§ That, at this day's sitting, the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Le Marchant.]
§ Moton made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Le Marchant.]
§ 10.1 pm
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Beeston)
I want, first, to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for setting off the debate in such a worthwhile way. I had the feeling that their complementary speeches reflected the feeling of the House and its best values when we are forced to search for fundamentals, and the joint statement of principle in those two speeches about the position of the police and the law in our democracy was a parliamentary occasion that will stand the test of history.
I also welcome the joint mission to Merseyside of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. As a junior Minister, 18 months ago, I set up a small committee of junior Ministers to try to carry out the same function of liaising and bringing together the various schemes existing on Merseyside. For a long time it has been a matter not of money but of the organisation of the spending of it and the lack of a coherent strategy 1476 from many groups. I support the action that was announced today, and I wish my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend well in their work. Between them they have the energy to mobilise and motivate much of the good will in that part of the country, and I welcomed especially the helpful and thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in that regard.
My real concern is the growing alienation and estrangement of an increasing proportion of our children and young people. It is right to refer to them as ours, because, although we may ask questions about the responsibilities of parents who allow their young children to be involved in riots and about the work of schools that have left young people sufficiently uneducated that they feel the frustration that they do, the House must share those responsibilities. The House has been responsible for education policies and for the creation of the types of schools that we have had over the past 10 years. It has also been responsible for housing policies, for encouraging the building of high-rise flats and for the unsocial conditions created by them.
The environment has changed from that of the 1960s, when young people listened to the Beach Boys and the Beatles and danced to such songs as "Glad all over" and "All you need is love". They talked about flower power. The present generation of punks and skinheads have adopted the culture of shock and negativism. The music to which they listen at mind-blowing volume is described as "heavy metal", and the power today is big boot power.
We have been trying today to analyse the reasons for the trouble. They are complex, and they are very different in different areas. However, I believe that there are three major reasons for the rock bottom sense of feeling among many young people. They have no place in the family. They have no place in the community. They have no work. The combination of those three alienate them from our society and values.
I turn to what happened in Nottingham last Friday at Hyson Green. The area is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock), but I make no apology for speaking about it, because I have been associated with it for more than 50 years. My first memories of going to work with my father were of cobbled streets and the smells of the brewery and the gasworks.
Here, there is a lesson to be learnt. This is "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" country, for the benefit of those who read Alan Sillitoe. It is a community that has developed and seen recessions. Incomes have always been low, but it has always been a stable community, with good value shopping centres, personalised businesses and people who worked close to where they lived.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the changes began. Industry was moving out. People were moving out. People were ageing. Families were leaving. Schools were emptying. Then came the bulldozers. They razed the community back-to-back houses and in their place were built the enormous blocks of flats commonly known in the area today as "Alcatraz". It was there that the battle was fought with the police on that Friday night, when 150 disaffected young people fought a battle—not a racial battle—from the balconies of Alcatraz.
It was a strange and unreal atmosphere. I looked up at the windows of this huge block of flats, and in some I saw people having a party, and in others people washing "the 1477 pots" before they went to bed. Down below them the riot was taking place. It was a strange and unreal atmosphere, and a commentary on that community.
Three things have been lost as a result of the changes over the years—a pride in the community, a sense of identity with the community, and a loss of community feeling for the local police and the local police station. I pay particular tribute to the local police for the way in which they handled the difficult situation, the response that they showed, and the balance that they have kept since that happened.
I am concerned that this alienation is growing and gathering pace as the recession puts an unreasonable pressure on the most vulnerable groups in our society. I think particularly of the young pre-school leavers, the young people of all abilities who are just leaving school and of those who have left school. Increasingly, throughout the country, the first thing that they do is to register themselves as unemployed in greater and greater numbers. I have visited many parts of the country, I have talked to many groups of them about the special measures, and I have been on television programmes with them. There is a real and perceived sense that their future is blighted before it has even started.
That is why I feel that the Government should make positive moves to change the situation. One of the first things that they should do, as an immediate gesture, is to restore the payment of supplementary benefit to school leavers from the time that they leave school, at least by July next year. It would be a small gesture, but it would remove an aggravation. For this group of young people, the removal of benefit militates against our overall policy of encouraging young people to stay on at school and make the best of themselves and to involve themselves in the schemes that have been provided by the Government. That is the first thing that I ask my right hon. Friend to consider.
The second and most important step is to recommend the scheme on which I and a group of Back Benchers have been working. We call it the lifeline scheme. It has been developed by my hon. Friends the Members for Chippenham (Mr. Needham), for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). We recognised at the turn of the year, and indeed long before, the need to change the original youth opportunities programme from something which, in its first years, held young people while the market gradually absorbed them, to something that matched the current need. The need now is far more acute, because of the numbers of young people, the greater range of abilities of young people who are coming on it, and the alteration in the balance, which has changed from the majority of young school leavers getting jobs while the minority used the scheme, to the present situation where the numbers are so great that the majority are on the scheme and the minority are getting jobs.
One has only to look at the escalation of the places from 178,000 to 250,000, to 440,000 this year, and to a projected 550,000 next year to realise the size of the problem. The numbers of young people who have gone through the youth opportunities programme and who remain unemployed were 35,000 in 1979 and 100,000 in 1980. It is therefore necessary that the Government should react urgently to my right hon. Friend's suggestion to change the youth opportunities programme so that it works in a far more efficient way. We need to change the organisation so that it reflects training rather than work 1478 experience. We need to change the organisation so that it is more related to local labour markets, community and resources.
The scheme that we put forward involves the integration of the special programmes and training services divisions of the Manpower Services Commission, the bringing in of industrial training boards, with their expertise, and the creation of a local framework at area, and county level, which can reach out and place the young school leavers in that society into a practical traineeship. That traineeship not only gives them work experience and a gradually rising income, but, at the end of two years, a validation and a qualification in terms of a standard that helps them for the rest of their lives.
We need to move quickly. I gather from the newspapers that we are debating alternatives. The suggestion is that the Prior plan, and perhaps the lifeline that I mentioned, are cosmetic, and there are other practical suggestions which involve the non-payment of national insurance contributions by the 16 to 18 group. I do not think that these are alternatives. They are side by side with and within the scheme that we have put forward. The second year of full employment involves the non-payment of the national insurance contribution for those who are involved.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) is well known for his view on the need for national compulsory service and for social service. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has also put forward his ideas. Many Conservative Members are so concerned that we are trying to press the Government to bring forward ideas to measure up to the size of the problem. I believe that there is no base in this country for a compulsory system, but that there is a place for a system that leaves nobody out.
The phrase used by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) that a week in politics is a long time can be aptly applied to the last two weeks. But the House is at its best when it measures up, with a sense of vision and of history, to the trends. This is the sort of debate that gives us the opportunity to measure up to that need. I hope that those outside who feel that as a society we have turned our backs on them will recognise, from this debate and what stems from it, that the criticism does not apply to the House.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
One of the things that must have struck us all in the debate is that it has taken a series of riots and outbreaks of unrest to get the House to sit down for six hours or more to discuss what is happening to young people in our society.
In the debate on unemployment two or three weeks ago, some of us argued that there was a likelihood of social unrest. Nevertheless, I think that we were all shocked and horrified by the fierceness of the riots and the feelings behind them.
This has been an encouraging debate, in that to some extent it has transcended party political differences, in the hope that solutions would be found. It would, therefore, be a great pity if, after the debate, we were to allow ourselves to sink back into platitudes and explanations that it is all a matter of race or of the National Front, the Young Socialists, or any other group of people. Whatever part any of those elements may have played—and they may all have played some part—they do not offer a sufficient 1479 explanation for what is taking place in our society. If we allow ourselves to draw false comfort from them as explanations for the riots, parliamentary democracy will be in danger, because people will believe that we have not taken sufficiently seriously the happenings of the last week or so.
