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Riots Communities and Victims Panel

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 1 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the recommendations for immediate action contained in the interim report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel published on 28 November.

My Lords, we welcome the interim report from the independent Riots Communities and Victims Panel into the serious events of last summer and will study its findings carefully. There are a very large number of recommendations, which we shall consider in detail and with care.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for his welcome of the report. Does he agree that we are indebted to the panel that produced the report and for its work so far, including that of my noble friend Lady Sherlock? The report offers many challenges to government, local authorities, community organisations and faith communities, and cites positive examples of young people who are responsible, ambitious, determined and conscientious, despite having deprived backgrounds. It also says that for many there is a common theme of people needing hopes and dreams, and that a sense of injustice, powerlessness and a lack of opportunity weighed heavily in their minds. They did not feel that they had a stake in society. Does the Minister agree that that should trouble us all? Notwithstanding difficult economic times, what assurance can he give the House on the Government’s priority in tackling these matters?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the report came out only on Monday this week, so it is a bit early to make a very detailed response to all the recommendations. I have had a brief chance to look at the report but I have been engaged in other business in this House for most of the week. The report addresses itself not just to the Home Office but to other government departments and, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, to a whole host of other groups all of whom will need to consider what is in it.

Further, we await a report from HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the Met and the police in Manchester and Merseyside. The IPCC is also conducting a report, so a great deal will have to be looked at in due course. It would be wrong to announce too early how exactly we will respond to the very many recommendations in this report.

My Lords, on 11 August, I asked the Government,

“to ensure that measures”—

to assist businesses in riot areas—

“are taken very speedily, with minimum red tape and bureaucracy”.—[Official Report, 11/8/11; col. 1526.]

In my Oral Question on 13 September, I asked the Business Minister to,

“continue to monitor the situation”.—[Official Report, 13/9/11; col. 617.]

On both occasions I received reassuring replies. I am shocked to learn from the report that many people have not yet had any compensation at all. Indeed, seven months after the riots in March the expectation from the report is that nearly nine out of 10 large claims and as many as half of small claims for business will not be met. It is likely that this situation will be answered—

I want to ask the Minister to ensure that we get a clear response now on behalf of business because I feel that it is inexcusable and that there is a sense of betrayal. Will the Minister give us a response quickly?

My Lords, a number of the recommendations relate to the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, the Act that governs compensation for businesses that were affected by the events last summer. I will answer a Question on this subject in two weeks’ time. The immediate recommendations from the interim report were that there should be an extension of the deadline for the submission of claims. I can confirm that we will look at that, just as we will look at the workings of the whole of the Riot (Damages) Act in due course.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comment in particular. As a member of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, I had the privilege of meeting a great number of people and was very moved and shocked by stories of loss and trauma, so I welcome the fact that the Government will look at the Act.

Two things were raised most often with us. First, we did not meet a single person who had received a payout under the Riot (Damages) Act. Has anyone had such a payment and, if not, will the Government move to overhaul the Act in some detail? Secondly, there was a sense that people in areas hit by riots felt that they had been abandoned by the police. I met some hugely brave police and PCSOs who had gone out there and risked their lives. Will the Minister comment on what the Government will do in response to make sure that police tactics are appropriate for the kind of disorder we now see? That means smart policing, not just tough policing.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her contribution to this report as one of the four members of the panel. We are very grateful to her for all her work. We will review the Riot (Damages) Act. It is a fairly ancient bit of legislation and obviously needs looking at. We will also review police tactics and how they worked and we will look at the reports from the Met and other police authorities. We should also look at the areas where we had no riots because there are possibly lessons to be learnt from why there were riots in some places and not in others. There will be a great deal to consider and no doubt the noble Baroness and her panel will produce yet more for us as this was only an interim report. I look forward to that, and the Government will respond in due course.

My Lords, one of the most heart-warming flipsides of the tragedy of the riots that comes out from the report was the way in which it brought out the best in so many people, including many young people. What can the Government do to recognise and honour those who supported communities during the riots, those who cleaned up afterwards and, indeed, those who, in many cases, prevented riots developing in the first place?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is quite right to draw attention to all those who did such sterling work during and after the riots. We all owe an immense debt of gratitude to them. I think we should also learn what we can about how some communities came together and either prevented riots or cleaned up after them. Again, I believe that there are lessons to be learnt, and the Government will take note of that in due course.

My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s remarks on the riots and in the light of his obvious condemnation of the violence that was incurred by them, will he also add his voice to those condemning the remarks of Mr Jeremy Clarkson last night that strikers should be put up against a wall and shot in front of their families?

My Lords, I am not, fortunately, responsible for the remarks of Mr Jeremy Clarkson and do not have to answer for him, but I think the noble Baroness can imagine what I think about his remarks.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that in looking at the operation of the 1886 Act, consideration will be given not only to extending the time limit for a claim, which I think is a few weeks, but to the whole ethos of the Act: that is, the question of claiming against police authorities and the fact that the Act goes back a century and a quarter to a period when policing was much more formative in its development than it is nowadays?

The noble Lord is right to draw attention, as I did earlier, to the age of the Act. It is possibly coming up to its sell-by or use-by date, which is one of the reasons why we want to review it. The recommendation in the report was that the submission of claims should be extended to 90 days. The Government had already extended it from 14 to 28 days. Extending it to 90 days is a very interesting suggestion and will be looked at as part of a wider review of the whole Act.

My Lords, will the Minister answer the specific question raised by my noble friend Lady Sherlock? Have any compensation payments been made so far?

My Lords, I apologise for not answering that part of the question. My understanding is that some payments have been made but I confess that the number is very few. We would like to see more paid in due course, although we want to make sure that the right claims are paid. There have, in some areas, been rather a large number of claims and one suspects that not all of them are quite as valid as others.