violence, which is a huge issue that we certainly need to tackle. Powerful points were made in the debate, and I am sure that they will inform the work of that review. I hope that I have given hon. Members an indication of the serious steps that the Government have been taking to deal with the issue.
With the leave of the House, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I think that when my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), coming from their different perspectives, can agree on the need to diversify our police force, we are reminded that, sometimes, less separates us than we sometimes acknowledge in debates in the main Chamber.
I apologise to hon. Members who have sat patiently through the debate, but who have not had the chance to speak. I hope that the Government will reflect on the need for further debates on the issues. I want to thank the Government and the Minister in particular for his response, and for the work that he and the Mayor of London have done. A lot still remains to be done.
I want to end with a simple thought. If my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth will forgive me—everyone else who has spoken in the debate represents a London constituency—I will say that our city is a great city—in my opinion, the greatest in the world—but it still has profound problems. What happened in early August is a reminder of them. I want to end by saying thank you to the public servants who went above and beyond the call of duty to support Londoners over those few days, and to the residents of our city for the response that they have shown—that we will not allow what happened to set our city back, and that we will rebuild, and rebuild stronger. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate.
Question put and agreed to.