I have been surprised to find that a few people have suggested—the Prime Minister was one of them a few days ago, and the suggestion has been made in the debate—that, as many of the young people concerned are not unemployed, unemployment cannot be the reason. One hon. Gentleman argued that there had been social unrest in Maidstone, a prosperous area, and that unemployment could not be the cause of that unrest.
Many people fail to realise that the individual does not have to be experiencing unemployment directly to have the results of it rubbing off on him. The children of the unemployed are affected by unemployment. Young people at school are affected by unemployment when they know that their older brothers and sisters cannot get a job. Insecurity in employment and a lowering of the standard of living are factors that have their effect on us all. Those who have what are described as good jobs and good homes feel that they are threatened and that their standard of living is declining.
Young people are divided. There are some who want to find someone to blame. Some young people are blaming young blacks. Others are turning to the National Front, the skinheads and other groups. However, there is a degree of unity among many young people in their attitudes to the police. Some time ago I met the Home Secretary while wearing another hat as a member of the joint committee against racialism. We discussed the tremendous change that has taken place in our society and the breakdown of confidence between people generally and the police, but especially between young people and the police.
Whatever measures are taken to assist the police to try to deal with any future riots that we may have—we all hope that there will be no more—and whatever additional strengths are given to them, we cannot expect the police to solve the problem. I share the concern of many others about some of the measures that have been suggested to assist the police in dealing with riots.
In the eyes of the young people in our society, the police are part of the problem. We may or may not take that view, but that is the view of many young people. To give the police stronger powers and to provide them with the big stick will do no good, despite the initial neccessity. Such a reaction would confirm the suspicion and the alienation that is felt by young people.
Those who have called for a change in community policing are on the right lines. If police are to be revered and respected by young people, they must earn that esteem. There is a great deal of prejudice in our society against the young, the blacks and many others. It exists among teachers, Members of Parliament, lawyers and many others. I cannot be convinced that there are not one or two policemen who do not have their prejudices.
We must try to involve the police in our communities so that they are seen to have a part in them. We must try to make the police accountable to the communities that they serve. The disillusionment that exists among those who issue complaints against the police is significant. There are many who feel that their complaints are not 1480 properly investigated and that there is no point in making them. That disillusionment is a real part of the problem that we are experiencing.
The effect of unemployment cannot be over-estimated. Young people see a tremendous contradiction in our society. In some areas there is appalling housing. I am glad that there are some Conservative Members who are concerned about the Government's public expenditure cuts, Government policy towards the rate support grant, and the growth of deprivation in the past year or so within our inner cities. What does the child of a construction worker think when he is living in appalling housing conditions and he knows that his father cannot get a job although he has a skilled role to play in a society which has a housing problem? There are many in our society who live in inadequate housing. What are the mental processes of a child who knows that his father cannot work although he has a skill that society desperately needs?
There have been tremendous cuts in public expenditure. The cuts have deprived the poorer young people in our society such as the lower paid and the unemployed. They have been deprived of the facilities that the community used to provide that assisted to bridge the gap between the higher wage earners and the lower wage earners. What do they think when play facilities are cut, swimming facilities disappear, youth clubs close and libraries close? Such facilities used to help to compensate for the lack of money in poorer families. When these facilities are removed from the community because of the Government's expenditure cuts, what are the feelings of resentment among young people? Those things must be taken on board.
The 40 per cent. truancy rate in one area was mentioned earlier. Of course, there is a truancy rate in deprived areas. If one's brother and sister cannot get a job and if one's parents are unemployed, what is the point of going to school? I do not say that that is right, but that is how the mind works and I can understand that. There is no future for those people. It is all part of the scenario that we are witnessing.
The breakdown in community relations which we have been told has taken place is something else which we must take on board. It is unbelievable that at a time like this, in my constituency, an area of high ethnic concentration, and, fortunately, where race relations are good, the local authority is not allowed to make a positive financial contribution towards the work of the community relations council. That is happening all over the country because community relations councils are being chopped by the cuts. Surely to God, in such a situation, our community relations councils have an important job to do. Rather than cut the means whereby they do that job, we should give them more assistance and we should encourage them. The Minister should insist that local authorities make their contribution. It was one of the greatest errors in the legislation at the time that we did not insist that local authorities did that. At a time like this, it is of the utmost importance that that should be done.
I wish to make one other point which is vitally important at this time. If we stop at taking a firm line with young people and if we are seen simply to be punishing them for what they have done and to be talking about recruiting them into the Services or putting them in camps, we shall be seen as meting out punishment, and that will be an end to it. What we are witnessing now is a cry for recognition of the problems with which those people are confronted. It is a cry from the heart of many young people 1481 who are totally frustrated because no one has listened to them or taken any notice. I do not support the methods which they have chosen, but I recognise that it has taken the outbreaks of violence to make the House discuss the issues seriously.
All over the country local authorities and community relations councils are setting up emergency meetings with the police and other groups to discuss what can be done, where they went wrong and where they go from here. Whatever methods are given to the police and whatever firm measures are taken by them, they must not be seen to be an end in themselves. The Government—and all of us—must recognise that the causes of the riots are the economic situation, the deprivation and the lack of hope that that brings. Above all, we must show that, although we disapprove of the methods that have been used by young people, we are on their side. The Government should now make a commitment to change their policies and they should offer hope to the young people who feel that there is none.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I appeal to those who now wish to speak to limit their remarks to five minutes. If so, seven more hon. Members will be able to speak before the winding-up speeches.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) will forgive me if I do not follow all her thoughts this evening. I at least agree with half of what she said—the first half—which is a rather higher percentage than I usually do, so we are moving in the right direction.
I also applaud the level-headed and constructive tone of many of the speeches that we have heard today, but I regret that there are still a few people who are trying to make party political capital out of the crisis or who are repeating alarmist racial remarks which are alien to the majority of the people.
The Government now face one of their biggest tests—how to stop the epidemic of street violence that is sweeping Britain. However, it will take more than Government action to cure that social disease. Every authority, organisation and individual has a role to play, and the more we can work together the more likely we are to find a solution to a problem, the causes of which will be with us for a long time, no matter which party is in power.
As a Bristol Member, I reacted with surprise and shock to the riots in the St. Paul's area in the centre of our city in April last year. The circumstances and situation in St. Paul's were similar to those in other inner city areas where we have seen riots over the past fortnight—potentially inflammable circumstances which take only one spark to ignite. There were lessons to be learnt from St. Paul's which, although we may have learnt them at the time, we failed to act upon fast enough. Hon. Members have identified most of them, but I should like to comment upon two.
The night after the St. Paul's riot, there was a similar, although smaller, disturbance in the centre of Southmead, which is the biggest housing estate in my constituency. It is a long way from the city centre, but youngsters there—mainly whites—having seen on television what was happening in the St. Paul's area said "Anything you 1482 can do, we can do worse." The copycat nature of the troubles that we have seen over the past fortnight—especially when participants appear to be getting the better of the law—is something that the media must note and act upon.
The other contrast between the Southmead and the St. Paul's disturbances was that the white youths who broke the law in Southmead were convicted and sentenced by magistrates within a few weeks. The coloured people in St. Paul's, having elected to go to trial by jury, eventually got let off almost scot-free nearly a year later. Unfortunately, on that occasion the law was not seen by the public to have been even-handed.
There is no need for me to repeat what has been said by other hon. Members very much more lucidly thin I could say it, but I should like to comment briefly on three things. First, I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there will be an improvement in the provision of police equipment. Sending the police into battle with shields that catch fire from petrol bombs is disgraceful. It is like using cavalry to fight tanks. We shall now give the police the tools that they need for that difficult and dangerous job.
However, I remind my right hon. Friend that in the fog of war—which is what it is—one of the most vital resources is good communications. As we have seen, the police are up against criminal hooligans, who in some cases have been, and will be again, directed by political extremists both of the Left and the Right. We have seen reports of mobile factories for making bombs. We have even seen a television programme that taught people to make petrol bombs. We have seen the transport of rioters from London to Birmingham and Liverpool. We have seen diversionary mini-riots used as decoys to split police groups. Lastly, we have seen look-out posts and messengers used to ferry instructions to the street fighters, backed up by citizen band radio. In countering that, the chief constable in charge has to keep control of his forces, and communications, particularly by radio, must be comprehensive, simple to operate and reliable.
My right hon. Friend also announced that he is making arrangements for police forces to be more mobile, and, if one police authority is to come to the assistance of another, it is essential that the police radio network is planned on a national basis and that co-operating police authorities have no difficulty in communicating with one another at any time. I believe that that is not possible now in some cases.
My other comment on the question of communications concerns the need for much more training in their use. I spoke to a police constable last weekend who, in 25 years of service, had had only one day's training in riot control. Reports in the newspapers of comments by policeman of all ranks involved in the recent riots indicate not only a lack of equipment but a lack of knowledge of riot control strategy and tactics and a lack of training. I welcome my right hon. Friend's demonstration of his awareness of these deficiencies and his statement that they are going to be put right.
I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will also give very serious consideration to the formation of special contingency riot police. There is a danger that if the bobby on the beat is dressed up in all the paramilitary paraphernalia required for riot control he will become alienated from the community that he serves. We have seen the superb job done by the special patrol group. I 1483 really believe that the formation of a special anti-riot force must be considered, because this would leave the ordinary policeman free to do his familiar job of combating local crime, re-establishing his role as the neighbourhood bobby on the beat and continuing to do his best to improve community relations.
The police can only be as effective as the law that backs them up. I welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend that he is examining the use of new legal powers. It may be that what is required is not a riot Act but some beefing up of the existing legislation such as the Public Order Act to ensure that the police have the powers and immunities that they need to enable them to do their job properly in riot situations.
What we have seen in these riots is sheer criminal hooliganism. Youths with nothing better to do saw youths elsewhere catch the police by surprise and hit the headlines and television screens. Most of them probably had no hope of achieving notoriety by any other means, and they are bored because they are unemployed or unemployable. To this one has only to add the desire for kicks and a mixture of drink and drugs, emboldened by the general excitement of the situation, backed up by a lack of respect for authority and discipline, often caused by trendy education and in many cases, alas, totally inadequate parents, and then provide a spark and a riot is the result. Certainly my right hon. Friend's determination to make parents pay the fines of children under 17 found guilty of arson, looting and attacks on the police will be an important step in restoring family responsibility.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly endorse all that has been said in support of the police. I pay particular tribute to my own chief constable, Mr. Brian Weigh, and echo the remarks previously made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer). The police need proper equipment, and they are going to get it. They need proper training, and they will get that, too. They also need the law to back them up, and we must see that they get that. Also, in spite of some mistakes, they need rather than carping criticism the same wholehearted support from hon. Members as they already get from the vast majority of the British people.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
I begin by warmly endorsing the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) in particular, because her constituency is close to mine and she has great knowledge of what goes on in Southall. It is basically a peaceful community. It has long ceased to be a centre of internal racial strife. That is what makes it so sad that these events were apparently sparked off by what occurred in Southall two weeks ago.
It has become clear from the media, which have done a good job in this respect, and from exchanges in the House, how the events in Southall occurred. They were the result of an apparently deliberate attempt to arrange for a large number of skinheads, estimated at 300 to 400, to assemble at a disco at a public house on the border of Southall and Hayes—not in the heart of Southall as some people had thought. As a result, there was marauding activity and the windows of shops belonging to Asians were smashed. It seems that the local police received a 1484 hoax tip-off that an assembly of outsiders—mostly from the other side of London—would engage in provocative activity on the Southall-Greenford borders.
All the facts must be closely examined. Subsequently, when the Scarman inquiry examines what gave rise to the events in Southall, it should also take into account the criticisms of local people about the inadequacy of the police presence. In fact, one can only admire—and be afraid for—the small number of local police who tried to keep the two sides apart in the most difficult of circumstances. In many cases they suffered grevious injury, and their attempts to control the situation proved impossible until reinforcements arrived.
Some of the skinheads went over the border into the Hayes district, knocked on doors and asked white people whether any Asians lived in the street. It appears that their sole purpose was to throw bricks through their windows, just as they had thrown bricks and bottles through the windows of Asian shops.
We do not know how many of those 300 to 400 skinheads were attached to any Fascist or racist organisation, but both the inquiry and the Metropolitan commissioner should try to find out the degree of premeditation and organisation involved. Many people believe that to be so, particularly many local Asian people. That view is also held by many white people and members of my local Labour Party, which is now thoroughly multiracial. Many of the posts are occupied by members of the Asian community.
Nowadays, such a large number of people of Asian parents are born in the locality that they are no longer an alien wedge but are part of the British way of life. In fact, when speaking to young people on the telephone one would not know that one was speaking to people with Asian backgrounds. Southall is their home, and they regard the skinhead invasion as an attack on their hearth-rug, just as they did when the Metropolitan Police escorted a bunch of white morons belonging to the National Front to the old Southall town hall. The events that arose from that, and from the death of a young Asian in 1976, are cumulative features.
I should like to emphasise the way ahead as I see it. Unemployment cannot be discounted, despite the efforts to do so. There is a rising tide of unemployment in the Asian community, whose young people usually emerge from school with high education qualifications. They are quite capable and willing to play an important role in British society, and do so in many instances.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) does a grave injury to the prospects for the development of racial harmony by the manner in which he tackles these matters. It seems that he puts two and two together and gets four-and-a-half. Nor does the right hon. Gentleman accept his responsibilities, because as Minister of Health from 1960 to 1963 he recruited doctors from Pakistan and India and nurses from the West Indies.
Between 1960 and 1963 the recruitment of labour here was at its height. The Government at that time put a curb on the intake. The Indian Government were particularly disturbed to find that many of their trained medical personnel had left India for Britain. There were advertisements and leaflets. It is disgraceful that the right hon. Gentleman should subsequently jump on what appears to be a race hatred bandwagon. Fortunately, his stock in trade is in decline. Although he seems to gain 1485 some measure of approval outside the House, he gets less and less support every time we debate such issues in the House.
Some of the right hon. Gentleman's ideas about repatriation are crackpot. They are just not on. If such measures were adopted, we should lose the best of our newcomers and their children. With the talents that many of them have, and the skills that they can acquire, they would not suffer or continue to remain here. They would go to countries that would welcome them with open arms. The right hon. Gentleman's policies are just not on.
My record for the 15 or 16 years that I have been an hon. Member shows that I have always maintained a duality of approach. Hon. Members from both parties have a duty to society. There should be a multi-racial police force in our multi-racial society. We have discussed this matter from lime to time. However, we must examine any ideas on how to achieve that. Many parts of our society are multi-racial and we are developing in a multi-cultural way. It is amazing that this should be a relatively new experience, when this country was once the centre of a great empire in which the vast majority of people were coloured. In some cases it is painful to go through this relatively new experience.
In a multi-racial society, we must develop a multi-racial police force whose members can speak the languages of those in their areas. We must consider what the Special Patrol Group is used for. In dramatic circumstances, there is a case for reinforcing the local police. However, the important point is the role of the police.
I commend to the House the terms of the Ten-Minute Bill that I recently proposed. It seeks to step up the attack on those who indulge in incitement to race hatred. The police cannot recruit while they are chaperoning Fascists and racialists who chant in the street "If they're black, send them back". We cannot build a multi-racial society in that way.
We should be ashamed that one-sixth of those unemployed are teenagers. One industialist wrote to me to say that everyone felt a sense of shame. The effect of unemployment is upheaval and we were all part of upheaval in our youth. We must work hard, because there is not a one-party solution. We have a long way to go. The measures proposed by the TUC are worthy of examination and seek to restore the dignity of our communities and an upswing in our inner cities. The Tory Party, with its philosophy, is incapable of doing that, but it could go some way towards that end. However, there must be a change of Government before we can get down to work on it.
§ Mr. Raymond Whitney (High Wycombe)
Until his last remarks I was happy to agree with much of what the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) said. I hope that he will understand if, at this stage in the debate, I do not follow him down the road that he has opened up.
Three hundred years ago John Locke warned us that wherever the law ends, tyranny begins. Sadly, in too many places in our country over the past three weeks the law has ended. Clearly the first responsibility of any Government must be to return to a respect for the law and its institutions. There can be no excuses and no mealy-mouthed justification for breaking the law. There can be no buts. We have had too many statements outside the House, rather than in the debate, on the lines that we all 1486 understand that the law should be upheld but. There is no room for buts. The first thing we must do in a civilised society is to return to establish that narrow line that separates civilisation from anarchy. That line is respect for the law.
I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced. I hope that he will continue to keep a keen sensitivity about any other steps and measures that may be necessary. We are in difficult circumstances and the Home Office will need to exercise the greatest foresight and sensitivity to keep ahead of what is a difficult and dangerously developing game, otherwise we shall be in much more serious trouble.
Only when we have taken the steps which ensure that the law is established can we begin the deeper analysis of what has happened, what are the deep-seated causes and what we can do to cure the problem.
We have heard mostly about London and the bigger cities in the debate tonight. The developments that there have been in towns such as High Wycombe have their own special characteristics. Last Saturday night we had gangs of young people of all colours. From what I saw of those incidents it was difficult, perhaps impossible, to discern—as hon. Members have said of their areas—any necessarily racial element. It was sheer vandalism and criminality. It was a breakdown of the discipline of society and those are the problems that we have to tackle. The problems were not caused by unemployment, bad housing or police provocation. In High Wycombe unemployment, though higher than it was before, is still half the national average. Always there is a demand for more housing but the housing stock and housing conditions in that area are good by any standards. I do not believe that there was any police provocation. There are deeper and more serious problems of the breakdown of social discipline and of sheer criminality.
Further massive injections of money will not provide the answer. These riots have happened already throughout the country. The recipes of urban renewal and social services have been tried and they have produced the results that we are now witnessing.
§ Mr. Whitney
The hon. Gentleman who shouts "Rubbish" knows that billions of pounds have been spent. All of us have responsibility—parents, teachers and the trade union movement. There are areas of training to be improved. The obstacles to serious training improvements lie in the areas where trade unions must co-operate more—in apprenticeships and other training schemes.
I do not want to make this a party political point, but the trade unions must recognise the major contribution that they have made to pricing so many of our people out of so many jobs. I want to see a much greater contribution from the clergy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) spoke about spiritual background and he took the break point to be 30. He suggested that people under the age of 30 have a gap in the lives. I believe that to be true. The clergy could make a major contribution. At present they are making a negative contribution. They spend much of their time, for example, warning about the dangerous effects of the British Nationality Bill. Most of them are unaware of the details of that Bill.
§ Mr. Whitney
I refer the hon. Member to the analysis of the Bill by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) whose favourable judgment of the effect of the Bill on the minority communities I commend to the House and to the minority communities.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He rightly referred to the duty of the clergy to get across a stronger sense of values to the community. Does he agree that there has been a colossal breakdown of religious education and the teaching of values in schools? Does he agree that that must be put right as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Whitney
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend about that. I repeat that the combination of the responsibility of parents, teachers and clergy adds to a tremendous impact that we can all make in all areas of society on the problem that we share.
Having accepted that, I should like to add my contribution to what has been built up during the debate, particularly by the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) who gave us a catalogue of the subversive elements operating in that city. High Wycombe has been privileged to bear a similar influence.
I have a document published by an organisation called the Wycombe Defence Committee which covers such attractive organisations as the Wycombe Workers Against Racism, the Socialist Workers Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Wycombe Women's Group, whatever that is. It is run by Miss Anita Lloyd. The point is that when some friends of mine tried to find out about Miss Anita Lloyd tracking her down proved difficult. She seems to have a series of what are known in the trade as "cut-outs." We eventually tracked her down to 38 Electric Road, Brixton.
§ Mr. Whitney
She said "Electric Road." Perhaps she is wrong. Perhaps she does not even live there. She goes there only about once a day. She says that she comes to Wycombe once a week to organise the groups. Not many people attend the groups so she invited my friends to join.
That is an important element of which I hope the Home Secretary will take due note. We do not need Miss Anita Lloyd and her agents provocateurs in High Wycombe. We do not need their contribution in our effort to build up good community relations. I am sure that no other part of the country needs them. Such people are enemies of society. Their declared aims are the destruction of this society, which virtually everyone in the House shares as an ideal. We do not need the Militant Tendency and its works. As we tackle the other problems we should not ignore that problem. These are evil people and a strong hand from the Home Office and Government is needed to deal with them.
§ Mr. George Morton (Manchester, Moss Side)
My experiences in Moss Side last week are different from the experiences of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). There are also differences in the experiences of the people living there. I shall not go into the details of what happened in the middle of last week, because I do not have time. It is more important to examine the major causes. Whether there is orchestration, small extremist 1488 parties or any other type of operation, or whether the events were imitations of what was seen on television, nothing would have happened without a basic cause.
The basic cause of the problems is unemployment, which hits inner cities harder than the suburbs, young people harder than older people and black people harder than others. Young black people in our inner cities face particular problems and feel a justifiable resentment against society. It cannot be surprising that they are angry about their situation and do not feel respect for society and authority.
The police are in the unfortunate position of having to establish the standards of society. Many officers work hard to establish a local involvement, but in areas such as Moss Side the village bobby approach does not operate. The many officers who try to make contact through youth clubs, schools and the excellent community relations staff of the Greater Manchester police do not appear when the difficult work of dealing with investigations takes place. That is a gap in the present system.
There is an uneasy relationship between local people and the police and many stories of unfortunate incidents. Some may be mythical, but they are damaging to people's confidence in the police. I see the cause of the problems as unemployment, but young people in Moss Side see the police as the cause. Unless we face that argument, we shall get nowhere.
Last week the police were in a horrific position; and their bravery and devotion are unquestioned. They protected people in an exposed position. There is some doubt about how rapidly they moved, but the way that the operation worked and the principle on which it was worked were right, both on Wednesday, when the police held back from provoking a confrontation, and on Thursday, when they moved to prevent the build-up of groups.
However, Thursday's operation raised further problems. The police moved rapidly through the area. There were vans loaded with policemen wearing helmets, riot gear and so on. They had no time to question what the groups they met were doing and although they reassured the majority of people in Manchester, they left a mark of fear among people in Moss Side who were trying to do their normal jobs or to get home. That will make more difficult the establishment of the community policing that many hon. Members have said is essential to establish confidence and to regain long-term control of the situation.
The main issue is the feelings of people in Moss Side and elsewhere, who are afflicted by lack of opportunity, unemployment, hopelessness, despair and lack of purpose. The Government can rightly say that unemployment has been growing over this time, and that the inner cities have been particularly affected. What has changed is that the Government have indicated that they are not primarily concerned about long-term unemployment. They are prepared to offer short-term remedies, but it is no consolation to people who see no long-term solution to have something for six months or a year. We have already noted the Government's contribution to young people leaving school this year, in that they will not be entitled to benefit until September.
People need a sense of purpose and of hope if they are to involve themselves in society. What people in Moss side see is a Britain intent on increasing personal affluence and ignoring the problems of other people. They see the cars of rich commuters passing in and out of the city daily. They see endless television commercials urging them to 1489 obtain goods. It cannot be surprising that they are tempted to take goods. They see a Government that give tax concessions to the rich and scrimp and save on benefits for the poor, whether in the form of social security in this country or overseas development.
We must have a change of priorities, to stop the trend of increasing, unemployment and restore the investment in the inner cities and basically, to prove that this is a fair and just society.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have called no one from the East End of London. You have called no one from Hackney, where there is a serious problem. I have been here since 3 o'clock. This is not the first time that I have sat in the House for seven and eight hours and not been called to speak. What do we have to join before we can speak on behalf of those who elected us?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman was present at the beginning of the debate, he will have heard Mr. Speaker say that more than 60 right hon. and hon. Members wished to speak in this debate, It was impossible to call them all. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was unable to take part.
§ 11.1 pm
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
We have been debating not simply an unprecedented crisis in our community, not even an unparalleled breakdown in civic order, bit the very future of our country for the rest of the century and beyond. For on the way in which we deal with this crisis will depend whether our cities are to be cities for us all to use and enjoy equally or whether parts of them will be cordoned off into no-go ghettos of poverty and deprivation.
Of course, we face the need to restore and maintain order, most of all for those who have to go on living in these areas when the press and television have departed, and when the peregrinating politicians have abandoned their well-publicised walkabouts. To regard this crisis as only a problem of law and order is profoundly to misunderstand its nature. Water cannon, CS gas and plastic bullets may clear the streets. They will not bring normal life back to those streets, and they will not solve the problems of our cities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) spoke with knowledge and experience of these problems. They have been germinating for decades. Their seeds were sown long before there was any mass immigration from the New Commonwealth. They were sown, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) recalled, long before the National Health Service sent to the West Indies and the Asian Sub-continent to recruit staff during the time when the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was Minister of Health.
No doubt, with his fastidious classical education, the right hon. Gentleman regarded the presence of these black immigrants as temporary helotry rather than permanent 1490 residence. But they and the others who came are here to stay. They are British. Their children are as British as the right hon. Gentleman himself—
§ Mr. Kaufman
They speak with Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scottish, London, Birmingham and Geordie accents. They are part of this country, and they will remain so when the right hon. Gentleman and his odious sentiments are happily forgotten, when the House has, thankfully, expelled from its memory the vision of the flames reflected in his staring eyes.
These problems were not brought about deliberately. They are not the responsibility of any one political party. Indeed, in part they are the result not of malevolence, but of good intentions. In many ways, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said, they stem from the justifiable wish to redevelop our large cities, to get rid of the slums and to build new developments to higher standards. The trouble is that it is easy to demolish and to get rid of the little houses and the corner shops. It is much more difficult to recreate the community that has been dislocated and disrupted. Add to that the predilection of certain planners to regard the whole exercise as an opportunity to experiment on a massive scale, and we obtain the result that has carved the living heart out of too many of our cities. Vast numbers of people have been moved to windswept overspill estates, leaving behind soulless Arndale centres and Asda developments, together with barracks in which the inhabitants who remain are expected to make their lives.
Of course, that has not happened everwhere. Places such as Swindon and Norwich have gone down a different road and redeveloped on a human scale. Even the cities that made the mistakes have belatedly learnt their lesson. But the mistakes survive, in particular the vast deck-access developments with their damp-sodden verandahs and their stinking lifts. Couple those instant slums with the survival of large Victorian properties, decaying into multi-occupation, and the outcome in too many of our cities is rotting and rancid heartlands where many young people, in particular, fail to find the anchor of domestic stability that their parents knew before they were moved from their old tightly-knit communities.
One such area is Chapeltown in Leeds, where rioting has taken place in the last few days.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
Like myself, my right hon. Friend knows Leeds and the surrounding area. I think that he will agree that we in Leeds have always prided ourselves on having absorbed immigrant communities—Irish, Jewish, Italian, central European, West Indian and Asian—without any problem, until last weekend. I was born in the city. I have never seen anything to compare with the devastation that occurred last weekend. The causes were the inner city problem, unemployment, and, it has to be admitted, lack of parental control. It struck me as a disaster that such devastation should occur in a city which, over the centuries, has never experienced anything like it before.
§ Mr. Kaufman
These are matters with which my hon. Friend is familiar and to which I intend to refer. As he points out, I know Chapeltown well. I was brought up there and lived there for many years. I saw it decline from a respectable working class district into inner city decay. 1491 My parents went on living there until they had the luck to be offered a council flat in a suburb and were able to get out, as many others who live there now would like to do.
Chapeltown has, for generations, been the place in Leeds that offers a haven for immigrants, as my hon. Friend said. First there were the Jews, then the Poles, and then immigrants from the New Commonwealth and particularly the West Indians. Cowper Street school in the heart of Chapeltown was almost completely Jewish when I went there. Years later, when my sister became head of its immigrants' department, it taught children from literally dozens of countries.
Chapeltown is typical of many decayed inner city areas, including parts of my own constituency in Manchester where rioting also took place last week. It has great poverty. Nearly three times the city average receive free school meals. It has more than three times the city rate of one-parent families. The level of unemployment is about 25 per cent., with a particularly acute problem for young blacks. Once again, however, I cannot emphasise too strongly—I understand that Lord Scarman has made the same point tonight—that the inner city problem is not a problem of colour. It is a problem of deprivation. White residents of Chapeltown suffer nutritional problems. Among whites, too, there is a high rate of psychiatric illness and of problems associated with isolation.
Urban redevelopment and the deprivation of areas such as Chapeltown, Rusholme and Moss Side have led all over the country to a huge loss of population from our inner cities. In the past 10 years the population of inner London has dropped by 18 per cent., that of Manchester by 17 per cent., that of Liverpool by 16 per cent., that of Newcastle by 10 per cent., and that of Birmingham by 8 per cent., and with the people have gone the job opportunities.
Manufacturing employment in the English inner cities fell between 1971 and 1976 by between 20 and 30 per cent., compared with 10 per cent. for Great Britain as a whole. To take Manchester as an example, during roughly the same period employment in manufacturing industry was reduced by 20 per cent., and the numbers of people in any kind of employment there fell by more than three times the national rate.
All over the country, this massive job loss has added serious unemployment to all the other difficulties of the inner cities. In Chapeltown, as I have said, it is 25 per cent. In Liverpool unemployment stands at 17.2 per cent., with male unemployment at 21.2 per cent. Of course, in the inner areas it is far worse. The latest available figure for unemployment in the central employment office area of Manchester is 29.8 per cent., with male unemployment at 38 per cent. In Moss Side it is 22.8 per cent., with male unemployment at 28.8 per cent. In London, unemployment in inner city areas is lower than these normal levels, but it is still considerably above the regional average.
Unemployment is especially serious among the young, and it will get much worse. The latest information from the Manpower Services Commission forecasts that there will be 684,000 under-18s unemployed by the autumn, and that will be 51 per cent. of the age group. The commission says that within two years the total will rise to 68 per cent. More than two-thirds of our under-18s will be out of a job by this time in 1983.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)
The city of Sheffield has been open to attack by the Secretary of State because of its high rate demands, yet the city, speaking comparatively, has escaped the problems that we are discussing. Is there not some correlation: could it be that the Secretary of State is wrong and that the local authority is right?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The city of Sheffield pursues enlightened policies and has managed to maintain a cohesive community over many years. There is no doubt that public expenditure, properly channelled, helps that.
When the Prime Minister tries to play down the role of unemployment in these disturbances, as she did a few days ago before she changed her mind, she should ponder on the figures that I have just given the House. She and her Government bear a heavy responsibility for those figures. Two-thirds of our under-18s out of work could transform every city centre in the country into a tinderbox.
It is obvious already that many of those who have taken part in the disorders are victims of unemployment. The Times stated this week in a report:A total of 40 people appeared before magistrates at Manchester, 26 white and 14 coloured, 14 in jobs and 26 unemployed.Last Saturday The Times reported some of the court hearings in Manchester in the aftermath of the riots, and it named some of the defendants:Mr. Leslie Todd, aged 33, unemployed.An unemployed white girl aged 17 was fined £25 for obstruction.Two unemployed teenaged boys, one black and one white, from Whalley Range.An unemployed white boy, aged 17, from Old Trafford".It was the same in Tuesday's Yorkshire Evening Post, which reported the aftermath of the riots in Leeds:Stephen Ellwood, 21, unemployed…Paul Massey, 22, unemployed…Glen Tony White, 18, unemployed…Michael William Townend, 21, unemployed…Selwyn James, 20, unemployed…Larry Stewart, 22, unemployed".There were many more cases in which unemployed boys and young men had committed offences for which they were properly punished, but which, nevertheless, were obviously a symptom of the unemployment from which they were suffering.
The Home Secretary, when he visisted Manchester last week, put the situation very fairly. The report is from The Daily Telegraph:Mr. Whitelaw said there were a wide variety of reasons for the riots. One was the feeling of young people that they were not getting a fair deal out of our society. That is a very fair summary.
The Rev. Norwyn Denny, the leader of the Methodist Church on Merseyside, spelt it out more fully at the Methodist Conference last week. He said:Only when people do things—as in riots—does anyone take notice, as I know in my experience in Notting Hill. We all deplore violence, but violence has been applied by all of us in deprivation, neglect, lack of services, and isolation of areas and people. Successive Governments, especially this one, have forgotten humanity in doctrinaire solutions…Some will blame young hooligans, which is an indication of how little the situation is really understood. Some will see it as a social problem of our purposeless society. I believe the neglect and lack of care for people by Government and society alike is to blame.
A journalist who went to interview people in Toxteth stated the problem most bleakly and chillingly of all when he reported in this week's Sunday Telegraph:There is a term some of the young use to describe themselves: 'No-marks'. It means simply that they are destined to make no mark in life.1493 Many of them have been making their mark in the last couple of weeks. They certainly made their mark in the rioting in my constituency last week, where they marauded down Wilmslow Road, wrecking property and ruining livelihoods.
I live a few minutes' walk from the riot area. The shops where I buy my bread and groceries and greengroceries were all affected. When I toured Rusholme, Longsight and Levenshulme a week ago tonight, I encountered a siege atmosphere which suddenly turned an area especially familiar to me into a disquieting landscape. Shops for a mile along both sides of Wilmslow Road had broken windows boarded up. Clusters of police, some in riot gear, were stationed at intervals along the road. Even so, there were touches of comforting humanity. When I asked a very little, very old, lady whether she would be all right, she turned to a black man standing next to her and said confidently "He's my bodyguard".
Major efforts are made by inner city residents to humanise their areas. They form societies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) pointed out. They hold festivals. They work for those even more underprivileged than themselves. But they cannot do it without the resources, and that is where the Government are culpable.
The Prime Minister, whose shrill and hectoring performance throughout these troubles has been most disagreeable, suffers from a tendency to fling around reckless and unfounded statements. At first she sought to play down the role of unemployment, although she has now changed her tune on that. Again, a week ago she claimed that large sums of money were being poured into the inner city areas. But her Government have been draining money out of these areas. Where a blood transfusion is urgently necessary, she has applied the leech.
The sums that the Secretary of State for the Environment has been removing from the areas that need them most are of monumental dimensions. Under the Labour Government the urban programme was the fastest growing programme of all. This year the Secretary of State is making available for the main urban programme £34 million less than the Labour Government had planned.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later if I have time. I do not want to go beyond the time when the Secretary of State is due to speak.
Even that large sum is trifling compared with the money that the right hon. Gentleman has taken away through his new block grant. The rate support grant reduction for the partnership authorities this year is £291.6 million, a cut of 18.8 per cent. The feature that is especially disturbing is that the reduction in the partnership areas is more than double the national average of 8.6 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Miss Wright) said, the areas that most need help are being hit the hardest. The reason is that the Secretary of State has deliberately shifted grant from the cities to the shires.
§ Mr. Kaufman
No. I shall not give way. I have a great deal more to say.
1494 This year the right hon. Gentleman increased the rate support grant for the shire counties by £1,477 million. At the same time he inflicted a cut on the London boroughs of £605 million.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The right hon. Gentleman has cut the RSG for the metropolitan districts outside London by £538 million. That is a total cut of £1,143 million.
Nor are the reductions in urban aid and rate support grant the only losses inflicted on the neediest areas. There has been a cut in housing subsidies in these areas that amounts to at least £360 million this year. That is apart from the savage reductions in housing investment programmes. The cut for the city areas this year is no less than £380 million. For example, Leeds city council reports that in Chapeltown the need for repairs is illustrated by the fact that during July 1980, 930 repair orders were issued. Plans for new housing in the area have suffered. The Studley Grange II development was scheduled to commence during October 1980 on vacant land in the Louis Street and Francis Street areas. It had not been started because of the moratorium on housing expenditure that was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman.
I wish that even the vast sums to which I have referred were all that the Government will be taking away from the city areas this year. Unfortunately, there is still more to come. The right hon. Gentleman is engaged in his profoundly damaging exercise of trying to force further local authority expenditure reductions by means of serious financial penalties. The threat that is hanging over the authorities is that if they fail to come up with the necessary cuts in the next fortnight there will be a further massive reduction in the rate support grant.
At a time when councils should be devoting their efforts to deal with the consequences of the riots, they are involved in endless committee meetings to scrape around for cuts to meet the right hon. Gentleman's deadline. 'I he local authorities' share of the cost of compensation for riot daage could turn local authorities into over-spenders and cause them to be liable to extra penalties under hold-back and the taper. The Secretary of State must give an assurance tonight that the expenditure will not count against volume targets or grant-related expenditure, and we asked for a similar assurance about partnership money.
§ Mr. Mellor
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the lifetime of the Government of whom he was a member the proportion of the rate support grant that went to London increased from 13 to 17 per cent.? During that same time, inner London Labour authorities more than doubled the rates and serious crime in London increased by the largest amount this century, from about 340,000 serious offences per year to over ½ million. What does that say for his analysis of the situation?
§ Mr. Kaufman
It says that since this Government came to office serious crime has risen by 19 per cent. En two years under the law and order party, serious crime has risen by one-fifth.
The threatened rate support grant penalties amount to a further £138 million, so on present plans the Government this year are removing £1.5 billion from our cities, when the Prime Minister claims to be pouring money into them.
Let us see how that affects some of the areas afflicted by riots. Manchester faces a loss of £17½ million in rare 1495 support grant, £13½ million in housing subsidies and £1½ million in inner city money; Haringey, more than £10 million in rate support grant, £1½ million in housing subsidy and £263,000 in inner city money; Wandsworth—the borough that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) claims to represent—£8.9 million in rate support grant, £2.8 million in housing and £260,000 in inner city money; Liverpool, £8.3 million in rate support grant and £9 million in housing subsidy; and Lambeth, £7¼ million in rate support grant, £440,000 in housing subsidy and £2,904,000 in inner city money.
Lambeth, of course, is no stranger to Government penalties. It was on the Secretary of State's "hit list" of eight local authorities last year. What is particularly scandalous is that the penalties that he inflicted on Lambeth included cancellation of approved inner city schemes, including a recreation centre, a family centre, a nursery centre, public open space improvements and a social education centre. The Prime Minister wrings her hands over the problems of Brixton, but her Secretary of State must accept a major share of responsibility for them.
We have heard a great deal from the Prime Minister in recent days about the need for law and order. Let me tell the right hon. Lady that we are not taking that from her. It is our constituents who are suffering from the breakdown in law and order. It is our constituents who need its restoration. It is she who is presiding over the most serious breakdown of law and order that many of us have ever seen.
I tell the right hon. Lady this, too. She has been at her most strident this week over what she claims is the need for water cannons and CS gas—although the Home Secretary struck a far different and much more acceptable note yesterday and again today, when he described such instruments as means of last resort.
Money needed for the police is found immediately. Two or three days' police action in Moss Side cost £400,000, and no one is denying the need for that money to have been spent. However, it is no good applying weed killer to the symptoms if the Government pour fertiliser on the causes—which is what they are doing by this massive withdrawal of public funds from our cities.
The truth is that the Government do not begin to understand the problems of the inner cities. The Daily Telegraph tells us that at last week's Cabinet meeting:Ministers had an initial sociological discussion about working and living conditions in the areas where riots have occurred.To those Ministers the inner cities are sociology. To the people who dwell there they are life—and the only life that many of them know or are likely to know.
In a few moments the Secretary of State for the Environment will give us his views on the problems. I tell him that his contribution to the debate will be valueless unless he makes the following commitments on behalf of the Government. He must restore the rate support grant that he has removed from our cities, in accordance with the motion put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). He must restore the housing subsidies that he has withdrawn. He must restore the cuts in housing investment programmes. He must lift all threat of rate support grant penalties from councils which he has misdescribed as overspenders—councils which should now be spending more, not less, in an effort to halt the 1496 decline in their inner cities. He must announce that he has abandoned any intention of enacting in the next Session of Parliament further legislation that will harass and penalise local authorities, which should be left undisturbed to get on to deal with problems that are already serious.
The Secretary of State bears a heavy responsibility tonight. He would do better not to speak at all unless, when he speaks, he can bring a message of hope to the disillusioned and neglected people of our inner cities.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
This has been a long debate and, I would say, one of the most remarkable debates that I have ever sat through in this place. It has achieved as high a degree of unanimity and lack of party political points as I can remember. Some right hon. and hon. Members opposite who are no longer in their places have made some of the most remarkable speeches that I can recall hearing in this Chamber.
Needless to say, I had given thought to what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) might say. Sadly, I find that I judged rightly. It would have been helpful if he had been able to continue with the tenor of the debate which had prevailed until he spoke. But in the light of his speech I have no choice but to spend a minute or two with some figures which I brought with me because I thought it likely that he would press me.
I had not intended to use those figures, because all that is achieved is to confuse people with statistics which they will not remember and which the House has been given many times before. The generalisation that I want to put to the House—and this is the fact—is that this country, across a wide range of its provision, has consumed wildly beyond its productive capacity. We have had to pay for that in a number of ways.
We have had to pay for it, first, by allowing the investment levels in British industry to be lower than they ought to have been because we did not allow industry to make the profits that were necessary. When it came to public investment and public consumption in local authorities, we watched the relentless appetites of local government for larger expenditure programmes grow without let or hindrance over a period of some 25 years from the mid-1950s up to the present day.
When the country was faced with the economic traumas of the early 1970s we as a nation, unlike almost any other Western country, quite failed to face up to the fact that we could no longer go on consuming at the levels we had before the oil price increases.
But the Labour Government allowed local government to increase its consumption, and they paid for it in two ways—by massive increases in Government borrowing, with all the devasting effects that that had on the ability of the private sector to compete, and by halving the local authority capital programmes. This is a very important thing for the House to understand in coming to grips with the problems of the inner cities.
It is perfectly true that the local authorities in those inner cities employ more people probably than at any time in their history. But their investment programmes, the things that speaker after speaker in the debate, until the right hon. Member for Ardwick got going, has been arguing about and pleading for, were slaughtered to pay for the extra jobs that were being created in the public provisions of local government.
1497 I will give one or two figures and then go on to what I wanted to say. I will show what has happened under this Government also, so that we shall get the whole picture, with no selectivity or anything of that sort. I will show the nature of the awfulness of the crisis that faces our economy.
Let us take the point I was making about revenue expenditure and quote the example of Liverpool, which, after all, as anyone would agree, has as acute a set of problems as any city in this country. In 1974–75, the figure for revenue expenditure at constant November 1980 prices was £214 million. By 1978–79—the last year of the Labour Government—it had gone down to £202 million.
In the first year of this Government, the figure went up to £207 million, and the revised budget for 1980–81 is £207 million. By no stretch of the imagination can that be called a decimation of local government services, because the figure is higher than it was in the last year of the Labour Government and it is only £7 million less than it was in 1974–75. Broadly speaking, in the nature of things, it is within a percentage point or two of the highest figure, which was in 1974–75.
Let us consider Liverpool's capital programmes—the matters about which hon. Members have spoken in the debate. What happened under the Labour Government? In 1974–75 the figure was £128 million. By the time that they were about to go out of office, that figure had become £67 million.
I do not understand how the right hon. Member for Ardwick, in debate after debate, can come back to the House and accuse me of doing something rather special and different. He either did not know what was happening when he was in office, or he is misleading the House and trying to pretend that something has changed since he left office.
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is no use the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) making sedentary interruptions. I did not want to bring the debate to an exchange of figures of this kind, because under all Governments the consumption levels have been too high and the investment levels have been too low. I have said that time and again.
The fact is that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that what the Government have done, or tried to do, has contributed by more than a small part to rising unemployment in urban areas in local government.
I can understand why the Leader of the Opposition, who is keener on emotional reaction than on figures, should groan in dismay at that situation. Perhaps I can embarrass him with the figures. I have the figures for the whole of the metropolitan counties, metropolitan districts, the London boroughs, the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority. In 1979, they employed 1,027,000 people. According to the last figures that we have—two years later-they employed 1,005,000 people—a difference of about 21,500. The whole of the metropolitan counties, metropolitan districts, the GLC and ILEA added together now employ just over 1 million people. In two years the Government's policies—I make no apology for this—have reduced the total by 21,500. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that, in the scale of the challenge in those cities, that is the central feature that has brought about the difficulties that we face.
1498 I intend to leave the figures. They were produced because the right hon. Member for Ardwick changed the tone of the debate. I want to go back to the debate to which I listened with such fascination for so long.
I thought that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) said it all when, fairly late in the debate, she said that the debate had transcended party politics. The message that she was trying to convey—a message that I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), who expressed the sentiment a little before the hon. Lady—was that the problem is of such a scale that politicians of all parties should try to find the common cause and seek the high ground in a discussion of this kind. I was interested in many of the points that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough made.
I should like to start where the debate understandably started. In a remarkable speech, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the point, which was echoed time and again during the debate, that, in the face of violence and riot, the Government's first priority must be the restoration and maintenance of law and order. Without that, there is no way forward at all. If one cannot maintain confidence and give security to the people who have to live in those areas and upon whom the revival of those areas must depend, one has a runaway collapse situation and goodness knows where that will lead.
The vast majority of people living in those areas, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) made absolutely clear in a remarkable speech, do not riot and do not want to riot. They are appalled by lawlessness and they depend upon the police for their security. Even in these days of high unemployment, the majority of them are actually at work most of the day and most of the year. We must therefore understand the scale of the problem and the deep yearning of the British people to back the police force in the very difficult task that they have to do, particularly, as has been mentioned, some of the young policemen who must personally bear the immediate strain, in a way that none of us has ever been asked to do, most of which is a consequence of the most severe recession that the world has seen since the end of—
§ Mr. Heseltine
There is not a great deal of time and I should like to cover some of the points in the debate.
The House has concentrated on the matter of the police from the start and there has been a virtually unanimous view that we must back the police. The debate that is going on in this Chamber and on a wider base about how the police can become more involved in the community and responsive to community needs mirrors the debate within the police force itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) made a valuable contribution along those lines.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I am sorry, but I must continue my speech.
The other point that came back time and again in speeches from both sides is that in the immediate reaction to the traumas of recent weeks one has no option but to ask the police to take the strain. But one cannot expect them to carry the strain of the underlying social tensions if those 1499 tensions can be solved by political act and initiative. That theme, again, was much mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members.
Many causes have been discussed in the debate. I wish to touch on one or two which I regard as important but secondary aspects. The first is the media coverage. Reference has been made to the copycat effect and the impact of television coverage of Northern Ireland and the way in which it has carried across into this country itself. There is no doubt at all that that has an impact. It is not the underlying cause, but it is a magnifying glass. I think that the whole House realises that and has said as clearly as it can to the media that they have a responsibility in the way in which they treat the news so that they do not give people an immediate guide on how to make Molotov cocktails or whatever because that can only worsen the situation.
All of us who are involved in the general conduct of political affairs know the effect that the media can have and how those who have a vested interest in tension know how to use the media for their own purposes. I cite a small personal example. I happened to be in Toxteth about a week before the riot took place. Ninety people blocked my journey. They had alerted the media as to where they intended to do this. I even watched them run from my last meeting to be sure of getting to the demo for the television cameras. Those 90 people were the lead story, with two-inch headlines in the local newspaper, and they were on the news broadcasts.
When I came south again, people were all talking to me about the difficulties and problems that I had had in Liverpool. No one took the slightest notice of the 90 people, many of them young kids, working for the printing company that I then visited, who were far more typical of what is actually happening in Liverpool. Nobody wants to know about the vast majority of people who are going about their business, earning an honourable living and running profitable companies, because they are not news. So the image of Liverpool is dominated by the exception, set up by people with a vested interest in trying to make the exception into the norm.
Many hon. Members expressed deep concern about the role of agitators. All of us, as professional politicians, know full well that there has never been a period in history when there were not agitators. There are agitators for every sort of extreme cause. Be they agitators of the Right, who, as the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) believes, were responsible for some of the riots, or agitators of the Left, they will always exist. The important feature is to be sure that they do not have the causes on which they can ferment society for their own disruptive ends.
Many hon. Members referred to the impact of race. No one doubts that race has a role to play in the tensions that have arisen. It is understandable that where different races live together there has tended to be a tension, and it is unrealistic to pretend otherwise. This House has taken many steps by way of race relations legislation to try to improve upon that climate. Indeed, many people devote their lives to achieving those ends.
The hon. Member for Toxteth said that there were black rioters and white rioters. This was not exclusively an issue of race. People from all communities were involved, but it was not a riot in which it was exclusively a matter of black versus white.
1500 There was common ground in the House on that, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He is too intelligent not to be fully aware of the consequences of the language that, undoubtedly, he deliberately used. I have listened to him many times. Indeed, I was the first Conservative to attack his original speech on this subject—
§ Mr. Heseltine
If the right hon. Gentleman checks the press cuttings, he will find that he made his speech on a Saturday. By rare coincidence, I happened to be making a speech on a Sunday. I therefore had a platform. I have always drawn some satisfaction from the fact that I was one of the first Conservatives to attack the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
I have always wondered what the right hon. Gentleman thought he would achieve. I asked the same question as I listened to him today. He was asking for some projections as to the size of the immigrant communities in the future. By implication—indeed, he spluttered it out explicitly—his forecast is that they will be much larger communities than they are today. He wants everyone to have the figures so that they know the scale of the problem and have a full debate.
By that time the right hon. Gentleman will be talking about voluntary repatriation. He has already done so. However, the consequence—the right hon. Gentleman knows this as well as I do—of the projection of the figures that he produces, plus the language of voluntary repatriation, is to whet the appetite of those who do not believe in voluntary anything. The only consequence of what the right hon. Gentleman is doing is to ferment the very anxieties and tensions that he is forecasting. The greatest contribution that he could make to the problems that he is forecasting is to abstain from commenting in the language which characterises his speeches on this subject.
We have heard a great deal about the hopelessness of the situation that exists in some of these inner city areas. Whether or not we agree about the analysis or the causes, it is not helpful to pretend that there is anything other than a certain degree of hopelessness, particularly among the young in those areas. They are alienated from the society in which they have been born and brought up. It is up to us as politicians of whatever party to face up to the difficult question of what to do about it.
It is important to try to learn some of the lessons of the past. As has been said, one of those lessons is the way in which we dealt with the housing problems of the post-war world. Broadly, as a result of the imperative need to clear the slums, many people were moved to the dormitory suburbs or to the new towns, where a qualitatively different environment was available. Alternatively, under the pressure of housing statistics, they were rehoused in the inner cities. The pressure of housing statistics was so great that we built houses that were technically excellent but seriously defective as homes.
That is the challenge that we face. There is no local amenity commensurate with the scale of housing provision. What are the kids to do? The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made a great point about derelict sites. There are derelict sites but no leisure or sporting facilities. There is nowhere for the children to go but on to the streets. I was asked what I would do. With an open mind, I wish to explore whether it is possible to 1501 do something about the derelict land in Liverpool. We have a list of every site in that city. In addition, we have lists of the sites in 27 of our major cities. There is no doubt that there is an opportunity for economic regeneration and social provision if we can find the facilities and resources to bring that land into effective use. Most of those in Liverpool and the other cities that share this problem are deeply concerned that something should be done about that. We must take that challenge far more seriouly than we have done so far.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I shall give one example of the scale of the challenge in Liverpool. There are 144 sites of over one acre that are either unused or underused, totalling 926 acres. That shows that all of us in public administration have neglected one of our major, essential economic resources, namely, land. We must start our quest for more activity and opportunity in that direction.
Many hon. Members expressed anxiety about the breakdown of communities that has resulted from the replacement of the old slums and the building of new housing areas. Another community has broken down, namely, the industrial community. In the past 30 years we have seen a transfer in ownership in many of Liverpool's larger industrial companies. The same is true in the provinces. There has been a transfer away from the owner-occupier, who was based in, and identified with, the comminity, to the City of London.
§ Mr. Freeson
The right hon. Gentleman is filibustering. It is a totally empty speech. He should stop filibustering.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) may regard this speech as a filibuster. However, I profoundly believe that a crucial feature of the industrial strength that built our cities was the fact that owners of companies lived close to, and effectively communicated with, their work forces. If we are considering the opportunities and need for new investment in those areas—often by the private sector—it is important to bear in mind that the City is a long way from the Mersey and the Clyde
I hope that those who manage the savings of the British people will realise that they cannot turn their backs on what is happening in the deprived areas of our inner cities.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Having said that about those who own and manage the wealth, one cannot escape the fact that the vacuum often left by that shift of power has been filled by those who are prepared to use the monopoly power of trade unions to destroy jobs in those cities; and the overpricing of labour and the use of restrictive practices has helped to bring about the serious decline that we are now discussing.
One cannot escape the overall impact that has been created across the country from spectacular headlines about strikes in a limited number of industries and in one or two large companies. In trying to bring about a new atmosphere in which people will invest in those areas, everyone must realise that he must contribute. It cannot be left in the hope that someone else will bring about the changes.
§ Mr. Heseltine
What we have to do in the immediate future is to enter into the discussions that I shall begin on Monday with the local authorities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I thought that the Opposition believed that we should talk to the local authorities.
§ Mr. Heseltine
We shall talk to the local authorities through the partnership committees and explore any reasonable arguments that they want to put to me. It is necessary that we use the resources of the private sector, which on Merseyside is already admirably beginning to create new jobs. One example, the St. Helen's Enterprise Trust, has in nearly two years created about 1,000 new jobs.
§ Mr. Heseltine
No, I shall not give way. The dialogue between the private sector and the local authorities has a significant—
§ Mr. Heseltine
No—that dialogue has a significant contribution to make in generating opportunities for small businesses with which Merseyside has proved itself extremely able to earn a living—
§ Mr. Heseltine
—and it is vital to harness the strength of the private sector with that of the public sector.
It is important that the urban development corporation, which has a budget this year of £17 million, be given every support in clearing the dereliction from the banks of the Mersey, which the Opposition were prepared to tolerate without giving it scant regard.
The enterprise zone in Speke which will come into existence in the next few days must also be given every incentive and opportunity.
§ Mr. Heseltine
As so often, the Labour Party is now the party out of step because the welcome that has been given by the people of Liverpool to the new opportunities and resources that we are giving is wholly out of character with the response from the Labour party.
The hon. Member for Walton was in a quite different mood when he said that the initiatives that we are pursuing, by going to Liverpool and talking to the people, are a step in the right direction.
In the .time that I shall be based on Liverpool I realise that a significant number of right hon. and hon. Members who have constituencies there will want me to be involved in or to see the problems in their constituencies. I give them the assurance that I shall do all within my power to make myself available at their convenience so that hon. Members can be involved in the dialogue that local government is anxious to conduct.
I believe that there are no easy solutions. Today's debate has indicated precisely the gravity of the challenge. There are long-term, deep-seated problems. But the challenge is now to fight our way out. I am disappointed that so many Opposition Members, out of keeping with the mood of the rest of the country, appear unable to grasp the nature of the opportunity.
§ It being Twelve o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.